I teach critical thinking. Yes, I teach people how to think critically regarding all the various aspects of their lives. Yet, I do not just teach it, I try to live it and breathe it. I love it. Of course I am human and do not always practice it, but I sure try. In fact, I would go as far as to say that spreading the gospel of critical thinking is my life’s mission and passion.
It is armed with this understanding that I relate to you the following incident that is now experiencing its 10 year anniversary. I realize many of you are familiar with the story though may not know all the details.
In the end, this is not a blog about the Duke lacrosse incident, rather it is about critical thinking. Yet, an understanding of the basics of this story are in order to get to my point.
In 2006 the Duke lacrosse team threw a raging party in which they hired a stripper and consumed plenty of alcohol. The stripper, Crystal Mangum, later reported to the police that she had been raped by 3 members of the team, around midnight or so, the evening of this party.
Within just a few days, word got out about this alleged rape and pandemonium ensued. Students, administration, faculty, community members, and local politicians all began a witch-hunt style attack on this team, directed towards both its coaches and players. They were labeled “privileged white racists” and were accused of rape and blatant, overt racism. Bands of protestors called for the dismantling and elimination of this team from competition and the firing of its head coach.
Leading the rush-to-judgment crowd at Duke was Houston A. Baker Jr., a professor of English and African-American Studies. He showed his intent in a March 29 public letter to Duke administrators that boiled with malice against “this white male athletic team” —a team whose whiteness Baker’s fifteen-paragraph letter stressed no fewer than ten times. He demanded the “immediate dismissals” of all lacrosse players and coaches.
In fact, 88 Duke professors signed a document condemning the Duke lacrosse team shortly after this alleged incident happened.
The beloved head coach, who led his team to the National Championship the year previous, was fired.
Professors, journalists, and politicians all banded together in this horrifying frenzy of groupthink. There was not a single shred of evidence to suggest these young men did anything wrong at all, except if you call getting shit faced and watching a stripper for a few minutes, “wrong” -which you may- yet it is certainly not illegal.
Now, I promised I would make a long story short, so here goes:
The evidence finally came out. DNA tests, phone records, eyewitness accounts, etc.
So, what happened that evening?
Nothing…nothing illegal and certainly not a rape.
The three young men charged with rape were all found innocent.
So was this just another case of white privilege using their power and riches to overcome the system?
Hardly, read on.
The truth? Stripper Crystal Mangum arrived at the party, drunk and on the muscle relaxant Flexoral, as well as several anti-depressants, danced for a few minutes and then promptly blacked out on the back porch.
Not only were the young men innocent, it was found that District Attorney Mike Nifong (white, btw) hid evidence that would have exonerated the Duke athletes as proceeding with this high profile case would boost his chances of being re-elected to the position…as he was trailing in the polls prior to this incident. He was later disbarred and spent a short time in prison for his actions. The lead investigator, Michael Gottlieb (white btw), manipulated all the evidence in an attempt to frame these young men. He was also removed from his position and committed suicide in 2014.
These young men were not only innocent, they themselves were the victims of a corrupt system, reverse racism and out-of-control media that is primarily interested in stories, not truth. Crystal Mangum later confessed that she made the entire story up and has been institutionalized for depression, mental disorders and addiction. The sad part is the DA had this information…and pursued the case anyway for the sake of his own personal and professional best interest.
Once the evidence was presented and the truth was discovered, how did all those who led the witch-hunt, prior to ANY evidence being presented, react?
Many apologized to the team. For example, ESPN journalist, Jemille Hill, stated in a letter to the team:
My being a black woman, my knowing too many athletes who treat women like items to be purchased in a vending machine, and my witnessing enough athlete rape trials where accusers are overwhelmed by their fame and fortune — it all tainted my perception and made me doubt your innocence.
I feel stupid now…
So to Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans, the three Duke lacrosse players whose lives were mangled by an unsupported rape accusation, I say two of the hardest words in the English language:
Still many have not apologized, including lead witch-hunter, Professor Houston A. Baker, who has since left the school to teach at Vanderbilt.
Professors, supposedly leaders in teaching our nation’s youth how to critically think, were the most heinous violators of reasonable and logical thought.
Critical thinkers are at the very least able to acknowledge they do not know something or that they were wrong. Sad. Our educational system is in trouble.
So, I told you this was not a blog concerning the Duke lacrosse incident and it is not. I could have told the story of Peggy McMartin and Raymond Buckey -whose lives were ruined after they were accused of pedophilia and running the satanically inspired McMartin preschool back in 1984- in the longest and most expensive trial in American history at the time. And what did they do wrong?
Nothing. Nothing at all…after 6 years of a living hell and public witch-hunt.
I could tell countless stories of African Americans wrongly accused and railroaded into public disgrace and guilt before any actual evidence was presented. There is no shortage of these shameful examples of the human mind’s lack of critical thinking skills.
Why do we human beings tend to make judgments about people and situations, then react hysterically, when we have zero to little reliable information? Why do we believe shit that we have no business even having an opinion on? Why the lack of critical thought and analysis? I believe there are 5 primary reasons we believe lies and misinformation, aka, “bullshit.”
We tend to believe stories that fit nicely into our own personal life narrative. If we believe this or that about a certain ethnicity, gender, religious group, etc… as in, ”I know that group and they are all______________(fill in the blank)” and we hear a story that fits this narrative and confirms this preconceived bias, we go with it. If you were sexually abused as a child, you may tend to believe the McMartin case allegations were true. If you were ever the victim of suppression and hatred on behalf of the privileged white man, you would likely believe the accusations against the Duke players were true, truth be damned of course. Critical thinking through every story we come across can be a real bitch…while it may result in having to change our preconceived biases, which can be scary, as we have so much invested in creating our comfortable and cozy little narrative about life…and now must suck up every morsel of evidence -true or false- that backs this story up.
We tend to believe stories that will provide a form of therapeutic release for our own hurts and dysfunction. In the above-mentioned sexual abuse or racial hatred examples, by channeling our anger at those who have been accused of such things, this provides a form of release and inner revengeful satisfaction that one’s own personal hurts are finally being vindicated and, in a sense, healed. Truthfulness and voracity mean very little to the injured and wounded soul that seeks comfort and refuge. Raymond Buckey can now act as the projected lightning rod and become the pedophile pervert that sexually abused you as a child -and his loss is your emotional gain. Of course this makes no sense on a rational, critical level yet the landscape of the psyche can be a strange and unstable emotional place.
We tend to believe stories because we are too lazy to think otherwise and do a little research. I am a firm believer in not only questioning authority, rather questioning everything -all the time. Question every bullshit meme you run across, every bullshit story in your Facebook thread, every Reddit post, EVERYTHING. Remember, all news media has only one intention and that is to make a profit. The days of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, news anchors of yore who possessed a startling sense of morality concerning the truthfulness of stories, are long gone. We live in the age of intense bullshit and it has never been more important to practice cynicism regarding all the information we run across in our lives. Get off your ass and THINK. If we do not…
We believe stories because we believe false information. I cannot tell you how many times I have had a student believe staunchly in some type of philosophy or ideology and then request the student to do some research into a reliable pool of information so they can base this strong opinion on some evidence. Most come back with a revised, or in some cases diametrically opposed, position after the facts are discovered. I am not sure as to why…perhaps it is due to my age, my lot in life, or the progression of information overload in our culture, yet it seems to me that people, on the whole, are far more gullible than ever.
We dismiss credible stories that contradict our current belief system. Recently I brought a speaker to our school, Georgia Lee McGowen, who is a transgendered woman for the purpose of educating the ignorant, promoting understanding and to begin a dialogue. She came to speak to my diversity class yet I encouraged my other classes to sit in and hear her lecture as well. She has had a very interesting and difficult life. Imagine my dismay as some students said they would not attend the lecture because they did not believe in being transgendered and that it went against their belief system.
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! (read: primal scream of frustration and heart sinking).
Don’t get me wrong, I get it. I realize listening to someone this different can make some very uncomfortable, I know. She made me uncomfortable when I first met her years ago….because I was ignorant of the transgender community. However, for those who want to cocoon themselves in this tidy little fictitious world of they way they want the world to be-as opposed to exposing themselves to what it really is- there are very dangerous implications. When we close ourselves off to new information and simply choose to believe whatever it is we choose to believe, for whatever reason, we are closing ourselves off to growth, development and open-mindedness- all characteristics central to critical thinking. I am quite certain most historical dangerous dictatorships were not big fans of opposing ideas, new modes of thinking or critical analysis.
There are many other reasons we believe bullshit, such as impishly delighting in the misfortune of others, being entertained by it all or the story just makes us feel better about ourselves.
That said, in the age of a culture dangerously close to amusing itself to death, critical thinking and exposing ourselves to new ideas is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity.
Our world has lived through witch hunts, holocausts and genocides…and these all began with a lack of critical thought from the masses who refused to open themselves up to different ways of thinking and living: Blindly believing the bullshit and propaganda of its leaders.
Yeah, I teach critical thinking…and I am concerned. Is another holocaust right around the corner? Probably not. Yet a case of public hysteria over a situation in which we do not have all the facts, certainly is -and it does not take a critical thinking genius to figure that out.
Just…think. Critically. After all, you might just be the next victim of the media witch-hunt.