On not believing evil motivations

Recently a former Speaker of the House (and Republican) was exposed as having molested a teenage boy in his past as a teacher.  I found interesting the following remark by the sister of that boy.  “I [the sister] asked him, ‘Stevie, when was your first same-sex experience?’ He just looked at me and said that it was with Dennis Hastert,” Burdge told ABC. “And I just, I know I was stunned, I said, ‘Why didn’t you ever tell me, Stevie? He was your teacher. Why didn’t you ever tell anybody?’ He just looked at me and said, ‘Who is ever going to believe me in this town? Who is ever going to believe me.'”

Stephen Reinboldt
Stephen Reinboldt

Steve died of AIDS years later, and his sister says of Hastert: “He damaged Steve, I think, more than any of us will ever know.”

Given that there was such a gap between the real Dennis Hastert, and the public persona of Hastert, the disbelief that Steve expected might make sense.  But it would have been wrong to not believe him.

And this raises the question: How many events do we not believe in, because we don’t understand human motivations, and what can go wrong in a human mind such as Hastert’s?

Here is another example.  A young woman in the UK told the police for fourteen years that she was the victim of Pakistani sex rings.  She told them this while it was happening.  They did not believe her.  One reason she mentions is that one policeman described her as a known ‘prostitute’.  It did not occur to him that she was a sex-slave, not a prostitute.  You can be a sex-slave and still walk outside, to all appearances free, because the mafia that enslaves you and terrorizes you has all your practical escape routes shut off.  Especially if you are just 16 years old and poor.

Deborah Lipstadt (after a legal victory)
Deborah Lipstadt (after a legal victory)”

While Jews were being slaughtered in WW-II, skepticism reigned in many quarters in the U.S.  A book on that period by Deborah Lipstadt says that tales from refugees were dismissed as hysteria, and systematic genocide was minimized as not being a systematic campaign of elimination at all.  Even after the war, one soldier found that when he reported to his parents in the US what he had seen, they told him he didn’t know what he was talking about. (There were other reasons for the West’s inaction too).

The book “Dupes” by Paul Kengor tells of liberals who kept defending Communists in the Stalin period.  I suppose that if you are a liberal who believes in income-equality, redistribution, a big government and the rights of the exploited workers, you will assume that Communists, who say similar things, are just like you, perhaps a bit more extreme.  And that would be wrong.  The CPUSA was taking orders from the Kremlin.  Their primary allegiance was not with the Western countries at all.  Perhaps this was hard to believe.

My own history is also illustrative.  I engaged in regrettable behavior at one point, it was caught on film, and the film spread – first over campus, then to the wider society.  Many people have either seen it, or heard of it.  So how did I find out?  Did a copy of the film land in my mailbox?

No.  There were two reactions I ran into.  Avoidance, and hostility.  Some men and women hurled insults in a hit-and-run fashion..  They made remarks to me, and to each other.  I was threatened with annihilation.  I was told I would end up in a hospital.  It was very, very interesting, if I took a detached view of it.

And then it got positively fascinating.  My apartment was entered.  I was drugged.  And what type of drug was used?  It was a “sex-drive-drug”.  At the time, there were no such drugs known, though a few years later one was discovered.   This drug was very, very powerful.  It did not conquer me, it did not pitch me back into the slime.  But that was because I was more decent, and stronger, than my attackers knew.

So now, I was in a paradoxical situation.  Here I had been held up as the ultimate in disgustingness (and a proof of anti-Semitic beliefs), for ten years, and all of a sudden, I was in the position of trying to alert the American public about a threat to them of a quite disgusting nature.

But I had a problem.  The reactions to me were often hit-and-run insults (such as a van zooming by me on a lonely road and a young man shouting “You are so Gay!”) or a man about to exit the train I was in who uttered emphatically and disgustedly “Swine!”, or one young Yale coed telling another “it was terrible what they did to him – but he was so disgusting!” before both clanged the gate to their Yale dorm in my face. And there was deliberate avoidance too by people who were not nasty, but understandably wanted no part of me. So how could I ever collect any evidence that any of this far-fetched tale was true? (None of these insulters wanted to sit down with me and tell me what was going on, or have a debate on what exactly I was guilty of. Also, despite the epithets, my problem was not that I was gay, I was just a mixture of things – a slob with a inexplicable desire to act weirdly, and a person with a history of very low will power, and a nauseating worship of blondes.)

And what proof did I have?  I had subjective “experiences”.  In other words, it could be solid evidence to me, but to anyone else, less than nothing.   Here I was, trying to convince acquaintances that “big things can happen to little people” (namely me), that I was a target not of one, but two conspiracies (if you consider the movie a conspiracy, which in a way it was, because it was kept under wraps).  I was trying to convince people that a technology existed of which they were unaware of, but which some set of really despicable people were very aware of.

And it gets worse.  I believe this “mafia” can spray you with a drug that will put you in a daze.  While you are out of consciousness, they can copy your keys, and eventually get into your house, and then its over, folks.  I believe they have a whole research program into these types of drugs, not only because I’ve been on the receiving end of some of them, but because of the possibilities they open up.

Now there are two explanations here.  The first is that I’m crazy.  This is the easiest conclusion to reach.  In that case the action to take is simple.  I should see a psychiatrist, take an appropriate medication, and perhaps the local police should be monitoring the crazy person (me) in their precinct.

The other possibility is that I’m accurate, and that in fact my story is probably just the tip of an iceberg, and that there is a large and menacing network of the resentful and the criminal who know about this technology and use it, despite the cluelessness of everybody else.

My story does have implications for how we see reality.  When should we accept subjective experience – and when should we reject it?   Slogans such as “remarkable conclusions require remarkable evidence” and “Always believe the simplest explanation” are lacking somehow.  To me, I do have remarkable evidence.  And given that evidence, my conclusions are the simplest explanation.  But to someone else, neither is true.

Motivations of bad people explain much of what we see around us. History shows that the organized malevolent few can control the disorganized majority. Unfortunately we are not good at all in understanding those motivations.



Lipstadt, Deborah E. (1986). Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust


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