One: During the confirmation hearings for the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, disagreements arose over what would seem to be basic facts, such as whether Kavanaugh assaulted Christine Blasey Ford at a party or whether Kavanaugh even attended a party where Ford was present. One thing that’s important to keep in mind while wrestling with questions of what really happened and what it means is that memory can be an unreliable witness. It’s possible that Ford and Kavanaugh differ without either of them lying; that is, it’s possible that neither is knowingly and deliberately telling an untruth. A New York Times article that I found a few days ago explored this from the standpoint of current scientific thinking about how memory works; some elements of the remarkable movie Marjorie Prime touched on the same issues (that film deserves its own discussion), and an Italian researcher whose work concerns memory and history once concluded from his studies, as I recall, that memory is not a record of what happened—memory is itself something that happens. To put it simply, we know that memory can’t necessarily be trusted (to borrow from Joe Orton, our memory plays us false even on the subject of its own reliability), except some of us apparently don’t know that at all, or have conveniently forgotten it, which accounts for many of the loud accusations of lying that we’ve heard. The Times article gave very few examples; other, bigger ones are out there, such as the odd fact that some people remember learning that Nelson Mandela died in prison.
Two: It’s conceivable that a person of either gender who had engaged in wrong or questionable behavior in the past, knowingly or not, could still find a place on the Supreme Court. But a person who, instead of admitting the fact or at least the possibility, and attempting to explain it, and accepting the consequences, insists that nothing of the kind did happen or could have happened and that anyone who says otherwise is part of a conspiracy—such a person is at odds with his or her own life as well as, in the two particular cases I have in mind, at odds with developing norms of our culture. This person may have a claim on our pity but can have only a partial claim on our admiration, no matter how far they’ve advanced in their career, and has no claim to a job arbitrating difficult questions of justice and law and society. In 1991, one such person, an accused perpetrator of sexual misconduct, joined the Supreme Court. That we now have two is no kind of progress.