Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Judging Others By Details

Dear Readers,

Recently, a famous autism advocate has been undergoing a legal proceeding involving accusations of downloading child pornography. Maybe he did it and maybe he did not- but neither issue is the point of this post. This is about remembering the good and the bad in all people, and not judging the whole by a few of its parts- and forgetting the things that were spectacularly good about someone, after that person does something that is spectacularly bad. We do tend to be black - and- white- at least, I have been guilty of this- but to be fair, there is a lot of gray in here about when we should act as if someone is to be completely banned from living memory as a doer of good things, over the bad things that this person has done.

In keeping with the way I think, I will begin with examples. William Bradford Shockley Jr. co-invented the transistor and had many other patents. He shared the Nobel Prise in Physics with the other two co-inventors of the transistor. On the other hand, near the end of his life, he was a racist, and advocated eugenics based on race- and used the full weight of his scientific credentials and position to promote his beliefs. He called his position science, and attempted great harm to the human race based on these beliefs. I think that this is evil, just as I think that child pornography is evil- I am not even going to try to speculate which is worse, since both cause me to recoil intensely. I still appreciate Shockley's invention of the transistor. Silicon Valley was founded after its invention, and arguably because of it. If you google "racist Shockley", you will find a number of articles about him.

There were any number of Nazi scientists who did excellent work in their fields, but did not have clean hands in regard to the regime. There were also scientists who lived in Germany and did groundbreaking work during this time, but who did not compromise. We have already made a grievous error in waiting till the late 1980's to translate Asperger's work from German into English, so that we could understand it better in the USA. This happened because he lived and worked in Nazi Germany, and we just assumed that his work would be unethical because there were other "scientists" (Mengele, for example) who were quite unethical and worked for the regime, as opposed to working for science. In this case, Asperger did not do anything wrong, but just happened to live in the wrong country in the wrong time period. If not for Lorna Wing and a few other people, his work might still be available only in German, and the contents of it largely unknown in the USA. In addition, there are people who did do some wrong- and it is not to be argued that the wrong is right- but were still excellent scientists.

I think that many of my readership would agree that Abraham Lincoln was an excellent president. I certainly would! Nevertheless, during the Civil War, he suspended writs of habeas corpus, which left any number of people in jail with out having been tried- sometimes for years. By today's standards, that would be criticised- Lincoln would have to argue convincingly as to why he did it- even though it was done in wartime. I would hope that nobody would look at that act and forget the good he did in other areas- in particular, the Emancipation Proclamation, and saving the Union.

Now, in addressing the reason for this post, I think that we need to remember three things about people accused of crimes or of unethical behavior.

(1) Behavior is just that- behavior. The person is still a person.

(2) The good that the person has done is still good, even if the bad is still bad. I am not suggesting that they be weighed against each other at all. I am not arguing for leniency. I am only saying that we should permit ourselves to remember the good, and keep the details separate.

(3) People accused of a crime in the USA are supposed to be considered innocent till proven guilty. Even with media coverage, I am willing to consider that more may come out at trial that may change my opinion. There may not be. I know that I only know what I have read- I was not there.

Thank you for reading this. I know it may have been hard. I appreciate you!

Respectfully submitted,


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