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By Jason Michael

IN THE OPEN SOCIETY we are each entitled to our own opinions, but one thing we are not entitled to are our own facts. From about the middle of the twentieth century postmodern critiques of social and political structures and of language have emerged from the academy and have percolated through society and culture which have fundamentally challenged our understanding of reality – and the consequences of this have not always been good. René Magritte’s clever and iconic painting, ‘The Treachery of Images (1929),’ with its image of a pipe and the slogan, Ceci n’est pas une pipe (‘this is not a pipe’), very much captures the postmodern and poststructuralist approaches to semiotics – the relationship between signs and symbols to language and understanding – that would take shape in the new philosophies of the post-war era. Yet, at the same time, it presaged a deep crisis in hermeneutics which would become apparent in the popular and hypermodern philosophies of the twenty-first century; post-truth and the death of meaning.

We have created a world in which logical contradictions may exist – even in the same mind – and both still remain in some meaningful-meaningless way true.

Of course, Magritte was right. This image of a pipe is not a pipe, it is a representation of a pipe – a meaning-bearing sign or symbol which, like all artistic representation, is open to endless interpretation and reinterpretation. In a sense, then, his pipe is a nothing. It is a nothing awaiting transformation into a something through the subjective gaze of the viewer. Ultimately, the statement he is making is that ‘reality,’ whatever that is, is surreal:

The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not? So, if I had written on my picture ‘This is a pipe,’ I’d have been lying!

As if mocking the Cartesian dogma of existence as a product of thought, surrealism in art and the ideas of postmodernism and poststructuralism reduced thinking itself to the absurdity of the radical subjectivity of thought. For as many thinkers as there are, they suggest, there are individual realities – nothing can be objective. It is this assault on truth, therefore, that sets the scene for the wired non-philosophy of the early twenty-first century; the absolute individuality of perception, thought, and reality. We have created a world in which logical contradictions may exist – even in the same mind – and both still remain in some meaningful-meaningless way true.

Why have we started this article with an apparent word salad of strange cerebral psychobabble? Well, for the simple reason we have just seen it in action in the re-trial-non-re-trial of Alex Salmond, the former First Minister of Scotland, and we have seen how individuals’ perceptions, thoughts, and realities have clashed with the old realities of reason, law, fact, evidence, and objectivity. In the most disturbing and divisive way, we have witnessed how people’s emotions and individual experiences and biases have formed hard facts and realities out of thin air, regardless of the solid facts of the situation – and the result is complete and utter chaos.

Regardless, then, of anyone’s opinion or their feelings on the matter, according to the law, Mr Salmond is innocent.

On 23 March 2020, Mr Salmond walked out of court after a jury found him not guilty of twelve charges, one charge had been found not proven, and one other had been dropped by the prosecution earlier in the trial. Alex Salmond had sat in court for two weeks as his future and his freedom were weighed on the scales of justice. In the end he walked out of the Edinburgh court a free man; not one of the two charges of attempted rape, nine of sexual assault, and one of a breach of the peace had been proven. Regardless, then, of anyone’s opinion or their feelings on the matter, according to the law, Mr Salmond is innocent. But this fact did not deter his successor, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, remarking to the press during a COVID-19 briefing:

The behaviour [the women] complained of was found by a jury not to constitute criminal conduct, and Alex Salmond is innocent of criminality. But that doesn’t mean that the behaviour they claimed of didn’t happen.

Here is the problem. The complainants in the case claimed that Mr Salmond had either attempted to rape them or that he sexually assaulted them. In law, when a jury finds someone not guilty, it means that it did not happen. When a jury – in Scotland – finds a charge not proven, it means that the evidence was not sufficient to prove beyond reasonable doubt that it did happen. The law, however, has its limitations. Every day people are denied justice in courts, and every day there are miscarriages of justice. It is an imperfect system. So, Ms Sturgeon is correct; just because the court found Alex Salmond not guilty, does not mean that the events as the women testified to them did not happen. But this also implies the opposite; just because a court finds someone guilty, does not mean the events as the witnesses reported them did actually happen. We can play this game all day, and this is one of the reasons why we must leave these questions to the determination of the courts.

It is perfectly alright for us here to toy with these hypothetical abstractions, but it is not alright for a head of government to do the same at a press conference. It is unethical for an elected leader to cast doubt on the verdict of a court, and, for Ms Sturgeon, this is a serious violation of the ministerial code of the Scottish parliament. A Scottish court arrived at a not guilty verdict, and so, for the First Minister, the verdict is not guilty – it did not happen. Neither can she hide behind the language of evidence and testimony being found to not constitute criminal conduct.

Under the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009, both attempted rape and sexual assault are acts of criminal conduct, and these were the charges brought against Mr Salmond. This is to say, attempted rape and sexual assault cannot be committed up to a point not constituting criminality. Either it is attempted rape and sexual assault or it is not. The court determined that Alex Salmond did not commit attempted rape or sexual assault. And it is not for the First Minister to speculate on the possible limitations of the court’s decision in any particular case. This is not her job, and for her to sow the seeds of doubt in the public mind is wrong.

Attempted rape and sexual assault cannot be committed up to a point not constituting criminality. Either it is attempted rape and sexual assault or it is not.

Yet, getting back to that pipe that is not a pipe, for Nicola Sturgeon, her identity politics, coupled with the magisterium of her own opinion, this speculation constitutes a kind of transcendent truth. She can cast doubt on the decision of a court because in her mind the court may have made a mistake. Time and again in this case – and in other similar cases – we have encountered the feminist identity politics slogan ‘Believe Women.’ Such a maxim points to the special nature of women as victims, whose weaker position within the ‘patriarchy’ makes it more difficult for them to receive justice, and who, therefore, we must simply believe. While this call to trust women reporting sexual violence is based on a reality – the fact that women do find it difficult to receive justice in the courts, it is an emotional and not a rational claim. Justice cannot and will not give preferential treatment to one group over another. This would not and could not be justice. Even with all it’s limitations, the law demands evidence, testimony, and the interpretation of evidence and testimony.

Simply and uncritically believing anyone or any particular group who reports a crime itself creates injustice. If we are to ‘believe women’ in rape and sexual assault cases, then – as a matter of faith and not reason – we must believe them no matter the verdict; as is the case right now against Alex Salmond. No matter the decision of the court, then, to ‘believe women,’ means that in a meaningful-meaningless way the accused may still have committed the crime and is therefore guilty by accusation. In no sense can this be described as justice.

What this is, is a hyper-individualistic truth claim arrogating to itself the offices of judge, jury, and executioner. Rather than justice, this is vengeance stemming from a particular identity politics which seeks retribution for the real and perceived crimes and injustices committed upon and felt by this one victim group – women – against an imagined oppressor group – men. The precedent it sets is awful, and the effect only makes victims of individuals of the so-thought oppressor class. Men and boys accused of rape or sexual assault can never under any circumstances, even innocence, be innocent – because the limitations of the system will always mean the accused might have done it. Such a perverse reality, in fact, dispenses with the law altogether. What need is there of a court and a legal system when everyone accused is guilty by accusation?

Men and boys accused of rape or sexual assault can never under any circumstances, even innocence, be innocent – because the limitations of the system will always mean the accused might have done it.

It is here that the intellectual and artistic experiments of surrealism and postmodernism must be separated from what is in actual fact real and solid and verifiable. Thought experiments have their limitations too, and we would do well to bear this in mind. Mr Ramsey, my old Physics teacher at Kilmarnock Academy, taught me one of the greatest philosophy lessons I have ever had. He described, in a lesson on motion and velocity, how some ancient Greek in a toga had described the impossibility of any object in motion ever completing a journey from one point to another. If this object is to go from point A to point B, he said, it must first get from point A to a point half way between point A and point B. And if it is to go from point A to a point half way between point A and point B, it must first travel from point A to a point half way between point A and the point half way between point A and point B. On and on it goes, having to complete smaller and smaller tasks ad infinitum and so never being able to complete its full journey from A to B.

In theory, the old Greek was right. But in practice … well, in practice Mr Ramsey clambered on top of a workbench with a rugby ball, saying, ‘Let my foot be point A, and let the wall at the back be point B.’ With a mighty punt, the ball made it all the way from A to B and then to C, and through C (‘C’ being the classroom window). And with that smashing of glass the thought experiment was put in its place. In the real world, we cannot escape the fact that reality bites.

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Scottish National Party leader speaks after Commons walkout


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18 thoughts on “Reality Bites

  1. Thank you.

    I have long been a student of what are called (post)modernist ideas. In the 1980s I was convinced of the radical motivation of analysing what was at the time hegemonic reason. Now I have watched for thirty odd years as the right has cherrypicked ideas of which it has no understanding to undermine any reasoned opinion. Meanwhile material conditions enable now doublespeak and denial of objectivity, without any conscious conscience or consequence.

    Identity politics has become the pinnacle of 21st narcissism, devoid of intellectual substance and supported by the brute habits of these desiccated hyper individualised societies.

    It remains to be seen how Ms S deflects the questions.

    More crucially whether her government and the Crown Office are prepared to release evidence relevant to the case against them. Here is the real postmodern critique; power taking hold of reason, by controlling what counts as evidence against it.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. And so it is rape or it is not rape. Similar then to being alive or dead.
    The court found it was not rape.So it was similar to being found alive.
    And so, are we now in the position where having been found alive Nicola Sturgeon is tryin to say that being found alive was really being found dead.

    Mnnn – babble posing as rigorous debate or simply Sturgeon continuing to attempt put a stain on someone. I prefer the latter.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I too was taught that old Greek paradox at Kilmarnock Academy, now sadly closed, but in my case it was the maths teacher, not the physics teacher. The logical solution is easier to understand ever since moving cinematography was invented. What the philosopher was doing was halving time as well as space and in effect turning a moving picture into a still image. The other logical flaw was that it assumes the Euclidian geometry of the dimensionless point when in fact there is a lower limit to dimensions in mainstream quantum physics (the Planck Constant) and in the macro world it is possible for, say a foot, to be both in front of and behind a Euclidian point (on say a rugby ball) at the same time. So that paradox has two flaws in the argument. Nice to see the critical comments on semiotics, surrealism and postmodern subjectivism too!

    With regard to the allegations against Salmond, it is quite clear that at least some of the women were cajoled into making the allegations, that one woman was not even in Edinburgh on the evening of the alleged attempted rape, and that even though they were under pressure to investigate a large number of allegations, the police dropped the investigation into the alleged incident at Edinburgh Aiport immediately.

    Nevertheless, such incidents have been repeatedly mentioned in the media, starting with Kirsty Wark’s infamous programme more or less immediately after the trial. Almost every subsequent press report that i have read has mentioned the allegations too in what amounts to a sustained media smear campaign. This is one indication among many that the UK political establishment is absolutely desparate to prevent another referendum and will engage in all manner of dirty tricks to prevent independence. The trial of Craig Murray for contempt of court for merely accurately reporting on the Salmond trial is an evident attempt to silence the truth. Samond is entirely correct in his critcisms of the leadership of the SNP, the Scottish government, and the Crown Office.

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  4. I love the intellectual thought experiments one can have through philosophy but when it comes down to it I am a smashed window reality guy every day of the week. I’ve only just returned to the cesspit of Scottish Twitter & am baffled & outraged by the anti-intellectual convolutions that so many followers of NS put themselves through because they are convinced of Nicola’s righteousness & therefore Salmond’s guilt. You get the feeling that they would deny the very existence gravity if required to do so. The cognitive dissonance ringing in their ears prevents them from hearing any evidence that opposes their existing viewpoint & then they demand, ‘show me the evidence’.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. A professor writing in Sunday’s National in a personal capacity observed that the “post-modernist anti-scientific wing of trans activism, whose confused arguments would see them flunk a first year philosophy course, have laid down rots in the [SNP].”

      Trouble is that the low achievers and less intelligent students of politics and business aim early for a cushy career in a party without knowing what this means. All they see is a way of protecting their precious and utterly mythical identities from nasty people.

      My beef is with the absurdity and narcissism of identity politics. I do not have an issue with people identifying as whatever they want, but this lot expect me to identify too, to accept their categories of personhood without question and to choose one for myself, or have one imposed upon me – like CIS – which seems a bit ironic considering they object the identities imposed on them by “society”.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. In this case the jury was given a choice of three verdicts. In other courts the not guilty verdict is ambiguous and can mean either not guilty or not proven, but not in this court. So I believe that NS is merely parroting an internationally agreed formulation without consideration. It troubles me that it seems that it is this lack of intellectual understanding that she brings to all her pronouncements.

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  6. Excellent comment.

    The FM now seems to believe that you are guilty until proven innocent. And when you are proven innocent you are guilty anyway.

    She, and her supporters, are getting bent out of shape in order to justify the comments that you reference in your article. When I pointed out in numerous places in yesterday’s articles in The National that Alex Salmond was on trial for CRIMINAL activity and, because the jury acquitted him on all charges, these events as described did not, ergot, happen the response was that was, for example, (and I quote directly from one poster) “If I commit murder and a jury cannot prove it does it mean I didn’t do it?”

    It’s breathtaking.

    It brings to mind the documented experience in the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (1975-79) where it was sufficient for ‘pure’ children to simply point a finger at adults to accuse them of ‘western’ and ‘bourgeois’ thoughts for the accused to be summarily executed.

    Judging by her verbal outbursts and intolerant behaviour it seems like our FM is well on her way to becoming Scotland’s Pol Pot.

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  7. I remember a lecture on Wittgenstein where he was perhaps paraphrased as saying that at the end of the day, philosophers get on the bus and go home and have ham and eggs for tea.

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  8. The reasoning of Malcontents is often childlike at times. Reality bites right enough, but not for them.

    By the reasoning above, if a tackle goes in on a football pitch and the player on the receiving end wants a red card shown, if the referee waves it away we are compelled to believe the whole incident never took place; that their was never any interaction what-so-ever. We would have to deny the evidence of our own eyes. So much for reality.

    Just as the player in the example above “believed” they were the victim of foul play, women who are unsuccessful in pressing claims of sexual assault still “believed” they were victims of it. That the courts decided what happened was not criminal does not mean that an incident did not occur.

    The implications of the Malcontent reasoning above is that anyone unsuccessful in a court case they brought against someone would be guilty of perjury as, apparently, a not guilty verdict means absolutely nothing happened at all and the complainant just lied about it. The jails would be full of unsuccessful complainants and criminal activity would run rife throughout society as few would want to risk the added injustice of jail on top of whatever crime was committed against them.

    All Sturgeon implied was that Salmond’s behaviour, while not criminal, was of a nature that made it unsurprising he found himself under scrutiny. Something Salmond himself tacitly made the cornerstone of his defence with his “I’m no saint” admission.

    As to claims of Salmond’s “re-trial”, he has no one to blame but himself. He could have walked away from the court last year victorious, vindicated and free. But that was not enough for him. He wanted revenge. So he and his loyal cohorts concoct a wholly unsubstantiated conspiracy theory, that keeps the pot boiling, and then act the victim when people therefore, understandably, make reference to it. Well, going by recent polls, it looks like the ultimate cost of Salmond’s ego will be independence itself. A small price, no doubt, in the eyes of his fan club.

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  9. When we claim there is only “my truth” and “your truth”, each of which may be true for me and not true for you, and true for you and not true for me, then we deny that there is publicly accessible truth. What we are left with is only domination and bullying. “My Truth” becomes what the public must accept, no matter what anyone else says.

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  10. I think Nicola Sturgeon was wrong to say what she did – completely out of order – but let’s suppose that the procedure had not been flawed and illegal?

    The law does allow for a criminal not guilty verdict to be challenged – by means of a private civil prosecution (very rare, and can be counterproductive).

    Rape/sexual assault is a ‘private’ crime in that the perpetrator will not normally issue invitations to come along and watch (unless it’s a gang bang or. war crime). Ergo, it becomes almost impossible for females to even start proceedings against anyone for what might well be a rape/sexual assault (criminal actions). I’m being general here, not specific, by the way. The ‘believe women’ maxim came along because of this lack of witness testimony, and because women were being denied justice. The police, therefore, start their investigations by believing the woman concerned, then they investigate as far as that is possible, taking circumstantial and forensic evidence, etc., into account. It will soon become apparent if there is not factual evidence on which to base a case, and, at that stage, the police will drop the investigation. Many are dropped at this stage for lack of evidence, especially where the two people know each other.

    If there is some evidence for the allegation being made being genuine, the evidence will be gathered and sent to the fiscal for his/her decision on whether there is a sufficiency of evidence to uphold a case. Often, other behaviours by the accused which give some kind of legitimacy to the original allegation will be used to shore it up (Moorov Doctrine). The woman herself will appear in court and she will be questioned rigorously, and in the minutest detail, about what occurred. Accused men in rape/sexual assault cases almost always opt for the jury trial they are entitled to, because it is very difficult to convince a jury that someone should go to prison for a long stretch on the hurdle of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ (quite rightly so, and the accused is innocent till proved guilty, the central plank of any criminal justice system). After all the evidence from prosecution and defence and the judge’s summing up, the jury will be expected to make a decision and offer a verdict. Even the slightest shadow of a doubt should lead to an acquittal. It is never the jury’s job to pronounce on whether they believed a witness or not, on whether a witness lied or not, only to bring in a verdict which is either unanimous or a majority one.

    The alleged victim might feel she has not received justice, but what she means is that her case was too weak to sustain a guilty verdict or that her case did no convince the jury beyond reasonable doubt. She may well have been raped or sexually assaulted, but, if the prosecution cannot prove it beyond reasonable doubt, if there has been an insufficiency of corroboration, her case will fall and the accused walks out of court a free man, innocent. Short of women carrying tiny personal cameras in a chip in their bodies, I cannot see any way round the present system. There appears to be a fear by men, judging by the comments on here, that women will make false allegations willy-nilly, if you’ll pardon the pun, but that is far from being the reality. It is a perception that men have that is felled by the reality. The facts are, the truth is, that women do not receive justice in many cases, that women report only a tiny fraction of assaults against them because they fear the process, which is excruciatingly intimate, and demeaning for them. Another truth, where perception is the exact opposite, is that juries with more women than men on them, in every study done, are more likely to acquit.

    What has been very unfair to Mr Salmond is the fact that the women, some of them, have sniped at him from behind the cloak of anonymity. It is not intended for that purpose, just as it is not intended to be a cover-all from birth to death and all points in between. It covers only the trial and all the ancillary workings around the trial.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. And, perhaps, perceptions work both ways? Subjective truth might just be another way to say ‘perception’. Often, what is deemed to be ‘objective truth’ cannot be discerned in sexual assault cases because they do not normally have an audience. I am not questioning the criminal trial verdict, nor am I challenging the ‘innocent till proved guilty’ principle of criminal law. Nor am I accusing or retrying Mr Salmond. Neither am I stating that the victims lied deliberately or that there was a conspiracy. I am talking in general terms here.

    What I am saying is that there may well be no objective truth to find. That is not the job of the jury in any case. The job of the jury is to bring in a verdict based on the weight of evidence and the hurdle of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Reasonable doubt, by definition does not mean ‘no doubt’. It means that, if there is any doubt whatsoever about the evidence, then it cannot pass the ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ hurdle, and the jury will be obliged to bring in a verdict of ‘not guilty’.

    No one, except the people directly involved, the alleged perpetrator and the alleged victim can possibly know what happened, and, even then, it will be their perceptions that colour their ‘truth’ of the events. I am trying to show that most women alleging criminal sexual assault/rape do not set out to deliberately blame men for something they have not done; some might do, but the instance of false claims in sexual assault/rape cases is no different from that in other criminal offences. Women sometimes eschew their cloak of anonymity and run the gauntlet of public opprobrium in order to show that justice is not infallible.

    Men have been the historic oppressors of women. Women have been, and continue to be the victims of men. That is a generalization, and it can work both ways, but, it is beyond reasonable doubt that women have suffered, and continue to suffer, a great deal more at the hands of men than vice versa. That is simply an objective truth that is not a perception by women. If we are going to talk about truths and perceptions, we need to keep that in mind to come to any fair conclusion on a general rather than specific level. Again, I repeat, I am not questioning the verdict, which I happen to agree with, or the principle of ‘innocent until proved guilty’. These, like corroboration (albeit the Scottish level of corroboration might sometimes be deemed to be too high) are central to any justice system and the rule of law is central to any democracy.

    I am putting forward the woman’s case – not the women’s case.

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