One of the frustrations I have struggled with for seemingly ever is the concept of the obvious. There are things which seem very obvious to me. Self-evident in a way. For some reason it seems like there are things which are self-evident to me which others do not see in the same light. In a lot of ways I feel like the fictional character I most identify with is Lex Luthor. Film versions notwithstanding Lex Luthor is defined by the idea that having a super-powered man-in-tights running around the world with nigh-limitless power completely unchecked is a bad idea. Even if he is a good actor in society today there’s nothing stopping a man (be he super or not) from becoming a bad actor in the future. It is obvious to Lex that something should keep Superman in check or he should be under someone’s oversight, but everyone else in his shared world interprets even this idea as villainous.

One of the things which seems obvious or self-evident to me is the idea that there is an inherit difference between Thought and Deed. If you have thoughts but do not act on them then what does it matter. Now I mean this along the full spectrum - from the “women should wear dresses” and “people shouldn’t wear fur” all the way to the child-attracted (pedophiles) and white power (racist) ideologies. If you hold any of these beliefs (which I do not) but do not act on them - I’m not sure I care. I’d love to discuss them, partially because I love debate, and partially because I find the best way to weed out bad ideas is discussion. Now there seem to be some people in our society who strongly believe in the concept of thought crime. Hold a racist view? You should lose your job and position in society! This doesn’t track with me. If you hold a racist view but never act on it then it should be discussed but I don’t think you’ve done anything wrong. Your belief is false but many many people hold beliefs which are false.

Now part of this comes from base tribalism. Modern human society and culture descends from previous iterations which were heavily based on tribalism. It’s very natural for us to devolve back to this idea of my tribe is better than your tribe, my family or race or culture is better than yours. You still see a lot of it in things like sports or brand wars. My team is better than your team because they are my team - my Coke is better than your Pepsi because I like it more. Lately I’ve noticed more and more communities becoming tribalistic. Communities are normally arranged around shared ideas or beliefs or hobbies. However in more modern eras I’ve seen some communities attempt to grow into tribes. A community organized around one idea suddenly saying we don’t want members who don’t also believe several other ideas or hold several other positions and non-conforming members are drummed out.

You can also see the concept of thought crime being brought up in our wider culture. The justice system which we’ve found works best (so far anyhow) is firmly rooted in the idea of innocent until proven guilty beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt. Now there’s several very good reasons for this. As a starting point is the idea that it is preferable for a guilty person to go free over falsly imprisoning an innocent person. Secondly is the idea that from a logical perspective it may well be that proving a negative is impossible which is why we put the burden of proof on the claimant. But increasingly some people are trying others in the court of public opinion. People are losing their jobs and livlihoods from the accusation and not the conviction. To me, this is another branch of thought crime. Recently a friend texted me saying “not sure if you saw the news but apparently we hate Liam Neeson now because he was racist 40 years ago.” In case you haven’t read up on this apparently 40 years ago Liam Neeson’s close personal friend was raped by a black man and he spent some amount of time hating all black men because of this. Until he voluntarily sought out counseling to help him deal with these feelings and remove the racial bias he understood was wrong. Now, 40 years later, he is being found guilty in the court of public opinion as being a racist. Now again, going back to my initial premise, there is an inherit difference between thoughts and deeds. Liam never acted on his racist ideas. He had a very rational basis for hating one specific black man and he irrationally held it against all black men. He identified this error and took actions to correct it. This was absolutely the correct way to deal with it!

Finally I want to look at the case study that sort of started it all - Bill Cosby. When the initial accusations surfaced about Bill’s misdeeds I was skeptical. All I knew about him was his public persona and these accusations seemed so very contrary to that persona. Some tried him in the court of public opinion and prematurely found him guilty. Eventually he was tried in a court of law and was, in fact, found guilty. Now some will point to this case study and claim it justifies their idea that they can continue to do this to others, that it is correct to try people in the court of public opinion - that consequences for a person based on accusation is fine as the conviction will come later. I disagree. There’s a saying in the Atheist community that the appropriate time to believe something is when there is evidence to support that belief. This idea comes from dealing with the religious who read too deeply into their holy texts and claim that modern science was predicted by bronze-aged goat herders. Even if you do think that your holy text backs it up believing an idea based upon strange interpretations of translations of translations of copies of copies - the correct time to believe that idea is when it’s supported by evidence. So even though in the case of Bill Cosby it does seem accurate to believe what happened - the correct time to believe it is after the conviction - after the evidence supports it - and not before.