The case of Bill Cosby serves as a metaphor for much of our general dysfunction. A powerful, charismatic man inflicted major harm on those who had no chance of being heard, let alone finding justice. Only now does it come out that he is a serial rapist, though the label still has not stuck, even though dozens of women have come forward. It seems he will avoid all prosecution, that he will never tell the truth, and live out his life in material and perhaps psychological comfort, aided by his denial and the denial of his wife and hardcore fans. What does this say about our society? That he is a serial rapist, but can avoid the label “serial rapist”?
There are similarities on a larger scale:
What about Andrew Jackson, whose polices insured the dispersal, removal, and death of Native American peoples? A policy that is, if not stated, then in effect, genocide? Who heard these victims, or even listens to their ancestors today? In modern times, there are many examples of US Presidents abetting vast injustice on people in third-world nations. It has been forcefully argued that the Vietnam War was genocidal (e.g. the book Kill Anything That Moves). Even the land was scorched and poisoned in an attempt to uproot and exterminate the “gooks”. Do the people of America acknowledge this? Has there been justice for this wrong?
We fall into a great fanfare of stars-and-stripes, wrapped in our conceited patriotic pride.
Let me refocus again, this time on a smaller scale than the (in)famous Cosby: what about a parent who sexually abuses their children? Or a priest who abuses children in his congregation? How often will justice be served in such cases? The victims themselves often won’t admit what happened, even inside. It’s just too painful, but they still suffer in crippling ways. The torment from the physical violation lingers and continues the assault, until (if ever) the wound is honestly examined and the mental pus released.
This is the essence of the dysfunction: Our culture digs canyons of denial that run so deep that even the strongest evidence cannot shake the impression of a violator as an “upstanding citizen worthy of emulation” and such.
Rapists, abusers, and politicians who use racist rhetoric to incite atrocious wars, can speak convincingly. Often, it seems, they truly believe they are the best of people, even though they leave anguish and blood in their wake. They have filtered out the obvious. A famous experiment demonstrated that peer pressure could get people to not only state an obvious untruth (that two lines were the same length, even though they were very different) but to come to believe it. The Cosbys of the world have a selfish motive for taking this path, not just consciously lying, but deluding themselves into a false sense of the real.
And their fans and followers insure their sins get buried by the shovel of adamant complicity.
This does not negate guilt. It makes those who brutalize others even more despicable. To inflict the great wrong itself is horrific. To run as far away from any admission of that crime, deceiving others and yourself on the deepest level, that is a further reviling stigma.
Power does not necessarily corrupt. We all have a certain amount of power over some others, including animals and the environment. If we want to have a healthy society--actually, if we want to survive as a civilization--we need to avoid the Bill Cosby Syndrome, the phenomenon of letting the powerful and charismatic get away with horrible things as if they never happened. If we don’t, we will continue to be creatures with divided, irrational minds, hostage to continued abuses and atrocities, incapable of avoiding war, and unable to steer humanity wisely in these very dangerous (nuclear weapons, global warming, etc.) times.
We need nothing less than a transformation of our psychological priorities. When obvious injustice is in our face we must actually face it, not hide, deny, and attack those who speak with clarity.
The only way I can see forward is to direct the collective human conscious away from narcissism and greed (fostered by numb, jingle-fueled consumerism) and toward a concept of the Good (an idea founded in human rights, empathy and cooperation, one that transcends any one religion).
PS: Perhaps I sound all academic, but I am so so so disgusted.