[Advance apologies for scatterbrained nature of this post, it's kind of an expanded idea I was running with on Twitter that keep taking more than 140 chars and I just wanted to write it out while it was fresh in my head. Perhaps I'll expand on it more in the future as well if folks think it's worthwhile.]
So there’s been a lot of discussion of the Rape accusations against Julian Assange recently, and a lot of discussion about the reaction to those accusations. I don’t think I’m mistaken when I say that a non-trivial number of people have publicly speculated the rape charges might be fraudulent for one reason or another putting the credibility of the accusers in question, but there’s also been a non-trivial number of people who’ve done just the opposite – instantly believed any and all accusations and condemned Assange based on what is basically hearsay at this point. We’ll see how much that changes after the trial, but I think that’s to be expected for a lot of reasons.
It’s easy to think this is indicative of some kind of sexism but it’s worth noting that, in my observations anyway, I’ve seen just as many men as women take both of the above sides. Personally, having known women who have been raped, as well as men who have been falsely accused of rape – I’m extremely hesitant to make early assumptions but I’m very much in the minority there I think. It might be some underlying sexism, it might be some ingrained guilt, or it might be something else. I think it’s less of those things and more that our society as a whole has a really hard time accepting the duality of people. People are not all good, or all bad. They are both, sometimes they do really good, or really bad things, but by and large one action isn’t indicative of everything about a person.
So in the case of Julian Assange, people who are supporters of wikileaks are having a really hard time with the idea that the guy behind it might not be a saint. And I’m not using that word as just a random example, I think religion, Christianity specifically, is very much to blame for a lot of this. People are brought up being taught about this group of people who were completely flawless or who if by chance did mess up, were instantly repentant and forgiven thus maintaining their good graces with God. Children are taught to aspire to be like this, and given this ideal that isn’t realistic or achievable at all. So what happens is when someone gets in to the spotlight all of those hopes and dreams are projected on them. We saw it with Obama and we’re seeing it again with Julian Assange.
It’s very hard for people to wrap their head around the concept that someone they look up to on one level might not be as respectable on another. Wait, how could Obama smoke? He’s supposed to be perfect and a role model. Wait, how could he give Bush & Co a pass, I thought he was going to be the shining light of change? This is a problem when you put anyone on a pedestal – how could Assange be anything but a gentleman in his personal life because wikileaks is such a great thing? Wait, I really agree with that one thing Assange said, but I can’t support rape so in order for that to balance out in my head one of those must be false, and I want a hero so I must assume the rape charges are bullshit. Hell maybe the rape charges *are* bullshit. But maybe they aren’t.
Good people sometimes do really bad things.
Bad people sometimes do really good things.
There’s no such thing as saints or saviours. People are just that, people. Anytime we expect them to be more than that we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. This is something we should keep in mind, and judge actions based on the actions, and not try to constantly fit people into the role of great redeemer.