Sexual Harassment and the Fallacy of the Excluded Middle

Sexual Harassment and the Fallacy of the Excluded Middle November 4, 2011

I’m not terribly interested in the sexual harassment allegations against Herman Cain, but I am interested in the reaction to them. I’m particularly fascinated by those who claim that sexual harassment is non-existent, nothing more than a way for man-hating women to get revenge. People like John Derbyshire, who says the same thing is true of racial harassment:

Is there anyone who thinks sexual harassment is a real thing? Is there anyone who doesn’t know it’s all a lawyers’ ramp, like “racial discrimination“? You pay a girl a compliment nowadays, she runs off and gets lawyered up. Is this any way to live? …

There has never in the history of the world been a people better mannered and less inclined to insulting acts of prejudice than today’s Americans, yet we’re supposed to believe that the nation is seething with “harassment” and “discrimination,” women being groped in every business office and crosses burning on every lawn. For Heaven’s sake. Aren’t there any grown-ups around?

Of course there are; you are clearly not one of them. An adult — that is, a rational person — would recognize the fallacy of the excluded middle being used here: Either Herman Cain is guilty or sexual harassment is always a frivolous charge by silly women trying to hurt their perfectly moral male co-workers. I have no idea whether Herman Cain is guilty of what he is accused of; neither does anyone else outside of Cain and the women who have accused him. We have almost no facts at all to go on at this point, so it would be irrational to reach a firm conclusion.

But even if he is 100% innocent of the accusations, it would hardly follow logically that therefore there are no genuine cases of sexual harassment — and even less that there is no racial harassment. Sexual harassment certainly isn’t as bad as it was in decades past; the number of women holding positions of power has no doubt diminished its frequency substantially. But to pretend it no longer exists? What mental world could one possibly inhabit to believe that is true?

There is a rational middle ground between the caricature he builds — “women being groped in every business office and crosses burning on every lawn” — and the delusion he prefers, a reality where no one is ever harassed for their race or gender. He simply doesn’t live in the real world; he lives on Planet Wingnuttia.

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