Glow Booze
Friday Ephemera

Ambient Truth

One for our collection, care of Zoe Williams:

I think she [Margaret Thatcher] almost certainly didn’t say it (the bus thing). It’s just ambiently true, because she seems like a person who hates buses.

The alleged comment in question - “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus, can count himself a failure” - is difficult to verify and somewhat implausible but is nonetheless repeated by Thatcher’s critics, including the BBC. Its repetition seems to exist independently of a reliable source, possibly because so many would like to believe that it’s true. What’s interesting, though, is the notion that this claim, and by extension any number of others, is ambiently true. Which is to say, it’s assumed as somehow typical - accurate or not - and fits a chosen narrative. Presuming the particulars of what so-and-so might as well have said (or done) – whether or not they did – is ripe with potential. It’s therefore no great surprise that others have taken this strategy much further - to its predictable conclusion.

As when Johnathan Perkins, a black law student, told the University of Virginia’s student newspaper that while walking home he’d been taunted and intimidated by two white police officers. Perkins’ letter claimed that “most Americans are raised in racially sterilised environments,” and that “black people are accused of… playing the victim.” The student’s stated hope was that, “sharing this experience will provide this community with some much needed awareness of the lives that many of their black classmates are forced to lead.” A subsequent investigation, involving dispatch records, police tapes and surveillance video from nearby businesses, revealed the student’s story to be entirely fabricated. In a written statement, Perkins admitted, “I wrote the article to bring attention to the topic of police misconduct... The events in the article did not occur.”

As Mark Bauerlein noted recently, Perkins’ dishonesty was oddly free of consequences, for him at least, and not without precedent. Previously, a 19-year-old freshman ransacked her own room and scrawled racial slurs across its walls before curling into a foetal ball, supposedly in shock. When this “hate crime” was revealed as a hoax, Otis Smith, a regional president of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, was remarkably untroubled. That the events had been staged and then lied about was, he said, “largely irrelevant.” He added, “It doesn’t matter to me whether she did it or not because of all the pressure these black students are under at these predominantly white schools. If this will highlight it, if it will bring it to the attention of the public, I have no problem with that.”

Similar instances of students fabricating “hate crimes,” rape and “hate speech” aren’t exactly hard to find. Maybe what we’re seeing is, at least in part, a kind of activism, albeit one with an unhinged postmodern twist. Perhaps Mr Perkins and his fellow dissemblers believe themselves to be righteous in illustrating some greater truth – an, as it were, ambient one – in the service of which lies can be told, proudly, repeatedly and in good conscience.