The Storybook Version of the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman Confrontation

If you want to convey something as being true when you actually don’t have any idea, don’t say “I am certain that…” Just say what you have to say as if it were truth.

That seems to be the lesson from this Zimmerman/Trayvon-Martin business. My understanding of the case is that there are no videotapes, eyewitnesses, or ear-witnesses (other than Zimmerman himself). That didn’t prevent a juror from saying this of Martin:

Oh, I believe he played a huge role in his death. He could have, he could have—when George confronted him, he could have walked away and gone home. He didn’t have to do whatever he did and come back and be in a fight.

That statement makes a large number of assumptions as to how the two met and the opportunities available to each. Rather than point this out though, a senior editor of the New Yorker ran further with it:

…it seems yawningly facile to say that when he was confronted by Zimmerman, a man in the dark with a gun, “he could have walked away.” Is the idea that Zimmerman would have stood there like a statue?

Sigh. Still further unsupported assumptions from the New Yorker overlaid on the juror’s.

My FaceAche feed is similarly filled with people either certain that Zimmerman stalked and murdered Martin or certain that Martin viciously attacked Zimmerman who was forced to defend himself. And their phraseology is not “I am certain X happened” (which would tip us off on the fact that we are reading an assertion made by someone goofing off at work) but instead “X happened.” They thus remove themselves from the fictions they’ve created. Clever.

Why is this necessary though? Why pretend to know what one cannot possibly know?

My guess is that the narrative of the story is too important to most commentators to tolerate the real-world uncertainty about what actually happened. If you are of a particular world view, there is something deliciously poetic and apt in a narrative in which an armed white man harasses a young black teenager, shoots him dead, and then evades arrest because the only harm done was to a young black teenager.

Correspondingly, if you hold another world view, there is nothing more poetic and apt than a member of a neighborhood watch program defending himself from a guy who wouldn’t have looked out of place on The Wire.

People want their narratives completed in such a way as to support their views. If the facts are unknown, they shall be asserted with sufficient volume until the become Truth.

And that is sad.

Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.


  1. I’ve been warned that comment threads on this topic have been ugly. While ugliness itself is not a problem, please do not make a mockery of yourself by asserting your own version of events without clearly referenced evidence. Yes, there are bits of evidence that tend to point in some directions rather than others, but those bits don’t sum to a clear picture of what actually happened.

    • Thanks for the entirely non-ugly comment!

      I don’t believe I have access to post on the new site yet. Once I do, I’ll shift it over there.

      • I should have figured that much out. The part is weird.

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