Nathaniel launched Difficult Run in November 2012 and ran the website alone until August 2013, when he invited the first Difficult Run Editors to join him in adding content to the site.
Nathaniel has a background in math, systems engineering, and economics, and his day job is in business analytics. His real interests are science fiction, and theology, however. He is an avid runner, but not a very fast one. He is married to fellow DREditor Ro and they have two little children.
In addition to Difficult Run, Nathaniel blogs regularly for Times And Seasons and writes a lot of reviews on Goodreads.
Anger is toxic, and it has no place in ordinary political disputes. I’m very reluctant to add to it.
And yet, it is less with anger and more with a sense of bone-deep bewilderment that I–reluctantly–read a few articles about Alfie Evans.
Aflie is a baby with a severe neurological affliction that–according to doctors–has left him in a vegetative state with no conceivable chance of recovery. This is tragic, and no one is to blame for Alfie’s condition.
The UK courts have decided that no further care should be given to Alfie because there’s no hope of his recovery. This is tragic, but also defensible. It’s not possible to expend unlimited resources on every tragic case, and hard calls have to be made.
But where things stop making sense to me is where the UK government has refused to allow Alfie to be transported to Italy for additional care. Alfie has been granted Italian citizenship, the Italian military sent a plane to UK to fly him to a hospital in Italy, and all of this was done–one guesses–largely in response to the Pope’s public support for Alfie.
The UK government’s response is, essentially, that Alfie’s parents don’t know what they’re doing. The doctors know better. That may be true. Even the Italian hospital admits it can do no more than keep Alfie alive while doctors study his case. No one things there is a miracle cure.
But here’s the thing: why does the UK government, or any group of doctors, get to decide?
It gets more baffling still. Now Alfie’s parents, haven given up on the Italian option, just want to take him home. But even that they cannot do unless the doctors say so. In what universe is that a morally defensible position to take? Quoting an anonymous British father:
When my son was born nearly 16 months ago, I found to my amazement that I could not take him home until a paediatrician had signed a small slip of paper, to be handed in at the exit, authorising his release. I joked to my wife that we were only parenting under licence from the State. It seems less of a joke now.
The last straw–and the cause of the anger I can’t deny I feel about this–is the insufferable arrogance of the UK politicians and medical experts. For example:
Lord Justice McFarlane said parents, like those of Alfie Evans, could be vulnerable to receiving bad medical advice, adding that there was evidence that the parents made decisions based on incorrect guidance.
Hospital officials at Alder Hey say they have received “unprecedented personal abuse” from the global backlash to Alfie’s case. The Liverpool hospital has faced several protests in recent weeks, organized by a group calling itself “Alfie’s Army.”
“Having to carry on our usual day-to-day work in a hospital that has required a significant police presence just to keep our patients, staff and visitors safe is completely unacceptable,” the hospital’s chairman, Sir David Henshaw, and chief executive Louise Shepherd said.
Oh, is it “completely unacceptable” for people to protest what is essentially government-sanctioned kidnapping? I’m so sorry! I come from this crazy moral universe where parents–and not the government–are the guardians of their own children.
Or here’s another one:
Sometimes, the sad fact is that parents do not know what is best for their child,” Wilkinson said. “They are led by their grief and their sadness, their understandable desire to hold on to their child, to request treatment that will not and cannot help.
The UK was, in many ways, the birthplace of our political heritage of individual liberty and rights. It’s mystifying–and tragic–to see the sorry state of decay it has fallen into today.
So tell me, folks, am I missing some really vital aspects to this story that make it something other than a micro-dystopia?
This is my first post in the GCO in a long, long time and it feels great to be writing again. I really hope to stick with it this time. I plan on working my way through the entire backlog of posts I’ve missed (I don’t even know how many there are at this point. 10? 20? 30?) But my first priority will be keeping apace with the current ones. I’ll fill the backlog in as I can.
I have so many thoughts about the April 2018 GC that just concluded. First and foremost: a temple in Richmond, VA? I thought that the day would never come. With the huge DC temple so close by (relatively speaking) I didn’t even dare to hope. We had lots of friends over at our house watching the session, and we all went nuts when they made the announcement!
In his talk, Elder Taylor talked about the experience of a friend of his who—when she was a teenager—caused a car accident that took the life of the other driver. “Someone lost their mom,” he quotes her as saying, “and it was my fault.” It was a strong talk about the power of learning to hold onto our identity as children of God even when we feel terrible about our own mistakes, but part of me couldn’t help thinking: Yeah, it was tough for her. What about the children of the mom that died?
That was still in the back of my mind when I heard Elder Echo Hawk begin a story in his talk:
On a December night in 1982, my wife Terry and I were awakened by a phone call to our home… As I answered the phone, I heard only sobbing. Finally, my sister’s struggling voice said, “Tommy is dead.”
Elder Echo Hawk went on to describe how his family, with the help of Christ, was able to open their hearts to the family of the drunk driver who killed his brother.
These talks were not about the exact same accident, but I was incredibly struck by the fact that here we had two talks—back to back—about fatal car accidents. One from the perspective of a person who had caused a fatal car accident and survived, and one from the perspective of the family of a man killed by a car accident caused by someone else.
This is what forgiveness looks like: it has two sides.
One of the hardest things to learn about Christianity is that ultimately there are no bad guys. We’re not really wired for that, and it’s a radical and explosive perspective to take. But—in the end—it is the perspective of a God who loves all of His children.
It doesn’t mean that all of our mistakes cancel out. That would be trivializing. The perspective is hard precisely because they don’t. Because mistakes so often have the sinner on one hand and the sinned on the other, and that creates a divide that can seem unbridgeable.
We are not taught to pretend the sin didn’t happen. Nor—it should go without saying—are we taught to subject ourselves to ongoing abuse. But we are taught to forgive the one who has wronged us and, when we are truly penitent and have done all we can, we are taught to forgive ourselves.
Both aspects are hard. Both aspects are necessary. And ultimately, none of us are strong enough to bridge that chasm alone. It is Christ—His example and the power of His atonement—that allow us to cross the divide between the wrong-doer and the wrong-sufferer.
The WaPo has an article claiming that there is no free-speech crisis, and providing stats to back up the claim. The article did not convince me. Here’s why.
It’s Not Just About Free Speech
The decline of free speech on college campuses is not the root problem; it’s a concerning symptom of a broader malady. In particular, the folks who are concerned about this issue posit that there’s a tendency of a radical minority to shut down political discourse as a political tactic. Although a lot of problems in the country are bipartisan, this one isn’t. It’s a peculiarly left-wing malady that reflects a growing contempt by many on the modern left for the values of liberalism that once defined it. I mean liberal in the old sense of the word, as in emphasizing individualism.
This isn’t an accusation from the outside, by the way, it’s an avowed element of one of the core intellectual components of Critical Race Theory. One definition states flatly that “CRT also rejects the traditions of liberalism and meritocracy.”
So it’s not that there’s this explicitly anti-free speech trend in college campuses. It’s that there’s a virulent new ideology that uses attacks on free speech as a first resort.
Not All Speech is Equal
This being the case, looking for general survey results that attack free speech is misguided on multiple levels. First, it’s possible that the anti-free speech crowd are too small to register much in surveys but still powerful enough to create a climate of fear. In fact, that’s basically exactly what people concerned about this issue are saying. Second, even if you can get a survey with enough granularity to pick up on this minority, they aren’t opposed to free speech in all cases, but only in some cases. If you ask them about the wrong cases, you won’t measure anything at all.
Bearing that in mind, what kind of survey does the WaPo piece rely on? One that asks whether or not gay people should be allowed to give a speech. I kid you not. That, and an example about an anti-American Muslim cleric, are the leading examples. If you wanted to design survey results to be willfully blind to the actual concern, you couldn’t do better than this.
What are We Trying to Measure?
Speaking of willfully blind, the last section cites research by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education that there were only 35 no-platforming attempts in 2017 with only 19 being successful. So, “In a country with over 4,700 schools, that hardly constitutes a crisis.”
The meaningless of this statistic is impressive, given that Jeffrey Adam Sachs went to the trouble of finding and citing a dataset, but apparently not copy-pasting it into Excel to do some super-basic charting. Your first question might be, “Well, 35 attempts in 2017 doesn’t sound too bad, but is there a trend?” That would be anybody’s first question, I’d think, and here’s what that chart looks like:
Well, gee. There’s an upward trend if ever I saw one. And remember, we said that this was an ideologically-biased trend. FIRE helpfully sorts the no-platforming attempts into left and right, so what does that breakdown look like?
We’ve got a more or less flat line from the right, and a pronounced, multi-year upward trend for the left starting a little less than 10 years ago. It’s almost as though all those people who are worried about a disturbing new anti-free speech trend coming from the political left might have something in the data to substantiate their concerns! Again: the same dataset that Sachs cited (but apparently didn’t really look at).
This doesn’t go directly to Sachs’ claim that 35 incidents out of 4,900 universities isn’t enough to care about, but that’s a questionable assumption if ever there was one. First of all, I’m curious as to what Sachs’ threshold is. How many times do left-wing radical have to shut-up speakers they don’t like in specifically the places ostensibly designated for discussing controversial, diverse ideas before it becomes a problem?
And then there’s the fact that this doesn’t reveal anything about how many controversial speakers never get invited at all because administrators don’t want to deal with protests? Counting free speech in terms of protests is fundamentally a strange concept. I would expect both a libertarian utopia and an Orwellian dystopia to have essentially zero protests, so what does the absence of protests say about free speech? Only that it’s not an issue. When it’s as prevalent as the air we breath, no one protests. And when it’s completely repressed, no one protests.
But when free speech is in a transitional period–away from or towards repression–wellthat’s when I’d expect to see a spike.
And keep in mind: there’s a lot more going on than just no-platforming. One of the most important functions of no-platforming is not only to dissuade controversial speakers from visiting the campus, but to create a climate of ideological intolerance and intimidation that keeps ordinary students from speaking their minds, something that is going on, as Sachs concedes: “Very conservative students also tend to report that they are less comfortable expressing themselves in the classroom than very liberal students.”
Some folks might not like that I’ve singled out the left in this piece, especially when I try to be even-handed. I get that. I do try to be even-handed. That’s not going to change. This post doesn’t represent a new, angrier, more partisan turn for me. This just happens to be one, specific, exceptional case where the cards don’t break evenly. The left has a bigger problem here.
But that doesn’t mean the right doesn’t have one! You could easily say that Trump’s populism and the entire Alt-Right is nothing but the right’s attempt to catch up with the left’s new-found identical politics. And you’d be right. And, lamentably, the right is a fast learner in this regard. It could very well be that–shortly–the right will have caught up with its own radical fringe of anti-free speech zealots.
Whether or not you call this a “crisis” is just semantics. What does seem evident is that there is a rise in no-platforming protests, that it is stemming primarily from the left, and that it is happening at the same time as a tide of research indicates ideological discrimination on campuses is widespread and pernicious for both students, professors, and research. For more on that, just check up on the Heterodox Academy’s problem statement.
I recently had an interesting political exchange–as have basically all of us, these days–in which I was called out for not being nice enough. At least, that’s how I interpreted it. My interlocutor suggested that my argument was deficient because I hadn’t started out by finding something we could agree on before launching my critique. A critique that was, just for the record, entirely civil and on-point. At no point did I get personal and there was no allegation that I had. The problem wasn’t that I had been rude, uncivil, or anything like that. The problem was that I hadn’t been nice enough.
Now, OK, it never hurts to be nice, right? Speaking as a purely practical matter, shouldn’t we always try to express our beliefs in as non-abrasive a way as possible? You get more flies with honey, and all that. So, what’s the harm in accepting as a new rule of debate the general principle that we should always find a point of common ground first and only then engage the issues directly. What kind of a person disagrees with this? Surely only a heartless and soulless person, and why would we want to listen to what someone like that has to say, anyway?
And that, my friends, is why I dislike the tyranny of kindness.
The problem with it is that it’s only a tiny jump from saying, “Why not be nice?” to then saying, “If you’re not nice, nothing you say matters.” And “nice” is an awfully subjective term. There is no logical reason why a general rule of thumb to look for common ground should lead to exiling some people from discussion for not following arbitrary rituals, but–given the incentives of political discourse–the outcome is inevitable.
I realize I’m swimming upstream here, so let me try a different tack and see if I can make some headway.
Requiring people to be nice enough in their debates is discriminatory against non-neurotypical people. The term “neurotypical” is one of those neologisms like “cissexual” that is invented to describe the category of people who didn’t need a description before because they’re just, well, normal baseline humans. A cissexual is someone who identifies as the gender that matches their birth sex. Neurotypical means “not displaying or characterized by autistic or other neurologically atypical patterns of thought or behavior.” So, people who aren’t on the autism spectrum are neurotypical.
Neurotpyical people have no problem conforming with this new minimum requirement to engage in public discourse. They are, by definition, able to conform with expected social conventions. It is easy and natural for them to both interpret ordinary social cues and conform their own behavior–including written communication–to standard expectations. A neurotypical can easily come across as nice with minimal effort. Someone who is not neurotypical, well, they might have a harder time. For them, the requirement to be “just be nice” is not actually something incidental. It’s something that requires an awful lot of conscious effort and attention, if it’s attainable at all.
So our seemingly benign call to emphasize niceness in discourse functions–whether we intended to or not–as a form of bigotry that excludes a certain class of people from discussion.
Which doesn’t sound very nice, does it?
I am not merely playing games here. This isn’t a theoretical problem, it’s a real one. Gender, as the saying goes, is performative. So is all human speech. And we’re not all equally good at it. Tying the validity of a person’s argument–the worth of their viewpoint–to their capability and/or willingness to perform well enough is not a benign requirement. It’s not a case that it might lead to unfair applications, it is intrinsically exclusionary and debilitating. Which is exactly why it’s so increasingly popular. Calling on people to be nice isn’t neutral. It’s a power-play. Which is why–in other contexts–minorities have long-rejected it as “tone policing”.
Look at that, I’m agreeing with an aspect of social justice ideology. Will wonders never cease?
I’ll be clear about what I’m saying here: refraining from personal attacks and incendiary language is a reasonable minimum standard for any discussion. You should be able to avoid meanness. Don’t insult people. Don’t troll. Don’t humiliate or mock people. These things we can expect, and should expect, because the toxicity ruins discourse.
But that’s it. That’s the extent of what it makes sense to require from people in a debate. The “thou shalt nots” are sufficient. There’s no reason–or excuse–to start adding “thou shalts” to the mix as well. Don’t expect people to proactively express their empathy. Don’t express them to follow rules like, “always start every disagreement by first finding common ground.” Don’t get me wrong, these things can be great practices. I’m not saying anyone shouldn’t do them. They can be very powerful, practically speaking, and certainly can make debate more pleasant.
I’m just saying that they shouldn’t be transmuted from “nice-to-haves” into “minimum requirements” because when we do that we engage in the tyranny of kindness. We insinuate prejudice and bigotry into our discussions, and we make it inevitable for perverse incentives to lead to defining “nice” in such a way that a person cannot disagree without violating the norm. This is already commonplace. To have a different opinion on certain hot-button social issues–abortion, sexuality, transgenderism, gun-rights, etc.–is defined as being not-nice. After all, the best way to win a debate is to bar your opponent for showing up, and that’s what happens as soon as we start imposing any kind of ritualistic performance requirements.
I try very, very hard to be civil. I also try to be emapthic although, for me, that’s not easy. It does require a lot of effort. I have worked deliberately and conscientiously for many, many years to come across better in online communication (political or not) and I’m still a work in progress. I don’t want anyone to misunderstand me as calling for worse behavior online. We’ve got enough toxicity.
I’m just calling for moderation. Expect your opponents to not be abusive.
But don’t expect–or attempt to require–that they validate you, either.
Four days ago The Independent (an online UK magazine) ran this story: Bulletproof backpacks for children reflect a new reality in America. The article, and plenty like it, are leading to dramatic Facebook posts from or about teachers about how they help their high school students deal with the new reality that they might be gunned down in their schools at any time. Parents are afraid, kids are afraid, teachers are afraid, everyone seems to be afraid.
And no, I’m being earnest here. Why?
If there’s one topic that’s been prominent in media over the past few years, it’s been human irrationality. For a while there, “cognitive bias” threatened to become almost as much of a buzzword as “machine learning” has become, and it seemed like Wikipedia’s list of cognitive biases was getting a new entry every day. Everyone in any academic discipline even tangentially related to how humans evaluate risk–evolutionary psychology, economics, finance, etc. etc.–had a new book or a new study that showed how bad humans are at evaluating risk.
Some of the most prominent cognitive biases studied in experiments and written about in the popular press include the availability heuristic and the recency effect. So we know–or at least we should know–that in the immediate wake of a horrific school shooting our cognitive biases are going to go into overdrive to exaggerate the threat. This isn’t unique to school shootings. We do the same thing with all kinds of dramatic/traumatic events, especially terrorism. More Americans died because of the shift from flying to driving in the wake of 9/11 than died in the attack themselves. The fear of terrorism was quite literally more deadly than actual terrorism.
This over-reaction to the threat of terrorism has had horrific consequences. Some have been felt here in the United States, including the erosion of civil liberties and a lamentably paranoid tinge to any discussion of immigration, but for the most part we (ordinary Americans) have been free to go about our lives because we have outsourced the cost of our fear-driven policies. We don’t pay the price. The small minority of Americans who volunteer to serve in the armed forces pay the price–including physical and mental trauma that no amount of yellow ribbons at home can compensate for–along with children killed in drone strikes, collateral damage from American interventionism, and desperate refugees who were barred a safe escape.
Now, in the wake of another awful school shooting, we’re witnessing again America’s masochistic addiction to panic and fear.
If you read an article like the one from The Independent or this one from The Cut or any of the thousands of emotional Facebook posts about how teachers and students shouldn’t have to fear for their lives just because they’re going to school, then you’d think we were suffering some kind of massive tidal wave of school shootings.
Right off the bat, the odds of dying in a school shootings are significantly lower than the kinds of deaths that we Americans don’t fear: car accidents, drowning, choking are all much more likely to end your life than a mass shooting. What’s even more interesting, to me, is that you are apparently more likely to die because a police officer killed you than because a mass shooter killed you.
However, a major problem with the Business Insider numbers is that they aren’t talking about school shootings, they’re talking about “mass shootings” with the definition of “any event where four or more victims were injured (regardless of death)”.
I went to Wikipedia and created two lists of my own. One of all the school shootings for 2015 – 2017 (the same years as the data available from the BI article) and another of all the school shootings that fit the popular perception of a school shooting. I called this narrowest category “mass school shootings” and I counted any shooting perpetrated by a student / former student resulting in at least 2 fatalities (other than the attacker) at a school. This table illustrates what the numbers look like using these three different categories:
From this, I’m able to calculate the lifetime odds of death from the two new categories: school shootings and mass school shootings. Compared to the 1 in 11,125 odds for any mass shooting, the odds of dying in a school shooting are 1 in 280,350 and the odds of dying in a mass school shooting are 1 in 934,500.
First, let me deal with a couple of quick math issues. These numbers are for all people. Obviously a random 70-year old is unlikely to be in a school and so is much, much less likely to die in a school shooting, and a high school student is (relative to some random 70-year old) much, much more likely. But if you want to do a relative comparison, then you should keep this list as-is. The only way to get the risk assessment for high school students (or all K-12 students, or all K – college students) would also be to look at their likelihoods of dying across all the categories. You’d see heart disease drop off the list, but you’d also see car accidents go much higher. So no: this is not scientific. These are what I’d call back-of-the-envelope calculations. And according to them, you’re more likely to die from being struck by lightning than from a school shooting (category #2) and the only things on the BI table less likely to kill you than a mass school shooting (category #3) is a regional asteroid impact or a shark attack.
Asteroids and shark attacks, people.
I know people are going to be mad at me for being insensitive, but maximum sensitivity isn’t always the right course. When you have a child–your own child or a kid that you’re responsible for–and they are afraid of something than your job as an adult is more than empathy. You can’t just share the child’s fear. You have to allay that fear when possible.
When my children were younger, they were really, genuinely afraid of dying in a tornado. We had moved from Virginia to Michigan and they heard the tornado sirens being tested every now and then, and so they were afraid. Part of my job was to empathize. Part of my job was also to allay their fears by explaining realistically that–while dangerous–tornados were not that common.
More recently, one of my children came to me and confided with a quaver of real fear in their voice that they thought they might have tetanus because “my jaw is starting to feel kind of tight.” This is funny to us, but my kid was really, truly scared and on the verge of tears. My job was not to participate in their fear. It also wasn’t to mock their fear. It was to empathize but–again–allay the fear.
Please note that this doesn’t mean I’m trivializing the devastation of an actual tornado. During the tornado outbreak of Dec 2015, 13 people were killed. Nothing about that is funny. Nothing about that is trivial. Tetanus isn’t a joke, either. Because of vaccinations, only a few people die in the US every year from tetanus, but historically it was a real killer and it continues to be a serious health concern in many parts of the world (especially India).
So I’m not trivializing terrorism when I point out that more people died from avoiding planes after 9/11 than died on 9/11. I’m not trivializing tetanus or tornados when I help allay my kids’ fears. And I’m not trivializing school shootings when I point out that our fears of them are vastly overblown.
Far from it. The reason I’m writing this is that it broke my heart to read a post from a friend on Facebook about how his wife (a teacher) could do nothing but share the fear and panic of her high school students. They are afraid, and she wasn’t able to offer anything substantive to combat that fear. I don’t blame her personally for that at all, but–as a society–we should be mature and sober enough to tackle risk and fear responsibly. We need to do better for our kids.
I think I know the answer to my question. I know why we’re addicted to fear. Some of it is human nature, as we mentioned already. Evolutionarily, risks are more important than rewards. But there’s more to it than that.
For one thing, fear is profitable. It drives traffic and donations. That explains most of what human nature alone cannot.
But I have my suspicions that it doesn’t explain everything. I wonder if human beings are calibrated to a certain degree of threat and risk in our lives. And–living in what is without any doubt the safest and most comfortable period of human history–it’s almost as though we are incapable of accepting that realty and intent on manufacturing risks and dangers we keep expecting to be there, but aren’t.
This post is not about gun control or even school shootings in particular.
It’s just about risk, and fear, and how we need to deal better with the fear if we want–individually and as a society–to find ways to batter manage risk.
President Thomas S. Monson–the leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–died on January 2, 2018. Here is how the NYT covered this event:
For contrast, this is what they tweeted when Fidel Castro died:
The NYT also had nice / neutral things to say about folks like Hugh Hefner and Hugo Chavez when they died. Hefner “founded Playboy magazine in 1953 and became inseparable from his brand” and Chavez “died after a long battle with cancer.”
Under Fidel Castro, anti-gay discrimination was institutionalized.
After a discussion of homosexuality at the Cuban Educational and Cultural Congress in April 1971, homosexuality was declared to be a deviation incompatible with the revolution. Homosexuality was considered sufficient grounds for discriminatory measures to be adopted against the gay community, and homophobia was institutionalised. Gay and lesbian artists, teachers, and actors lost their jobs. Gays and lesbians were expelled from the Communist Party. Students were expelled from university. Gays were prohibited from having contact with children and young people. Gays were not allowed to represent their country.
It is worth noting that by the end of his life, Fidel Castro had done a 180 on gay rights. By 2010, he was calling their treatment under his own regime in the 1970s “a great injustice, great injustice!” and accepting responsibility for that treatment.
Even so, the contrast between the NYT’s treatment of President Monson and Hefner, Chavez, Castro, etc. is illuminating. As Ben Shapiro wrote, commenting on Hefner and Chavez,
…it’s much worse, from the Times’ perspective, to be a religious person who abides by religious dictates on female ordination and same-sex marriage than to be a sexual profligate who trafficked in pornography, or to be a socialist dictator who destroyed an entire country. Monson was obviously a monster.
There have been a bevy of depressing articles over the past few days that I haven’t seen tied together yet, but which I think do share a common theme. Here are the stories, which I’m just pulling from the top of my head.
The Republican Party is doing harm to every cause it purports to serve. If Republicans accept Roy Moore as a United States senator, they may, for a couple years, have one more vote for a justice or a tax cut, but they will have made their party loathsome for an entire generation. The pro-life cause will be forever associated with moral hypocrisy on an epic scale. The word “evangelical” is already being discredited for an entire generation. Young people and people of color look at the Trump-Moore G.O.P. and they are repulsed, maybe forever…
The rot afflicting the G.O.P. is comprehensive — moral, intellectual, political and reputational. More and more former Republicans wake up every day and realize: “I’m homeless. I’m politically homeless.”
Last week, in “A Police Killing Without a Hint of Racism,” I wrote about Daniel Shaver, an unarmed man killed in a hotel hallway while begging for his life. At the time, the man who shot him, former Officer Philip Brailsford, was on trial for second-degree murder, and body-cam footage of the killing had yet to be released.
Now, that chilling, deeply disturbing video is available. The relevant portion begins at the 12 minute 50 second mark. Be forewarned: An innocent human is killed.
The video is not easy to watch. I did, and I’m not posting it here. In the end, the police officer was found not guilty of either murder or manslaughter. During the trial, the officer testified that he had no regrets, and that ““If this situation happened exactly as it did that time, I would have done the same thing.”
FRIDAY WAS ONE of the most embarrassing days for the U.S. media in quite a long time. The humiliation orgy was kicked off by CNN, with MSNBC and CBS close behind, with countless pundits, commentators and operatives joining the party throughout the day. By the end of the day, it was clear that several of the nation’s largest and most influential news outlets had spread an explosive but completely false news story to millions of people, while refusing to provide any explanation of how it happened.
The common theme I see running through all these stories is this: the degradation of our national institutions.
In all our panicked rushing from one sensational story to another, what I’m really worried about is the longer-term effects on the institutions that make up our nation. I don’t know how long police forces that treat their citizens like enemy combatants expect to enjoy public support, but the answer is certainly not “forever.” I don’t know what short-term victory the GOP thinks is worth selling its soul. Probably not the presidency and certainly not Roy Moore’s senate seat. And the same goes for the mainstream media and the American left which–instead of allowing Trump’s vast repository of lamentable qualities and poor decisions–feels the need to squander their credibility on conspiracy theories.
The finer points of each of these three stories can be discussed at length, and should. None of them represents a seismic cataclysm alone. None are without precedent.
But that, I guess, is the saddest part. These are just examples in long-running trends.
I don’t think more hysteria or drama will help. But I do think it’s worth taking a moment to realize there are things at stake beyond the short-term consequences, and that at a certain point the tribal, partisan struggles begin to tear the social fabric itself asunder.
There’s an article today about how leaked documents reveal that BYU used to favor male applicants:
A document titled, “New Freshman Index 2013-2014,” shows that during that time, applicants to the university were scored on several factors to determine whether they’d be admitted to the school and male applicants were given an extra point.
Getting accepted to an elite college has never been more difficult. So to all the young women who got in this year I say: Great job! You earned it.
To the young men I say: Congrats. But just be thankful you didn’t have to apply as a woman.
Why? Because one of academia’s little-known secrets is that private college admissions are exempt from Title IX’s ban on sex discrimination—a shameful loophole that allows some of the most supposedly progressive campuses in the nation to discriminate against female applicants.
Why are colleges–BYU and other private schools–doing this? Because women outperform men academically, and so (according to WaPo again):
…this is happening because elite schools field applications from many more qualified women than men and thus [elite private colleges] are trying to hold the line against a 60:40 ratio of women to men.
The whole thing is very odd. Ordinarily, if a particular group is underrepresented in college campuses, you would expect one set of people to be very concerned about doing whatever it took to preserve campus diversity and another group to be adamantly insistent on blind admissions standards. But, in this case, those two groups have switched their usual positions. One side sees discrimination where it otherwise would see diversity, and the other has decided that blindness is suddenly no virtue.
The day we decided Bill Clinton’s abuse and exploitation of women was somehow his personal business and decided to rehabilitate a serial sexual abuser and accused rapist into some kind of grandfatherly political icon was the day that we told every Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson in the world: go ahead. It’s open season. As long as you’re powerful enough, we’ll look the other way.
I didn’t have Roy Moore in the list because he wasn’t as big a story when I wrote that post a few weeks ago, but yeah: you can definitely add him on in.
So, I know it’s not very gracious to say, “I told you so.” But there’s a specific reason I want to highlight and respond to Yglesias’s post, and here it is:
…Clinton…mounted the defense that would see him through to victory — portraying the issue as fundamentally a private family matter rather than a topic of urgent public concern….
To this line of argument, Republicans offered what was fundamentally the wrong countercharge. They argued that in the effort to spare himself from the personal and marital embarrassment entailed by having the affair exposed, Clinton committed perjury when testifying about the matter in a deposition related to Paula Jones’s lawsuit against him.
What they should have argued was something simpler: A president who uses the power of the Oval Office to seduce a 20-something subordinate is morally bankrupt and contributing, in a meaningful way, to a serious social problem that disadvantages millions of women throughout their lives.
Now here’s the thing: Yglesias’s age is within one month of my own. And I’m having a hard time connecting with his retelling of the way this went down. My understanding–as a socially conservative Republican at the time–was that the decision to pursue Clinton for perjury charges was only a tactical decision to find a way to hold him responsible for the actual crime: sexual exploitation of a vulnerable young woman. But, since the relationship wasn’t actually illegal–and since Clinton didn’t have the decency to resign–an actual crime was necessary to base the impeachment on.
This is standard. It’s like the old saying goes: it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup. It is absolutely ordinary for a politician to do something reprehensible that is either not technically illegal or impossible to prosecute for some other reason, and so the actual charge that they end up facing is peculiarly unrelated to the real reason they are in trouble.
And yet Yglesias makes this incredibly naive assumption that–since the charges specified perjury–that must be the actual, root motivation of Republicans. That is bizarre. He farther argues–without any justification at all–that mounting this argument somehow excluded mounting the argument that Bill Clinton was “morally bankrupt”.
To which I can only respond: really?
Let me take a moment to explain why I think this is worth talking about.
If you’re a left-leaning living in America today, you live in an environment where the default, working assumption is that conservatives and Republicans are women-hating, anti-feminist misogynists who routinely wage war on women. And I’d like to consign that stereotype to the dumpster, right beside the equivalent belief held by conservatives that liberals and Democrats are America-hating communists who want to put all Christians into concentration camps.
For too long, we’ve turned issues that should be about basic human decency into partisan battlegrounds. It would make me deeply happy if all my liberal friends internalized the idea that many conservatives strongly believe in equal rights for women and are viscerally opposed to behavior that exploits, silences, or in any other way abuses women. Don’t get me wrong, conservatives (often) have different ideas for how to accomplish these goals and I’m not trying to minimize very real political and philosophical differences.
But you know what would be great? If debates about those differences happened in an atmosphere of mutual assumption of positive intent. How much better would that be for everyone than a world where conservatives think liberals hate America and liberals think conservatives hate Americans.
So let me state–clearly and concisely–that for a lot of conservatives and Republicans who were there during Bill Clinton’s sex scandals: that’s what we were saying all along.
We know that a key role of prophets is to serve as a voice of warning, but that voice is not often as stark as it was from Elder Perry in the Sunday afternoon session of the October 1977 General Conference:
I stand before you today to accuse many of the husbands and fathers who are within the sound of my voice and throughout the world of failing in your two major God-given responsibilities.
This talk is another in the long, long list of examples for how seriously the Church has been committed to the ideal of the family going back long before I was born. As Elder Perry says:
God in His divine plan ordained that marriage was to bring about his basic organizational unit, the family. The role of husband and wife was clearly defined from the very beginning. In the Lord’s plan, these roles are unchanged and eternal.
So that’s one of the recurring surprises for me as I go through these old General Conference talks. I didn’t know—and hadn’t expected—that the exact same ideas about the family would be taught to clearly and emphatically back then.
The other recurring surprise for me has been how soft and gentle a lot of the language was. Yes, there is some rhetoric—especially on topics related to sexual morality—that is a lot harsher than what we’re used to. The word “abomination” got used a fair amount, and I don’t think we ever hear that at all these days. But when it comes to teaching about how fathers should treat their children and how husbands should treat their wives, the language is diametrically opposed to the stereotype of the stern, remote, authoritarian patriarch. The Church’s teachings on marriage and family—we’re supposed to believe—are some kind of anachronistic throwback to an era of rigid inflexibility. But when I read the words, what I find instead are things like Elder Perry’s story of how he was so besotted with his wife (after decades of marriage) that a random bystander at a car wash noticed and talked to his wife about it. He wraps up the story with: “Husbands, are your actions at all times a reflection of your love for wife?” Just for good measure, he reiterates: “it is a twenty-four-hour-a-day job to show appreciation and consideration for [your wife].”
Elder Perry’s talk is far, far from unique in this regard, and the cajoling words of the general authorities with regards to how fathers should treat their children are just as emotion and—for lack of better words—soft and squishy. I can’t find it offhand, but I know the word “cuddle” was used at least one in this general conference.
This is why I’m so glad I’m going back to read these talks for myself. There’s incredible value in knowing for yourself what the message has actually been all this time.