"At least three-quarters of the guys are out to pick up a girl, and get into bed with her. And the sad thing is that that have so little self-respect that they will tell all their 'frat brothers' about their real -- or, more often, totally fictional -- experiences in great detail. Now comes the weird part: These guys are not flaming jerks -- they're very nice, sometimes quite sensible and if you asked, they're vehement in their disgust; and yet later on they'll turn about and do it to someone else. They are sucked into it. They do it to survive."
The foregoing is from a letter written by a young woman at Dartmouth to her father, and was quoted in a recent Esquire article in order to reveal something about the animalism prevalent at Dartmouth College. The problem with using quotations to illustrate a subject, however, is that they frequently reveal more about the speaker than they do about the topic.
One can't help but wonder at the line "these guys are not flaming jerks," for these guys clearly are flaming jerks.
What would they have to do to make this girl recognize them as such? How much lower could they stoop?
The article goes on to discuss why these jerks behave the way they do, citing a macho tradition, an isolated campus and a 2.5-to-1 male-to-female ratio. While such things may have a bearing on behavior, they don't excuse such behavior.
"They do it to survive"
People eat human flesh at lonely mountain crash sites in order to survive. People behave like jerks because they are jerks. Getting along in a frat house at Dartmouth doesn't involve questions of survival, merely social acceptance. Who but a jerk would want to be accepted into the society of jerks? Who but a jerk would want to be around jerks with or without their acceptance?
My first paid opinion piece ran in the Rocky Mountain News on July 1, 1979, nearly 40 years ago.
At 29, I was removed enough from college to reflect on the experience, but young enough that I still thought people chose whether or not to screw up.
It is a childish belief.
I was correct in saying that most men had an awareness of who was cool and who was a jerk, but I was off-base in assuming that both men and women should be able to intellectualize their behavior.
"How could you be so stupid?" tastes one way when it is hurled at a guy who is acting like a jerk, and quite another when it's hurled at a woman who put herself in a position to be, well, jerked around.
Still, most behavior -- however contemptible or pitiable the result -- is not a conscious choice.
And what I wrote with certainty at 29 has continued to roll it around in my mind for 38 years. I have not come up with any credible answers.
So I'm halfway to my daily limit of 1,000 words, and that was only a lead-in.
My question now is "Why are we still talking about this?"
My answer is, "Because it's a whole lot more complex than you thought."
Which answers the question without resolving the issue.
Joy of Tech lays out the situation, stripped of particulars in order to focus on the immediate.
Like the young Dartmouth student writing home to her father, we're being forced to confront things we'd really rather not know about. And, while I can't find the original Esquire article, my recollection is that she wasn't talking about her own experience so much as the atmosphere in which she found herself immersed.
Being victimized was not necessary. You don't need to be hit by a truck to wish a notoriously hazardous road crossing were better designed.
Meanwhile, I have come to believe that it's not a binary situation, that there is a spectrum and, while we can admire the cool guys at one end and despise the jerks at the other, most of us are somewhere in the middle.
And that you should look both ways before crossing.
Which brings us to Clay Bennett and the advice kids have always been given. His added barb at Roy Moore suggests that strangers are not the only hazard our kids face.
It's not a matter of "blaming the victim." It's a matter of the ultimate futility in all our warnings.
If we could all intellectualize our behavior, there'd be no need for warnings.
And so we all knew not to talk to strangers, but if some guy simply said good morning or asked you for directions and kept his distance, running away in terror was an over-reaction, and we knew that.
We also knew that we could trust Coach, and Father, and our Teacher. After all, they weren't strangers.
Nate Beeler builds on it a bit, suggesting that we ramp up our instruction and modeling for both our sons and daughters.
I like the idea that you start building both respect and caution from the start, though it may be nearly as futile as the advice of the mother in Bennett's cartoon.
You give your kids all the proper upbringing and modeling and advice you can, but eventually you have to turn them loose in the world and hope your lessons took hold.
The good news is that, while all this news is frightening, it's not that new things are happening but that we're more open about discussing and confronting them.
We should be more, not less, safe as a result.
And I'd like to think, as we bring these matters out into the open, that we can distinguish between a clumsy pass and an assault, though, again, that is more of a spectrum than a binary absolute, and, while the bits at either end are clear, the stuff in the middle is pretty muddled.
But Matt Wuerker notes an eternal absolute, which is that the person most tortured with unacceptable compulsions is apt to push back with the most extreme, visible, but too-often-futile expressions of denial.
Whether he's denying it to us, or to himself, is a bit irrelevant, because it evokes Samuel Johnson's familiar line about compassion:
If a madman were to come into this room with a stick in his hand, no doubt we should pity the state of his mind; but our primary consideration would be to take care of ourselves. We should knock him down first, and pity him afterwards.
Now here's your moment of Hollywood disillusionment