"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The UVA Story

By now you may have heard of the sensationalist Rolling Stone article about sexual assault at UVA.   The article, in a nutshell, has as its centerpiece and lede the story of "Jackie," a freshman, who was asked on a date to a fraternity party, then, in what we are led to believe was a premeditated conspiracy, violently gang-raped and sodomized by seven pledges for three hours while two upperclassmen looked on and issued instructions.   The article then goes on to describe the university's handling of the incident in highly unflattering terms, essentially accusing UVA of sweeping it under the rug to protect its reputation.   The article has -- as undoubtedly was intended -- caused a furor at UVA, which has now shut down all of its fraternities for the remainder of the first semester pending an investigation.  

The article has since been criticized forcefully by various commentators as being shoddy journalism.   The author took the victim's word for every detail, never sought out the accused boys, apparently didn't interview the other alleged witnesses, etc.   Moreover, the article has some details -- the three-hour rape allegedly took place over the shards of glass from a shattered coffee table -- that strain credulity.   In short, it seems like a rush job.   That shouldn't be surprising -- the article was published in mid-November, based on interviews over the summer, a time in which the Left in America was desperately hawking a war on women and, particularly, war on young women angle as a way of juicing turnout for the midterms.   This was a story that might have been "too good to check."

But, that being said, I don't know and no one can know how much of the story is true.   If true, then it's horrific and nine boys need to go to jail for a long, long time.   If false, then it's equally horrific, and the girl who made up a sensationalist rape story to slander those boys also needs to go to jail.   The likelihood is that the truth is somewhere in between... something sexual happened, likely fueled by alcohol, possibly involving a boy or boys going too far and a girl possibly doing things she regretted or else being forced to do things she didn't want to do.   It may have shaded to the side of an embarrassment; it may have shaded to the side of criminal conduct.   I don't know.   No one knows. 

Here's what I do know.    The case presents the collision of two undeniable facts of human nature:
1. Young men unconstrained by older men (mentors, fathers, neighbors, sergeants and officers and, most importantly, the fathers of available young girls) will sometimes commit sexual mis- and malfeasances, up to and including gang rape.  
2. Human beings, including young women, have a propensity to create fictions in which they take the roles of heroic victims of malevolent larger forces as a way of getting sympathetic attention.
Sadly, lack of constraints on sexual behavior of adolescents and abundance of rewards for victimhood narratives are both features (not bugs) of the contemporary college campus. 
Indeed, this story can perhaps be understood best as a crisis in the ideology of the university, which since the 1960s has been committed to two conflicting ideas, sexual libertinism on the one hand and feminism, which in its contemporary evolution has become increasingly prudish toward male sexuality, on the other.  
And all of it in the context of what has become an enormous business, extracting, in the case of UVA, upwards of $50,000 a year from the out-of-state students it tries very hard to attract.    Counting tuition, room, board, fees, books, etc., the revenue from UVA's 14,000 or so undergraduates is something like half a billion dollars a year.   That's a big business.   Forget about "reputation"... what UVA is struggling to protect is a very, very valuable brand.

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