Sunday, September 25, 2016


Accused but not convicted.

My self-assigned miserable task of reading Jon Krakauer’s “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town” was indeed miserable.  To read the tiny details and strategies of these people supposedly trying to reach conclusions that ought to have dignity and objectivity is to despair of civilization.  So-called.  The events (which are just one point on a long continuum of history and circumstances) reveals the enormous disconnect between what we have respected by giving entities power and, sadly, what back alley dog-fights they have become.  Involved are universities, police, courts, romantic courting, family, and the great BoogaBooga of winning at football at the cost of destroying the brains of students.

Lynne Cheney’s “take” on this situation of a university running an internal court of discipline that interfered with and contradicted the local law enforcement body was that a university had no business dealing with matters of rape, drunkenness, violence, and out-of-control athletes (whom the university recruited).  Leave all that stuff to the cops.

My own recommendation, which I’ve been making for years, particularly at the high school level, is that competitive athletics have no place in an institution of learning.  Besides carving a huge hole in the budget meant for education, the students quickly learn some pretty rotten ethics — most crucially that the basic rule to please your “owners:” coaches, administrators, townsmen (some of which are female), and the media.  “Health” classes should be teaching people sex education, body care, management of emotion, public disease and sanitation, the dynamics of economics, etc.  

Of course, no one takes that seriously and I would be reviled if I pushed it.  But I have seen how it twists and erodes high school kids.  I have not seen any of them made better people or better scholars.

There are a number of issues Krakauer doesn’t address.  Missoula is one of the state’s leaders in female health care and political issues.  Call them feminists if you like, progressive women running clinics and outreach are part of Missoula’s claim to be a humanities town.  The ground of many political dissensions are about who “owns” the woman’s body.  If it is herself, then she will have to forgo the protection and support of a committed man.  This is partly romantic and partly practical.  And a woman not connected to a man is considered “not taken”.  Public.  Up for grabs.  An “open” cow.  (I’m overstating it — many decent men are not like this.)

The accounts of the actual rapes (not enough of them to be statistically valid) are suggestive.  If you look at the men’s behavior and their explanations of what happened, the main impression I get is that they have very little self-awareness or sophistication.  These are not wily metrosexuals plotting seductions, but rather blunt force encounters of big men who don’t quite realize that women are people.  (Except their mom, of course.)  Most of them seem to see the WOMEN as the wily metrosexuals bent on seduction. 

But at the time of the incidents that are being prosecuted here, the women strike me as mice paralyzed by confrontation with a cat.  There are vids.  I’ve seen it on my parlour carpet, both animals waiting.  The scientific analysis is about being flooded with certain merciful molecules, self-drugged.  There’s a whole body of literature.

These cases were a bit previous to the growing understanding of what brain damage results from football and a few other sports.  Experts agree that helmets are not adequate protection.  I was struck by how many times witnesses said,  “He is not the person I knew him to be.”  They seemed to feel the rapists were like an elephant in musth, seized by a short period of berzerkness that can’t be helped.  None of the defense counsels seemed willing to put their client through an MRI, but only to hire psychologists who have no medical training.  Essentially therapists.  What inquiry into steroids or testosterone?

Out of all the possible approaches to these rapes, Krakauer has chosen legal and political analysis.  I guess that’s his usual modus operandi.  It is also closely related to a debate technique, which is to tear a big issue down into a million tiny parts and then discredit the bits one at a time.  

To keep order, he uses personalities.  Instead of an index, the book has a cast of characters dignified by the Latinate “Dramatis Personae”.  The implication is that this whole thing is play-acting by people wearing masks.  That seems rather accurate.  But one must remember that the roots of the law reaches back to Greek drama presenting the impossibility of resolving some moral conflicts, and reactions of the public as a chorus.  It is a definition of tragedy.

It is simply not possible to reach justice among humans, whether one defines it as retribution, deterrence, balancing the scales, sparing the innocent, preserving civilization, or whatever other good goals one might envision.  Some innocent people are going to suffer; some guilty people are going to strut free.  IMHO none of them will be improved by prison, at least not in contract private prisons, anymore than lunatic asylums and orphanages ever worked.  If we followed one “Chinese” theory of justice, based on having a lot of surplus people, we could simply shoot them in public and sell their parts, as though computers-equal-persons works both ways.  (If computers are people, are people computers?)  Do computers rape?  Is there any rational resolution to emotional issues?

Gradients between any two people include physical size and power, social status, attractiveness, community ties, race, health, income, and so on.  The gender role assignments mean that the assumption is that all men, compared to all women, are a little taller, stronger, make more money, and are protective of their own family but are irrefutably and intensely horny.  They aren’t.  This is movie fantasy.  Only recently has anyone defined “sex addiction”, a conviction that one must have coitus as often as possible.  (This is bad for fertility, as there isn’t time to generate more sperm of high quality.)  A whole movie series is called “nymphomania” which some define as women who want sex more than the provided men can deliver. We resort to humor. 

Opening the discussion to same-sex encounters rather changes the terms.  I saw no discussion of what I’ve seen depicted in movies many times:  group shower horseplay in which acts approaching anal coitus are considered fun, a way of letting off steam, innocent.  Snapping towels on butts, grabbing scrotums, “thumbing,” titty-pinching.  I’ve heard first-hand accounts of much worse hazing among military cohorts.  Male rape is real.

Had these boys, who had so little respect for female bodies, been treated this way?  And I wonder, since the victim’s childhood abuse was discussed, whether anyone inquired into the abuse of these young men as children, the distortion imposed by their handling of rage and resentment.

Movies have shown blows to male genitalia as funny.  I turned in a boy who was kicking other boys in the crotch — hard — but nothing happened to him until much later he was discovered to have a handgun in his backpack.  We have become insensitive to so many warning signs that we all profess to be surprised when someone systematically shoots people.  What’s a little rape compared to that? 

I thought that the jury member who intelligently remarked on the generation gap between themselves and the students was very relevant.  In a university town, the lines between town and gown, and the lines between professors and students, can be sharp, and contribute to misunderstanding at a very deep level, one might say mental structuring of brain tissue.  

Millennials hide from their parents, any authority figures, or even helpers.  Only their peers impress them.  They feel, as have previous generations, that people over a certain age just can’t get it, and they’re right, but also no previous generation has had a way of secretly communicating in plain sight.  Nothing that’s not texted is real.  Nor possibly never have so many friendships in the past been cross-gender with blurry boundaries that to some justify sexual interaction as a favor.

NCIS-type script-writers wrestle with these issues all the time.  Very often the dilemmas are resolved by "Tom Selleck" going outside the guidelines to pressure people or pull strings — all the while claiming that he never does that.  Tom Selleck himself, of course, is so irreproachable that he can be the figurehead for the NRA.  I’m getting very interested in script-writers as moral guides for the United States, though never in public as themselves.  There’s no use in consulting lawyers.

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