Bully 4U?

I always hate to admit that I’ve dipped a toe into The New Yorker, but truth will out. And there are some things the mag is kinda good at — used to be better at, of course, but still. One of them is the longish fact-laden piece — what Spy magazine once referred to as the “nine-part history of sand.”

Well, I like sand. So I was pretty interested in a long piece — you can read it online — about the sad story of poor Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers freshman who jumped off the George Washington Bridge two years ago, and the ensuing prosecution of his rather unlikable roommate, Dharun Ravi.

The piece is almost a year old, actually; but the nice thing about it was that it quoted extensively from the facebook posts and tweets and text messages of the various dramatis personae — Clementi and Ravi themselves and their various buds and bros. All the previous accounts I had seen were quite fragmentary and selective with this material, very ideological, parti-pris and Big Picture. But of course the devil as always is in the details, and in this context, the accumulation of details. One tweet does not make a canary.

A question left very much unresolved was just why Clementi decided to pack it in. He doesn’t seem to have been so very upset by Ravi’s peeping-Tom schtick, though of course he was both peeved and disgusted by it.

What did come across very clearly — to me, anyway — was how stupid and useless and damaging the whole notion of ‘bias crimes’ is. Why is it not enough that a crime is a crime? You beat somebody up, or invade somebody’s privacy, there’s a penalty. Who cares why you did it?

Some of Clementi’s buds encouraged him to take the whole matter more seriously than he apparently was originally inclined to do, and of course they couched all this in a strange salmagundi of nannyish, legalistic, and pep-talk terms — “I would feel seriously violated…. it could be interpreted as a hate crime… Report him. What he is doing is completely inappropriate…. I’m not trying to be mean but if you don’t have the guts to take control of the situation it is not going to get better.”

The idea that “taking control” in fact consists in yielding control — and to the authorities, forsooth (“Report him”) — is perhaps worth a closer look. “Taking control” becomes a matter of enlisting the authorities on your side, on terms that the authorities themselves have defined.

Clementi’s own spontaneous response seems to have been that Ravi’s actions were creepy, and that his friends’ Twitter responses were oafish and obtuse. If so, one can hardly fault his perception, can one? Or its proportionality to the offence?

Certainly we will never know why Clementi then decided to give up on a life which was, for the most part, taking a turn for the better; or how much Ravi’s actions had to do with it; or, for that matter, how much the prospect of an institutionally-mediated struggle with Ravi, into which many of his friends seemed intent on chivvying him, had to do with it.

By all accounts he had a crummy time in high school. High school is very good to some people — most particularly, to the Ravis of the world — and quite merciless to the Tylers. Perhaps Tyler was a more badly wounded bird even than he appeared to be — too wounded to be saved, or to save himself. Perhaps Ravi and his loutish friends reminded Tyler too much of high school — just when he thought he had escaped that unspeakable Gulag of smiley-face sadism.

His tweets suggest that he didn’t expect much of the Rutgers administration — and worried that he might end up even worse off than he already was, if he went to them. Clearly, there were some lessons of high school that he learned very well indeed.

But after Tyler bade farewell to this life, somewhere between his native New Jersey and Manhattan — where, if he had lived, he might someday have discovered that he was a cooler person than anybody knew, least of all himself –  the response of the State and of the culture was that Something Must Be Done. And of course, since this is America, that something had to involve the courts and the legislature and the police; new laws, severer punishments, and the book thrown at Dharun Ravi, who was, after all, very much a showpiece creation of America’s most central and formative institution: a popular and successful suburban high-schooler.

We create these monsters, and then every so often we stone one to death.

Ravi was, of course, prosecuted for killing Tyler, though no one could admit that. And of course, nobody could admit that if anything killed him, high school was the prime suspect.

Hence the preposterous overreach of the charges; and the surprisingly light sentence, once the hysteria had passed and it was possible for reasonably sane people to realize just how absurd the whole show-trial had been. New Jersey — and for that matter, America — were determined to demonstrate, by harrowing Ravi through a sanitary tedious un-entertaining white-collar legal auto-da-fe, just how deeply they care about the very people they obviously don’t care about at all: the losers, the dorks, the oddballs.

A classic case of American bad conscience, protesting way too much. But then New Jersey and America woke up the morning after, with a throbbing headache and the clear if painful sense that if you’re going to knock back fifteen(*) shots of undiluted self-righteousness, you’re going to do something stupid before the night is over.

Ravi was a bit tone-deaf through the process. He had spent the last eighteen years being taught to be confident and arrogant, to ‘advocate for himself’, as they say, and he obviously didn’t realize that an accused person is for all practical purposes a guilty person, and that the proper demeanor of a guilty person is one of abject self-condemnation, like Lord Scroop in Henry V:

Our purposes God justly hath discover’d;
And I repent my fault more than my death;
Which I beseech your highness to forgive,
Although my body pay the price of it.

First-generation American, y’know. Doesn’t quite get it yet.

————

(*) The number of counts in Ravi’s indictment.

 

15 thoughts on “Bully 4U?

  1. “New Jersey — and for that matter, America — were determined to demonstrate, by harrowing Ravi through a sanitary tedious un-entertaining white-collar legal auto-da-fe, just how deeply they care about the very people they obviously don’t care about at all: the losers, the dorks, the oddballs.”

    In the same manner, the authorities conduct meticulous, elaborate, ingenious forensics about the deaths of people whom they showed, many times over, that they wouldn’t have deigned to notice while they were actually alive. For quite a number of people, getting murdered is the first time they will ever have managed to solicit fellow-feeling. Too bad they aren’t around to experience it.

    As a fellow-member of Tyler Clementi’s subtype, Sodomiticus americanus, I don’t feel at all empowered by hate-crime laws and suchlike tweaks. It seems as if we’ve jumped from having no real protection to having an ill-contrived protection of our own. What about just plain old protection, same as everyone else, without banners and huzzahing? Bias laws don’t make me feel that equality has been achieved. I feel instead that I’m being singled out because I’m not yet seen as naturally belonging.

    Few things about the law are so suspicious as when it dallies with questions of criminal motive. The legal system, and the law-courts in particular, are brutish instruments for probing the mind. At the risk of getting all Foucault, the law doesn’t delve into psychology for our own well-being: it does so to extend its territorial dominance. It isn’t enough to habeas a corpus; the mind and even the soul, should there be one, must be laid claim upon as well.

    As for bullies, I would only seek the law’s protection from the threat of physical assault. The rest of their barrage of smug idiocy I must learn to deal with. It’s a test and I must learn to pass it – although cheating, for that matter, will suffice. I can’t imagine going into court and declaring that the law should prop up my battered self-esteem. “They demeaned me, your honor. They disrespected me. It will take me years of therapy to regain my self-worth.” Will it? And the law will help do the job? It’s like turning to a sumo wrestler for a session of massage. Go into court and tell my harassers, to their faces, that their snickering barbarities have wounded and tortured me? I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. If you don’t have any fortitude before entering a courtroom, you sure as hell won’t have any by the time you’ve left. The law is for cut-and-dried matters, and is bad enough for those. But emotional distress, to be weighed and sifted by lawyers, jurors, judges? To what purpose?

    • That’s one of the many things I really don’t like about the whole category of ‘hate crimes’ : it gives prosecutors way too much discretion to pile on, or not, as they please.

  2. Most likely she’s a blathering nutter; but if she’s going to be charged with a hate crime, it would mean that they’ll have to label her sane. If crazy, she wouldn’t be responsible for her prejudices. Perhaps they’ll create a new category – Bigoted While Insane – with the appropriate calibration of punishment.

  3. Wow, thanks for posting this, Smiff. You’ve read my mind again, not to mention just about every response in the comment thread.

    I can only add that one thing that really bugged the shit out of me was seeing and hearing Liberal politicians yelling about how we have to Do Something™ about bullying and “hate crimes” right after they’ve finished voting to pass laws authorizing the Government to engage in bullying and “hate crimes”.

    Obama’s contribution to the “It Gets Better” speech fad was the backbreaker for me. Sonofabitch is on track to slaughter more children in Afghanistan and Pakistan than GWBush did, he pals around with freaks like Rick Warren, he bullies peace activists in Minnesota with Federal grand jury subpoenas, and then he gives this smarmy speech telling GLBTQWhatever America to buck up and don’t let the bullying get you down — one of many moments lately where I found myself thinking he’d be doing the most good if he’d just shut the fuck up and go away.

  4. If this guy hadn’t jumped off a bridge, God would have hit us with another hurricane or school shooting. Every time a gay guy hugs someone, God kills a kid.

    But I guess some forms of hate speech are more actionable than others. The good folks at Westboro Baptist never seem to run too seriously afoul of the anti-bully or hate speech statutes, nor do their fellow nutters in the anti-Muslim propaganda ward.

    The plea “bargain” they offered Ravi was pretty interesting: 5 years in prison. Rapists and murderers get less time. The judge tried to bully him into accepting this offer with the threat that he was facing the possibility of a very long sentence, as if 5 years in Hell is but a tourist visit.

    When he refused this generous offer they offered him 300 hours of community service instead. Not quite Devil’s Island after all. Fling shit at the wall and eventually something will stick, but start with the big pieces first

    Ravi refused this also, insisting on his innocence because he is, in fact, innocent of any crime other than being an asshole.

    Now he will see what bullying really is as the prosecution punishes him for the worst offense there is in a system with a 70 to 85 percent conviction rate: refusing a plea bargain.

    If Ravi decides to jump off the GW bridge after all the bullying he has suffered, who will we prosecute, the DA, or Ellen DeGeneres?

  5. The good folks at Westboro Baptist never seem to run too seriously afoul of the anti-bully or hate speech statutes

    If I’m not mistaken, they’re all lawyers. They know how to play the game.

  6. Fadduh Smiff sez:
    I always hate to admit that I’ve dipped a toe into The New Yorker, but truth will out…

    D’ahh, I wouldn’t worry about it. Most of it sucks these days, but the cartoons are still good, especially Roz Chast.

    Sean sez:
    But I guess some forms of hate speech are more actionable than others. The good folks at Westboro Baptist never seem to run too seriously afoul of the anti-bully or hate speech statutes, nor do their fellow nutters in the anti-Muslim propaganda ward…

    Yeah, that pretty much lays bare the hypocrisy of “hate crime” laws. Even your Liberals don’t seem to give a rat’s ass about all the anti-Muslim and anti-Arab hate infesting this country right now. Mind you, along with being almost all lawyers, the WBC clowns are also your basic Trolls. Like your Internet trolls, the WBC bunch don’t actually have anything substantive to offer to the conversation, they’re just tossing out inflammatory bullshit to piss people off.

    I’m actually rather amazed at how all the Liberals and GLBTQWhatever groups get their panties in a twist whenever the WBC loons turn up at military funerals and such. I mean, cripes, man, just check ‘em out, man — the lunatic religious babbling, the absurd “God Hates (Whoever)” signs. They obviously aren’t worth taking seriously. They’re comic relief, just entertainment, like the Teabaggers. I’m actually more annoyed by all the Liberal hand-wringing over
    the likes of the WBC and Teabaggers than I am by the WBC and Teabaggers themselves. The WBC and Teabaggers are so obviously, openly batshit, they’re trying to get a rise out of the Liberals and GLBTQWhatever groups, and it’s totally working. Suckers.

    Fadduh Smiff sez:
    That’s one of the many things I really don’t like about the whole category of ‘hate crimes’ : it gives prosecutors way too much discretion to pile on, or not, as they please…

    …witness all the attempted prosecutions of pro-Palestinian groups for “hate speech” or “hate crime” for the “crime” of organizing events to speak out against Israeli state brutality in Palestine, or all the absurd laws and resolutions designating any speaking out against Israeli state crimes as “anti-Semetism”.

    These days, the epithet “anti-Semite” can usually be translated to mean “any pro-Palestinian activist”.

  7. Zero Generation U.S. Person. Sharp Lawyers Listen UP! Do y’all remember some SE Asian college kid who, trying to study in his dorm room one sultry southern night, imprudently and unmannerly shouted down at some “bellowing” (African-American) Alabama co-eds, characteristically for his culture calling upon the “water buffalos” to pipe down? The University jumped on him for a “racist” offense. Do you guys remember the Spanish chico enrolled in a north eastern educational institution who was prosecuted by the school for unwanted, persistent courting of a co-ed? I think he remarked in his defense that she should have defied him. (I know Spanish culture, and in spite of imaginary stereotypes re: coy sennoritas and their aged duennas, 99% of Spanish gals are sassy and frank and would have told this guy “vete a freir esparragos” or something more in the nature of go fuck yourself; he clearly lacked nurturing in institutionally American ferminist reflexes.) Stop Me Before I Lose the Thread: I knew well an 18-year-old Very High I.Q. Spanish immigrant kid who after a few years in an American high school got a scholarship to the number one Calfornia surfside college. Alas, in our modern-day charade of contradictory assertions (such as co-ed dormitories and repressed eroticism — at least so it seems to this aged billy goat), this lad began a mild form of what he thought to be humorous courting via posting clipped magazine cartoons on the lass’s door. (Gadzooks, he had to pass her to and fro on her towel wrapped way to the showers.) Surprise. He was called to the lady dean’s sanctum and sternly put on notice re: his sexual harrassment. Hmmm, a bit of a bummer. He took a class in Dadism and they were assigned to compose a dadist project. Ha! Thinking he was in the spirit of things, he sent invitations to his come one come all SUICIDE! Another surprise: denounced to the authorities, called in, badgered, mystified. The prof didn’t get it. Upshot: he disappeared, went back to Europe, his mom in the U.S. was phoned by the lady dean and told he had disappeared and had probably committed suicide. Can you imagine? A hard 10 days until he surfaced. This fellow never went back to school, all “his prospects” were destroyed. OK, here’s the idea lawyers: turn the tables. This school has hundreds of millions, if not billions, of the green stuff. This screams for a major law suit. The hunters become the hunted. Go get ‘em!

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