Postcards from the Margins: Will and Grace (or Not)

Van Gogh's Cluster of Old Houses with the New Church in The Hague, The Hague, 1882
Van Gogh’s Cluster of Old Houses with the New Church in The Hague, The Hague, 1882

George Will does many disservices in a June 6 online Washington Post opinion piece, “Colleges become the victims of progressivism.”  His objective appears to be to express dismay at what he sees as increasingly intrusive government involvement in higher education.  Anyone who has ever read a George Will column knows that this is Mr. Will’s MO: he is a voice for political conservatism. I grew up in a household, and now live in my own, in which many different points of view were/are welcome. I consider myself a middle-of-the road thinker and voter.

I’m just accustomed to some real expertise behind a columnists’ opinions.

Mr. Will jumps into territory about which he appears to know little:  “…the hook up culture, this cocktail of hormones, alcohol and the faux sophistication of today’s prolonged adolescence of especially privileged young adults.”  Much, much more polarizing, he repeatedly and in a variety of disdainful ways belittles acts of sexual aggression and violence against women, including apparent disappointment that a man could be called a rapist if the “consenting” woman is drunk, and implying that having been raped is a ‘coveted status.’

Shortly after I read Mr. Will’s column, I read this New York Magazine online article: I Was Raped, and I Stayed Silent About My ‘Coveted Status.’ In it, a young woman recalls an occasion in college when, after consuming two alcoholic drinks over a period of about an hour, she then drank a shot of alcohol that was drugged.  She lost consciousness, continence, and memory of much of what happened in the several hours following being drugged, but later understood she had been raped.  She also understood that she had been betrayed by strangers, acquaintances, even friends.  It took her years to even share the story, never mind attempt some political or other advantage by doing so.

And by the way, is this the person with whom, if she were to somehow communicate a “Yes,” Mr. Will figures sex is not rape because it’s consensual?  Or is that only true if she were drunk and not drugged?  I’ll tell you what:  any boy I’ve raised would know it’s rape.

Mr. Will and I may have similar worries about campus alcohol consumption and it may be worse than it used to be. But it is a certainty that young women today know and fear powerfully neurotoxic date-rape drugs infinitely more than I, and I can only imagine Mr. Will, ever had reason to. And I suspect both Mr. Will and I know far less about ‘hook up cultures’ than we and our aging innards know about yogurt cultures.  As for the ‘faux sophistication’ of today’s ‘entitled’ young adults–these are my children, my children’s friends, my many uniquely independent nieces and nephews.  They are not perfect, and I was not a perfect parent, but Mr. Will’s unkind,  judgmental, across-the-board characterization of an entire generation does nothing more than anger and alienate.

In the service of his “too much government” argument, Mr. Will exhibits such a lack of grace, such a dearth of both humility and empathy, most decent readers will lose sight of politics.  Or worse, and terribly unfortunately for our already-polarized society, figure this is the way all political conservatives think, all of the time.

Mr. Will has an enviable bully pulpit.  When he uses a column such as the one he wrote on June 6 to such ill effects, it’s especially disheartening.  In fact, later in the article he gets around to something lots of people I know, many of whom are writers, too, might have gotten behind–a dissatisfaction with the notion of having to place “trigger warnings” on assigned readings or lectures that might push students towards negative emotional reactions. Good writers are prolific readers, and censorship of literature doesn’t sit well with most of us.

But this message was lost because people couldn’t get past Mr. Will’s pretending to be an expert on the complicated social and sexual environments of college campuses today. What’s more, they couldn’t stomach his absolute lack of empathy for the vulnerability of youth and the suffering of fellow human beings.

The first step, Mr. Will, is to recognize that you might not have a clue about the trauma some people have experienced, nor a full understanding of their better-or-worse capacity to deal with it.  The second is to offer understanding and support instead of disdain.










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