Sunday, March 25, 2007

Not About Lacrosse

I have not commented on the Duke lacrosse team case because I have had nothing to add, and what I would say has been said better by others. But after Dr. Sanity's mention of the general brouhaha, I observed in the comments that people were slightly off-kilter in their interpretation. Not wrong, just misattributing.

The Gang of 88 are not ignoring the facts because they are inconvenient, as most folks encountering uncomfortable realities would be. They are ignoring them because they consider them unimportant. This is a type of unreality most of us are not familiar with.

I am ahead of myself. This post is connected to my (serious) one on Deconstruction.

Once there was an accusation, the case would in any event be of great interest to the people involved, Duke University, and the people of Durham. But it would have been simply a blip on the screen to the rest of the nation, except for two additions to the story. First, the prosecutor turns out to have gone forward on the charges on the basis of very slight, and quite contradictory evidence. This would have brought the case more notoriety, but still no more than a seven-day wonder. We read about such things all the time in a country of 300,000,000 people, and most of us shrug, hope that the prosecutor is punished if he is wrong, or the accused punished if they actually did it, and think no more about it.

What kept this story alive was the behavior of 10% of the Duke faculty and an undetermined, but visible, percentage of the student body. Not only did they rush to judgment, assuming the lacrosse players were guilty before the story was known, but they have not changed the heart of their story even as the facts have unfolded. They are backpedaling slightly from imputing guilt, but are now painting themselves as the victims because they were criticised all around the country. They can thus portray their overall narrative, and not their own foolishness, as being under attack. In their mind, they are being attacked not because the facts were against them, but because the "truth" they bring is uncomfortable to hear. They believe the message would have been rejected anyway, regardless of the evidence.

Facts are not the same thing to these people as they are to you and me. The narrative of what the world is, how it works, and their place in it is so much more powerful to them that it begins to overwhelm actual events. It is a special type of unreality. To any postmodernist - and all of us are at least a bit more postmodernist than our grandparents would have been - truth is culturally conditioned and facts can look different from different angles. All of us acknowledge the mild forms of this these days. Because we hate the extreme versions of relativeness, we may say that we are thoroughgoing modernists, but few of us are. We allow that beauty, truth, and reality may be a little soft around the edges at places. Indeed, Solomon, Plato, and other ancients said much the same thing. It is not a new idea.

But we do not believe that truth, beauty, and reality are soft all the way through. We believe that such things actually exist and have a certain recalcitrance to being modified for our convenience. We believe it is really our perception that is soft around the edges, not reality itself. We approximate to knowledge of a solid thing, and so are humble about drawing bright lines - because we may have misperceived or seen what we wanted rather than what is. But the thing itself - Truth, Beauty, Reality - is solid at its core. It is Truth "right the way down," as Pooh might say.

Arts and Humanities faculties at our "better" universities believe this much less than we do. We might ask how they make it through the day, then.

They do it with divided mind. If the mechanic fixes the tie rods on the car and the problem goes away, they believe it was the tie rods, just like the rest of us. If the recipe says "cook 20 minutes at 350 degrees" then they do that, just like the rest of us. But as things move into the area of judgment, they are much quicker to find things debatable than the rest of us. The power of their narrative is great enough to overwhelm simple observations.

They assume the same is true for us. They thought the Duke lacrosse players were guilty because their narrative states that rich southern white males oppress blacks and females, so guilt was likely. They assume, then, that people rushed to their defense not because the evidence was poor, but because our narrative is that southern white males don't oppress (or should be allowed to oppress) blacks and females. They assume it is our narrative which drives our belief, and their noble goal is to undermine our narrative for the good of society. They do not believe that people who disagree with them do so with good intention, but because we believe in and must defend an oppressive narrative. They find it significant that people didn't even want to talk about it.

Because what they want to do is "talk about it," engaging us on a battlefield where they know the terrain and we don't.

Brief tangent: some might argue at this juncture that what we are seeing here is a religion, and that more traditionally religious people do the same thing, reinterpreting simple events in terms of larger realities. I will not defend Christianity against the charge here. I will note only that the charge is partly true, and the counterargument is rather long; long, because it is actually many partial proofs. None of the proofs can be forced through to the end to prove Christianity true, QED. But all point in the same direction.

Back on track: They are adamant that it is they who are the misunderstood victims here because it is still possible that their narrative is true. Because it has not been absolutely disproven, they believe it should still be on the table for discussion. The pettifogging insistence on following the law they see as a mere technicality. The larger truth is that rich southern white males oppress women and African-Americans. That we do not wish to enter that Conversation (a frightening word on the lips of a thoroughgoing postmodernist) is proof that we are refusing to consider the idea at all.

How can people attain such a level of unreality? I will have some observations about that over the next month.

10 comments:

dilys said...

This Come into my Conversation, said the spider to the fly description is excellent. A similar discourse has been prominent throughout the Episcopal Unpleasantness. The follow-up strategy is either the one you describe, or "We don't feel heard, and you are oppressing us!" (if the Identity Affiliations are oiled for this one).

Incidentally, according to early reports on the Duke Lacrosse case, at least one prominent defendant comes from New Jersey.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yes, I mentioned at Dr. Sanity's but didn't mention here: lacrosse is most popular in the mid-Atlantic states, and the northeast next after that. It's not big in the south. Nor are all the players rich and white. The men's lacrosse team is male, of course, but when the women's lacrosse team showed solidarity with them they came under attack as well. Not the right kind of women, I guess. They don't get the narrative right, so they must be faulty women in some way.

bs king said...

I was pretty much done with reading about the case the day I heard one girl actually quoted as saying "Well even if they didn't do it, they're guilty any way because of things they've done in the past". While I believe that these boys were probably by and large the sort I would not associate with if you paid me, the fact that I'm a lawyer's daughter has stuck with me enough that I was horrified by that. Particularly because that wonderful news source Time magazine didn't even follow up on that comment, they were trying to use it to prove how awful Duke students were and how we really shouldn't feel sorry for this team. For whatever racial tensions their might be in Durham, and for whatever any of these individual boys has done in the past, you simply can't prosecute based on a feeling that they were bastards. Honestly, I hate this stuff, because the case of every girl who's legitimately gotten abused or violated in some way by anyone just got a little weaker. This is the sort of case people remember and work in to their outlook on life and perception of rape charges. It's what people will think of the next time they're asked to have "sympathy for the victim".

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Exactly. it will ultimately be real victims who pay the price.

dicentra63 said...

How can people attain such a level of unreality?

It seems to me that it's a type of Quixotesque romanticism in which they imagine themselves the heroes in their own version of How Things Ought To Be, based on past narratives.

Because those people in the 60s? They got to hold all those righteous protests to Stop An Immoral War and Liberate The Black Man from his white oppressors. They got to slay all kinds of cool giants and Make A Difference.

Whereas the post-boomers? Well, we'll strap on our pasteboard helmet and wooden shield and off we'll go on our sway-backed steed to slay the many-armed giant that lives yonder in La Mancha. And when we get hoisted by the sails and tossed into a heap in the ground, we'll know that an evil enchanter is working against us.

What other explanation could there be?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Good analogy. I will definitely steal it.

copithorne said...

Diatribes about "them" which do not include a single attributed quote by one of "them" will consistently be expressions of projection of a disowned shadow.

Neither your post nor Dr. Santy's reference any actual person.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

The entire blog Durham-in Wonderland has been keeping up with this best. http://durhamwonderland.blogspot.com

For a specific round up, this is the best recent one there. There are others. http://durhamwonderland.blogspot.com/2007/03/march-madness-iii-faculty.html

Also here: http://durhamwonderland.blogspot.com/2007/02/group-of-88s-imagined-reality.html

Specifics.

Jonathan Wyman said...

Oh yeah, Coptihorne was really looking for specifics...

Bugs said...

copi - Them knows who they am, and so do us.