Interlude—Minder knows best: We couldn’t help feeling that Lawrence O’Donnell was helping us liberals feel “safe.”
Let’s be clear about that. No physical danger was being avoided as we watched The Last Word Monday night. We were being protected from something else—from various types of information which we liberals may not most enjoy.
For background, see yesterday’s report.
In a rational world, there was no reason why liberals and progressives should be shielded from the information at issue. That said, Lawrence and a scripted panel seemed intent on keeping us safe from information like this:
Information which got disappeared:In a rational world, it would be helpful for progressives and liberals to understand those things. It would be helpful for us to know that not all claims turn out to be true, even if they comport with our larger beliefs, and that our “liberal” news orgs can massively fail, especially when they overreach in the pursuit of Tribal True Belief.
1) There's no reason to think that a widely-discussed gang rape actually happened.
2) The alleged victim in that case had made a long series of statements and claims which turned out to be false.
3) In failing to fact-check this person’s claims, Rolling Stone engaged in an astounding journalistic fail.
It would be helpful for liberals to know those things, but Lawrence wasn’t selling. Instead, he and his panel let us hear some familiar old scripts, the ones we most enjoy:
Some things we were told instead:Was Martese Johnson “brutalized” in this recent incident? Like Lawrence’s unfortunate panel, we simply don’t know at this time.
1) Universities won’t involve the police in rape allegations because it’s bad for business. (In the case of this rape claim, UVa seems to have called in the local police on three separate occasions.)
2) A black student was recently “brutalized” on the UVa campus. (The investigation of the incident has barely begun. The agency in question seems to have no history of mistreating black students.)
Alas! Lawrence seemed to be protecting us from facts which don’t comport with our views in the most simple-minded ways. This unhelpful service is now being performed all over the “liberal” world.
Rush and Sean have always treated the public this way. Now, people like Lawrence are paid big bucks by corporate entities to bring these practices into the liberal world.
Remember when we fought a war “to keep the world safe for democracy?” People like Lawrence are striving to keep the world safe for the most simple-minded true belief.
This isn’t good for progressive causes, but these practices are widespread. Consider what happened at Brown last fall when a non-ideological student group decided to stage a debate.
The debate bore this title: “How Should Colleges Handle Sexual Assault?” Plainly, that’s a sensible topic—but the inclusion of Wendy McElroy, an “individualist feminist,” sparked a pre-debate debate which included concerns about “safety.”
In Last Sunday’s New York Times, Judith Shulevitz discussed these events, events which are well worth discussing. At the same time, we think Shulevitz was a bit snarky, especially toward several students at Brown, who may be 19 years old.
We thought Shulevitz should have focused more on the adults at Brown—at the adult authorities who, like O’Donnell, seemed to be keeping our “liberal” world safe for the most simple-minded ideas.
With those trigger warnings in place, here’s how Shulevitz started her piece. We include the headline, which basically pokes the students:
SHULEVITZ (3/22/15): In College and Hiding From Scary IdeasByron and Hall, who are students at Brown, got snarked at pretty good in that passage. The description of the “safe space” which Hall helped set up pretty much lowered the boom on These Kids Today.
Katherine Byron, a senior at Brown University and a member of its Sexual Assault Task Force, considers it her duty to make Brown a safe place for rape victims, free from anything that might prompt memories of trauma.
So when she heard last fall that a student group had organized a debate about campus sexual assault between Jessica Valenti, the founder of feministing.com, and Wendy McElroy, a libertarian, and that Ms. McElroy was likely to criticize the term “rape culture,” Ms. Byron was alarmed. “Bringing in a speaker like that could serve to invalidate people’s experiences,” she told me. It could be “damaging.”
Ms. Byron and some fellow task force members secured a meeting with administrators. Not long after, Brown’s president, Christina H. Paxson, announced that the university would hold a simultaneous, competing talk to provide “research and facts” about “the role of culture in sexual assault.” Meanwhile, student volunteers put up posters advertising that a “safe space” would be available for anyone who found the debate too upsetting.
The safe space, Ms. Byron explained, was intended to give people who might find comments “troubling” or “triggering,” a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma. Emma Hall, a junior, rape survivor and “sexual assault peer educator” who helped set up the room and worked in it during the debate, estimates that a couple of dozen people used it. At one point she went to the lecture hall—it was packed—but after a while, she had to return to the safe space. “I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs,” Ms. Hall said.
(Just for the record, that “safe space” was actually run by Bwell Health Promotion, a part of Brown health services. Shulevitz may have had her thumb on the scale a tad as she seemed to mock an overwrought Hall.)
Byron and Hall got snarked at good. In our view, President Paxson got off easy. Let’s discuss three types of conduct cited in that short passage.
Creating the safe space: It may sound silly—in fact, it does sound silly—to stock a “safe space” at a college with coloring books and videotape of puppies. This may sound especially silly since no one was forced to attend the debate.
That safe space may sound silly; in fact, it pretty much does. That said, if some Brown students have emotional issues stemming from past assaults, it isn’t silly to think that Brown would provide counseling services.
We’ve never done such work ourselves, whether for victims of sexual assault or for traumatized former soldiers. For that reason, we’ll hold off on passing judgment about the best practices for young people who may be struggling with such issues.
The views of These Kids Today: Byron and Hall seem to express some peculiar views in that passage. Outside a therapeutic context, the views they express are strange.
Outside a therapeutic context, it’s hard to know why a person would expect to be protected from hearing “viewpoints that really go against their dearly and closely held beliefs.” Beyond that, it sounds like Byron may not have wanted McElroy to be allowed to speak at all, although we don’t know if that's true.
Outside the therapeutic context, Byron and Hall are expressing strange views—unless you watch Lawrence O’Donnell each night, where we liberals are protected against feeling bombarded by viewpoints and facts that go against our dearly held pseudo-beliefs. In our view, a lot of overpaid corporate figures are engaged in exactly the conduct these young people seem to desire—although again we stress the fact that Byron and Hall were speaking here in a therapeutic context.
Shulevitz hammers Byron and Hall. At this point, let’s hail on the chief.
Assistant professor knows best: In our view, it’s President Paxson, the adult here, whose conduct is deeply unfortunate.
It seems to us she was working hard to cast herself in the Lawrence role—to keep students safe from facts and ideas which don’t comport with “liberal” views in the most simple-minded way possible.
Good God! Confronted with a campus debate in which students would hear competing views, Paxson created a simultaneous forum in which students would be able to hear just one set of views. Here's how Paxson described her plan in an email to the masses:
PAXSON (11/14/14): Over the past year, as the issue of sexual assault on college campuses has attracted national attention, the role of culture in sexual assault has been a subject of debate. Some people–including writer Wendy McElroy, who will speak with Jessica Valenti at a Janus Forum event next week–have argued that sexual assault is the work of small numbers of predatory individuals whose behaviors are impervious to the culture and values of their communities. I disagree. Although evidence suggests that a relatively small number of individuals perpetrate sexual assault, extensive research shows that culture and values do matter. Societies that have strong norms against sexual assault have fewer assaults. Furthermore, people are more likely to come forward to report assaults in communities that understand the seriousness of assault and support survivors.At this second event, students would be provided “with more research and facts” about the issues in question. More specifically, they would hear the “research and facts” of which Dear Leader approved.
In order to provide the community with more research and facts about these important issues, students and administrators have worked together to sponsor a lecture by Brown University Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior Lindsay Orchowski, entitled The Research on Rape Culture. This presentation will take place at 4:30 pm on Tuesday, November 18th in Wilson 102 as an alternative to the Janus Forum (which will be held at the same time and date in Salomon 101).
In effect, President Paxson was creating a second “safe space.” But this safe space had been designed for students who weren’t trauma victims.
This safe space had been designed so students would only be asked to hear viewpoints with which they already agreed. The event would be held at the same time as the previously scheduled debate!
Students were bright enough to see the downside to this move. Below, you see part of the way the Brown Daily Herald reported the president’s plan.
Two undergraduate journalists created a cool, clear report, if you’re willing to swallow the concept of “feeling attacked by viewpoints:”
BRANDFIELD-HARVEY AND KELLY (11/17/14): Students who may feel attacked by the viewpoints expressed at the forum or feel the speakers will dismiss their experiences can find a safe space and separate discussion held at the same time in Salomon 203. This “BWell Safe Space” will have sexual assault peer educators, women peer counselors and staff from BWell on hand to provide support.Schwartz and Friedland were able to see the downside to simultaneity. That said, even Friedland accepted the notion that Assistant Professor Orchowski would be presenting “the research” (full stop).
A separate event titled “Research on Rape Culture” with Lindsay Orchowski, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior, will also take place in BERT 130 during the Janus debate. The Facebook event for these alternative options was created Thursday.
Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations, wrote in an email to The Herald that both the Janus debate and Orchowski’s lecture will be taped and available for students to view later.
Schwartz and Janus Forum Director Alex Friedland ’15 expressed their disappointment in the events being held at the same time, as they both said students invested in the issues who may want to attend both events now must choose between them.
“I think it could have been really great if (Orchowski’s) event happened right before,” Friedland said. “People would have been able to hear the research and then come to our event fully informed.”
In fact, different people will understand “the research” in different ways. In a perfect world, a senior at Brown would understand that there’s no such thing as “the research.”
But then again, so would Brown’s president!
At any rate, students would now be able to hear only one pre-approved account of “the research.” Like Lawrence and so many others, President Paxson seems to know what’s good for us liberals to hear.
Lawrence’s presentation was horrible this Monday night. We liberals were shielded from hearing about the horrible ways a much-discussed claim had failed.
Instead, we got to hear the same old crap our overpaid corporate minders are constantly reciting. President Paxson played the same role in the vineyards of Brown.
Like Lawrence, Paxson created a safe “liberal” space. At her hastily-scheduled alternate forum, the assistant professor would hand us our truth again.
Sadly and horribly, this is part of what the safety-seeking students were told by the assistant professor. Emma Harris did the reporting in the Daily Herald:
HARRIS (11/19/14): Research on assault characteristics has revealed that about half of reported incidents involve alcohol, Orchowski said. Many sexual assault perpetrators are repeat offenders...Assistant professor knows best! Orchowski knows if you’ve been raped. Eighty percent of the time, we the people can’t tell!
Orchowski said only about 20 percent of sexual assault victims correctly labeled their assaults as “rape,” often reporting them as results of miscommunication or bad dates.
Assistant professor Orchowski knows best! But then, all around the emerging “liberal” world, so do a wide range of others. They are creating a range of safe spaces for people who aren’t trauma victims. In these safe spaces, we liberals keep hearing the “facts” we’ve already memorized.
So it goes when the reins are handed to crackpots like Lawrence. He insists that he’s a kid from the streets—and he knows what we liberals should hear.
Later today: What McElroy said!
Tomorrow: Our (liberal) conversations to nowhere