The fate of the over-served: Chanel Miller has routinely been praised on a perfectly sensible basis.
To what standard assessment do we refer? Just last week, Lisa Bonos expressed this assessment quite directly in the Washington Post:
BONOS (10/21/19): As #MeToo unfolded, the woman, Chanel Miller, felt emboldened to make her name public with a searing memoir that came out last month and quickly became a bestseller. “Know My Name” is remarkable for how Miller, who had blacked out from drinking, refuses to blame herself for what Turner had done to her. In a recent podcast conversation, Oprah Winfrey told Miller that this mind-set was a big change from how Winfrey and other survivors of her generation frequently blamed themselves for being assaulted, perhaps because of how they dressed or how much they had to drink.Miller refuse to blame herself. This makes her book remarkable.
Should Chanel Miller "blame herself" for what Brock Turner did, whatever that may have been? Obviously, no, she shouldn't!
In fairness, it isn't all that easy to say what Turner actually did on the very late evening in question. In March 2016, a unanimous jury ruled that he committed a sexual assault. Tomorrow, we'll examine the slightly peculiar, challenging logic behind that jury's verdict.
Today, though, we return to that other question of blame:
Obviously, it never makes sense to blame Person A for something Person B did. If Person A passes out in the public square and Person B walks away with his wallet, Person B, not Person A, has committed a crime.
This doesn't mean that Person A might not have been careless, or perhaps unwise, in this circumstance. In the act of theft described above, if Person A passed out in public because he'd become "extremely drunk," then Person A might sensibly consider the role this act of public carelessness played in the events which followed, in which he may have lost a large amount of cash.
Presumably, everyone is careless or unwise at some point in time. That doesn't mean that we should be blamed for someone else's immoral or criminal conduct.
That said, Miller "refuses to blame herself" in a way which strikes us as a bit unwise. We return to the early statement in Know My Name which defines the well-written book's basic ethos:
"I, to this day, believe none of what I did that evening is important..."As we noted yesterday, Miller makes that slightly imprecise statement at an early point in her book. Given the disastrous events of the evening in question, we strongly disagree with that statement.
Even today, Miller remains a very young person and the victim of a sexual assault—an assault from which she is still struggling to recover. The damage done by that assault is very important. So therefore was her somewhat unwise behavior on the night in question.
In what did that unwise behavior consist? It consisted in the fact that Miller, than just 22 years, became "blackout drunk" in a public place, on a campus whose august authority figures enable the kind of criminal conduct which ensued that night.
Obviously, what Miller did wasn't criminal, or even immoral—but what she did was less than perfectly wise. In a slightly different location, the behavior of those authority figures might have qualified as criminal. Here's what those august figures did:
They allowed a 19-year-old college freshman to be served so much alcohol that he would stumble out into the night with an estimated blood-alcohol content of 0.171—more than two times California's "legal limit."
In a Palo Alto bar, it would have been against the law to serve that 19-year-old freshman any alcohol at all! But on the nearby Stanford campus, he was served so much alcohol that he was severely drunk as he stumbled into the night at roughly 1 A.M.
That isn't all these august authority figures allowed to happen that night. They also allowed a 22-year-old woman to be served so much alcohol that her estimated BAC was 0.25 at 1 A.M.—three times the legal limit!
In fact, they allowed her to be served so much alcohol that she had become "blackout drunk" at approximately midnight.
She then made phones call, and left voice messages, which she doesn't remember making and leaving. What else did she do in that missing hour?
Because these pillars of the community had allowed her to be so vastly over-served, she has no idea what she said and did in the hour after midnight. But she seems to have left the party around 1 A.M. with the aforementioned Turner.
Eventually, she became unconscious. At some point along the way, the assault in question occurred.
In our view, the logic by which Turner was convicted of sexual assault is a slightly peculiar logic. We'll examine that logic tomorrow. For today, let's try to get a bit more clear on what it means to be "blackout drunk."
Just for starters, let's be clear—no one disputes the fact that Miller was "blackout drunk" on the evening in question. At trial, she testified to this fact, saying that she had also been blackout drunk four or five times while in college.
As noted, the fact that someone is blackout drunk doesn't mean that they should be blamed for the subsequent conduct of others. But what does it mean to be blackout drunk, and why should the nation's most revered figures avoid over-serving very young people until they attain this dangerous state?
What does it mean to be blackout drunk? For starters, and most important, it doesn't mean that the person in question is unconscious. The person in question hasn't "passed out," although that may happen later.
A person who is "blackout drunk" is up and about and walking around; she's saying and doing things. He or she is very drunk, but he or she hasn't passed out.
He or she can walk and talk and make all sorts of decisions—but his or her judgment may be badly impaired. In this publication from the National Institutes of Health, Aaron White described some of the unwise decisions such impaired people commonly make:
WHITE: As might be expected given the excessive drinking habits of many college students (Wechsler et al. 2002), this population commonly experiences blackouts. White and colleagues (2002c) recently surveyed 772 undergraduates regarding their experiences with blackouts...Of those who had consumed alcohol during the 2 weeks before the survey, 9.4 percent reported blacking out during this period. Students in the study reported that they later learned that they had participated in a wide range of events they did not remember, including such significant activities as vandalism, unprotected intercourse, driving an automobile, and spending money.People who are "blackout drunk" are extremely drunk. Their judgment may be affected by this state of drunkenness.
In a subsequent study, White and colleagues (2004) interviewed 50 undergraduate students, all of whom had experienced at least one blackout, to gather more information about the factors related to blackouts. As in the previous study, students reported engaging in a range of risky behaviors during blackouts, including sexual activity with both acquaintances and strangers, vandalism, getting into arguments and fights, and others...Roughly half of all students (52 percent) indicated that their first full memory after the onset of the blackout was of waking up in the morning, often in an unfamiliar location. Many students, more females (59 percent) than males (25 percent), were frightened by their last blackout and changed their drinking habits as a result.
According to White, they report "engaging in a range of risky behaviors during blackouts, including sexual activity with both acquaintances and strangers." The next day, they won't remember doing these things.
White has long been recognized as a major authority on such topics. He's often cited in press reports warning about the danger involved in such excessive consumption.
In 2015, CNN's Kelly Wallace cited White's work in a lengthy piece about blackout drinking. Wallace was discussing a new book on the subject by Salon editor Sarah Hepola, a book which received a glowing review in the New York Times.
What happens when people are blackout drunk? Wallace had interviewed White and quoted him as shown:
WALLACE (8/7/15): Blackouts are periods of amnesia about things a person did or places a person went while intoxicated, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Blackouts are not the same as passing out while intoxicated, and a drunk person and others around him or her might not realize they're happening. For most people, the sign of a blackout is waking up wondering, "What happened?"According to White, other people can't necessarily tell when someone is "blackout drunk." Meanwhile, the party who is blackout drunk may engage in a wide array of behaviors, including those described above.
"They're very common, frighteningly so," especially among college students who drink alcohol, said Aaron White, PhD, senior adviser to the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and one of the country's leading experts on blackouts.
In a blackout, you could be doing mundane things like brushing your teeth, walking home or talking to a friend. Or, you might carry out more emotionally charged or risky behaviors such as having sex. Whatever it is, while that's happening, your brain is unable to create memories for those events.
Hepola writes about coming out of a blackout in a Paris hotel room while she was having sex with a man that she had no memory of meeting.
"I was not asleep," she said. "It's almost like your mind goes online again after being kicked offline ... and I come out of this blackout and I'm on top of this guy and I'm having sex with him, and I don't know where he came from, and it's the strangest thing that had ever happened to me."
The man Hepola was having sex with most likely had no idea she was in a blackout, White said.
"Even for spouses of hardcore alcoholics, they report usually not being able to tell when their spouse is in a blackout," he said.
For the reasons listed above, we'd always wondered about the basis upon which the jury was able to find that Turner was in fact guilty of a sexual assault on that very unfortunate night. Tomorrow, we'll explain that logic. It's a logic which is somewhat shaky, but it's also a logic which makes a type of perfect sense.
For today, we'll only say this. People who vastly over-serve young people, then send them clattering off into the night, are engaging in deeply irresponsible conduct.
In our view, their conduct only gets worse when they express shock and surprise about what sometimes happens next. In our view, it's hard to have sufficient contempt for the august authority figures who engage in conduct like this.
In our view, august figures at a famous school behaved very irresponsibly in the incident under review. To a slightly lesser extent, so do the adult journalists who agree to overlook the many shortcoming with Chanel Miller's well-written but often poorly reasoned new book.
That said, we live in The Age of the Novel, an age in which facts and logic are routinely disappeared in search of tribal simplification and pleasing story-lines. It's an age in which our floundering liberal tribe tends to reason in the language of fairy tale, trending at times toward cartoon.
Tomorrow: One juror explains