We rented a documentary series recently called 500 Nations, which was a brilliant attempt at explaining who the peoples were in the Americas when the Europeans came and what exactly happened to them. Much of it is difficult to contemplate and some defies belief - genocide, germ warfare, even the disruptions of a Western-style market economy for peoples who had never been exposed to that sort of thing. It is a striking movie because it seeks truth quietly and without shouting, and it is very successful as a result.
We've been thinking about it a lot recently, and it brought a question back to us again: what exactly is political correctness?
It's a question that those who have followed the lacrosse story have asked for some time. With Duke students and faculty enraged by the allegations of group rape early on in the case, and with many still concerned with issues of race and sex, perhaps more so than with the fundamental question of guilt or innocence, it's hard to avoid dwelling on the concept of P.C.
Then there is Shadee Malaklou's recent column in the Durham paper.
Malaklou opens with a blast at Joseph Cheshire, who a defense attorney in the lacrosse case, calling him a "...smug white attorney representing a smug, white lacrosse player..." She goes on to say that he was "completely insensitive to the multitudes of women who have been victim, in one way or another, to the lacrosse player's actions."
Malaklou concedes that D.A. Mike Nifong has "inaccuracies" in the case - perhaps she is referring to the bogus lineup, the mass DNA test, the ignored exculpatory evidence, or possibly the versions of the alleged victim's stories or her admitted abuse of prescription drugs compounded by apparently fairly heavy drinking (more drinking or less depending on which version of the story you hear).
But her focus strays somewhat at this critical point: is she saying that they should be held "accountable" for misogyny and racism, or is she suggesting that the team in general is filled with rapists?
"A rape may not have occurred on March 13, but as a woman on Duke's campus, as a women's studies major and as an activist for survivors of sexual assault, I assure Mr. Cheshire that these men are not innocent, nor are they upstanding citizens of Duke or Durham law."
(Just as an aside: Durham law?)
She goes on to concede Nifong's unethical behavior when he took over the investigation from the police and refused to consider exculpatory evidence, but says that "it is just as unethical for Cheshire to present...David Evans, or his lacrosse friends, as innocent victims.
Malaklou goes on to say "Nifong may not be in the right thing legally, but that doesn't mean he's not doing the right thing."
And that's where her second suggestion that the lacrosse team has some history of rape: "it is understood and accepted that what happens under a drunken stupor is excusable and forgivable the next morning.
"But the...strippers were not Duke students, and at least one of them was not going to excuse the lacrosse player's actions wit the trusty understanding that "boys will be boys..."
So there are three basic points here to consider:
- Malaklou admits Nifong is abusing the system
- Malaklou doesn't care that he is abusing the system because the lacrosse players need to be punished regardless of guilt in this particular case.
- Malaklou infers that the alleged rape is not the first rape by a lacrosse player.
- Malaklou also maintains that one of the strippers is not willing to put up with their allegedly criminal behavior.
So unless we misunderstand, regardless of whether or not they have committed the crimes for which they are charged, Malaklou thinks this is perfectly acceptable behavior by a prosecutor.
This is madness. Once we abandon the rule of law, the mob is never far away.
As James Coleman has pointed out, repeatedly, there is nothing to stop a prosecutor from going after poor defendants in the same reckless and unethical manner, something people from Hurricane Carter to the Scottsboro Boys to Leo Frank would find tragically familiar.
It's been made quite clear by a number of people that the lacrosse team is not filled with virgins who drink milk and go to bed by 8:00 every night. But no one yet has suggested that it's a den of rapists. And if you are going to make allegations of rape, you ought to back them up. Shame on Malaklou for such a McCarthyistic attack, and shame on the Herald-Sun for allowing it in print. The paper has become a laughingstock in recent years, but this is a new low.
Interestingly enough, Malaklou teaches a class at Duke which discusses the hook-up culture on campus, and which seems to support it, at least to judge by the course description, as posted on LieStoppers:
Dating and Mating: Hookup Culture at Duke.
Section 1: Classes 1-3. "Framing the Conversation"--What do we mean by "hookup culture"? What are the overarching issues to be addressed by this class? We are trying to define 'the big picture' here.
Section 2: Classes 4-5. "Situations Conducive to 'Hooking up" -- What kind of environment fosters and is conducive to a "hookup," looking at college campuses specifically.
Section 3: classes 6-8. "The Before and After"--What are the expectations before a hookup, what happens afterwards?
Section 4: Classes 9-11. "Identity"--How are one's sexual encounters shaped by that person's upbringing and social identity?
Section 5: Class 12. "What Now?"--Where do we go from here to create constructive sexual encounters between college students (at Duke especially)?
Most modern people, or Westerners at any rate, are in favor of positive sexuality. It's a basic human need, and like all human needs, it's best to understand it. Scholars like Dagmar Herzog are writing serious works and posing important questions.
But the class seems flimsy, at best, and intellectually flabby. The better questions might be some like these: is this an advisable way to manage one's sexuality? What are the different cultural approaches to sexuality? How has the American approach to sexuality changed in the last 40-50 years? What are the social implications?
It's a vast, complex, and fascinating subject, but the perspective suggested by the course description seems limited and remarkably stupid, frankly, and suggests some serious limits to Malaklou's intellectual progress - and to Duke's as well for putting up with such fatuous nonsense.
James Armstrong does not feel it is appropriate to criticize Duke faculty under any circumstances and does not endorse this position.