Friday, October 01, 2010

Tyler Clementi - pausing for an imprudent political rant

I composed this post as a comment on this article. It's long and undirected, and basically reframes the discussion in that article: on whose head does Tyler Clementi's death fall?

Infantilization is accelerating. As my fiancee said to me recently, college is the new high school; 18 is the new 10 years old. We talk about how the perpetrators were victims of an irresponsible society, and how their actions were adolescent pranks that went too far. I address this comment to all those who were shocked at this kind of incident happening in a Northeastern college, where young people can finally go to escape the bullying of teenagehood: undergraduate programs are feeling younger and younger, less and less decisive as a transition into adulthood. This reflects in both the behavior of the perpetrators, who were criminally negligent of another human being's personhood, and in the behavior of the victim, who wasn't prepared for the crushing blow of an inhumane society.

However, right now, talking about the victim's preparedness is not appropriate. Society is indeed causing confidence and self-image issues, but that's something we need to address in the long-term, on the social level. Punishing, or blaming, anyone for not being prepared for cruelty is bizarro-world logic.

What's much more appropriate -- and the collective indignation of so many of us is a good guideline to the morality of the situation -- is interrogating the perpetrators, and interrogating society to find out where these people come from. Why are we creating people who are so desperate for attention that it overrules their empathy, their practical judgment, and their decision-making skills?

There are a number of steps we need to take, but one of them is to acknowledge and commit to our moral standards. An educated, undiagnosed adult in the United States is responsible for the ramifications of their behavior, and these perpetrators did something almost unspeakably vicious to a classmate. Of course, the law delimits their possible punishment, which is a good thing, but they deserve the absolute maximum allowed for by those terms.

As a side-note, this is one of the reasons this particular story is getting so much attention -- it was the result of a single act of cruelty and moral perversion. People like watching moral train wrecks, and gasping at the outrage it inspires in them.

So, um, yes, there are a lot of people who are to blame for this. For starters, 1) the perpetrators... 2) the media and cultural trend toward attention-seeking behavior... especially 2a) those who do so in order to advance a hateful agenda, like the aforementioned right-wing pundits, and also 2b) those media trollers (some of them very far left) who profit off of cruel, attention-seeking, voyeuristic sensationalism.

I'd like to throw in the leftist political establishment, too, as abetted by Obama. These are the people who are actually able to advance an agenda logically, through argument and diplomacy, in contrast to the sound-byte-screaming right wing pundits. And yet, this political persuasion consistently proves unable to articulate and defend a strong set of principles. I can suggest some obvious ones: anti-opportunistic-corporatism. Social and economic infrastructure to regulate the excesses of capitalism. Oooh, and here's one: tolerance of personal freedom and sexual liberty as a core civil right.

Come on, Officially Licensed Participants in Society. It's the 21st century. We need to get this shit straight.

EDIT FOR CLARITY: I am a supporter of Obama, especially in terms of his actual initiatives, and his approach to political discourse. This just happens to be an issue where I wish he would take a stronger position.


Paolo said...

Thanks for this post. The people who blame the victim have never even tried to put themselves on the other's place. And this is from someone else, but it's not just one remark, it's years of verbal abuse.

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