Yesterday, Conor Friedersdorf defended George Will's recent column on sexual assault. Friedersdorf's defense came in the form of a lengthy blog post (3,052 words) -- but, of course, all of Friedersdorf's blog posts are lengthy; the guy must need custom-made extra-large Post-its just to leave himself reminders to take out the garbage.
In all that prose, however, Friedersdorf never comes to grips with what was most offensive about Will's column: that Will said being a rape victim has its privileges on college campuses. And no, Conor is wrong when he insists -- more than once -- that that's a misreading of Will.
Here's how the Will column begins:
Colleges and universities are being educated by Washington and are finding the experience excruciating. They are learning that when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous ("micro-aggressions," often not discernible to the untutored eye, are everywhere), and that when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.Here's Friedersdorf:
That isn't the best beginning for a man whose prose is crystalline at its best. It's more difficult than it should be to discern that Will is distinguishing "the status of victimhood" from actual victimhood. When he says that colleges are causing "victims" to proliferate, he is referring to a category of people who he doesn't regard as actual victims but who have either declared themselves to be victims or have been declared victims by others within the subculture of elite academia.But Will isn't making that careful category distinction. Will says flatly that campuses "make victimhood a coveted status" -- not some victimhood, but all victimhood. Therefore, according to Will, all who are deemed victims of sexual assault on campus attain that "coveted status," including those whose sexual assaults Will wouldn't question. Isn't that offensive enough?
The distinction is core to the column and consistent throughout.
It's laughable that Friedersdorf considers Will's prose "crystalline at its best" -- like the late William F. Buckley, Will uses ten-dollar words and a pseudo-Victorian prose style to bamboozle readers into thinking that they're probably not smart enough to challenge him -- but his prose is clear here: he's saying you gain a privilege on campus if you assert that you've been sexually assaulted. He doesn't sort the attainers of this status into the deserving and the undeserving. He says they all achieve "a coveted status."
Will is not talking to rape victims and saying, "Boy, are you guys lucky." Will's argument is that perceived victimhood of all sorts confers a coveted status on college campuses. In context, it is clear that Will only finds this unseemly in cases where the status afforded to victims winds up generating fake victims.No, that's not clear at all. To me, Will seems to be saying that this is an example of a perversely leftist tendency to transform victims into heroes -- and the consequence is that the undeserving seek out victim/hero status. I can find nothing in the column to
Friedersdorf also defends this Will sentence:
Academia is learning that its attempts to create victim-free campuses -- by making everyone hypersensitive, even delusional, about victimizations -- brings increasing supervision by the regulatory state that progressivism celebrates.Think Progress's Judd Legum wrote that Will "suggested that women claiming to be raped were 'delusional.'"
Friedersdorf says that Will "does not suggest that women claiming to be raped were delusional -- he suggests attempts to create a victim-free campus makes everyone hypersensitive or 'delusional' about victimizations."
Yes, but if Will says that the horrible liberal culture makes "everyone ... delusional, about victimizations" then "everyone" surely must include those who claim to be sexual assault victims -- many of whom Will thinks are phonies. Therefore, yes, he absolutely is "suggest[ing] that women claiming to be raped were 'delusional,'" just as Legum claims.
So what else is bothering Friedersdorf about all this? Well, the fact that the millionaire pundit has been dropped by a grand total of one newspaper for this column:
The perverse effect will be a broadened subset of cautious pundits who are less likely to write about rape or sexual assault at all (especially at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch!). Totally ignoring rape won't ever get a person fired. Writing about it might, especially if one's words aren't reliably conveyed. Public discourse is undermined by people whose focus is drawing red cards on their opponents.Omigod! We've found the real victim here -- the marketplace! Now there's less of a free market for dickish opinion-mongering about rape! Liberal fascists!
Ayn Rand wept.