Tuesday, June 24, 2014


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.

The distinction is core to the column and consistent throughout.
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?

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."

Friedersdorf writes:
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 contract contradict that reading.


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.


ladyblug said...

Why would anyone leave it up to Will to determine who has or hasn't been raped/sexually assaulted. He is a pundit, an unusually smug one at that!

Anonymous said...

You know, in a funny way, Will's beginning paragraph is almost salvageable because it's _not_ about rape and sexual assault. It's about how the idea of "micro-aggression" makes people alert to wrongs that would otherwise go unnoticed -- and, in Will's mind, TOO alert, bringing in acts that aren't "truly" victimizing and lumping them together with ones that are. In the context of the "trigger warnings" discussion he eventually gets to, that's not a bad opening gambit. It's wrong, I think, but not monstrously wrong. But here's the thing, and Friedersdorf misses this entirely: Will's VERY FIRST EXAMPLE of an act that produces spurious non-victims is an unwanted sex act! He blows the whole notion that his axe to grind is against illegitimate victimhood status for targets of non-victimizing acts when he thinks his best proof is... a sexual assault.

Victor said...

Will's been mailing it in for years.

Now, I suspect he's like Scalia - just happy to be a troll, pissing-off the liberals.

aimai said...

The first Question any Will defender needs to answer is what are the benefits that accrue to victims of crimes? Popularity? Are they automatically assigned a higher grade? Does the University pay them something? Are they applauded everywhere they go? Does the University make money off their image or sportswear with their name and number on it? Do they get lucrative contracts and job offers after graduating? What are these benefits, exactly?

the RaptorMage said...

"I can find nothing in the column to contract that reading."

I think you mean either "contradict" or "counteract".

(It seems appropriate to be extra careful about word choice when criticizing someone else's writing.)

Steve M. said...

Thanks. Fixed now.

Unknown said...

"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."

Well, I agree that George Will is an absolute crap writer. He writes like Charlie Brown's teacher sounds, but he sure THINKS he's a great writer, and while that can fool some people, to actual writers it makes him worse.

But if we accept Conor's assessment of Will's writing skills, then yeah - it's like when a rookie pitcher throws at your head and says it got away from him you maybe believe him, and when a guy who walks one batter a game does it you know he's bullshitting.

Again, the reality is that George Will is a stupid, mean person, and stupid, mean people don't make good writers. But this is an example of Young Conor refuting himself.

Unknown said...

"Ayn Rand wept."

Why do you say that? She didn't seem to have a problem with rape.

Yastreblyansky said...

Hahaha, that's fun. Poor Conor! I wonder if he thinks columnists should have some equivalent of tenure to protect them from the whims of their job-creating masters. Maybe the liberty-loving lad should organize a union.

tony in san diego said...

"Writing about it might, especially if one's words aren't reliably conveyed. "

What does this even mean? That Wills' column didn't reliably convey his own words?

What a maroon!