Against Over-confidence
December 04, 2014, 06:02 AM
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With the Establishment media suffering humiliating blows to their worldviews over the last few weeks in controversies that they chose to inflate into national crises — Ferguson and the Rolling Stone fraternity gang rape text — it’s important to avoid two different forms of over-confidence:

  • Assume any kind of permanent progress has been achieved.
  • Assume that all these cases that the national media pick out for us to obsess over are completely baseless. For example, my best guess would be that something bad happened to this Jackie that shouldn’t have happened. It’s highly improbable that the story in Rolling Stone is anything close to accurate, but lots of bad stuff happens on college campuses to young people.
For example, as Caitlin Flanagan documented in a long article in The Atlantic earlier this year, The Dark Power of Fraternities, each year a sizable number of drunken students fall off fraternity balconies and get badly injured or even killed. A kid from my son’s high school recently fell off a balcony at his East Coast liberal arts college. (I don’t know if it was at a fraternity.)

Flanagan is a former college counselor at the top notch Harvard-Westlake prep school in my neck of the woods, so she knows a lot about colleges. (She was part of the Atlantic’s San Fernando Valley Mafia with Benjamin Schwarz and Sandra Tsingh Loh that made the printed Atlantic such a refreshing read in the early 2000s.) She points out that the national fraternities have pretty much perfected a system for not having to pay damages to injured partiers — instead, the homeowners insurance of the parents of individual Greek members winds up paying the bulk of settlements (and the parents’ wind up paying higher premiums). If it’s real bad, the parents may lose their house.

Murky and tawdry sexual stuff happens too. Fraternities need to better emphasize a code of gentlemanly behavior toward young women who are guests in their houses.

But that also doesn’t mean the Rolling Stone article is right in every particular. Flanagan emailed Hanna Rosin of Slate:

Caitlin Flanagan, who did an investigation into bad behavior at fraternities for the Atlantic, emailed us:

“In all my time studying fraternity rapes for my own essay, I didn’t come across a single report of anything like this. I did find reports of women who were raped by multiple men on one night—but those always involved incapacitation, either by alcohol or a drugged drink. And I did also find accounts of violent, push-down rape of the kind in the essay—but those were always by one member, not a bunch of members. (In fact, many of that kind—now that I think about it—were committed by non-members, or by visiting former members). But a planned gang rape, without alcohol or drugs, and keyed to initiation—I have never seen a case like that. Nor have I seen penetration with a foreign object—I’ve seen plenty of that committed by brothers to pledges as hazing, but I haven’t seen it in sexual assault cases. I’m sure it’s happened, but again—as part of a ritualized gang rape … Never anything like it.”