David R. Henderson  

Setting the Record Straight on George Will

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The wife of a friend of mine wrote a letter to a local publication, the Monterey County Weekly, in which she badly misquoted George Will's recent statement in a column about victimization on campus.

My reply to her letter was published yesterday. Here it is:

Claire Mounteer and the Monterey County Rape Crisis Center are doing valuable work. That is why, at the request of local men's group leader Fred Jealous, I gave a talk to their volunteers some years ago. It's important that those who are serious about rape get their facts right. In her recent letter, Ms. Mounteer did not do that ("Letters," June 19-25). She wrote: "And then there's George Will, whose recent column was syndicated in many publications nationwide, calling being a rape survivor on a college campus a 'coveted status that confers privilege.'"
Here's what George Will actually wrote: "[Colleges and universities] 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."
Do you see the difference? George Will does not say that being a rape survivor is a "coveted status." Instead, he says that victimhood is a coveted status. Indeed, a large part of his column was about how the number of women on campus who are victims of sexual assault cannot be as high as one in five. That trivializes sexual assault, something that sincere opponents of rape, such as Ms. Mounteer and I, cannot afford to do. David R. Henderson | Pacific Grove

One of the easiest things to do is to "win" an argument by badly misstating the argument of the person you are disagreeing with.


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CATEGORIES: Economics of Crime



COMMENTS (15 to date)
mm writes:

The POTUS seems to specialize in straw man arguments & since they seem to work for him (he is almost never challenged by the press, for example) why shouldn't we all follow his example?

brendan writes:

The more ubiquitous a value/belief, the less honest the civil rights apparatus must be to persuade people that the value/belief isn't in fact ubiquitous. But what would these people do w/ their time if they had nothing to shriek about.

NZ writes:

David,

I think while you improve on the interpretation of Will's statement, you still aren't 100% there.

Will doesn't say that victimhood is a coveted status, he says that Colleges and universities are making victimhood a coveted status.

In this regard, I think your (slight) misinterpretation is actually more accurate than Will's statement: victimhood was a coveted status long before colleges and universities started doing more to make it one, and it probably will remain a coveted status even if colleges and universities stop trivializing rape the way they have been.

lemmycaution writes:

The George Will article was a trainwreck.

His opening paragraph includes stuff like "when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate"

and he goes on to give an extended examination of a borderline sexual assault case at Swarthmore. The implication is that she somehow became a victim due to university policy.

I am sure Will's intent was just to drop some bluster in the first paragraph then give a nuanced discussion of the Swarthmore case in the rest of the essay. He really needed to pick one or the other though.

Pandaemoni writes:

Given that an "assault" is any undesired physical contact intentionally initiated by one person against another without the other person's consent, I'd be stunned if the number of women who are victims of sexual assault was as *low* as one in five. Certainly at my college that would seem to have been a low number. Even excluding examples I think of as trivial (for example, men on a date with women who go in for a kiss when the women in question really aren't into it), women at parties would get groped fairly routinely. It was jut expected that those women would slug the men in question, and those men would then (so far as I ever saw) back off.

The women involved were not necessarily traumatized by the experience (again, so far as I ever saw), but I can see why foisting an affirmative duty on women to fend off such advances would be seen as unfair, and I cn't see any reason why they would not be "sexual assaults."

Aidan writes:

Oh please. The very next paragraph is about "the supposed campus epidemic of rape, a.k.a. 'sexual assault.'" The scare quotes (and the rest of Will's argument) indicate that victims of sexual assault are proliferating by expanding the definition of sexual assault in a way that Will deems worthy of scare quotes and derision.

If Will's statement about making "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges" excludes sexual assault victims, the piece is entirely incoherent. The entire point of the article is that more and more women on campus want to be seen as rape victims because the Obama administration has made it a coveted status that confers privilege. Trying to make the distinction between "rape survivor" and "victimhood" here seems to be badly misstating the argument of the person you're agreeing with.

AMW writes:

So is this woman's husband still your friend?

Greg G writes:

----"George Will does not say that being a rape survivor is a "coveted status." Instead, he says that victimhood is a coveted status."

Yes, he leaves it to the reader to decide whether a "rape survivor" has been the "victim" of a rape. Does anyone think that a ""rape survivor" has not been the "victim" of a rape?

There is a good argument to be made against inflated statistics and overly expansive definitions of rape but this is not the way to do it.

NZ writes:

Considering it further I understand why Will used the verb "making" rather than "is": he wanted to emphasize the role of colleges and universities in helping to trivialize and dilute real horrors. In this sense his phrasing is appropriate.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Greg G,
Yes, he leaves it to the reader to decide whether a "rape survivor" has been the "victim" of a rape. Does anyone think that a ""rape survivor" has not been the "victim" of a rape?
No. I think everyone, including Will, thinks that a “rape survivor” is a victim of a rape. I would bet 100 to 1 on that.
"All A are B" does not imply that "all B are A."

Greg G writes:

David

I didn't think I would need to spell this out in this much detail but here goes:

Will says that victimhood is a coveted status.

Will recognizes that being a victim of rape Is one way to achieve victimhood status.

Therefore it follows that Will thinks that many women "covet" the "privileged" status of being rape victims.

This is the problem and it is not changed by the fact that he recognizes there are also many other routes to victimhood. In the column you linked to, rape is the route to the "coveted status" of victimhood he chooses to emphasize.

In fact the status of rape victim is almost entirely negative. Many rape victims are viewed as damaged goods and many do in fact suffer psychological trauma with long lasting negative effects. Many rape victims are widely suspected of being at least partially responsible for their victimization even if this is not the case. No sane person covets such a status.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Greg G,
I’m glad you did spell it out because your doing so exposes your non sequitur.
Your conclusion after “Therefore” does not follow from your premises--your second and third sentences.

Greg G writes:

David

Did you read the entire column and the article he links to about the bizarre false rape accusation that Will cites as an example of colleges helping to make victimhood appealing?

In fact his link says that the allegation was looked at by the college and dropped just about as fast as it possibly could have been. Rather than enjoy some of the privileges of victimhood the accuser was left angry that she was not taken seriously. This is probably what should have happened but it is the opposite of the impression that Will leaves.

The majority of his article was about rape and rape accusations. Now you want us to believe he wasn't talking about rape victim as a coveted victimhood status? Then why was so much of the column about a rape accusation?

David R. Henderson writes:

@Greg G,
Did you read the entire column and the article he links to about the bizarre false rape accusation that Will cites as an example of colleges helping to make victimhood appealing?
I read the column but not the links.
Now you want us to believe he wasn't talking about rape victim as a coveted victimhood status?
No, I don’t want you to believe that. I think he was talking about "rape victim" as a coveted status for people who weren’t actually raped. As I replied to you much earlier, I strongly doubt that he thinks someone would actually covet the status of being an actual rape victim. Do you actually think he meant that people would want to be raped? I just find that hard to believe.

Greg G writes:

David

Thanks for the reply. At least I think I understand what you are saying now. The Will column was such a mess there really isn't any explanation of it that makes much sense.

I agree that it doesn't make much sense for him to mean that people want to be raped. But I don't think it makes any more sense to think that rape victim becomes a coveted status just because the accusation of rape is false. Will is not just talking about individuals, he is talking about cultural values.

If you do get a chance to read the magazine article he linked to and used as a source I think you will find he used the source in a very misleading way. And he chose a case that was the most extreme outlier he could find and portrayed it as typical of what he imagines goes on at college campuses.

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