The Ohio Rape and Civil Discourse

This is about the conviction of the two boys in Ohio on the charge of raping the young girl. It will make some people mad, and for that I’m sorry. However in some ways, peoples’ reaction to the case illustrate what has gone wrong with our society. We have lost our sense of perspective, our moderation, and with that we are debasing both our civil society and our language.

I’m not defending what the boys did. They put their fingers where they didn’t belong and generally treated a human being in a very callous way. But I have read the boys being described as inhuman, even as monsters. Take a moment to think about how bad it could have been. Not too long ago, a woman in India was gang-raped in broad daylight while being beaten so severely that she eventually died. The girl in Ohio could have been found dead with every part of her body horrendously damaged and violated. But she wasn’t.

Again, I am not defending what the boys did. However if we use our most extreme language to describe these two boys and their actions, what words do we use to describe the men that actually do kidnap and violently rape young girls? If the two boys in Ohio are monsters, what is the appropriate term to describe the men in India? Are commentators actually suggesting there is a moral equivalence between the rape in India and what happened in Ohio?

It’s easy to view the Ohio case as proof of whatever one finds wrong with our society. The rampant sports culture. The male dominated world. The systematic sexualization and debasement of women. It’s easy to make the boys examples of all that is bad and hateful in the world. Except they aren’t. They aren’t archetypes, they aren’t examples, they are just two teenagers, two children, that did something very bad at a high school party. It is not fair to them to make them the personification of evil.

This, surely, is one of the things that has made our society more harsh and much less civil – the willingness of each side to immediately paint an event or person with the most horrific language possible. Accusing the two boys in Ohio of being monsters. Comparing Obama to Hitler. They aren’t that different, and both are distortions of fact and language.

If we keep abusing language, words, then over time the words themselves lose their meaning – they become less precise, and less impactful. And over time it gets harder and harder to have a real conversation about the challenges facing our society, our country. The word “political correctness” doesn’t get used much anymore, but this is surely an example. Any commentator that suggested even a hint of moderation, a hint of forgiveness, was summarily trashed in the media and the social networks.

Again, I’m not defending what the boys did, I am defending moderation and civil discourse. Extremism of language chokes off real conversation. It makes people on both sides of the spectrum afraid to offer their opinions, because of the firestorm of hateful words that will be unleashed against them. I’ve read enough history to know that civil society has never been completely civil. But it used to be more civil. It used to be possible for two people to discuss an event, a part of society, without feeling the need to label each other as monsters.

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