The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Civil Rights and ‘Elevator Eyes’

Posted on | June 22, 2011 | 13 Comments

“Elevator Eyes: When someone looks another person up and down, giving their eyes the resemblance of elevators.”
Urban Dictionary

Michael Barone explains that the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights sent a 19-page letter to colleges and universities in April:

The OCR letter includes a requirement that universities adopt a “preponderance of the evidence” standard of proof for deciding cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault. In other words, in every case of alleged sexual harassment or sexual assault, a disciplinary board must decide on the basis of more likely than not.
That’s far short of the requirement in criminal law that charges must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. And these disciplinary proceedings sometimes involve charges that could also be criminal, as in cases of alleged rape.
But more often they involve alleged offenses defined in vague terms and depending often on subjective factors. [Foundation for Individual Rights in Education president Greg] Lukianoff notes that campus definitions of sexual harassment include “humor and jokes about sex in general that make someone feel uncomfortable” (University of California at Berkeley), “unwelcome sexual flirtations and inappropriate put-downs of individual persons or classes of people” (Iowa State University) or “elevator eyes” (Murray State University in Kentucky).

Wait a minute! We’re talking about college students. If young people on our nation’s university campuses aren’t permitted to tell “jokes about sex” or engage in “sexual flirtations” without risk of a federal civil-rights action, who among us is safe?

This Department of Education letter — a seeming threat to deploy Federal Flirting Police — was, in fact, a belated reaction to last October’s incident at Yale University, where fraternity pledges undergoing initiation were made to chant rude things about rape. The offensive fraternity (of which both President Bushes are alumni) was suspended for five years, but not before the feds announced an investigation of Yale. And part of the government’s response was to issue this 19-page letter (sent to all universities) imposing the “preponderance of evidence” rule.

Note that this was undertaken by the department’s Office of Civil Rights, showing how the term “civil rights” has been hijacked. Whereas “civil rights” in education began as an effort to end racial segregation, now it is used as a cudgel to punish fraternity pranks or students who tell dirty jokes. By this act of rhetorical prestidigitation, Yale coeds offended by a DKE chant are made analogous to the “Little Rock Nine,” who required federal protection merely to be enrolled at Central High in 1957.

We should have seen this coming. Michael Barone’s column makes reference to the Red Queen of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but he might more aptly invoke another Lewis Carroll character, Humpty Dumpty from Through the Looking Glass:

    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

The Left has captured the language of “civil rights” and  has used it as an instrument of authority for so long that nowadays one risks denunciation as a hate-monger merely for questioning the Left’s power to “make words mean so many different things.”

The minute you display an intention to hold the Left to account, to prevent them from perverting language — e.g., rhetorically transmogrifying a fraternity stunt into a violation of “civil rights” — the Left will identify you as an enemy and accuse you of being guilty of “hate.” This demonization of all opposition is necessary to the Left’s programme because, if ever their deluded followers began to question the categorical terms, the more intelligent among them would cease to be deluded, and the leaders would soon have no one to lead.

We do not protest as often as we should against the Left’s abuse of language, and our silence is interpreted as assent. Thus their power to define terms expands remorselessly, until we are left without words to employ against them.

More than half a century ago, Randall Jarrell observed that some liberals would swallow a porcupine if you dyed its quills and called it Modern Art. And nowadays liberals are just as willing to swallow a porcupine if you call it “civil rights.” We ought not be so easily deceived.


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