ItÕs the Stupidity, Stupid!

By Brantley Thompson Elkins

Maybe youÕve read about a case in Massachusetts, where seven teenage girls are being prosecuted for bullying another teenage girl so relentlessly and so mercilessly that she committed suicide.

There are any number of shocking aspects to this case, only beginning with the fact that teachers at the high school involved knew about the harassment and did nothing about it – even though, it turned out, school officials had recently been counseled on the issue (as opposed to the specific case) by an outside expert.

It isnÕt as if the problem of bullying hadnÕt been aired before. A Google news search shows hundreds of stories over the past decade. There had been a previous case in Massachusetts that led to suicide, and a New York school system recently agreed to pay $50,000 to a boy who was harassed at school because he was gay.

That last case may have gotten more attention because it involved a hate crime – harassment of minorities is considered especially heinous in these politically correct tines, whereas the victim and the victimizers in the Massachusetts case were all white – and all girls (Two boys were charged with statutory rape, but apparently werenÕt part of the bullying campaign.).

Is the Massachusetts case an example of inadvertent political extremism, of the idea that only white males can be the perpetrators of obnoxious behavior and only non-white females or gays or other minorities the victims? That seems to be the upshot of the notorious case in which members of the Duke University lacrosse team were accused of raping a black stripper – the liberal academic community there still thought they were guilty even after the case fell apart and the prosecuting attorney was disbarred.

There was an op-ed piece in The New York Times that accused the media of a hysterical campaign against young women in covering the Massachusetts case, as if there were an epidemic of violence by teenage girls when violence by teenage girls is actually on the decline. But none of the stories I read suggested that Ōmean girlsĶ were typical – and, in any case, the Massachusetts episode was mostly about verbal abuse rather than physical violence. I donÕt see any political agenda in the coverage.

There are countless instances of abusive behavior, in schools and elsewhere, that involve race, drugs and other hot-button issues but seem to have nothing to do with all-embracing political agendas. Among recent examples are cases of black schoolchildren being arrested for scribbling on their desks. Hundreds of thousands of mostly minority people in New York are stopped and searched by police every year, even though 90% of such stops donÕt reveal a trace of any criminal activity – and the innocent end up in a police database. Yet the same time, gangbangers shoot it out in broad daylight and kill innocent bystanders – where are the cops then? Do schools that have scribblers arrested ever crack down on gangbangers? And there are schools with a zero-tolerance drug policy that expel some pupils for having aspirin, but force others to take Ritalin.

Follow the news and youÕll find even more baffling incongruities. Nidal Hasan, a U.S. Army officer who had known contacts with Islamic militants, was never questioned on account of that before he shot up Fort Hood – but if heÕd been exposed as gay, heÕd have been booted out of the service. Underwear bomber Abdulmutallab was in a terrorist database, but nobody tried to stop him from boarding a plane to the U.S. – whereas Nalini Ghuman, a British musicologist employed by Mills College in California was barred from the country for more than a year after a trip abroad in 2006, apparently because somebody thought she was a terrorist – the government never offered an explanation. Just the other day, there was a case of survivors of the Haitian earthquake having been invited to come to this country to recuperate – then immediately thrown in jail as illegal immigrants.

That last case has been resolved as I write this, but without an explanation as to why it happened or who was responsible. Whoever that was must have been incredibly stupid  – as stupid as the Somali pirates who took on a U.S. warship the other day (But IÕm still wondering why the commander, like that of a Dutch warship attacked a couple of weeks earlier, let the pirates go instead of holding them for prosecution.).

When we think of extremism, we tend to think of extreme ideologies – the Far Right and the Far Left, and of tendentious ideologues like Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore. Indeed, we see more and more of that every day, in debates over public issues ranging from climate change to health care. But a lot of what weÕre seeing these days comes under the heading of extreme stupidity. That may be even worse. -- April 2, 2010