And the breakdown is most evident on college campuses.
The only thing that’s truly clear about the raging sexual-assault controversy on campus is that it’s a royal mess. Given new life (as if it needed new life) by Rolling Stone’s now-famous story of an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia — with a second round of stories now questioning Rolling Stone’s reporting – the battle is being waged seemingly everywhere, from pop culture to legislatures to courts. The federal government investigates colleges for not doing enough to stop sexual assault. Men sue colleges for campus-sexual-assault prosecutions so zealous that administrators ignore the most basic elements of due process. California passes legislation reducing campus sex to essentially a contractual relationship. There’s an epidemic of sexual assault, with fully one in four women victimized. Or, maybe, there’s less sexual assault and more sexual regret. But — in any case — real human misery abounds, with students facing an emerging mental-health crisis.
Heather Mac Donald summed it up best, in her outstanding Weekly Standard cover story, “It is impossible to overstate the growing weirdness of the college sex scene.”
It’s weird. It’s harmful. It’s sad. And, yes, it was predictable.
Colleges, as part of a toxic mix of radical politics and rampant consumerism, recreated the university experience as an ideologically charged Disneyland, where real academic work was deemphasized, traditional values were demonized, and the party became ever more important. The result wasn’t just an expensive amusement park, but one that was intentionally highly sexualized. Consider the following:
1. Academic work is less demanding than ever, and students spend less time studying and more time partying. As an Inside Higher Ed article noted, researchers now see a ”party pathway” on campus that combines a substandard education with a “meandering” and expensive path through college, often ending with a dropout.
2. The education that students do receive isn’t just highly ideological, it’s culturally destructive. The traditional family is oppressive. There are no meaningful emotional or psychological differences between men and women, and thus sexual desires and the responses to sexual activity are — or should be — emotionally equivalent. Self-restraint is a form of repression, with self-expression — especially sexual self-expression — representing the highest form of self-actualization. Combine that destructive nonsense with oceans of alcohol and the natural and ordinary temptations of college life, and the current mess is inevitable.
3. At the same time, traditional moral voices are chased off campus. Campus ideologues aren’t content with merely making their argument, they demand an ideological monopoly. It’s not enough that traditional physical barriers between men and women are obliterated (with colleges featuring not just co-ed dorms but also co-ed bathrooms). It’s not enough that social conservative professors and administrators are an endangered species. Even Christian student groups face constant threats to their existence. Why? Primarily because they adhere to Christian orthodoxy on sex and sexuality.
4. To safeguard the revolution, colleges wall themselves off from the rest of society, including its criminal-justice system. On campus, sexual activity isn’t sacred, it’s a recreational act — like a roller-coaster ride. So the “rules” that govern relationships aren’t the rules that govern the rest of us, but rather the park’s rules — custom-designed to ensure maximum enjoyment for the largest number of customers. Colleges have functionally decriminalized sexual assault — creating ad hoc legal systems that perversely allow actual rapists to avoid legal accountability (and thereby victimize others) while denying due process in fake campus courts to the accused. The very idea that a woman could report a gang rape to a campus administrator and the administrator not immediately contact the police is not only morally repugnant, it shows a depraved disregard for the safety and welfare of other students on campus.
5. The result is brokenness — broken hearts, broken lives, and broken families. Yet in the face of skyrocketing depression and anxiety, delayed marriages, and increased illegitimacy, the Left questions not its revolution but merely its implementation. Just change the amusement park rules — more harshness here, more compassion there — and everything will be alright.
No, it won’t.
As I’ve said before (echoing Heather Mac Donald), conservatives should not settle for merely defending due process and attacking the worst excesses of campus ideology. While easy targets abound, and due process is of course absolutely vital — a fundamental American constitutional value, in fact — now is the time to respond to the revolution with a counter-revolution, with a resurgence of support for the traditional values the campus Left scorns.
That means doubling down on the Christian presence on campus, investing in permanent institutions that don’t depend on the good graces of campus ideologues to survive and thrive. That means defending the Christian presence that already exists and intentionally and meaningfully empowering its life-giving and life-saving message.
That means communicating loudly and clearly that sexual assault is a crime, not a code-of-conduct violation like storing alcohol in dorm rooms or cheating on a test. For most of American history rapists could face the death penalty. Indeed, until 2008 child rapists faced potential capital punishment. How can rational bureaucrats believe that college students, administrators, or faculty members can adjudicate felonies — unless as jury members summoned as part of lawful court proceedings?
That means breaking down the barriers between college and culture more broadly. When they matriculate into college, students should not be exempt from the normal laws of human productivity — no matter how much tuition they pay. In the real world, if you party more than you work, then you have trouble eating. In college, if you party more than you study, you graduate with As and Bs. Do you want to do something about party culture? Give college students real work to do. Make them choose between their party and their $60,000 education.
A college environment that featured a competing, traditional moral voice, that treated sexual assault not as a party foul but an actual crime, and that demanded real work from students – that would be counter-revolutionary. And it just might mean fewer destroyed lives. Obviously, there’s much more to say about reform (and this is only a blog post), but conservatives need to get ambitious in our cultural and legal arguments. There has been a staggering human cost to our temporary sexual-revolution setbacks, and timidity now will only raise the already unacceptable toll of the Left’s cultural folly.
In the ancient, see-saw struggle between world views, there is a time for defense and a time for offense. Now is the time for offense.