The story out of Stanford University is a kind of endless loop of human horror and ugliness and it's not going to get better until we learn something...
Let’s say what is obvious, first.
Brock Turner’s actions, what he perpetrated upon a fellow human behind a dumpster on the grounds of Stanford University, were heinous, and they were sinful. Even if you do not believe in God or accept the notion of sin, you know what he did was sinful, because he treated another human being like a thing, a commodity.
We all know that this is a sin, but if you need to hear it from someone besides a Catholic, here is Terry Pratchett making it clear, in the voice of Granny Weatherwax in his novel, Carpe Jugulum:
“… And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.” “It’s a lot more complicated than that –” “No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.” “Oh, I’m sure there are worse crimes –” “But they starts with thinking about people as things …”
So, resolved, even a proclaimed atheist like Terry Pratchett accepted the notion of sin and correctly identified it. Brock Turner called himself a victim of the party culture at Stanford, which had “shattered” him and caused him to see a person as a thing to be used, in a criminal manner.
Then Turner’s father showed the root of Brock’s sin by revealing that not only did he too see a person (the victim) as a thing; he saw his son as one, too — a thing that belonged to him and should therefore be treated gently for a sexual assault he called (most reprehensibly) “20 minutes of action”:
“His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve,” Dan A. Turner wrote in a letter arguing that his son should receive probation, not jail time. “That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.”
The mind reels.
Of course, one reason the case has drawn national attention is because after a jury convicted Brock Turner for his crimes, Judge Aaron Persky, citing Turner’s age and lack of a criminal record, granted him a lenient sentence of six months in county jail because “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him … I think he will not be a danger to others.”
The judge can’t know that, but Turner had already clearly been a danger to one person. Doesn’t one person count?
Persky, too, has sinned; he has not seen the young woman who suffered tremendous indignity at Brock’s hands and then for hours after as her body — her evidence — was “processed.” He saw a unit of criminal victimhood, not a mauled and much sinned-against woman, and he pronounced a sentence attuned to a “victim unit” and, if we’re being frank, also to the “promising-athlete unit” who felt bad for himself.
So, lots of seeing people as things in this story, but that shouldn’t surprise us because it is the social trend. Colleges see potential students as things, as units that will suit their quota needs: the Athlete Things, the Female Things, the Marginalized Things. Society does this itself, encouraging polarities as people look at each other and see not the Human Person possessing an inherent dignity and thus due respect, but that Gender Thing or that Geek Thing or that Conservative Thing, that Liberal Thing.
That Woman Thing, that Man Thing.
This is a very destructive place we have come to, where people are seen primarily as categories to be opposed or supported; objects to be crushed or exploited. And it’s all over America.
Kate Geiselman, a writer and professor of English at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, wrote a piece for the Washington Post which spelled out how sinfully Thingful we have become, and how we raise our children to it by endorsing their thingness. “The conflation of achievement with being ‘a good kid,'” she writes. “The pressure to succeed…” That all ties in with raising children as little units of twee accomplishment who are schlepped to lessons and games and playdates and tutoring so they can get into those best schools and be things who succeed and make their parents proud.
There is an efficacy to the word “no”: it puts into perspective the plainly false “Darling, you can be anything and have it all” narrative by acknowledging, “No, you really can’t be some things, and you can’t have it all, but you can have what you were made for — the share that is yours.”
That share, of course, faced squarely, can never be the thingness of another. Until we really learn that, as a society, things will not get better.
You can read the whole awful description of what the Stanford victim endured, and how it has affected her, if you like. Be warned, this letter — read by the victim to Brock Turner and the court — is terribly graphic. It is the testimony of a human being who has been treated like a thing, over and over again, since January of 2015. And in that sense, it is the testimony of every human being who has been treated like a thing, and sinned against, at work, in families, in the churches, in the schools, in the media, in the pop culture, in the broken and fallen world.
But it is hers, first.
If Terry Pratchett is right, and the beginning of all sin is treating the person before you like a thing, then we had better get busy forming human consciences away from that behavior.Best to start with the words of the Christ, who tells us that the greatest action is to love God with one’s whole mind, heart and soul, and that the second greatest action is to love the person before us as we love ourselves. If human beings, both men and women, are doing that, they will not be capable of treating each other as things or commodities or empty units, void of soul.
Of course, if we hate ourselves and who we have become — or if we have fallen into the habit of thinking of each other as mere things and labels, and it’s possible we have — then, the job will be that much harder.