Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Choice and Consequence

My son (15) and I have had a series of discussions lately about what should be some fairly simple topics: choice and consequence.

The idea is fairly simple really. We are presented with choices daily. To speed or not to speed. To cheat or lie. Even something as simple as deciding whether to indulge in that 3rd Krispy Kreme. We make a choice and choose a course of action, and then have to deal with the consequences of that choice.

What could be easier right? Well, not really. You see we got on this subject because my son did something at school, and is now suffering the consequences of that action.

He thought it would be amusing to mention that in response to people teasing him, he would bring a gun to school and shoot the place up. Now since the days of Columbine, or of Kip Kinkle in Springfield OR, school violence is easily one of the hottest issues in schools today, and most often one with the "zero tolerance" label applied. He, I believe sincerely meant it as a joke, and actually may have overheard someone make that statement about him previously, but he still knew it was wrong, he chose to say it, and the consequence was still the same: expulsion.

Consequences are not always subject to mitigating circumstances, though in reality he was actually given such consideration. His expulsion was reduced to a suspension and he was given a special teaching placement until January when he can return to school. What made the situation somewhat surreal is the denial he, and according to him his peers, all live in surrounding consequences. The prevailing attitude in schools, and often in society at large seems to be one that reduces the acceptance of consequences and emphasizes excuses and shifting or responsibility.

A couple of recent examples come to mind. First, last week Dominick Sergio Maldonado, 20, went into the Tacoma Mall armed with an assault rifle and opened fire, hitting 6 people. The most seriously wounded was Brendan McKown, who has a concealed weapon permit and was armed. He did not however choose to open fire, he tried reason and was shot 5 or 6 times. His is a case of a person looking at the choices (shoot or not shoot), evaluating the consequences (hitting innocent victims) and deciding on a course of action, not to fire. His attacker had a different set of priorities. How this is relevant, is when talk radio host Bryan Suits (KVI 570 am) was discussing on the air that maybe more people armed might actually prevent these things from happening, a caller had a different solution.

1) Mandatory metal detectors in all public places, malls and businesses.
2) Mandatory therapy for troubled children to prevent them from becoming troubled adults.

The caller it appears had determined, with no real information, that he must have been messed up as a kid to be this messed up, and he needed help, not a bullet in the chest. As it was he surrendered after holding hostages 3 hours, but that it irrelevant. The caller felt that an army was needed, but an army of counselors.

Here we see my point. To the caller, it wasn't Dominick's fault, it was the culmination of years of obvious abuse. He effectively absolved Dominick of the responsibility, because society failed him. I called Bryan and told him in my opinion the guy was either a security guard or a counselor, since they are the only ones who would benefit from such a plan.

I mean, I can see his point to a degree. Maybe we don't do enough to help our youth. And I would imagine his defense lawyer will make that very claim along side an insanity plea.

But at the same time he bought, loaded and carried weapons to a Mall and shot people. He had the presence of mind to call the police, brag about his weapons, and tell them he was about to fire on innocent people. When the police asked where he was, he told them to follow the screams. He acted in a callous and premeditated manner, and he made choices. He should have to follow the consequences.

Another example in the news lately is the war protestors all over the country. Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore and Ward Churchil, among others, have overtly or by implication called the Iraqi insurgents "freedom fighters" and have subtly and sometimes not so subtly encouraged them. Peace activists have even gone to Iraq to protest the war. The insurgents have surely listened and felt encouraged. This week they offered the protestors their thanks: They kidnapped 4 of them and are holding them hostage. It's an ironic twist that the freedom fighters of one group of war protesters are now threatening the lives of other peace activists. But it still reeks of choice and consequence, though not as obviously. In this case, it is possible that the anti war protests are empowering the insurgents. It remains to be seen to what degree, but in the same way that the abuses at Abu Ghraib have surely incited some hatred for the US in the minds of some Muslims, it is similarly logical that the protesters calling them freedom fighters emboldened them with a sense righteousness as well as a feeling of America's weakening resolve.

Finally the most complex case that came to my attention, again via Bryan Suits, is the attitude about rape victims here and in Britain.

It started when a rape case in Britain was thrown out. In the case, the 21 year old woman was drunk and a security guard offered to escort her home. He claims they got there and had consensual sex. She claims she never would have consented because he was much older then her.

She also however admitted she had drunk so much alcohol that she could not remember whether she consented or not. The ruling was that drunken consent was still consent.

Now victims rights groups are in an uproar I am sure, and I think they have a case. There is a very fine line between drunken consent and drunken coerced consent.

But what was really eye opening was a survey about the subject that was taken in Britain by Amnesty International. In it, a third of the people surveyed believed a woman is partially or completely responsible for being raped if she has behaved flirtatiously, and it also found that over 25% believe she is at least partly to blame if she has worn revealing clothing or been drunk.

Can you imagine that survey being taken here? Would you expect anything close tot he same response?

Now this is a common tactic by defense lawyer, to blame the victim. She was drunk, she was asking for it, etc etc. And yet at the same time, isn't there a tiny shred of truth there, that maybe some women act irresponsibly, and suffer for it.

Now before you start throwing hate mail at me, I am in no way suggesting rape can ever be justified. Rape is repugnant to me. But at the same time, I am uncomfortable relieving women of some necessity to behave responsibly. I know from personal experience that when I have been drunk, I have made bad choices, ones I would not have made had I been sober. I think that in the same light, some women have made poor choices and turned their regret into rape. And I am really talking about the extreme end of it here, not flirtatious behavior in a bar, not a short skirt, but people who enjoy partying, party to excess and the wake up in bed and cry rape.

Again, I do not excuse date rape, or any other form of rap in any sense. Those bastards who commit it deserve their consequences, and isn't that the point of this?

I am just wondering out loud where we should draw the line.

But regardless of how you see that, and I know many will disagree completely with my last section, it still all boils down to choices, and consequences.

I think we as a culture need to reexamine our sense of responsibility for our choices, and maybe work on making better ones, regardless of whether you apply this to driving, dating, voting or eating.

I know I do.