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Nathan SchneiderJune 11, 2016

One night while on a break from classes during college, on a visit to New York City with high school friends, we bought fake I.D.'s. The friend we were all staying with, who went to a school in the city, took us to the basement of a clothing store, more trendy than fashionable, after hours. We picked which state we wanted; I chose Arizona. I don’t recall the cost, but it felt expensive—yet also necessary to carry out our new collegiate roles. The man behind the counter processed our orders with a kind of dutiful melancholy. An hour or less later, it was done, and we went out. One of us would have his I.D. confiscated (without consequences) before the night was over. I used mine a few more times in the year or two that followed, but I found that the anxiety that came over me while doing so wasn’t worth the alcoholic benefit. I perceived this sensitivity as an inadequacy on my part.

My first response to the now-viral statement of Brock Turner’s anonymous rape victim at Stanford University was astonishment—it’s a testament of horror, then beauty. Then, upon reading the statement Mr. Turner’s father wrote for the judge, what I felt was familiarity—with the expectation of habitual criminality that is such a part of the college experience for people of privilege in the United States.

The father said of his son, a convicted rapist, “Incarceration is not the appropriate punishment for Brock.” Perhaps it might be for someone else, but not for him. And the law agreed; Turner came away with a comparatively lenient six-month sentence, only half of which he will likely spend in custody.

A similar creeping familiarity came over me during a very different kind of news cycle—the financial crisis of 2008 and its aftermath. A staggering amount of usurious criminal activity took place in order to make that crisis come to pass, and yet the people who carried it out, finally, got a pass. The more we understand the lead-up to the crisis, the clearer it becomes that they knew they’d get away with it. They let the crisis come, and collapse in on millions of people, because they knew they could expect modest settlements and a huge government bailout, which was precisely what they got.

Where did the titans of finance learn to live so confidently by unwritten rules? At a formative age, we ship promising young people off to institutions where they’re supposed to develop the skills and relationships that will give them a start on adult life. Meanwhile, they’re expected to drink. For most of them, it’s illegal, of course; they start at 17 or 18, and the legal drinking age is 21. But they do it anyway, just as many of their parents did, just most of their new friends do, just as the literature and films of the American college experience indicate they must. On many campuses, there is a special police force, which helps ensure that dangerous situations can be dealt with while maintaining a parallel, privileged universe of tolerated illegality.

It doesn’t take long for students to get the picture. They internalize the parallel universe of privilege. They learn that underage drinking, or even crimes as serious as rape, won’t necessarily lead to trouble with the law; only being caught in ways that harm the reputation of one’s institution will put one before the regular, brutal legal system.

The logic of this lesson was precisely what we saw carried out in the aftermath of 2008. Heads of the major financial institutions remained unscathed; the fall guy was Bernie Madoff, a crook who was actually more a victim of the crisis than a perpetrator and who victimized his fellow elites. It was a textbook example of how to perpetuate a parallel universe—uphold the shadow rulebook by targeting those who expose that it exists. Mr. Madoff should’ve profited from poor people like everyone else. He should’ve learned this in college.

Those who don’t get to attend these special institutions, meanwhile, learn a very different lesson. When I lived in a rent-stabilized building in Brooklyn, I’d try to befriend my young neighbors—especially the young black men, many of whom had little hope of reaching a gentle enclosure of high-up higher ed. Befriending them could be difficult, though, not least because from time to time they’d disappear for months on end due to arrests and detentions. When they’d come back, I’d learn the crime was usually something along the lines of what I or people I knew had done regularly in college, with no thought that there would be any serious consequences; for us, there weren’t. For them, the lesson was their own expendability.

A component of Brock Turner’s defense has been to claim the drinking culture as an excuse for his actions. He has even proposed, as a means of rehabilitation, to become a public advocate against college drinking and sexual promiscuity. Notably, the targets of his advocacy would not include his far more harmful and relevant crime of rape. Yet he’s right to sense a connection. Alcohol and rape are part of a common continuum of toleration on campuses, constituting a curriculum of privilege that teaches students that they are and will be—so long as they remain in service of elite institutions—above the law and the ordinary moral order. This is how we train our leaders.

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ed gleason
6 years 9 months ago
Psych 101 will answer your question "Where did the titans of finance [add politics please] learn to live so confidently by unwritten rules?;" Too many of upper class transmit the sociopathic values to their children. It's the universe too many of the upper classes live in... look good at all times but have a mistress ,cheat in business, cheat on taxes. The kids are not stupid. ,
Thomas Couture
6 years 9 months ago
Ed You are right to add politicians, but then lets also add our Catholic church with their mis handling of the pervert problems and their many financial issues as well. Both in Rome and the many parishes around the country have disappointed. When your faith and the people who represent those beliefs fail, what do you expect. In advance I apologize to the many Holy people who always do the right thing. This is a sad situation but leading by examples both examples get followed.
Lisa Weber
6 years 9 months ago
Two obvious things are not being said about the Stanford rape case. One is that there is something mentally/emotionally wrong with a man who would rape an unconscious woman. He is not normal. The other is that it is incredibly dangerous for a woman, especially a young woman, to get passing-out drunk in a public place and not have someone to see her safely home. Getting passing-out drunk is dangerous in and of itself, and being unconscious and defenseless in public is dangerous. It is as dangerous as getting in a car and driving 110 miles an hour down the freeway.
Nathan Schneider
6 years 9 months ago
Thanks for this. I suppose we should hope that someone who does such a thing is "not normal." Then again, Turner was a star student and athlete at one of our country's top universities. His father describes him as happy and well-adjusted. It seems to me that perhaps the needle of "normal" for our society—perhaps for fallen human beings in general—can verge dangerously close to behavior like this.
Larry Weisenthal
6 years 9 months ago
Regarding the "staggering amount of usurious criminal activity" (and words following) claim -- this is the sort of breathtaking demonization and fabrication out of whole cloth of which liberals often accuse conservatives. The charge that the banking system intended to bankrupt itself and expected government bailouts and engaged in criminal activity in the process served the "revolution" of Bernie Sanders, but is by no means clear, obvious, or accurate. The financial meltdown was a perfect storm with its origins in recklessly low Fed interest (T bill) rates and the search of global capital for higher yields. This led to the creation of inadequately regulated securitized mortgages and unregulated insurance schemes to protect these novel securities. The above led to armies of mortgage brokers, working on commission, and therefore incentivized to cut corners in getting mortgage applicants qualified for their loans. The demand for higher yield investments created incentives for bond rating agencies to look at mortgage based securities with rose colored glasses. The demand for insurance for these securities created incentives for the insurance companie to issue insurance in dollar quantities far exceeding prudent cash reserves. All of the above was -- in retrospect -- a foolish recipe for disaster, but such matters are clear only in this sort of retrospect. There wasn't a massive pre-planned conspiracy to commit fraud and steal from the vulnerable public and go bankrupt and get bailed out by the taxpayers. There is a reason why legions of bankers didn't go to jail. It's because they weren't guilty of any actual crimes. Bad judgement and overly optimistic thinking aren't crimes. Failing to abide by banking and insurance regulations which don't exist aren't crimes. In contrast, a Ponzi scheme is a crime, which is why Madoff got busted. I found the comparison of the financial meltdown and the horrific criminal behavior in the Stanford rape case to be entirely odious.
John Walton
6 years 9 months ago
Not just "odious" but purposefully misleading. ...and to characterize Madoff as a victim is preposterous.
Nathan Schneider
6 years 9 months ago
I did not use the word "victim" to say that Madoff was not guilty of crimes of his own, but his crimes were revealed because the financial crisis made his Ponzi scheme collapse. In the public imagination, he was often presented as the face of the financial collapse, when in fact he was more a symptom than a cause. "Symptom" may have been a better word than "victim."
Nathan Schneider
6 years 9 months ago
This is not a matter of liberal or conservative. After the bailouts, for instance, conservatives rose up in the Tea Party phenomenon, in part to protest the way in which Main Street was left out of the deal. And the extent of illegal activity was clear in the fact that the major banks each paid out significant (if inadequate) settlements to the federal government in order to avoid more fully facing the charges against them.
Chuck Kotlarz
6 years 9 months ago
“Failing to abide by banking and insurance regulations which don't exist aren't crimes.” Banks began lobbying Congress as early as the 1960s to loosen the restrictions of Glass-Steagall banking regulation. The day after the Supreme Court decided the fate of the 2000 Presidential election, Congress passed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 without debate or review and exempted financial derivatives from regulation. Glass-Steagall banking regulation had been repealed the year before. “We may now need to be reminded of what Wall Street was like before Uncle Sam stationed a policeman at its corner, lest in time to come, some attempt be made to abolish that post.” Ferdinand Pecora, 1939. Of the nine worst economic downturns since 1856, none started while the policeman (Glass-Steagall 1933-1999) was at the corner. Ferdinand Pecora was the 1930s Chief Counsel to the United States Senate Committee on Banking during its investigation of Wall Street banking and stock brokerage practices.
JR Cosgrove
6 years 9 months ago
This is one of the most outlandish articles I have seen on the America website. The machinations made to try to show that somehow there is some sort of privilege going on in "white" America by the use of the word "white" in different contexts is a really bizarre.
A similar creeping familiarity came over me during a very different kind of news cycle—the financial crisis of 2008 and its aftermath. A staggering amount of usurious criminal activity took place in order to make that crisis come to pass, and yet the people who carried it out, finally, got a pass.
Do you know why there was not criminal investigation? Because such an investigation would have revealed to the public that the real culprits in this affair were politicians, the great majority of which would be Democrats. There was no way the Obama administration would allow these things go to court. It would have been too uncomfortable. The great majority of the bad loans were made knowing that the GSE's would take them because they were obligated by government regulation to do so. Wall Street participated, but they were a minor player compared to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, because everyone thought the government would not allow the loans to go under. But it was the GSE's that they knew were being protected so why worry. Look to the politicians who insisted on these loans and there was no way they would be exposed. As far as white male privilege in terms of rape, I suggest Mr. Schneider investigate the number of white males who have been unfairly accused of rape on college campuses and how their lives turned out. The attempt to impugn white males as privileged is one of the newest tacks that the cultural marxists are using along with many others. Everywhere you turn there are attacks and criticism on traditional society as the cause of all our ills. This is of course nonsense but it is the way being used to bring down the most successful society in human history without much of a fight. And it is working but what will be the replacement for all this? God only knows, They all have their false utopias.
Alfred Chavez
6 years 9 months ago

Re the 2008 crisis and the "usurious criminal activity:" Someday I'd like to read the stripped-down defense that lawyers have prepared to put the best possible face on the actions of the miscreants of 2008. I don't know if defense is the right word; maybe rationalization fits better.

You know they've done that already--prepared the best defense all that money they "earned" can buy. Apparently it's gathering dust at one of the high-priced law firms.

Fred Close
6 years 9 months ago
Unlike some others, I think the opinion is well within the bounds of fair comment. I think the film "The Big Short" could have been included to strengthen the observation that "A parallel universe uphold(s) the rulebook by targeting those who expose that it (law) exists (as a fraud or pretense)", except in comparison with the travesty of "justice" in the Houston prosecution of David Daleiden, and the public embrace of "Planned Parenthood" so-called by Hilary Clinton, among others, even after its sale of baby parts was exposed for all to see. Murder, rape and arson were capital crimes at common law. Now murder at the edges of life is called "health care," women are bought and sold openly by Islamic terrorists, and rented as "breeders" by the west. In that broader context, the author is right. Let go of human dignity, and all hell breaks loose, and wants to be worship ed as the good.
Henry George
6 years 9 months ago
When I lived in NYC, I tutored the children of the very, very rich. The parents were quite charming and the children were quite bright and motivated. However, they all felt as if their wealth was justly earned/expensive private schools were their birthright. The statement written by the father tells you everything you need to know. Why we allow the uber-rich to live off of our very hard work and life savings and why rich kids at the best colleges feel the need to get "plastered" so often and then "hook up" is more than I ever hope to understand.
Be Human
6 years 9 months ago
"whites" "students" "people" Hmmm...apparently the relevant demographic of entitlement here is invisible to this (male) author. Brock Turner's entitlement is not because he is white. It's because HE IS MALE. Please note that Brock Turner received a harsher sentence than 97 percent of rapists (who are nearly all male and are of all colors) because most rapes are not even reported and when they are, they are rarely prosecuted. If this was about being white, than Kobe Bryant, OJ Simpson, Bill Cosby, Ray Rice and R. Kelly (to name a few) would all be in jail right now for their gender violence. This author's blind analysis is why people voted for Hillary and not Bernie. Because the deeper analysis is GENDER...and many liberals JUST DON'T GET IT. In fact, they don't even SEE it when it's right in front of them. Eight years of a female president will do more than anything to break down the gender entitlement of males for a whole new generation. THAT'S revolution.
Sarah Harrow
6 years 9 months ago
I'm appalled the editors of America saw it fit to run this piece. This author's "insight" (if we could even call it that) into women's issues, especially the issue of violence being directed at women, is at best myopic and at worst deliberately cheapening. The Stanford rape case was a heinous crime and deserved to be discussed on its own terms. Instead this author used it to segue into something else entirely (to advance his favorite argument/topic on Wall St, it seems). Honestly, one of the most insulting pieces of writing I've read in recent times. My thanks to author for showing us what white male privilege looks like. Ironically this is what he thinks he's railing against. Final word: mirror.
counter errorist
6 years 8 months ago
I respectfully but strongly disagree with the previous commenter's remarks. Mr. Schneider has had a profound insight into the Stanford rape case--one that I was hoping to see more widely shared and discussed by his fellow journalists, but so far he is the exception. Brock Turner's actions were about one thing, and it wasn't gender, alcohol, or sex: it was power. Because he was so accustomed, so habituated to the abuse of power and to the general acceptance of such abuse, Turner didn’t hesitate to satisfy his own appetites at the expense of another human being. He saw his chance and he took it, without considering for even an instant the effects his choice might have on Emily Doe—indeed, without even recognizing the fact of his wrongdoing. I daresay he still believes that his only real mistake was getting caught. When I first heard the details of the case, I asked myself, “How cruel, inhumane, obscene, or criminal would an act have to be to make such a man think twice before performing it, never mind broadcasting it via the latest app to his swim-team buddies?” And then I realized with a sickening shock that this is essentially the same question black Americans have been asking themselves about white Americans for centuries, the same question that has baffled generation after generation of the economically enslaved, the same question that torments the powerless everywhere as they watch their children suffer and starve and be exploited. The oppressed have long wondered how their victimizers can commit such evil deeds. As Mr. Schneider notes, it takes training and practice to do so without compunction. Learning to abuse power also takes a community that tolerates and often rewards this behavior rather than penalizing it. There is a scene in The Big Short where Mark Baum listens to two slimy lenders describe the many bad loans they’ve made to clients whom they know to be vulnerable and then, out of this pair’s earshot, says to his colleagues: “I don’t get it. Why are they confessing?” To which his younger colleagues, who do get it, reply: “They’re not confessing. They’re bragging.” Baum could actually distinguish between right and wrong, but most of those in his profession currently operate in a moral and ethical wasteland just as savage and desolate as the one Brock Turner inhabits. It is inconceivable to these men (and the women like them) that power entails responsibility. There is much, much more to say on this topic, though most of it will be merely a coda to Lord Acton’s oft-quoted observation “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men [i.e., men with great power] are almost always bad men."

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