BY DR. JASON R. EDWARDS | AUGUST 13, 2014
Vive la difference! What Ray Rice teaches us about civilization
The public outcry over Roger Goodell’s failure to adequately punish NFL running back Ray Rice for knocking out his girlfriend in an Atlantic City hotel elevator is an encouraging sign that some vestige of civilization remains. It has been heartening to hear from talking heads that even in 2014 some things are still not tolerable. And, that one of those intolerable things is a man hitting a woman.
Regarding the case, not all of the facts are currently known. The public has seen the tapes of Rice indelicately dragging his unconscious girlfriend out of the elevator, but no footage of what occurred in the elevator has been released. This makes the civic outcry particularly elevating, because people realize that essentially nothing could have happened in that elevator that would justify Rice’s actions. A man may not hit a woman regardless of what she said or did.
This simple point was driven home when ESPN finally suspended Stephen A. Smith for suggesting that women needed to learn how to not provoke such violence. Smith learned, that even in a discussion show, there is no room for debate here. Men do not hit women.
Of course, some of the barbarians at the ticket booth give reason to be worried. And so, Baltimore Ravens fans shamefully welcomed Ray Rice back to practice with a standing ovation. Likewise, what must be the most tone-deaf (and morality deaf) public relations department in the country proudly pasted this fact on the Ravens’ website.
Still, civilizations are more likely to crumble from within. The reaction from those that know men must not hit women may bode worse than the reaction of the small group of yahoos that do not. For instance, in perusing just a few comments generated from an ESPN column condemning Rice’s action, one reader opined that this type of incident will continue to happen “until men see females as truly equals.” It is hard to imagine a worse reading of the situation. While equality is a precious political principle, culturally, equality is fraught with problems.
Men do not hit women because women are fundamentally different than men. If men are taught that women are not different but equal, or worse yet, the same, then the compunction not to hit them is removed.
Richard Weaver explained this over 60 years ago in his magisterial book “Ideas Have Consequences.” He wrote, “the refusal to see distinction between babe and adult, between the sexes, between combatant and noncombatant—distinctions which lay at the core of chivalry … this is the destruction of society through brutality.” Weaver further noted that if “we say that woman is identical with man … there is no reason why she should not be bombed along with him.”
In fact, the comment section responding to the ESPN column relayed this point exactly, as some miscreant pugnaciously asked, “Why does a man have to tolerate a woman insulting or hitting him?” While perhaps coming from a knuckle-dragging brute, this statement actually captures perfectly the spirit of enlightened equality—among equals, some actions merit a punch in the nose.
Here then, we reach an impasse. Either our love of equality or our embrace of civilization must give way. And that leads to perhaps the most important discussion: What do we teach our children?
The ESPN article took the NFL to task for not embracing educational efforts to stamp-out domestic violence. However, the author failed to grasp the educational challenge. There is no rational reason why some equals must treat some equals one way but other equals another. And, even if reason could explain it, rationality is not a particularly powerful deterrent when the chips are down or the blood alcohol level is up.
C.S. Lewis explained this in “The Abolition of Man” when he wrote, “I had sooner play cards against a man who was quite skeptical about ethics, but bred to believe that ‘a gentleman does not cheat,’ than against an irreproachable moral philosopher who had been brought up among sharpers.” In other words, the morality that you have instilled in you is a much more powerful guide to action than the one you rationally adopt.
The existence of domestic violence demonstrates the dark nature of man, but a society’s condemnation of abuse shows a noble culture can nevertheless arise. Maintaining civilization always requires education, but this latest incident demonstrates that our approach will require clear understanding and priorities.
Boys need it instilled in them that real men never hit women. All agree on that, but frustratingly for many is the fact that this makes sense only because women are fundamentally different than men, not because they are the same.
Dr. Jason R. Edwards is a research fellow with The Center for Vision & Values and an associate professor of education and history at Grove City College. If you would like to reach Dr. Jason R. Edwards for comment, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.