Mike Dwyer

Mike Dwyer is a former writer and contributor at Ordinary Times.

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193 Responses

  1. Erik Kain says:

    Thanks for this piece. Really well said, and I think the context of the time and place does matter. But I also think that it’s important to look at your post – and the heartfelt regret expressed here, or at least just the sincerity and admission that you probably wouldn’t have done things differently because the stakes were too high – and compare it to Romney’s non-apology.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Erik Kain says:

      it’s important to look at… the heartfelt regret expressed here,…and compare it to Romney’s non-apology.

      Exactly. The real story isn’t what Romney did nearly 50 years ago, but what he did this week. And what he did this week was awful.Report

    • Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to Erik Kain says:

      Romney is simply not a people person. He doesn’t seem to have much social intuition, and he is painfully awkward and insincere sounding, at least in his public utterances.

      I’m not sure whether the paltriness of his “apology” was because he was not, indeed, sorry; or rather because he doesn’t understand the socially cleansing aspects of a public apology. I think he’s terrified of the right-wing base, and doesn’t understand them at all. Will a public apology make them turn against him?

      I think Obama will win the election but if he doesn’t, Romney will become one of our most-despised presidents. Our good presidents–or, at least, our effective presidents love being in the thick of things. Think back to how viscerally excited Bill Clinton became when in front of a crowd, or even George W. I had hoped that Obama would be in the same class, but it turns out that he’s charismatic without being particularly gregarious.

      But Romney is a disaster. He doesn’t appear to have the people skills to work a crowd, or negotiate a bill, or to bridge differences. And if, through circumstance, he manages to become our president, he’s going to make Jimmy Carter look like a gladhander. I don’t give much credence to Romney’s “bullying episode” when he was 15 or 16. But the ways that he’s handling it now speak volumes about what kind of president he would be.Report

  2. Mike Schilling says:

    Did this piece used to end with “judging his apology” but now say “judging the story”, or am I simply losing my mind? (I’d believe either one.)Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      I changed it Mike. I really don’t care for the over-analyzing of his apology that some people are doing. I prefer to look at the incident itself.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        OK. That change removes the one real objection I had to what you’ve said. Though I don’t think it’s over-analyzing the apology to recognize that it isn’t one.Report

      • “I really don’t care for the over-analyzing of his apology that some people are doing. I prefer to look at the incident itself.”

        As long as we are indeed looking only at the incident itself and not the apology (and my problem with Romney on this issue is his apology), then I agree with your post. I shudder to think of some of the things I did in high school and some of the things I might have chosen to do if tempted.Report

  3. sonmi451 says:

    “To this day I wish I knew why he chose an act that would certainly be met with such hostility. He didn’t seem to have an agenda. He didn’t have a speech prepared. He waited several years afterwards to come out of the closet publically. Maybe he was testing the waters for acceptance but if he thought it was possible he completely misread the atmosphere in that school. It still remains one of the most perplexing things I witnessed in my youth.”

    So in some ways, even today you’re still blaming Tom. I can understand the scared teenager reacting this way, but the adult?Report

    • Erik Kain in reply to sonmi451 says:

      Hmmm. That’s interesting. I suppose, to play devil’s advocate here, it’s always tricky to peer into someone else’s head and heart and figure out exactly why they did what they did. I’m not sure this amounts to blaming the victim necessarily, so much as questioning what looks to be a very risky move on their part, and one they almost certainly knew was risky. That doesn’t make the treatment he received at all justified, but it’s not terrible to try to understand why they did it and still not really be able to figure it out. Though I do take your point.Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Erik Kain says:

        Erik sums up my reply. I don’t blame him. I just don’t understand his motivations even today.Report

        • Rufus F. in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

          Some kids, when they feel like they don’t belong in the society around them will bottle that up and try, as much as they can, to become invisible. Other ones will try to express that feeling of being alien through their dress or behavior, with the idea being that they don’t belong anyway.Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

          The obvious one is “I can’t take this anymore, and I’m going to find a way out.”Report

        • joey jo jo in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

          since we’re speculating, what would be the acceptable course of conduct for Tom to pursue, Mike?Report

          • Mike Dwyer in reply to joey jo jo says:

            I guess my gut tells me he should have finished his senior year (he had 2 months left) and then tried to find a more accepting place.

            To this day I really don’t believe he had any kind of agenda. I think he just decided he wanted his hair purple and didn’t anticipate such a strong reaction.Report

            • joey jo jo in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

              i appreciate the response and fair enough.Report

            • He “just decided he wanted his hair purple”? I think it’s a lot more like tattooing a snake on your face than it is deciding what color shirt to wear today.

              Not that I’m opposed to nonconformity, even subversion, mind you. We all dye our hair purple sometime, in some way.Report

              • Morat20 in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                In 1992? I take it you weren’t big on MTV.

                I was in high school — in Texas, in a town that was famous for having a sign informing people of color not to let the sun set on them — a sign that stayed up quite some time after the CRA — and I knew people with red and blue hair. And not “oh, I’m a redhead” hair. I mean “My hair is roughly the same color as a fire-engine”.

                Punk? Goth? These names mean anything to you? Electric hair colors — blues, reds, purples — were part of at least two entire, nationwide, subgroups. (Although it was always fun to watch the Goths argue, since there were subgroups of Goth and god help you if you were the wrong sort).

                Purple hair in 1992 ain’t “like an extreme facial tattoo”.

                It did brand you as a member of an out-group, though.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Morat20 says:

                Mr. Morat, the purple hair was a self-branding as a member of the “outgroup.” In TX, if there were no outgroup worth being a part of, it would have been necessary to create one!

                For the record—in 1992, TVD’s hair was dyed platinum blonde, just straight peroxide no toner, down & dirty. His future wife did that down & dirty, and indeed TVD was given in marriage as a blonde, not the luscious brunette you see today.

                Purple hair dude was making a statement. But going Goth just isn’t worth it, dude. Mostly, the bands blow.




                Famous Texan musicians and groups include Bob Wills/Texas Playboys/Light Crust Doughboys, Milton Brown/Musical Brownies/Light Crust Doughboys, T-Bone Walker, Freddie King, Charlie Christian, Red Garland, Eddie Durham, Albert Collins, Blind Willie Johnson, Johnny Copeland, Z.Z. Hill, Pee Wee Crayton, Harry Choates, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Gatemouth Brown, Leadbelly, Big Mama Thorton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Sippie Wallace, Victoria Spivey, Mance Lipscomb, Scott Joplin, Hot Lips Page, Gene Ramey, Jack Teagarden, Teddy Wilson, Kenny Dorham, Ella Mae Morse, Charles Brown, Ernest Tubb, Lefty Frizzell, George Jones, Leon Payne, Tex Ritter, Roger Miller, Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson, Johnny Horton, George Strait, Jim Reeves, Waylon Jennings, Buck Owens, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Ray Price, Doug Sahm/Sir Douglas Quintet/Texas Tornados, Clifton Chenier, T-Bone Burnett, Edgar Winter, Johnny Winter, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnny Taylor[disambiguation needed ], Lydia Mendoza, Flaco Jimenez, Santiago Jimenez Sr., Beto Villa, Narcisco Martinez, Archie Bell & the Drells, Johnny Guitar Watson, Ornette Coleman, King Curtis, Mickey Newbury, Phil Ochs, Townes Van Zandt, Selena Quintanilla, Pantera, Steve Miller Band, Boz Scaggs, Charlie Sexton, Janis Joplin, ZZ Top, Eric Johnson and many others.Report

              • Rufus F. in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Let’s not forget the Butthole Surfers and the Dicks too.Report

            • Kyle Cupp in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

              You may be right, but as someone who spent his youth on the bottom of the social totem pole, I can testify that one longs to be recognized and accepted for who one is, even irrationally and when all signs point to BAD IDEA.Report

        • joey jo jo in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

          a possible motivation angle is high school itself. high school and one’s standing in high school is mythologized. while one is going through it (and, sadly, for the rest of some peoples’ lives), high school seems like the most important thing that has or will ever happen. this gets reinforced by hs potential hs reunions, cultural references and the like. hormonal, emotional and physical changes exacerbate this time. it may be that Tom did what he did to try to take some control of this scenario.Report

      • John Howard Griffin in reply to Erik Kain says:

        How does this:

        “I’m not sure this amounts to blaming the victim necessarily, so much as questioning what looks to be a very risky move on their part, and one they almost certainly knew was risky.”

        square with this:

        “I would like to see politicians do the right thing, especially when the political gain is so little and the moral implications so vast.”

        Please don’t say that you just have higher standards for some people (or lower standards for some people, depending on your perspective).Report

        • Kolohe in reply to John Howard Griffin says:

          Not everybody can be, or needs to be, Rosa Parks. But LBJ darn well better be LBJ, (and not say, Rutherford B Hayes)Report

          • John Howard Griffin in reply to Kolohe says:

            Higher standards for some people, lower standards for others.


            • Fnord in reply to John Howard Griffin says:

              Higher standards for the guys who are or are aspiring to be the leader of the free world than for some kid trying to survive high school? Gosh, how unreasonable.Report

            • This actually makes sense for me. I have friends that I rather expect to screw everything up from time to time. If they have an event where they don’t screw everything up? I’m pleased and surprised. I have other friends that are capable of being awesome without seeming to use much effort. If they hit it out of the park, it’s expected.Report

              • John Howard Griffin in reply to Jaybird says:

                I can understand someone thinking that. But, you don’t see anything wrong with that thinking?

                Where is Liberty when we do not treat each other equally? Even in our expectations.Report

              • You don’t have any friends like that?

                Some friends are good at two or three things. Some friends are good at a dozen things.

                It seems to me that the thing that’d be wrong if I had similar expectations for both would be me.Report

              • John Howard Griffin in reply to Jaybird says:

                Sure, I have friends that are better at some things than at other things. I could reclassify my friends in hundreds of ways based on the “things” I was ranking them good at or bad at. It wouldn’t always be the same people at the top or bottom of each list.

                Are you saying that I should only expect my friends that are good at a dozen things to do the right thing in a given situation? To do the moral thing? To not do nothing?

                There is far too much consoling going on here. Many have their sob story of a time when they witnessed something terrible and did nothing. And, most of the others agree that they also would have done nothing. And, that we shouldn’t expect our brothers and sisters to stand up for someone who was weaker or different, if it was hard, or they were in high school, or they were young, or something. And, somehow, that makes them all feel better because it makes them feel that their paralyzing cowardice and fear is ok because most other people would have done nothing, too.

                Sorry. I have much higher expectations of everyone than that.Report

              • Fair enough and I suppose that that’s a good thing. We need folks to hold those standards for others.

                My problem is that I’ve encountered folks with standards as high as yours but who have moral compasses that I find kind of abhorrent. Other folks might be similar but I find their moral compasses baffling.

                The folks who stood up from the table? I’m sure that a non-zero number of them thought that they were making a stand. For those such people? “Cowardice” is the trait that I’d hope they’d be manifesting the next time they were given an opportunity like that… and if they displayed it, I’d see that as the best I could hope for from them.Report

              • John Howard Griffin in reply to John Howard Griffin says:

                I too have known people with high standards and faulty moral compasses. That doesn’t make high standards a bad thing. It makes faulty moral compasses a bad thing.

                The folks who stood up from the table may have been making a stand, but, they were not making a stand for someone who was weaker or different from themselves. They were making a stand for tribalism, the status quo, the strong over the weak, etc. That is not bravery, that is cowardice. It is the default response of all humans.

                It’s really amazing to me. Standing up for the weak is the central theme of Big J, yet almost no Christians practice it. To even explain that you have that expectation of everyone to stand up for the weak (as I have) is considered bizarre. And, I’m not even a Christian.Report

              • I suppose it’d be easy to ask about the parable of the talents but… Jesus isn’t one of my favorite moral philosophers. He’s not even in the top 5, I don’t think. He has some nice stuff, mind… but it’s pretty much all overshadowed by folks like Hillel or the Prophets in Judaism or a handful of Greeks ((or a larger handful of Buddhist, Hindu, or Taoist thinkers) and that’s limiting myself only to people who predated him).

                The traits I hope for are for uncertainty and cowardice and faithlessness (and other absences of the handmaidens) in those who have moral compasses that point somewhere that doesn’t strike me as true north at all and hope for the handmaidens to show up for those who point true.

                I have, however, seen myself pointing places that I now know had me near a sufficiently strong lodestone rather than pointing where I ought to have been pointing… as such, I pretty much always have to be careful that I’m not near one.

                I have friends who need no help from me. I have friends who wander close to lodestones from time to time. I have friends who have no idea how to read their damn compass in the first place. I have different expectations for each. Some friends you know will do fine on their own… others you are pleased when they only need your help a moderate amount.

                And I also know that 100, or 200 years hence, if I am remembered at all, I will be remembered as being around as morally blind as we look at folks in 19 or 1812… and I don’t know how much that will be due to the truth of their compasses or whether their wanderings will take them into a proverbial iron mine.Report

              • John Howard Griffin in reply to John Howard Griffin says:

                Ah, but see we are not so different. You are helping your friends who need more help. We might even call them weaker. Or different.

                To say we are fallible is a fine and good thing to remember. But to put it primary means that the tendency to do nothing will only increase, because the worry of fallibility becomes more important than helping those who need help. Perhaps to the point of “going along to get along”, while ignoring things that you should not be ignoring. Perhaps even to the point of thinking your inaction is the moral thing to do.

                I don’t think most people have a hard time knowing who needs help and who doesn’t. But, for many people, it’s much easier to not do anything about it, unless doing something about it might directly and immediately benefit them. Especially when they were young. And in High School. And it was about a gay kid.Report

              • There is a part of me (the scalp) that wishes I could go back to high school again and do it right this time.

                I could be someone who knows who he is, knows how his body fits, and who knows, really, how weak the weapons wielded by others can be when you know those two simple things… and how much better a job I could do protecting my friends from the horrible open-ended socialization experiment that is High School.

                I suspect that I’d just turn into a bully of bullies, though.

                On top of that, atheist god knows what all of those hormones would do for someone who someone who knows who he is, knows how his body fits.Report

              • John Howard Griffin in reply to John Howard Griffin says:

                There are many reasons that we all give to justify our actions or inaction. But, they are not excuses.

                I didn’t know who I was or how my body fit in High School, either. But, I knew that standing up for the weak and the different was the right thing to do. And, even back then, I knew that High School was filled with unthinking children. Even me. But, standing up for the weak and the different was, for me, inarguable. It was my guiding principle, and still is. I was one of the weak and different. Still am. But standing up for others that were weak or different made me strong (along with several years of jujitsu training). Stronger than the bullies were, and they knew it. A few of the bullies even reformed their ways (somewhat) and became amazingly close friends with me.

                The last thing I think about is going back to High School, and would abhor the experience now. I thought they were all immature children back then. I don’t want to imagine what my reaction would be now (other than Get me out of here!).

                I hope we can save the discussion on our favorite moral philosophers for another time. It sounds interesting.Report

              • Well, I was someone who was often “bullied” (fat kid variant, smart kid variant)… but I don’t know if my inclination to minimize such is indicative of how minor it was or indicative of something else. In my senior year, we moved to Colorado Springs and I got to be The New Kid who, among other things, mocked those who mocked the nerds (there was one kid who kept making fun of nerdy… let’s call him “Art”… who happened to not have hit his birth spurt yet… I did my damnest to mock him whenever he got on my radar and the only way he got on my radar was when he mocked Art. A representative example: one class had us get Smarties candies as a reward for getting a question right and the kid joked “Oh Art! You’re so smart!” and my response was “Too bad they don’t make Shorties”.)

                The bully didn’t benefit, I didn’t benefit, and if Art benefited, I had no idea. Maybe it made stuff worse when I wasn’t around. That seems as likely as anything else.Report

              • In any case, drunk. Time for xbox.Report

              • John Howard Griffin in reply to John Howard Griffin says:

                You may have been trying to help the weak and different (the nerds), but you were being a bully when you did it.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to John Howard Griffin says:

                happened to not have hit his birth spurt yet

                You went to high school with fetuses?Report

              • You may have been trying to help the weak and different (the nerds), but you were being a bully when you did it.

                Yep. Maybe it would have been better for me to not do anything.Report

              • John Howard Griffin in reply to John Howard Griffin says:

                Or, maybe it would have been better for you to do something else to help the weak and different.Report

              • Those were the tools I had at my disposal. While it’s certainly true that I should have had more, I didn’t.

                The only options that I saw were between doing what I knew how to do and not doing what I knew how to do.Report

              • John Howard Griffin in reply to John Howard Griffin says:

                I understand that those were the tools that you thought you had available. However, I think all children know how to say “Hey, stop that! That’s not ok.” Often, all that is required is to say those words and others will join in to stop the behavior.Report

            • Kolohe in reply to John Howard Griffin says:

              Well, I *do* have the same standard for whomever the President is next year. Well, not really a standard, but an expectation. That he will continue to vigorously prosecute MJ offenders, let Wall Street do whatever it wants, fire missiles at assorted people (some who actually deserve it), send several hundred Americans to their death in Afghanistan, and sort of back on topic, leave the topic of gay marriage up to the States. Standards!Report

  4. Morat20 says:

    I don’t think many people care that he was immature or a bully — nor that his target was chosen because of perceieved sexuality or (more likely) appalling hippyness.

    It’s more the fact that upon it coming up, he didn’t react like most would — with actual regret. It felt more like “Well, I wouldn’t do it again because I’m running for President and this sort of thing is damaging”. No sense of empathy, and the remorse was of the “been caught” rather than “did wrong” variety.

    There’s a rather famous Democrat who had a brief dalliance with the KKK — it always struck me as amusing watching some try to understand why Democrats forgave Byrd but not Thurmond — it wasn’t partianship, but regret. Byrd, quite obviously, regretted it. He worked to make up for it, to not make that mistake again.

    Thurmond never did believe he did anything wrong on the CRA.

    Romney…*shrug*. For Romney, the problem isn’t that he was a bully for a brief period long ago, or that the target that came to light was possibly chosen on sexuality. The problem is he doesn’t seem to really consider it important, a life-lesson he should have learned.

    Politically, it slots right into a common anti-Romney narrative. The man who says he likes to fire people. The man who had his dog ride on the roof. The guy that just seems disconnected from everything aisde from himself. True or not, it’s a damaging image. And having a bullying incident come to life and your response being, basically, “I totally don’t remember that. And if it happened, I’m sorry he was offended…”Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Morat20 says:

      My brother pointed this quote out to me:

      “This is a very tender and sensitive topic, as are many social issues, but I have the same view that I’ve had since — since running for office,”

      That’s just weird, as if the only issue at stake were that he can’t be accused of flip-flopping.Report

      • Michelle in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Weird, insincere, off–call it what you will but there’s just something icky about Romney. For me, it’s not the incident itself that disturbs (the action of a callous teen boys among other callous teen boys) but the equivocating once the story came out. Is it that difficult to issue an apology that doesn’t sound like it was written by committee.Report

        • Morat20 in reply to Michelle says:

          Apologies are often treated, by politicians, as a sign of weakness. Generally speaking, apologies for stuff decades ago — especially that can be summed up as “young and foolish” — aren’t seen that way.

          And to his base — it’s probably a PLUS that Romney showed a “dirty long-haired hippy his place”. I mean, heck, people love hippy punching. Even the left loves hippy punching!

          The only reason he’s not bragging is because the guy might have been gay, not a hippy. And you can’t win independents by bragging about punching gays.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Morat20 says:

      I don’t think many people care that he was immature or a bully — nor that his target was chosen because of perceieved sexuality or (more likely) appalling hippyness.

      Major national dailies don’t run 5000 word front page above the fold stories on a subject if many people don’t care.Report

  5. greginak says:

    Good honest observations Mike. If Romney had offered even a tenth of the thoughtfulness that would be impressive. That teenagers can be cruel and nasty is not a surprise, what we learn from it as adults is what can make us decent people.

    The best defence of Romney is that his handlers told him to be anodyne and the entire thing will blow over. That’s not much of a defence but probably what is occurring. O had far more ability to speak humanly and from his experience, and where that has led him.Report

  6. sonmi451 says:

    Also, the story seems to put Romney in the position of the ringleader, not scared teenagers too scared to do something that might put THEM in a vulnerable position. So there is really no equivalence between what he did, and what you did.Report

    • sonmi451 in reply to sonmi451 says:

      My point is, your experience is common to a lot of teenagers, in all-boy schools or not, and therefore much more understandable. Romney’s story is different, so we shouldn’t be so fast to go – oh, we were all like that in our teenage years!Report

    • sonmi451 in reply to sonmi451 says:

      Staying silent is a different beast than taking a scissors and cutting somebody’s hair by force.Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to sonmi451 says:

      Sonmi – The story was really more about the kids that left the table, not the rest of us that sat in silence.Report

      • Mo in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Last I checked, leaving a table wasn’t assault.Report

        • karl in reply to Mo says:

          No, it isn’t. And I’m sure that when you were publicly ostracized at a tender age you handled it better than Mr. Dwyer’s schoolmate.Report

      • sonmi451 in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        That makes your anecdote less compelling as a call for understanding about what Romney did. I call this genre of writing the “let he who has not sin cast the first stone”. Basically, the writer is telling a story about something he did, which is not necessarily equivalent to what the person being criticized did, but has some similarities. The point of the story is to illustrate how easy it is to have done what the criticized person did – “I did it too at that age (or at least a version of it), and if you’re honest, you’ll admit you’ve done it too at some point in your life, so let’s not go crazy castigating this person.”

        But if your example is what some other asshole jerks at your school did, that’s really missing the point. I’m sure I can tell stories about what some asshole jerks in my high school did that are worse than what Romney did, but as far as I know, none of them is running for President, so using them as to defend Romney is pointless.Report

        • sonmi451 in reply to sonmi451 says:

          Unless of course you think what they did was not assholish at all, that it was an understandable response in the face of the blatant agression of someone dying his hair purple. But that’s not the impression I got from your post, you think what they did was wrong. If you can judge your classmates, why should you be more charitable in your judgment of Romney?Report

  7. BradK says:

    Great story, though there are a couple major distinctions between the two incidents:

    1. While not doubt devastating to Tom (so much so that he left the school over it), having an entire lunch table shun and humiliate you is a far cry from being assaulted by a gang. He may have had to eat his lunch alone but at least he wasn’t left face down in the dirt with his hair in pieces strewn on the ground.

    2. Even if you didn’t show Tom any support or come to his rescue (for lack of a better term), you weren’t a participant. You mentioned other people cheering and that you yourself did not join in. Not only was Romney an actor, he was the ringleader.

    2a. And while it sounds like the buzz over Tom’s new look was already spreading throughout the school — amazing how we managed in those days even without smartphones and Twitter — the action itself seems spontaneous, if cruel nonetheless. And Romney’s was clearly premeditated.Report

    • BradK in reply to BradK says:

      Never mind, sonmi scooped me on these points.Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to BradK says:

      Unfortunatley the leaving of the lunch table was indeed pre-meditated (as I later learned). Thankfully our school had a zero-tolerance on physical bullying (they looked the other way on friendly physical contact). That is probably all that saved him from worst treatment.Report

      • BradK in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Which tangentially brings up another disturbing aspect of Romney’s incident: Romney and his droogs conspired and carried out a planned physical assault on a fellow student completely devoid of any consequences, while their victim was later expelled — for smoking a cigarette.

        Now, it’s not clear from any of the stories whether or not Lauber ever reported the incident or if the faculty were aware of it at any time. They may very well not have been, either that or “Governor Romney’s Son” was above reproach.Report

  8. Mike Schilling says:

    And yes, thanks very much for this piece. It’s the kind of thing that makes LOOG special.Report

    • Anonymous Guy in reply to Will says:

      I know of a college president who has imposed a reign of terror on his campus. People are afraid to speak up publicly, and adjuncts have been fired for perceived slights. He’s also capable of acts of kindness, or generosity. When an apartment building near campus burned, he was right on top of things in taking care of the affected students–a masterful performance that greatly eased the emotional trauma for them.

      But simultaneously he was obviously taking great joy in playing the messiah, because he’s a narcissist through and through.

      Doing good things for others doesn’t automatically mean you’re actually a decent person. Sometimes it does. But when you have simultaneous evidence of cruelty and lack of empathy it is reasonable to wonder what the motivation for doing good is.Report

  9. Jason Kuznicki says:

    First off, this was fantastic. I don’t have a personal story anything like this, but I’ve never presented as especially effeminate. I’m sure I’d have had a very difficult life if anyone had known in high school.

    But here’s a question: Am I really the only one who read the Romney story and thought, “This is going to help him a lot with his base”?

    In this bad world of ours, it doesn’t pay to be a nonconformist. It pays to be a part of the cool crowd, and even to lead it. Our future President Romney has clearly mastered the art. Contrary to some rumors, he’s not a weirdo at all. He bashes weirdos. Go Romney!

    I mean… was I really the only one to read it that way? Or at least to find that reading plausible?Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      I’m a bit reluctant to admit I also had that thought (which was reflected in one of my dickish comments from yesterday 🙁 To wit: some people will look at his behavior with a certain amount of respect and even envy; they’ll see him as a tough guy who takes no shit, and isn’t reluctant to give it out when he sees fit. That sort of thing.

      An ugly view, no doubt. And maybe incorrect. But it did strike me as quite likely.Report

    • Michelle in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      I hadn’t thought of it that way, but now that you mention it. . . hmmmReport

    • BradK in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      It could go either way. I would think it would depend on whether or not people can identify with the A-list’ers (because they were one themselves or aspired to be) or with their victims.

      Agreed though, lots of the GOP base would likely eat this up and are probably whining about all the commotion.Report

    • joey jo jo in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      isn’t this still good news for john mccain?Report

    • sonmi451 in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      I thought so too. Which is why he HAD to give the non-apology apology, so he won’t seem weak to those crowd. I almost feel sorry for him sometimes. Almost.Report

      • sonmi451 in reply to sonmi451 says:

        I mean not that he had to apologize, but that his “apology” can’t be a real one, or he’ll be perceived as weak by certain segment of his base.Report

    • North in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      I doubt it Jason. It’s a necessary fact that there’re more people around that experienced fearing, resenting or being bullied by the top dog kids in school than there are people who were the top dog kids in school.Report

  10. Kris says:

    “While I was never a bully the concept of homosexuality was so alien to me that it felt like Tom had brought his fate on himself. To this day I wish I knew why he chose an act that would certainly be met with such hostility.”

    Because he was not a conformist moron and assumed that being himself would cause some problems but not a complete shunning? I mean, it was 1992, FFS, not 1954. Do you remember 19912? His expectations of not being shunned were reasonable. The reaction was deeply immoral even given the standards of high school kids in the 1990’s. IMO. That’s not to say this kind of thing didn’t happen, but most kids at the time would’ve known it was wrong.

    “Looking back it would be easy to say that I should have taken my tray and sat next to him in some kind of act of support. But that act would have been suicide. ”

    Do you still think that’s true? I get that you believed it at the time, but in retrospect do you not think it would’ve been worth it to show “Tom” some support? All you had to do was go up to him and say, “I think it’s a shitty thing what these guys are doing to you. I can’t stop them, but I think it’s wrong.” Your friends might’ve razzed you or maybe you get beat, but I doubt it. And the risk of that beating was not worth participating in an act that was deeply immoral, and was seen as such even in 1992.

    I appreciate that you wrote this, but if I were you I would’ve been more ashamed than you’re claiming to be here. (I’m more ashamed for things I’ve done, but that’s irrelevant.)

    Just my opinion. And I don’t mean to sound like a jerk. I get that you’ve opened yourself up here and that’s really admirable.Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to Kris says:

      “I appreciate that you wrote this, but if I were you I would’ve been more ashamed than you’re claiming to be here. “

      Kris, I am actually not ashamed by my silence. And yes, in a Catholic school in Kentucky twenty years ago this was waaaaay outside of anything I had ever seen. I didn’t conciously choose to remain silent. Speaking up just didn’t even cross my mind and looking back I know why. It was another time. Report

      • Kris in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Do you think you acted morally? Were you justified in your actions?

        It’s a principle of morality that you should only be blamed for X if you could have plausibly avoided doing X. (How strong we should read that, depends on who you ask.) For example, if someone puts a gun to your head and threatens you with death unless you rob a bank, your robbing the bank is not immoral.

        It seems to me that you could have avoided participating in the shunning and so your actions are immoral and hence shameful. There’s no doubt that you were in a situation where the moral act, i.e. standing up for “Tom,” would have been difficult. But there is no principle that says you shouldn’t be blamed for X because X was difficult. It is difficult to do moral things in general, but you should feel shame when you do not.

        (Maybe “Tom” understood that and that is why he did what he did. But that’s a separate matter.)Report

        • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kris says:

          2012 me could be pretty harsh on 1992 me. Is there any good in that? I’m not sure.

          I went to a Catholic high school. I guess I could have come out, told everyone I was gay, and lived on the street as a rent boy.

          Or I could have gotten serious about life, gotten my diploma, and done something close to what I knew I was able to do.

          Mike didn’t face such tough choices as I did, but he did face the same basic imperative. High school sucks for everyone. You do what you can to survive.Report

    • North in reply to Kris says:

      I agree with Kris here. I mean there’s a distinct lack of adequate contrition here.
      I mean whoever this kid was, wherever he is now there’s no doubt that Mike getting down on his knees and smearing internet ashes on his cheeks while wailing about what a sinner he was as a youth will help alleviate this poor soul’s pain across the gulf of the ages.

      Better! Kentucky must still have some sack cloth factories, it’s agricultural. Mike you should get yourself some sack cloth to wear. You could have the wife snap some photos or use a web cam so we can verify appropriately contrite garb (no spawning some new line of sack cloth chic). Maybe he could walk bare footed up the interstate to some designated location and we could meet him there to scourge him like Henry the Second; get some repentance on 1170 AD style! Or if walking that far is too much of a problem logistically could we jury wig a kind of automatic flail to the internet? Swish of the mouse and ka>smack< give some former passive looker on the fruits of their cold heartedness? I’m gonna go check ebay for an internet remote controlled flailing machine. Excuse me.Report

  11. North says:

    Mike I just wanna add in that this is really an awsome post. Also you have my sympathy on the candidate thing. I remember thinking about Kerry “what a maroon” but I never hated disliked voting for any of my candidates to the extent that I seriously considered not voting for em.Report

  12. John Howard Griffin says:

    “Looking back it would be easy to say that I should have taken my tray and sat next to him in some kind of act of support. But that act would have been something that Steve Rogers did, and I am no Steve Rogers suicide.”

    It is how we react to the difficult situations that truly define us.Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to John Howard Griffin says:

      I agree. Guess how I am going to react to this one…Report

      • John Howard Griffin in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        “Guess how I am going to react to this one…”

        Hmmm. Seethe in anger because I’ve called you out as a coward, but not say anything because I’ve pointed out that you didn’t do the right thing in a difficult situation and still blame the victim?

        Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.
        – Mark TwainReport

        • Mike Dwyer in reply to John Howard Griffin says:

          Obviously ‘seethe in anger’ was your goal. I was thinking more along the lines of ignoring you and having an after-work beer.

          Instead I have a better idea: You email me three examples of you being a brave at the age of 16. I will post them here, giving you full credit. Then we will let the community praise you. Sort of like a digital ticker tape parade for heroes like yourself. Deal?Report

          • John Howard Griffin in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            How can I possibly resist such sincerity?

            Limiting to age 16 is tough. How about the High School years?

            1. When I was 15, I was taking the El late at night in Chicago. While I was waiting, I saw two very young children, a boy (about 6) and a girl (about 4), walk up to the station on the opposite side of the tracks. They looked around at the empty station, and then the boy jumped down on the tracks and started to pull the girl down with him. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. No one else was on either platform. The train on the opposite side was approaching, about a half mile down the tracks. I jumped down across the tracks, over the rails (particularly the third one) to their side and hoisted them both (unceremoniously) up onto the platform, then jumped up myself before the train arrived. Not Hollywood style, the train was still 100 yards away. Then, I called 911 and waited with them. I went with them to the police station to file the report, and stayed with them for a while afterwards. They never said a word the entire time. They looked so scared. I can still see their faces. I often wonder if they are ok.

            2. When I was 17, the football toughs at my school decided to play pick on the nerd. A guy I didn’t really know that well, but who was a quite, academic studying-type. Never did anything bad to anyone. We were outside near the football field enjoying a nice spring day. They destroyed his homework, his clothes, his books, then pushed him down and started kicking and punching him. I launched myself at the leader and took him down (ended up breaking two of his ribs). Got in a few blows before his goons pulled me off. Then, they started on me. Broken jaw. Broken hand. Punctured lung. When I got back to school, I sat at their table for lunch for a week, and let me tell you they didn’t like it one bit. They never apologized.

            3. When I was 18, I had started in the the Guardian Angels. Late one night, I was in the front car on the El. Two Latin Kings started messing with a young girl on the train. Everyone else on the train looked away, or got busy with their book. I walked up to them and told them to stop. The big one said “You want some of this, sweetie?” Then, he pulled a gun and shot me in the chest. By the time the EMT got there, I had stopped breathing for several minutes. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on your perspective), they got me going again. I still have the shirt with the bullet hole in it.

            Next time, don’t let the bullies win, Mike.Report

          • DensityDuck in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            Pah. I single-handedly built a house for an unwed mother of three, saved a basket of kittens that someone had thrown in the Delaware River in December, designed the entire attitude-control subsystem for the GPS IIF series of satellites, and help my landlady carry out her garbage. You got nothin’.Report

    • It may be that ultimately we all should aspire to be Steve Rogers, but not all failures to be steve Rogers are equivalent. Tom’s friends who actually shunned him are worse than Mike who didn’t do anything in particular, one way or another.

      The chinese concept of the Dao is illustrative here. Let me do some creative appropriation. the word Dao means the “way”. In the context of moral philosophy, think of the dao as refering to the various ways of acting, thinking, feeling, being etc such that if we were fully in accordance with the dao, there was no alternative way someone could think, feel, be or act that would in fact be morally better. Let us not worry about the content of the dao is. There are ways in which we could act or not that would bring us into closer alignment with the dao. These are morally right actions. There are ways in which we could act or refrain from acting which would bring us further from the dao. These are morally wrong actions. There are ways in which we could act or refrain from acting which neither bring us closer or take us further from the dao.

      It is great that steve Rogers and yourself act very closely in accordance with the dao. It doesn’t follow that just because what Mike did doesn’t bring him closer to the dao even by one iota, that his actions (or lack of them in this case) brought him in alignment against the dao.Report

      • John Howard Griffin in reply to Murali says:

        This is very wise, and correct, I think. My passion often gets the better of me, sometimes to the detriment of others.

        Mr. Dwyer, my apologies for my sarcastic attempts to equate you with bullies and my mean-spirited calling you out as a coward. You were a young man in a difficult and confusing situation. I have no excuse for my behavior.Report

  13. James K says:

    A very interesting piece Mike. I went to a single-sex school as well (this is normal for public schools in New Zealand), and while my experience was similar it was also slightly different. Presumably this is because I was at high school a bit later (1995 to 1999) and the cultural differences between our countries.

    The bragging was less severe (self aggrandisement is not cool in our culture), and the drive for excellence was restricted to sport (as a country we have an unhealthy fascination for mediocrity). But still, I recognise the testosterone-soaked environment you describe. I think there was less anti-gay animus, perhaps because the teachers wouldn’t stand for it (I recall a student saying faggot in front of a teacher once, and the teacher tore him a new one) though if a student had turned up with purple hair they’d have been suspended for a uniform violation. It was mostly the nerds (such as I) who got the bulk of the bullying, though like your school physical altercations were dealt with harshly.Report

  14. DensityDuck says:

    If a black man said “I hate black culture and everything it stands for, I’m going to repudiate it and its members in the most extreme and visible way I can”, he would be roundly damned as a race traitor.

    Would this be A) a perfectly understandable and expected reaction by the rest of the black community, or B) evidence of vicious insularity and intolerance?Report

    • b-psycho in reply to DensityDuck says:

      …I don’t follow your point.Report

      • karl in reply to b-psycho says:

        He doesn’t have a point, unless it’s to show how liberals are the real racists. Or that gay people aren’t black. Or that you aren’t really poor if you haven’t eaten your pets. But perhaps I misjudge.Report

      • Jeff Wong in reply to b-psycho says:

        He’s saying it’s unpatriotic and un-American for a guy like Romney to repudiate the idea of bullying people and not demonstrating dominance. Therefore, people who find it appalling that Romney was a bully are hypocrites because a black guy doing the same thing about his culture would be denounced as a racist. Therefore, everyone should shut up about this whole thing.Report

    • karl in reply to DensityDuck says:

      I’ll get back to you on that when a black man actually says it.Report

    • joey jo jo in reply to DensityDuck says:

      C) a transparent pivotReport

    • Liberty60 in reply to DensityDuck says:

      Well, I seem to remember Cleavon Little trying to join the KKK, so there’s that.

    • DensityDuck in reply to DensityDuck says:

      The culture of Dwyer’s prep school was very much centered on not appearing homosexual. The student he tells us about acted to repudiate that culture in a very extreme and visible way. The way the story is told, we’re meant to see it as a major moral failure of the culture that its members responded the way they did. I’m wondering what people’s response would be if it were a different culture.

      Apparently the response is “whatever, white people are still racist homophobes”.Report

      • b-psycho in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Duck, of what relevance is whether or not someone appears homosexual to getting an education? And how is appearing to be gay equivalent to LOUDLY REJECTING an entire culture? I knew people in school who “appeared to be” gay, who later transitioned to being straight up out of the closet gay, I didn’t think they were taking a big fat dump on all masculinity, I just acknowledged they were gay and thought nothing further of it.

        That’s my response. There is no legitimate reason for it to matter, at all.Report

        • Jason Kuznicki in reply to b-psycho says:

          Oh no, b-psycho, you don’t get it! See, cultural relativism means we get to beat up gay people, whenever and wherever the culture seems to approve of it.

          This should be obvious to any right-thinking liberal, of course. That it isn’t just proves your hypocrisy.Report

        • DensityDuck in reply to b-psycho says:

          “how is appearing to be gay equivalent to LOUDLY REJECTING an entire culture?”

          I guess you missed the part of the OP where Dwyer points out that “not being gay” was a pretty fundamental part of the culture at his prep school.Report

  15. I was gay. In Missouri. And I was a junior in 1992.

    I would love to say that I would have expressed solidarity for Tom had I been in Mike’s shoes. I cannot say that with confidence. I am incapable to passing judgment on Mike, because I cannot state with assurance that I would have been anything but silent in his stead. I know that my sophomore year I was a total asshole to one of the few students less popular than me — when it was found out, my mother made me walk to his house and apologize to his face, and to his parents. (My mom, for her quirks, did a good job.) Kids in high school are assholes.

    Poor Tom. Reading this story makes my heart hurt.

    Every so often, someone I knew from high school with whom I am still in contact tells me they’re sorry for joking about gays or something around me way back when. Ironically, it’s never anyone who I remember being mean to me, always people of whom I have nothing but fond memories. But they always sound more sincere than Romney does.Report

    • John Howard Griffin in reply to Russell Saunders says:

      Remaining silent in the face of an obvious wrong does not absolve one of failure.

      Failing – consistently – to stand up to bullies, or stand up for someone else, is one of the greatest failings of the human race. We salve our consciences with fear.

      Being an asshole, or young, or the product of the environment in which you were raised does not absolve one of doing the wrong thing or of failing to do the right thing. If it did, our jails would be empty.

      So, in your stead, I’ll pass judgment on Mike, in the same way he passed judgment on Tom.

      When I was in High School, I did what I could to protect those on the lower rungs. Sometimes at great personal cost, but still wish I could have done more. I had the fever of trying to do the right thing, and it got so bad that I joined the Guardian Angels after High School (a misguided attempt, but an attempt nonetheless).

      Nothing changes if we don’t stand up for what is right, even if it costs us personally. No matter our age. EVERYONE is equal. For all the Liberty talk, it seems this is lost on most people here.

      Almost everyone here consoles themselves that they would have acted similarly. Well, I didn’t, and wouldn’t. I’m certainly not Christian, but isn’t this what big j preached?Report

      • So, in your stead, I’ll pass judgment on Mike

        Well, that’s your choice then.

        isn’t this what big j preached?

        Jesus preached many things. Including things about judging.Report

      • “Almost everyone here consoles themselves that they would have acted similarly. Well, I didn’t, and wouldn’t. ”

        You mean you never participated in or condoned by your silence bullying or oppression of any kind (except online bullying on blog threads)? If one looked at your life’s history, they find not one instance? You’ve always spoken up regardless of the consequences?

        I don’t know your history, so maybe you’re the next incarnation.

        But for the record, I’m not “consoling” myself with the claim that I would have acted similarly to Mike–although I did when I was faced with similar situations in high school and I do acknowledge, or believe, that we humans are all morally weak and that even the best of us do some sh*tty things to other people. But I will say that I am not and wasn’t Mike. And as Rusell said above, the “big j” taught a lot of things.Report

    • Kris in reply to Russell Saunders says:

      The fact that you wouldn’t have done X does not imply that X is morally acceptable.

      The fact that X can’t be done by even a very good person might imply that X is morally acceptable, but that’s always a tough call.

      It’s okay to admit that we acted immorally and we are ashamed.

      There’s a sort of “Mississippi-90’s-all-boys-school” Nuremberg defense thing going on here.

      Okay, now I really sound like an asshole.Report

      • Russell Saunders in reply to Kris says:

        I did not go to an all-boys school.

        The fact that you wouldn’t have done X does not imply that X is morally acceptable.

        Where did I argue that it was?Report

        • Kris in reply to Russell Saunders says:

          “I would love to say that I would have expressed solidarity for Tom had I been in Mike’s shoes. I cannot say that with confidence. I am incapable to passing judgment on Mike, because I cannot state with assurance that I would have been anything but silent in his stead. I know that my sophomore year I was a total asshole to one of the few students less popular than me — when it was found out, my mother made me walk to his house and apologize to his face, and to his parents. (My mom, for her quirks, did a good job.) Kids in high school are assholes.”

          Aren’t you saying that Mike can’t be judged as immoral because you wouldn’t have acted differently?

          What moral principle explains why Mike’s act isn’t immoral? (None that I can think of.)

          Or more precisely, what principle explains that some immoral acts -like this one- are not things we should be ashamed of? (I think you’d agree that we should be ashamed of immoral acts in general, so if there are exceptions, there needs to be some principled way of determining when an immoral act is not shameful. I have stated one such exception -no one should be blamed or feel shame if it was impossible or completely implausible for them to do otherwise- but it doesn’t seem to apply in this case because Mike could’ve done otherwise. Mike’s situation was difficult, but not analagous to the “gun to the head” situation. )Report

          • Russell Saunders in reply to Kris says:

            Aren’t you saying that Mike can’t be judged as immoral because you wouldn’t have acted differently?

            Um… no. I’m saying that I decline to judge him. You clearly feel comfortable doing so. Good for you, I suppose.Report

            • Kris in reply to Russell Saunders says:

              Okay, I’ll try one last time. Do you agree that the following claim is true: “Participating in the shunning of ‘Tom’ is an immoral act.”

              The claim is a proposition, so it’s got to be true or false. Which is it? I guess you could say you don’t know if it’s immoral, but that strikes me as a pretty striking lack of capability to determine what is and what isn’t moral.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Kris says:

                Was Mike participating?

                Have you acted to stop the growing violence in Honduras? If not, are you a participant in that violence?Report

              • Kris in reply to James Hanley says:

                The act/omission distinction doesn’t seem to apply here. Everyone who shunned “Tom” did so by omitting to not interact with Tom. Thus, if Mike isn’t guilty of acting immorally in this situation, then none of the high school students involved acted immorally, and that seems pretty absurd to me.Report

              • Kris in reply to Kris says:

                Sorry, I mean to say “did so by omitting to interact with…”Report

              • sonmi451 in reply to Kris says:

                But we DON’T interact with everyone around us, in school, at our workplace. Shunning would be if Mike had previously been friendly with Tom, or at least on speaking terms, but then stopped after the incident. Tom’s friends, who had ate lunhc with him for years, and suddenly walked out because he dyed his hair, THEY shunned him. Surely there’s a difference between what they did, and what Mike did or failed to do?Report

              • Kris in reply to sonmi451 says:

                I was under the impression that they were part of the same social group and knew each other by name and were aware of what was happening at each others lunch table.

                I do agree with the moral principle (Peter Singer doesn’t, and it’s a controversy) that your duties to people become less as they are more distant from you. I am not sure how “distant” tom and Mike were, but this is morally reelevant I admit. But Tom wasn’t exactly a guy in another country. Mike didn’t have to give up his current life to fly 36 hours to help Tom. He just had to talk to Tom and express his disaproval of Tom’s treatment. That seems diffent in degree than joining the Red Cross for 1 year to save orphans in Uzbekibekistan.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Kris says:

                Here’s a little distinction I like to throw out from time to time. The event of shunning Tom might be immoral, but that doesn’t mean Mike participated in the action of shunning out Tom. That is, something bad happened, no doubt. Something which is morally questionable. But since Mike had no intention of shunning Tom, he didn’t act so as to shun him.

                Now, the judgment seems to come in on the other side – not that Mike acted to shun Tom (which he didn’t), but that he didn’t act to remedy that harm. Mike even talked about that upthread. But his failure to remedy the harm is a different thing than his participating in causing the harm. Or so it seems to me.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:

                Is an act of omission as bad as an act of commission? It’s an old theological question.Report

              • John Howard Griffin in reply to James Hanley says:

                An act of omission accepts the status quo and does nothing to change it.

                It is how we react to the difficult situations that truly define us. Particularly when doing nothing is the easy thing to do. I’ve seen too much of doing nothing.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to James Hanley says:

                Yes, it is. From my pov, there are two moral dimensions in play here. The initial (from Mike’s pov) event of people shunning Tom; and the subsequent failure to remedy that by sitting with him.

                Mike had no part in the initial shunning so he can’t be judged for that, which is what the initial question Kris was asking was about. Did he participate by not acting to remedy the harm, by not sitting with Tom? I don’t think so, since – as he said upthread – the thought never even crossed his mind. He neither participated nor refrained from participating in the act , the he was a participant in the event.

                For Mike to have acted in the situation, it seems to me he would have had to be conscious of the choices which he was unaware of.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Kris says:

                I don’t know what you’re up to, Kris, but it sure is interesting. Rock on.

                I think in the milieu described by Mr. Dwyer, “Tom’s” intention was clearly to transgress the norm, probably for its own sake—make a statement. Had Mr. Dwyer got his back on the purple hair, it would have ruined Tom’s statement.

                It wasn’t about purple hair. In fact, I feel bad for the kids these days. The straightest and sweetest of my acquaintance have green and purple rinses in their hair. To truly transgress society, mom & dad [where applicable], they have to get into some serious self-mutilation.

                Can you imagine what the Subversive ’60s and its folkie peace music and Jesus hair and navy-surplus bell-bottoms would have thought of the heavily inked and pierced child of the ’00s?

                Pity, I think. It would take until the mid-1970s for America’s biker chic to mate with Britain’s fall from greatness to despair, and the rise of Lemmy.

                The new standard would no longer be excellence, but how well one could embody the mediocrity of his times.

                Hey, I dig Lemmy, the perfection of mediocrity, the sublimity of the vulgar. He’s fucking inspiring.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                “To truly transgress society, mom & dad [where applicable], they have to get into some serious self-mutilation.”

                Or call people “nigger faggots” when they kill you in Call Of Duty.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to DensityDuck says:

                DD, for those of us who came in late, best explain that last bit like pronto.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                “Nigger” is to modern teenagers what “fuck” used to be. Nobody cares if you drop an f-bomb anymore; the worst you get is a mild admonition not to talk like that in front of your grandmother, and there’s plenty of people who’d say even that is a Vicious Trampling On The Self-Expression Of A Beautiful And Unique Snowflake. But you drop the n-word anywhere that any authority figure can hear and oh man you’re in trouble. Kids have been told their entire lives that Racism Is Wrong, Sexism Is Wrong, Homophobia Is Wrong. Is it any surprise that racist, sexist, homophobic language are the new ways to twit the grown-ups?Report

              • Kimmi in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                this is not even true on 4chan — and half of them are racist SOBs.Report

  16. Aren’t you saying that Mike can’t be judged as immoral because you wouldn’t have acted differently?

    Um… no. I’m saying that I decline to judge him. You clearly feel comfortable doing so. Good for you, I suppose.Report

  17. CK MacLeod says:

    Don’t know enough to say that Tom was harmed, or whether and, if so, to what extent consciously he willed his ostracism. Maybe his purple hair was the only way he had left to communicate with the student body, by reciprocally rejecting them and their conformism: “Oh, by the way, I happen to despise you all, and you and your standards and judgment mean nothing to me, nor whether you sit with me or not.” In that sense, their shunning him would have been a reciprocal act, one that he willed, as a response to the prior less focused shunning, and so on, forever, in the endless chain of calls and responses…

    As for Mitt and us, that’s another question. I find myself hoping that we don’t let him round up a gang of bullies, wrestle Obama to the ground, and apply disfiguring corrections to him for us, but I felt that way before I’d ever heard of Cranbrook.Report

    • karl in reply to CK MacLeod says:

      Where did you get this “my extravagantly dyed hair means I hate you all” rap? I missed that in the OP.Report

      • sonmi451 in reply to karl says:

        It’s weird, we’re asked to be more understandable of teenagers who did stupid stuff that might have hurt other people because hey, kids do stupid stuff. But that kid who dye his hair, or do anything to look different, must be because he hates everyone else, it can’t possibly be because he’s ALSO a kid, and sometimes kids do stupid stuff.Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to karl says:

        Agreed. And it’s worth asking: What if he’d worn a frilly pink skirt and fake boobs in a corset?

        Anyone might call that unusual, including me. But no one should call it a reason for an assault.Report

        • karl in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          I’m all for tolerance and the rest of that feel-good crap, but fake boobs is GOING TOO FAR!Report

        • I didn’t use the word “hate,” and make no assumptions about Tom’s subjective state either at the time or late. It’s certainly conceivable to me that in later years he looked back on that day with justified pride. It’s possible that the day itself was the happiest day of his life, and that he felt nothing but love and pity for the boys. It’s possible that he didn’t care or think twice about it all. I used the word “despise,” which means to place oneself above, to look down upon from a height, to scorn. It doesn’t necessarily imply any enmity at all. A mature or precociously mature individual cannot help but despise such boys. He scorns them simply by being himself.

          Tom wasn’t assaulted, according to the tale. According to the tale, as I read it, he was shunned by conformist insecure boys, by people whose intimacy would honor no one, would mean nothing to anyone except someone who was desperate for their companionship. We know the story only from Mike’s point of view, and Mike tells us he doesn’t understand it: He places himself on the outside of Tom’s world. Tom’s world is a mystery to him. Who’s to say we shouldn’t be prepared to admire Tom, even stay open to the possibility of envying him, and by the same standards to pity Mike, at least Mike the character in his own tale? (To me Mike Dwyer the writer in seeking to rise above the boy Mike is already evidently doing so.)Report

          • sonmi451 in reply to CK MacLeod says:

            “According to the tale, as I read it, he was shunned by conformist insecure boys, by people whose intimacy would honor no one, would mean nothing to anyone except someone who was desperate for their companionship.”

            They were his friends, though, who ate lunch with him every day before this. I don’t think we can dismiss their intimacy as worthless to him. Also, your analysis might make sense from an adult, “looking back” perspective. But as a teenager?Report

            • sonmi451 in reply to sonmi451 says:

              Oh sorry, they weren’t his friends, just lunchtime companion, I read that wrong. But still, I don’t think we shoudl automatically assume that a teenager acting/looking different is doing it to futher a certain agenda.Report

          • karl in reply to CK MacLeod says:

            Anything’s possible (nice recovery).Report

  18. Mike Dwyer says:

    I go off the grid for the evening and now I fear for my soul, if Kris’ arguments are persuasive enough.

    Let me try to make a few points here:

    1) The intent of the post was to describe a culture that was probably not unsimilar to the one that Romney was part of in the 1960s. It is a cultural observation meant to give context, not make excuses for what he did.

    2) I didn’t know Tom. He was a year ahead of me, we had no classes together and I never had a single interaction with him in three years.

    3) My wife said I should mention that the purple hair was an obvious dress-code violation (which was a disciplinary offense at my school). She said that seems to point towards an agenda on Tom’s part and maybe explains his actions.

    4) I have no regrets about what I did (or didn’t) do that day. I remember feeling sad because of what happened but, as I said, I was also angry at Tom for creating the situation. That anger may seem misplaced now but that is how my 16 year-old self felt 20 years ago. In that context, not acting to support him wasn’t cowardice. It was a reasonable decision. Why show your support for someone whose actions you disagree with?

    I didn’t believe then and I don’t believe now that Tom was completely innocent. He made a choice and probably had an idea of what might happen. We can admire his bravery today, but to suggest others should have supported his choice with some kind of public display is to say that we can force people to come to our defense whether they agree with us or not. Personally I don’t like being forced to do anything.Report

    • sonmi451 in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      What’s the agenda that you suspected? That he WANTED people to hate him, and shun him? Did you also have the impression that Romney’s victim similarly had an agenda? The he was not completely innocent?

      Also, you still seem to be angry at Tom today, as an adult. That’s interesting, don’t you think?Report

    • sonmi451 in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      And your clarification is sounding a lot more dickish and less graceful than the OP, which is basically saying, look, we all did stupid things as kids, because of the culture we’re in, etc etc, so maybe that helps explain the context of what Romney did. But now you’re sounding like you’re actually still blaming Tom. That teenager blaming Tom is understandable, the adult looking back still blaming him … not so much.Report

    • Kris in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      But in trospect, you recognize your anger was misplaced, no?

      Anyway, that’s thelast I’ll post on this. I feel like I’m hassling you and that isn’t my intent. I appreciate your candidness even if I disagree about some of the moral dimensions of the story. Thanks for responding civilly even though I am criticizing a personal story.Report

    • Why show your support for someone whose actions you disagree with?

      When the retribution they receive from the community is wildly disproportionate.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      Mike, the issue is that he was gay and therefore you’re a bigot. End of discussion. It doesn’t matter what anyone did, or why, or to whom. He’s gay, something bad happened, therefore you’re a bigot. You have no argument. You have no defense. You have no excuse or mitigating factor. You were a bigot back then and you’re a bigot right now and nobody should ever take anything you say seriously ever again because you’re a fucking bigot and maybe so am I but if I can be really really mad about other people who are bigots then it means I’m not one because no bigot would hate another bigot like this, right? Right?Report

      • sonmi451 in reply to DensityDuck says:

        No one used the word bigot to refer to Mike in this thread, except you.Report

        • DensityDuck in reply to sonmi451 says:

          Give me a fucking break. You know damn well what you’re accusing Mike of. Don’t try to pull this act where you’re all “I didn’t hear anyone saaaaaaaay ‘bigot’, did yooooooooou?” and then you pull an innocent face and blink exaggeratedly.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to DensityDuck says:

        Your act wears thin, my friend.Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to DensityDuck says:

        There’s not a living soul around here who believes any of this. So why did you say it?Report

        • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          Forget it, he’s rolling.

          DD’s right. Psychotic… but absolutely right. We gotta take these bastards. Now we could do it with conventional weapons, but that could take years and cost millions of lives. No, I think we have to go all out. I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part!

          We’re just the guys to do it.

          BTW, the WaPo admits that they shoehorned the timing of this story into the Obama gay marriage pronouncement. The “gay” angle is the only thing the two stories have in common.

          “The other criticisms are that this story was published knowing that President Obama was going to announce his shift in favor of gay marriage. The allegation is that somehow The Post is working with the White House to time the story.

          “Do I think The Post took advantage of the timing? Yes. Vice President Biden had telegraphed the president’s position on gay marriage just days earlier. This story on Romney was in preparation for three weeks.

          “If I were an editor I might have sped it up a little, too, to take advantage of the national discussion on gay marriage.”—Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton

          DD is not all wet here atall atall.


          [As for the “gay” angle even being true or relevant, the victim’s family has apparently demurred. More on that as it comes out, if ever.

          “Mr. Lauber’s family said in a statement that they were ‘aggrieved that John would be used to further a political agenda,’ Parker wrote in her story. In a tweet she also wrote that the family said “ ‘The portrayal of John is factually incorrect,’ but they would not elaborate on how it was inaccurate.”—WaPo ombudsman, ibid.]Report

          • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            DD is not all wet here atall atall.

            Really. Then who else was slinging the b word? Methinks you both forget the other part of the PC games played by some, but not played here: If you’re going to make an accusation of bigotry, you need to let the homos take the lead.

            Not one of the folks on my team has said done so.

            That said, I’ll be happy when we can move on from high school catharsis mode. People in high school are old enough to hurt each other and too young to care about it. That’s why they’re assholes. Not much more to it than that.Report

            • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              Jason, I think DD pierced some innuendo, innuendo being a sneakiness employed precisely because of its plausible deniablity. Bluto-like, yes, but DD is not fabricating.

              “That said, I’ll be happy when we can move on from high school catharsis mode. People in high school are old enough to hurt each other and too young to care about it. ”

              Truth. BTW, Jason, I’ve been meaning to touch on this, you know, the adult perspective thing. Do you recall the movie “Flatliners?” The most interesting scene is when Kevin Bacon goes back to a girl he’d bullied in high school.

              She now has a beautiful and successful life, and she’d forgotten all about it. Her only annoyance was at Kevin Bacon reminding her of that hurt, and her only interest is that he go away.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                BTW, Jason, would you say that actual gays with a sincere interest in SSM are more judicious with the “bigot” stuff than those w/no skin in the game? My quick impression is damn right they are. The cheap thrill of moral preening and screeding gets the movement nowhere, in fact, it hurts it.Report

              • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                I think there are several different factors that play into it. If you’re older, have kids, and are also a quasi-public non-anonymous figure, you don’t go in for namecalling. For all kinds of reasons: It’s bad debating form. It repels the undecideds. It makes it harder, not easier, to see that I’m just a guy, and that if I’d been into boobs and big hips, I wouldn’t be all that different from what I am right now. Such is the argument anyway.

                If you’re younger, don’t have kids, and are anonymous, you go for the cheap thrills. A familiar phenomenon, actually.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                I see, JK. Thx for the reply. I had wondered if your “civilian” supporters were a little too frivolous with the “b” word, perhaps enjoying flinging it around a bit too much. But I can see that the younger types enjoy it regardless of their, um, enlistment status, if I may properly complete the metaphor. Cheers.Report

          • Stillwater in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            Did the Obama/WaPo nexus cause Romney to do what he did in high school to exploit at just this moment? There’s no evidence that they didn’t.

            Good God, man, that’s a long reach!Report

            • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Stillwater says:

              Au contraire, Mr. Still. The WaPo is caught red-handed, and they admit it right in the text I link. The only connection between the two stories is the “gay” angle, and DD has detected the connection.

              Is DD being fair that all the people @ LoOG who have weighed in are pressing the “gay” angle? No. But in the larger context of recent discussions, this is in the zone somewheres, and WaPo was definitely overlaying the juxtaposition of the two stories in the context of homophobia.

              As for DD’s shotgun approach, not every piece of buckshot misses; in fact, many hit.


          • sonmi451 in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            The Post taking advantage of the timing to get those precious, precious clicks and pageviews is not proof of Obama’s evil hand coordinating the whole thing. And I can guarantee, the bias for sensationalism, and pageview whoring, is a lot more powerful than liberal bias, or Kenyan Muslim bias, or whatever else.Report

            • Tom Van Dyke in reply to sonmi451 says:

              I didn’t accuse the Obamans of coordinating with the WaPo, Sonmi. I expect they wouldn’t. BHO’s watercarriers in the press don’t need to be told what to do; in fact, they know how to manipulate the news in his favor better than he does.


              • Mike Schilling in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                You might think that the evil thing is that the press is coordinating its reporting with the Obama campaign. What you don’t realize, my naive little fool, is that the truly evil thing is that they are not.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                How could you so misread my above, Mike? I explicitly said I expect they aren’t coordinating. Then you call me a fool. Was that a shot at funny?

                Is your point that the press should be in cohoots with the Obamans in order to stop the dreaded Romneyans, and this comment was meant in good faith and snarky good cheer?

                If so, it’s just not working for me. Let’s disengage, OK? This is this, and I don’t want this.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Honestly, I’m not that bad a writer. It’s like I broadcast AM and you receive on UHF.
                Read it again, with yourself as the speaker.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                That was absolutely the most charitable and careful reading that I could extend, Still, esp with you calling me a fool in the middle of it. Please, let’s disengage for the good of all, not least ourselves. Sometimes twains never meet. Next time you see me on the street, give me a nod or a smile—or don’t—and walk on by.

                Peace, bro. It ends up hurting me when I treat you like a friend, and it hurts to deal with you like an enemy.

                There are bullies who require crushing, and to see your enemies fall at your feet — to take their horses and goods and hear the lamentation of their women…

                That is the best life. If I’m to be turned into a barbarian, I’m going to have some fun at it.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Once more — I was paraphrasing you. It’s you repeating the point of your May 12, 2012 at 7:51 pm. It’s not me calling you a fool.

                But if you’re not open to any forms of communication, fine.Report

            • Scott in reply to sonmi451 says:


              Who is being naive now? The WaPo is a well known liberal fish rag.Report

  19. sonmi451 says:

    Also, what’s really mysterious to me is this – the culture of your school is very sensitive to any suggestion of homosexuality, because you said students from other schools regularly make fun of the school for that. Fair enough. But why do the students at your school immediately assume that dyeing your hair purple, is a symbol for homosexuality, or a gay agenda or whatever? Tom might in fact be gay, be he could have just dyed his hair because he had bad fashion taste.Report

    • Murali in reply to sonmi451 says:

      The colour purple is (apparently) the gay pride colour.Report

      • sonmi451 in reply to Murali says:

        So anything purple is automatically indicative of an agenda?Report

        • Murali in reply to sonmi451 says:

          So anything purple is automatically indicative of an agenda?

          For highschoolers, purple is almost automatically indicative of being gay. And yes, that includes these guys:


          I don’t really know anything about whether there was an agenda or not. I thought you were asking why people would think he was coming out of the closet just because he dyed his hair purple.

          However, now that you’ve raised the question, let me ask: Is it reasonable to suppose that there was some kind of political statement implicit in coming out of the closet in this particular way? Maybe. Much of this depends on the context. It is certainly a plausible account of things.

          Does the existence of a political context to his actions warrant shunning?

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to sonmi451 says:

      “Fair enough. But why do the students at your school immediately assume that dyeing your hair purple, is a symbol for homosexuality, or a gay agenda or whatever?”

      Because Tom was already suspected of being gay (and this was later confirmed when he came out in college). Then he dyes his hair a color that was perceived as sort of feminine… and people decided it was confirmation of the rumors.

      As I said, it was also an intentional dress-code violation and in a private school that’s kind of a big deal. He had to have known it was going to get attention from the administration at the very least. Maybe he was trying to get kicked out. It seems odd though with only 2 months left and his parents having invested $10,000 in his education. Or maybe he wanted to hurt them. I still don’t know.Report

  20. Kazzy says:

    If now-me read about what highschool- or eve college-me did, now-me would never vote for me.

    I won’t defend Romney. But contxt matters, folks.Report

  21. Gorgias says:

    I don’t think Mike acted immorally, even if we believe that those who shunned Tom acted immorally. Mike had no especial duty to Tom to stand up for him or in any way stick his neck out for him. It’s like cutting a check to doctors without borders for a thousand dollars instead of picking up that brand new HDTV. Doing so is certainly morally praiseworthy, but failing to do so is not morally blameworthy.

    That said, there is a world of difference between Romney’s premeditated sadism and sacrificing oneself for the good of a classmate. It is almost certainly true that all of us at some point feel the temptation to go along to get along, and throw someone else under the bus to do it. It is definitively untrue that the actions of Romney, or even of Mike’s ostracizing classmates, are an inevitable and uncontrollable result of the high school experience. I know this because I personally felt no desire to do such things, nor did I do them; while I lack mind-reading capabilities, I knew many people of similar temperament even during those difficult times. Anyone pretending otherwise is trying to justify their own immoral behavior when they were younger.

    Sixteen year olds know damn well what they’re doing when they assault someone or ostracize them. They are neither incapable of acting morally, nor freed from their duty to do so by dint of their age. Why, then, is it so prevalent? The tyranny of low expectations. Moral behavior is a product of being held accountable, both by external and internal forces. Those who have heard all their life that cruelty is an inevitable indignity of the part of their lives they are in will feel no shame in succumbing to their bestial side, and they can be sure that they will avoid both punishment and social censure because others, like Mike, will be ready with words at their defense. We can create a better incentive structure. The only way to star chipping away at the epidemic of harassment, theft, and assault that we patronizingly refer to as “bullying” is to revoke the blanket amnesty we have given to those who commit such crimes.Report

  22. Will H. says:

    I was writing this for a post for my own blog a few weeks ago before I got sidetracked on other tasks.
    I kind of fits in with the topic a bit.
    Published as a fragment in its entirety:

    Old Mullet’s Crew

    So, I’m reading through the news, minding my own business.

    More or less, I’m minding my own business as much as I can, though I’m over here reading through the news.

    And excuse me for noticing, but it just turns out that some Mullet fellow happens to be the mastermind behind the hair attacks.

    It’s a sight you’d hope to never see.

    There’s been a bit of the Amish gone bad. There had been a whole group of them scouring the countryside; mad Amishmen, shears in hand.

    A true serial crime; a real gang of desperadoes they.

    A-chopping and hacking at the others beards and tresses, the mad terror of Mullet’s crew hung doom low as a long shroud on all the