10A036 Sorry, Tyler by Jim Davies, 10/3/2010

Before jumping to his death off the G W Bridge on September 22nd, Tyler Clementi broadcast his intention and added "Sorry." Perhaps that was meant for his parents and friends, but he was about the last person to owe an apology.

His Rutgers room-mate Dharun Ravi owes one, because knowing Tyler was homosexual Dharun turned on his web-cam before leaving the room for some hours, then watched what was photographed. When it became steamy, he broadcast the images on the Net, prefacing them with "Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into Molly’s room and turned on my Web cam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.”

It really doesn't matter what Tyler was doing. It was his own room, Dharun had agreed to leave him alone, but he betrayed their friendship and broke that contract by spying on what he did. Had Tyler merely settled down to read a Shakespeare play undistracted, he'd have had a total right to do so without being watched. It's what privacy is all about, and is what that contract meant.

But such a right to privacy - implicit in the very principle of human self-ownership - has been routinely and repeatedly violated by the very people who had ordered the life of Dharun Ravi since he set foot in government school. Kids are taught every day that everything they do and say can be observed and recorded and critiqued by Authority, employed by government.

They can be bodily searched, lest they bring a forbidden substance to school for a little playground trading. They enter - under compulsion, mind; you don't show, you're hunted for truancy - through a metal detection scanner. They are commanded to muster an interest in biology for one hour, mathematics the next and suffragettism the one after; and if interest happens to face elsewhere, tough luck; it's not your mind, it's government's. If homework reveals a dissident attitude picked up at home, the parents as well as the student can be up for an inquisition. This is what government schools are for; not for education, for that hardly needs a school, let alone a government one, but for control, for teaching obedience to authority. If one undergoes driver-ed, one learns to carry ID to display life's vital details to any uniformed bully who demands them. If one flies, one is taught to reveal anything carried or worn, down to the skin; and any laptop must disgorge its file secrets to the government snoops controlling embarkation. If Dharun Ravi held a vacation job, the resulting W-2 Form taught him that financial privacy is a sick joke. He had been taught all his life that people belong not to themselves, privately, but to the State, publicly.

A sense of responsibility for making and honoring agreements, a respect for the individual rights of other people, just hadn't been in his school's curriculum. Yet now, the same statists who twisted this boy's upbringing threaten to add punishment to the remorse which will in any case blight the rest of his life.

Dharun Ravi was not malicious, just thoughtless; he followed the moral standards he had been programmed to follow. Apologies are due primarily from those who wrote that program, and who repeatedly, mindlessly voted for its execution.

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