Poor Dharun Ravi and poor Tyler Clementi! It is like evil swooped in to their dorm room and carried them both away.
In case you have not been following this tragic case that has been played out in the press for over a year, Ravi found out how to use his webcam remotely and spied on his roommate having an intimate encounter with another man. Days later Clementi told his FB friends he was jumping off the George Washington Bridge with a few words and, “Sorry.” He never read the text Ravi had sent him asking for friendship. The jury found that Ravi’s intentions were not to intimidate, but the impact of his actions did intimidate, just the same, and convicted him on fifteen counts. [Get the whole story in the New Yorker]
1) Even though the TV has shown people being watched on camera to see what funny things they might do for your entire life, it is still not right. Even though there is a TV show (Person of Interest) that makes a point of noting how we have a camera watching us constantly, their point is that such an invasion of privacy is horrible, not inevitable. Let’s not take pictures of people if they don’t want us to. And let’s never post them without their consent, especially to make fun of them.
2) Everyone is probably more fragile than we know. Clementi instant-messaged a friend “[I]ts not like he left the cam on or recorded anything. He just like took a five sec peep lol.” But then, after a second encounter with his older sexual partner (after draping Ravi’s camera and preventing another peep), he jumped from a bridge. We’ll never know if he was bullied into it, or if he had other significant problems that no one will ever know. Let’s take one another seriously. Humor is good when it is based in joy and mutual acceptance; heartbreaking when it is based on contempt.
3) The younger we are the more we seem liable to research someone rather than get to know them. Ravi had a lot of information on his roommate before he moved in to Rutgers with him. He had already researched him and discussed his research with his friends. It did not make for an intimate relationship. Granted, 18 year old men are not known for creating a lot of intimacy, but treating people like they are things is deadly. Let’s be careful with Google, Facebook and all the other ways we impersonally collect data on each other. Loves covers people with grace.
4) We are all having struggles with sex. Poor Tyler Clementi sounds like he was being as brave as he could be with his struggle. He had a tearful discussion with his parents about his same-sex attraction. He was acting in a risky way by commandeering his room for the night for sex. What hasn’t been widely talked about is that he was part of a church youth group before he went to college. The general repression Christians have in regard to sex may have made his explorations even more difficult. Let’s remember some of the things we think about sex. It is not just a personal expression; it is about partnering and it happens in a context full of relationships. It is almost never kept private. Like everything, it relates to God.
5) We need to keep clear of the authorities. Not only are they watching us, citizens can be killed abroad [link]; the government has given the go-ahead to fly remotely-controlled drones in our airspace [link]; Dharun Ravi was convicted of fifteen charges of spying for watching a three-minute kiss and unsuccessfully trying to do it again. He didn’t even know it was wrong. He didn’t take a plea bargain because he didn’t think he could be convicted. He underestimated the power of Lambda Legal and other enraged advocacy groups that tend to fuel litigation. I think he also underestimated the reality of being a brown person from India in the United States [comments from India in The Hindu]. I imagine I underestimate just how much trouble I could get into by writing this blog post. In Ravi’s trial they put up instant-messaging trails and chat streams on the screen to validate some point of law they were making. Many of us have not forgotten how our unstable but well-connected neighbor on Tenth St. managed to get us under a five-year injunction for making too much noise when we worshipped. There is not a lot of justice here, even though there is a lot of money spent on procuring it. Quoting one of Clementi’s favorite musicals, “May God bless and keep the Tsar (Russian for Caesar) far away from us!”
During Lent, if we are with Jesus in the wilderness and not just trying to cram Jesus into our wilderness, we can notice evil better. Just like Jesus was confronted with the destructive delusions of evil and tempted to join in, we can notice how we are being tempted ourselves. It looks like the poor young men of Rutgers had too few resources to deal with what they were handed, even when society handed it to them with the full expectation that they could, and then came down on them with full social and legal ramifications when they couldn’t. They needed a Savior, and so do we.