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2011 Spring Issue 5 (May 6, 2011)

Violence at Carleton

May 6, 2011
By Hannah Watson

I’m a freshman taking Intro to Psychology. Nothing makes sense anymore.

Under hypnosis, a woman giving birth can imagine the pain of a C-section away. A good hypnotist can make someone immerse their arm in ice water until it turns blue. But no matter how good he is, he can’t make them go against their morals. Unless the hypnotized person would already do so consciously, you can’t make them hurt another person.

People murder their spouses in their sleep. Acting out primal fears with primal judgement, sleepwalkers run headlong into walls, destroy their furniture, scream.

In 1923, a German pharmacologist rushed to his lab in the middle of the night. He put two frog hearts in saltwater and shocked one of them, causing it to beat slower. When he transferred the used water onto the other heart, it slowed down too, proving that transmission of nerve impulses was chemical, not electrical. Otto Loewi won a Nobel Prize in Medicine.

He was there because the idea came to him in a dream.

What are we responsible for?

I’ve wanted to write about violence at Carleton for a long time. I’ve been holding back because (GASP!) I don’t have a well-formed opinion about it. I only have memories. But when I look at them, they all point to the same thing.

We’re all a little bit evil.

Yeah, it sounds Calvinist. And it’s not a popular sentiment in 2011, the age of self-acceptance. But to me, the blanket statement of “we’re all flawed” just doesn’t cover it. You think of flaws, you think about the way you leave hair in the shower drain. You think of procrastination, or self-doubt, or (to quote Twitter superstar Alec Sulkin) “my own manufactured white sadness.”

Those aren’t real flaws. We all have much darker things inside of us, things that can hurt other people.

My mom’s voice is strained. “So...your brother got a pretty serious concussion.”

It was a month before graduation. A bunch of seniors were drinking at the Reub, including some Carleton football players and some St. Olaf football players. A fight broke out. Before it turned into a brawl, Peter tried to get in between them. The problem was that he got in between a St. Olaf offensive lineman and whatever the St. Olaf offensive lineman wanted to hit.

I’ve never been in a fight, but I recently learned that neck width matters more than height. And my brother is built like a big Asian giraffe.

For days, he couldn’t remember his name. He couldn’t recognize his girlfriend. After he recovered, he just said, “Good thing it was after I turned in my COMPS...”

I’ve been at Carleton for six months and I’ve heard about one fight. Someone almost got expelled. Carleton’s zero-tolerance policy against fighting seems extreme, but it’s mostly irrelevant. We’re all smart and nice enough to get along. Right?

At a spring term party, another incident. A non-Carleton student throws a punch at a Carleton student. Not much has changed: We still have the moral high ground. Right?

The perpetrator is a friend of a friend, visiting from home. Apparently he’s working his way through school. Apparently the Carleton student he hit was telling him to leave because “we don’t need trailer trash here.”
Suddenly, I’m having trouble thinking he didn’t deserve it.

It’s junior year of high school. I’m excited. I’m getting to be so witty. I just published a set of snarky jokes about everyone in my wide group of friends.

In homeroom, I find out not everyone appreciated the humor. I made two people cry.

It’s a gorgeous fall day, the day I find out my COMPS proposal has been rejected.

I feel disembodied. I’m moving through campus with the letter in my hand, choking on the sunshine, trying to find a place to destroy it that isn’t full of people just walking around like they’ve never cared about something and failed at it.

When I get home, I punch a window.

In a broad sense, the self-acceptance movement is right. The more you can truly love yourself, the more you can love others. But it’s a dead end. Pity the cruel. We forget that there are people who suffer and don’t bring anyone down with them. They fight very hard to do this. And there are people who are careless and disrespectful with others and pretty happy with themselves.

If you live a good life from the inside out, I’m not here to tell you you’re wrong. But for me, it was humbling, and important, to look at my darkness in the eye and ask its name.

None of us is that much better than the kid who called someone trailer trash, or the kid who hit him. I think it’s legitimate for Carleton to hold its students to a higher standard with physical violence, just like it does with other things. But remember: Violence has creative ways of expressing itself. You might not punch windows, but maybe you gossip, or judge people, or control them.

We need to respect what we’re capable of when the world upsets us, because it’s hubris to think that it never will.

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