I have many questions — real, deep, sincere questions — about this.

  • Does Katherine Dettwyler really believe that a person deserves torture and death for stealing a poster?
  • Or does she, rather, believe that a person deserves torture and death for being a clueless privileged culturally-imperialist white male?
  • Or does she, perhaps, believe that a person deserves not torture and death but maybe arrest for being a clueless privileged culturally-imperialist white male, and just wrote carelessly?
  • Is she right that a significant number of her white male students “think nothing of raping drunk girls at frat parties and snorting cocaine, cheating on exams, and threatening professors with physical violence”?
  • How do any or all of these beliefs affect her ability to do her job as a teacher?
  • How many college teachers share these beliefs?
  • Is this a situation in which no “beliefs” as such are involved, but Dettwyler’s Facebook post was rather an unfocused spur-of-the-moment venting arising from frustration with a lousy job or lousy working conditions?
  • If your answer to the previous question is “Yes” or “Probably yes,” how do you account for the fact that Dettwyler seems to have made very similar comments on blogs?
  • How might a tendency to go off on unfocused spur-of-the-moment venting arising from frustration with a lousy job or lousy working conditions affect a person’s ability to do her or his job as a teacher?
  • Did the University of Delaware ask Dettwyler for an explanation of her post and/or comments?
  • Did the university ask her to apologize for them?
  • Suppose that she did apologize — would that be sufficient for her to keep her job?
  • What would the University of Delaware have done if a tenured faculty member had made precisely the same comments?
  • As those outside the academy go apoplectic over these matters, those inside the academy shrug. Is shrugging enough?
  • What does it mean that so many people these days wish death on strangers whom they dislike or disagree with?
  • Should we feel better when we’re told that people don’t really mean it when they, for instance, respond to a tweet expressing a view about English grammar by wishing an entire generation of Americans dead?
  • Like, if you don’t really in your heart of hearts want those people you disagree with to die in a fire or be raped and tortured, then we don’t have a problem? Is that the argument?
  • Presumably all of the above, and worse, has been said to Katherine Dettwyler since her Facebook post went public — does that help?
  • Does vigilante vengeance have limits?
  • Even if it’s just verbal vengeance?
  • Is forgiveness a social good?


  1. Long-time listener, first-time caller, so to speak. This comment doesn't begin to answer your questions–which are great ones, and ones I think about a lot myself. But just as an observation, I think the willingness to wish death on people is one of those poses that becomes real. For a lot of people, it starts as a kind of political or cultural in-group humor, which, if you challenge it, is then justified in terms of the real or imagined oppression that your "side" of a conflict is experiencing. "We're weary from the fight; we get mad; we say things." Then over time, as the joking version of it becomes normalized, you start to sense that some people really mean it. If you complain at this point, your complaint will be filed under "discourse policing/civility BS" on the left and "being a wuss/being a squish/being a triggered snowflake" on the right. (This is true even if you're somebody who is willing to be forthright, confrontational, effective, and profane in fighting for your cause. I am willing to call, e.g., Mitch McConnell every insult in the book; I'd be happy to participate in, e.g., a sit-in that, in my view, would weaken his ability to inflict harm on the vulnerable. But I don't want him killed.)

    I see it everywhere. My right-wing relatives will make jokes about wanting leftists dead, right in front of me, and they'll be honestly surprised when I point out that the logical corollary of this is wanting my wife and me (and most of the kindest people I know) dead. Then I see left-wingers "ironically" expressing nostalgia for the murderous USSR and wonder when the expression will freeze on the face. I even catch myself laughing at cruel jokes about my enemies that I wouldn't have laughed at in 2014.

    I don't know how to stop it.

    I return a lot to Jacques Ellul's argument in LIVING FAITH that politics is literally the devil–which I take to mean that the process of getting into "sides" and squaring off against others, even (especially) for just and right causes, makes us all into accusers, thus little Satans. This feels too sweeping and like a cop-out, and also I've never known where it puts us practically. (I can agree with Ellul on this point but still feel like I should fight bad, and promote good, legislation in the same way I would try to prevent a stabbing or share good food.) But it's hard to avoid feeling like he had a point.

  2. Great questions. Another one I think is worthwhile: How much does the platform (in this case Facebook and the measurement of 'likes') determine the wording of the post and the extremeness of the opinion?

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