A sad true story shows moral­ity is lack­ing

The Washington Times Daily - - Life - MARY­BETH HICKS

This is a story with no good end­ing. There’s not likely to be a peace­ful reck­on­ing, or a pos­i­tive life les­son. It’s just point­less and sad, no mat­ter how you look at it.

It’s the story of Tyler Cle­menti, the 18-year-old Rut­gers Univer­sity fresh­man in New Jer­sey who took his own life in Septem­ber 2010 by jump­ing off the Ge­orge Washington Bridge af­ter dis­cov­er­ing that his room­mate, Dharun Ravi, had spied on him dur­ing a gay sex­ual en­counter by us­ing a we­b­cam in their shared dorm room. Worse, Ravi had in­vited oth­ers to view the scene.

It’s also Ravi’s story, the tale of an im­ma­ture and morally in­ept young adult who, for rea­sons that now have been la­beled “hate,” will serve up to 10 years in prison for cre­at­ing the hu­mil­i­a­tion and emo­tional dis­tress that ap­pears to have been the rea­son for Cle­menti’s sui­cide.

Ravi was con­victed last week of in­va­sion of privacy, bias in­tim­i­da­tion, and tam­per­ing with a wit­ness and ev­i­dence in the af­ter­math of Cle­menti’s death. Ravi at­tempted to delete cer­tain texts and on­line com­mu­ni­ca­tions in an ap­par­ent ef­fort to mit­i­gate his role in caus­ing his room­mate’s emo­tional state.

No mat­ter how you cut it, this is a story with­out a moral, un­less you count the ad­vice of Lynn Audet, a ju­ror in the case against Ravi, who said af­ter the ver­dict, “Dele­tion is fu­tile. Text mes­sages, tweets, emails, ichats are never gone. Be care­ful. I’ve al­ready told my kids, be care­ful. If you’re go­ing to put some­thing in writ­ing, be able to back it up.”

As if to un­der­score the su­per­fi­cial moral­ity that guides our na­tion’s youngest gen­er­a­tion, the best we can come up with seems to be: Your love of tech­nol­ogy may come back to bite you in the end, so watch what you say in cy­berspace.

Why does it seem iron­i­cally fit­ting that public mor­al­iz­ing about this tale lacks ma­tu­rity?

When the story of Cle­menti’s sad sui­cide made head­lines, I re­call dis­cussing it with my then-mid­dleschool-age daugh­ter. Her indig­nant re­sponse when I re­layed that one room­mate had in­vaded an­other’s privacy in such a brash and cal­lous way: “Who does that?”

One an­swer says it was Ravi, the im­ma­ture col­lege boy. He wasn’t ma­li­cious, his de­fense at­tor­ney said, but rather meant to (in In­ter­net gam­ing slang) “pwn” his room­mate with a thought­less prank.

The al­ter­na­tive ex­pla­na­tion — the one that got so much me­dia trac­tion af­ter Cle­menti’s death — is that Ravi is an ex­am­ple of the in­tol­er­ance of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity that prompts the bul­ly­ing that is epi­demic across our coun­try.

In a very real sense, though, it doesn’t mat­ter. Both ex­pla­na­tions point to the same prob­lem, the same void in too many young peo­ple: a lack of moral­ity to guide be­hav­ior.

A per­son with a well-de­vel­oped con­science knows it al­ways is wrong to in­vade the privacy of an­other per­son. Even if Ravi had ob­jected to be­ing asked to leave his room in or­der for his room­mate to pri­vately en­ter­tain a guest, Ravi had no right or cause to ex­ploit Cle­menti.

More­over, a per­son with a wellde­vel­oped con­science is ca­pa­ble of hold­ing what­ever opin­ion he chooses about an­other per­son with­out act­ing on that opin­ion. It’s ir­rel­e­vant whether the is­sue is sex­u­al­ity or race or obe­sity or in­tel­li­gence or gen­der. You can hate some­one be­cause they look at you funny or have an ob­nox­ious laugh or speak with an ac­cent you don’t like.

You just can’t tor­ment them. That’s wrong. It’s al­ways wrong, no mat­ter why you do it.

Put an­other way, there are some things you just don’t do.

This is what’s known as a moral im­per­a­tive. Un­for­tu­nately, Ravi’s moral com­pass — the thing that should have pointed him to­ward true north and a path of cor­rect be­hav­ior — clearly is as im­ma­ture as his ul­ti­mate course of ac­tion.

In the af­ter­math of such a tragedy, we all ought to learn the moral of a story such as this: It’s noth­ing less than moral­ity it­self.

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