Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.

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  • Santa Barbara Shootings: We Were There

    • Posted on Jun 08, 2014 by Scott Cawelti

    This column appeared in the Waterloo Courier today, Sunday, June 8.  My family was  eating a few miles from where Elliott Rodger began killing students and his roommates in Isla Vista, a small section of Santa Barbara.   We didn't know about it until the next morning, and then realized it could have been us.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

     

    Friday night, May 23, I stayed in a Santa Barbara motel in a room next to my son and grandchildren.  

    We enjoyed several afternoon hours at the zoo and the motel pool, taking in the glorious California coastal weather. Walking two blocks around suppertime to an Outback steakhouse, we stayed blissfully unaware of the mass shootings four miles away.

    The next morning when we heard the news, we were shaken.  Horrific.  Senseless. Insane.  Within walking distance.

    Elliott Rodger could have driven by and shot us to pieces, making us part of his “Day of Retribution.”  

    Well, not quite.  Turns out Rodger wouldn’t have bothered with a strolling middle-aged family. He targeted women, specifically pretty blond women, the kind he desired but couldn’t attract.

    Because he thought they avoided him, he grew to hate them, madly and deeply.  He made plans to capture and torture a few, including their boyfriends.  Rodger created a 140-page manifesto, which he called “My Twisted World.” He emailed it just hours before his killing spree.  

    It’s a hard read, filled with angry rants against not just women, but also men who succeed in dating women—‘brutes,” he calls them.  In fact, Elliot Rodger hated the whole world, calling mankind “disgusting, depraved, and evil.”  

     He ends with, “All I ever wanted was to love women, and in turn to be loved by them back. Their behavior towards me has only earned my hatred, and rightfully so! I am the true victim in all of this.  I am the good guy.”  

    Deeply twisted. 

    Yet how many thousand teenage boys feel rejected, neglected, avoided, made fun of, by the women they desire most? How many of them long for long-term relationships but fail?  How many struggle with acceptance, unable to make friends?  

    In fact, that’s teenage life at times: Lonely, frustrating, self-pitying, lost.

    It’s the school of hard knocks, and most of us eventually grow up and find some of what we want—enough to feel happy most days.  

     That’s what reasonably healthy people do as they become adults.  But Rodgers suffered from serious mental illness. His reality was upside down and inside out; his roommates wanted him to move out.  He stabbed them all to death.     

    At what point do we intervene, putting such lost souls not just under surveillance but in hospitals?  Clearly, that’s where he belonged, and clearly, he should never have gotten anywhere near weapons, including knives.

    Given the warning signs, including threatening videos and that manifesto, he should have been picked up and kept for observation.  Yet police did interview him a few days before his rampage, and found him polite and “normal.”  Unfortunately, they didn’t read his rage-filled online rants or his video postings. 

    Even if they had, they couldn’t arrest him under current laws.  Freedom of speech protects all kinds of crazy talk, as it must.    

    In other words, nothing could be done until he broke the law. He was privileged, leisured, and behaved within legal boundaries.   That’s the most disturbing aspect of Rodger’s killing.  We’re helpless under current laws.  

    A new bill allowing police to impose a “Gun Violence Restraining Order” is now being put before the California legislature, and that might have worked if his parents and police had intervened and a judge had agreed.  

    Yet there are hundreds of Elliott Rodgers out there, and few do anything but rant.  How many can we lock up?  How many more police and investigators will it take? 

    Given the easy availability of guns and the pervasive desensitization of killing provided by “shooter” video games and blockbuster movies, we’ve created a culture where sick minds become dangerous.  

    It could have been me and my family.   It could be you and yours.  

    We keep repeating “Not One More!” at rallies.  

    Until next time.     

                 

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  • Edward Snowden: Traitor or Hero?

    • Posted on Jul 07, 2013 by Scott Cawelti

    Google “traitor” and you come up with names that live in infamy:  Judas Iscariot, Brutus, Benedict Arnold, Tokyo Rose, Mata Hari, Vidkun Quisling, Kim Philby were convicted and either executed or punished with exile or infamy.

    Their crime?  Large-scale betrayal.  Let’s call it betrayal that damaged or destroyed more than friends and family.   After all, small-time betrayers—Russ Wasendorf and Mark Louviere locally, aren’t really traitors.  Their betrayals hurt themselves and those who trusted them, but no one calls them traitors. 

    Same with addicts who betray their vows to stay clean, and husbands and wives who betrayal their marital promises, captains of industry who betray their employees by sending all the work overseas, teachers who betray students’ trust, and so on.  Betrayal in fact seems quite like an ordinary human failing.

    Traitors, however, are more egregious and specialized betrayers.  Their actions 
    Google “traitor” and you come up with names that live in infamy:  Judas Iscariot, Brutus, Benedict Arnold, Tokyo Rose, Mata Hari, Vidkun Quisling, Kim Philby were convicted and either executed or punished with exile or infamy.

    Their crime?  Large-scale betrayal.  Let’s call it betrayal that damaged or destroyed more than friends and family.   After all, small-time betrayers—Russ Wasendorf and Mark Louviere locally, aren’t really traitors.  Their betrayals hurt themselves and those who trusted them, but no one calls them traitors. 

    Same with addicts who betray their vows to stay clean, and husbands and wives who betrayal their marital promises, captains of industry who betray their employees by sending all the work overseas, teachers who betray students’ trust, and so on.  Betrayal in fact seems quite like an ordinary human failing.

    Traitors, however, are more egregious and specialized betrayers.  Their actions damage a whole culture, hurting millions of innocents.  Spies. propagandists, saboteurs, and turncoats make wartime efforts difficult, causing death and suffering for their own side.  When caught, they suffer execution or permanent exile.   

    They’re widely despised for betraying causes that their country holds dear—though they might be treated as heroes by their country’s enemies.  In fact, if a traitor can find permanent asylum in those countries, they can live out their days in peace and comfort.  

    One country’s traitor is another’s friend, even hero.   All of our founding fathers were considered traitors by Britain, disloyal to the king.  So too with Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, heroes in the South, traitors in the North.  

    So traitorhood is a complex business.  

    Which brings me to Edward Snowden.  Traitor?  Hero, a.k.a. whistleblower? Large numbers of angry U.S. officials and citizens denounce him as a traitor.  Almost as many, depending on their location and politics, believe he’s a hero/whistleblower who at least started a national conversation about abuses of government surveillance.

    Pro-hero forces insist that Snowden exposed the National Security Agency’s vast and unexamined invasion of both personal and official privacy.   One of my favorite self-evident truths helps untie this knot:  Meaning is co-created.  

    That is, one single meaning or truth doesn’t reside anywhere without someone bringing their own meanings to it and making it their own. 

    Therefore, anti-government conservatives and pro-libertarians, not to mention non-U.S. citizens, find Snowden a hero. 

    So who is right?   Or rather, is either position more right than wrong without also examining preconceptions about the role and power of government? 

    This is an age-old question and itself gets answered differently depending on what you bring to it.   Absolutists will insist there’s a single right, where relativists will insist it depends. 

    Here’s an answer:  It depends on who’s right according to the emerging evidence.

    That is, Snowden betrayed his employment agreement with the government—his security clearance—and therefore must be punished. That’s a given.  

    Yet if he did it for the larger good, he might deserve hero status.  Call it justified betrayal.  In other words, let him off easily and begin examining what his exposure reveals about the NSA.  This might transform the NSA into a more effective operation, ultimately.   

    That’s what happened to Daniel Ellsburg, who exposed the government’s corrupt prosecution of the Vietnam war, and in fact who is now seen as a hero of the Vietnam era.  Look up “The Pentagon Papers” for the full story. 

    But suppose the NSA’s information did prevent terrorist attacks, and that ability is now severely compromised, thanks to Snowden.  Our government has said just that.

    This makes Snowden a traitor who has damaged national security, putting us at risk for more terrorist attacks.  

    At this point, we don’t yet know enough to judge Snowden.

    If you’re positive that Snowden is a traitor or a hero, you’re letting your preconceptions rule.

    One of these days, a reasonable person will be able to judge Snowden accurately, meaning either a Benedict Arnold who betrayed and damaged his own country.  Or a Daniel Ellsburg who performed brave and heroic service at considerable risk to himself.

    But not yet. 

               

     

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