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Friday, November 11, 2011

Blind Faith

A lone Penn State student confronts his peers in their mad fury to uphold their Leader against all reason and against all concept of justice:

Of course, as we in Texas know only too well, the Church of Football is the biggest religious outfit in the country, demanding total unquestioning allegiance from its tens of millions of followers, and is practically the state religion down here. Andrew Sullivan nails it:
Does anyone not see the extraordinary ironies and parallels here? Yes, this is a classic "father" figure, like a priest or bishop or Pope. The man is even called "Paterno". And what Paterno did is what the current Pontiff did when he was an archbishop in Munich, where he was told of a priest under his jurisdiction who had raped children. He didn't alert the police; he merely sent the rapist on to a psychiatrist and the man went on to rape many more children. And we might as well face it: college football is a kind of religion for many. Challenging the Pope of Penn State was unthinkable.

I regard the current actual Pope as an accessory to child-rape, as I do Paterno. But their paternal authority within religious institutions allowed them to carry on. And this is another thing one can say about this profoundly fucked-up culture of abuse: once condoned or treated lightly, the abuses often get worse and worse. I am not surprised that prescient Mark Madden is now hearing rumors that Sandusky was "pimping out young boys to rich donors." Pedophiles find each other.

All they need is for good people to look the other way. And a cult of authority that never challenges the father figure.
The actual grand jury report, with all its shocking details, is here. And there's this note in the Washington Blade today from a gay Penn State alum who is still involved with the campus LGBT center:
Surveying the faces of the Penn State scandal — Sandusky, Paterno, Spanier, coach Mike McQueary, athletic director Tim Curley, vice president Gary Schultz — all are straight men. This scandal isn’t about gay men; it’s about greed and a culture that prized money over doing the right thing. . . .

But the scandal raises deeper questions about our society. There’s been much indignation expressed about then-graduate assistant McQueary’s actions. He witnessed Sandusky raping a 10-year-old boy in the showers yet reportedly did nothing. Commentators and bloggers have insisted they would have intervened. Maybe. Or maybe not.

Last month, a two-year-old toddler was struck by two vans on a busy street in China. Eighteen pedestrians and cyclists passed by the child, who later died, before someone finally stopped to help.

That incident — and the Sandusky scandal — reminds me of a lecture I attended while at Penn State. My political science professor was talking about nationalism and the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. It was a frigid February morning and just before class started, she walked to the back of the room and opened a window. As she spoke, the classroom grew colder and colder and students began donning coats and hats. As the professor talked about the circumstances under which societies turn to nationalism and xenophobia, student after student expressed their doubt and indignation — “That could never happen in the United States.” Finally, when the cold became too much even for the professor, she said, “How can you be sure you would stand up to the government and its weapons and tanks, when none of you even had the nerve to ask me to close the window?”

It’s a lesson that rings tragically relevant today. Were senior officials afraid to call police because they wanted to protect the lucrative revenue stream provided by the football team? Were custodial staff who reportedly witnessed Sandusky’s crimes deterred from reporting him out of fear for their jobs? It’s comforting to think we’d all have helped that 10-year-old boy, but an entire network of adults failed him. And so many others.

What I Say:  Unless you've been traveling with your eyes shut, once you pass the 50 mark, long observation makes a lot of things plain. And the truth is, people are not by default naturally wise, or kind, or just. The default, my friends, is ignorance, cruelty, and selfishness. The virtues require long training, and much practice.

The unexamined life is not worth living.  --Socrates.


Davis said...

Well put, Russ. It's so easy to pretend we are by nature decent. It takes work.

Russ Manley said...

Yes, and the contrary view is the Big Lie that people are too blind to see in this day and age.

Davis said...

Willful blindness, like willful ignorance, abounds in today's America.

God will not be mocked, however.

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