The Penn State Child Sex Abuse Scandal & the Desperation of David Brooks
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Nov 18, 2011 at 05:04:14 PM EST
Neoconservative New York Times columnist David Brooks recently illuminated an important dimension of the neo-conservative alliance with the Religious Right.  His column about the Penn State sex abuse scandal suggests a gnawing sense of desperation in light of a certain bitter truth: The same lack of accountability and abuse of authority in the Catholic Church exposed by the priest sex abuse scandal is also being exposed in the iconic football program at Penn State, and it is natural and inevitable to make this comparison.  This bodes poorly for the neocons and their Religious Right allies.

Therefore Brooks, in his desperation, wants to direct our attention elsewhere.

Brooks claims, without any evidence to justify his hyperbole, that "a zillion commentators" have engaged in "vanity" because they are outraged about the alleged child rape, serial sex abuse and cover-up at Penn State.  He claimed, again with no specifics, that this mass "indignation is based on the assumption that if they had been in Joe Paterno's shoes, or assistant coach Mike McQueary's shoes, they would have behaved better.  They would have taken action and stopped any sexual assaults."

"Unfortunately," Brooks continued, "none of us can safely make that assumption.  Over the course of history -- during the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide or the street beatings that happen in American neighborhoods -- the same pattern has emerged. Many people do not intervene. Very often they see but they don't see."

Its certainly true that people often turn a blind eye to atrocities large and small.  And Brooks goes on to cite social science research that seeks to explain such phenomena.  But he uses these findings to broad-brush all media outrage about the Penn State scandal as therefore inherently "naive."

But really now.  

Is Brooks actually outraged because media commentators are outraged? Me thinks he doth protest too much.  There is something else going on here that I think throws open a window onto what Brooks does not want us to see:  How society has responded to the child sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church is a far more relevant analogy to the Penn State situation than the world's inaction in response to the genocide in Rwanda.   The widespread sex abuse and child rape by Catholic priests and the cover-ups by the hierarchy is one of the great moral scandals in the Western world in recent decades.  One consequence is that this situation has made it difficult for the Catholic neo-conservatives who have politically aligned themselves with the Religious Right to wield the moral authority of a Church engulfed in an historic meltdown from which it may never recover.  (Even if the Church somehow manages to regain its footing on economic justice, it may already be too late.)  The emphasis on authority, obedience, and orthodoxy emphasized by the Catholic Right and neo-conservatism as the foundation of society is undermined when the moral authority of foundational institutions are so seriously undermined that few are able to take them seriously.  

Even Brooks' diversionary army of strawmen cannot decouple the child sex abuse scandals at Penn State and in the Catholic Church.  People generally, even Brooks' most loyal  readers can see that the real issue remains the permission these institutions and their leaders gave themselves to tolerate heinous crimes.  That being so, Brooks not only attempts to divert our attention from the crimes, the criminals, and the institutions that gave them succor.   He tries to shift the blame, and in so doing waxes nostalgic for moral systems of centuries past including -- I kid you not -- the Puritans!

In centuries past, people built moral systems that acknowledged this weakness. These systems emphasized our sinfulness.  They reminded people of the evil within themselves. Life was seen as an inner struggle against the selfish forces inside. These vocabularies made people aware of how their weaknesses manifested themselves and how to exercise discipline over them.  These systems gave people categories with which to process savagery and scripts to follow when they confronted it. They helped people make moral judgments and hold people responsible amidst our frailties.

But we're not Puritans anymore.  We live in a society oriented around our inner wonderfulness. So when something atrocious happens, people look for some artificial, outside force that must have caused it -- like the culture of college football, or some other favorite bogey.  People look for laws that can be changed so it never happens again.

And there you have it.  The real problem is the hippies who have led us all to think that some "outside force... like the culture of college football or some other favorite bogey" is to blame, and not our inner darkness, the inevitability of our fallen nature that needs to be restrained by ancient moral codes and institutions that know better than the rest of us (  certainly better than the hippies on TV.) Therefore, according to Brooks, those of us who look to change the laws so that they are less likely to be evaded and more likely to be enforced against child rapists and their enablers are "naive" and indulging our "inner wonderfulness."  

This is a dimension of the so-called culture war that merits more and not less attention.   The conservative, authoritarian culture of elements of the Catholic Church and of college sports stands exposed as so protective of their own power and prerogatives, that that they will tolerate and protect one of their own against accountability for sex crimes against children whose care has been entrusted to them.  There is hardly a better expression of illegitimate power and authority than the ability of certain elites to hold themselves above and exempt from the moral standards and the laws that apply to the rest of us.  

A better analogy than a bunch of irresponsible hippies is the current incidence of sexual assault in the US military. One in every three women is assaulted among personnel serving overseas. Violent culture, none more authoritarian or hierarchical. To report an assault is career suicide for the victim.

by arachne646 on Sun Nov 20, 2011 at 05:37:35 PM EST

"There is hardly a better expression of illegitimate power and authority than the ability of certain elites to hold themselves above and exempt from the moral standards and the laws that apply to the rest of us." Indeed. IMO anyone caught raping a child should be put in a room full of fathers for a few minutes before being sent off to serve a life sentence.

Sadly the spectre of organized child rape by the power elite (politicians on capital hill--who are photographed in the act to control how they vote, wealthy businessmen and even some church leaders) appears to be an ongoing process which is briefly exposed every now and then before being covered up 'till the next time.

The Franklin Coverup was AFAIK the previous time this evil was exposed:

Conspiracy of Silence 2007 (with additonal John De Camp excerpt)

The late Ted Gunderson claimed that his post-career investigations revealed the existence of elite-run child kidnap and rape rings going back to the early 1960's.

The golden rule...

by MIJ6VI on Fri Nov 18, 2011 at 06:31:06 PM EST

please don't post them here, they aren't welcome...

"I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair" - JFK, Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association
by hardindr on Fri Nov 18, 2011 at 08:15:03 PM EST
Coincidence theorists see conspiracy theorists behind every scrap of info which doesn't fit into their worldview.

The Franklin Coverup was real (look it up and/or watch the video and learn something you don't already know) and John De Camp's extensive credentials disqualify him from being any sort of 'theorist'. Ditto for Ted Gunderson R.I.P.

Also it is unlikely that the Washington Times ran this related front page piece without some serious fact checking:

Consiracy of Silence video, Child sex ring that reached Bush Sr's Whitehouse. Cover up. : Indybay via @addthis

by MIJ6VI on Sat Nov 19, 2011 at 03:37:24 AM EST

...why did two grand juries ruled the allegations to be false?

by LupusGreywalker on Sat Nov 19, 2011 at 06:32:01 PM EST

save us a lot of time and don't bother commenting here if you are going to only offer up conspiracy theories that are (in my opinion) defamatory.  Please take them elsewhere.

"I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair" - JFK, Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association
by hardindr on Sun Nov 20, 2011 at 11:00:32 AM EST

He has promoted the claim that the US government has obtained 30,000 guillotines, stashed at prison camps around the US, ready for a mass beheading of Obama Administration opponents.

by Bruce Wilson on Sun Nov 20, 2011 at 09:46:30 PM EST

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