Also Monday, Penn State acknowledged an NBC report about an email exchange between top university officials regarding accusations by assistant coach Mike McQueary that Sandusky raped another victim. Former school president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz decided that not alerting the police would be “humane” to Sandusky (from Yahoo Sports!).
You have got to be effin kidding me…”humane” to the abuser? America, meet a part of your inner self. Empathy to a grown man, a child molester, outweighed sympathy to the disadvantaged young victim(s). Penn State was the perfect storm of several ugly aspects of our culture. First, Americans practically worship celebreties, particularly sports figures, and as a result allow them to get away with all kinds of things the average citizen does not-to wit, the many, many domestic violence incidents that have been perpetrated by NFL players or famous college athletes getting at most suspended from playing for what would have been, for the average college kid, a crime with a nice stay in jail and expulsion from said college. I could go on all day with examples regarding this phenomenon.
Second, Americans love winning and hate losing. We are not, by and large, good losers. We love winning to such a degree that when a team, be it professional, collegiate, or K-12, starts to win, the coaching staff, the players, their families and the community they represent will do almost anything to help preserve that winning streak. This includes things like underfunding other programs to funnel it to the winning team, collective silence regarding potential abuses of power, and blatant cheating1. How many times have we heard of the coach that was too hard on his players and they never spoke up because they didn’t want the social stigma of ‘bringing down a winning team?’
Which brings us to the third aspect of American culture, misplaced loyalty. The average American places loyalty to these “winners” and those that enable “winners” to do what they do above loyalty to the vulnerable in our society–children (i.e., Jerry Sandusky), animals (i.e., Michael Vick), women (e.g., Randy Moss), and, yes, sometimes even the athletes themselves (here’s just one example). We all want to be winners so badly that we are loyal to them. Winners make us feel good. So we try to associate ourselves with them and dream of being them, which causes us to protect them. All of this brings us to the most important question of all. Why do we value winning so much?
The obvious answer is our competitiveness. Americans are VERY competitive and we are that way because our society has been, for most of it’s history, a meritocracy. Where anyone2 could work hard and take advantage of opportunities and in the end become successful–The American Dream, rags to riches (or at least middle class), etc. I think this competitiveness is a very positive value in our society and one we need to continue to foster. Additionally, Americans are also VERY goal oriented and practical. How could we not be? Our rapid expansion westward is the perfect example of that goal oriented attitude. However, over time that desire to succeed has overwhelmed our concern for how we get there. It’s the difference in caring about the process versus the goal. The failure in our culture to keep competition healthy is at the core of the problem here. That inability to compete in a healthy manner is a fundamental failure to understand ethics and what role they play in forging our national psyche and how that manifests itself in who we are as a nation. We have become a country that only cares about the ends and rarely the means.3
And we aren’t just dealing with child molestation phenomena that the Sandusky case illustrates. It extends into the educational system, the workplace, politics and, by extension, into the most damaging place of all, the economy. Both Chris Hayes, MSNBC journalist/host, and Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winning economist, have books out that deal with the death of our meritocracy, the American Dream and the ascendancy of a wealthy elite. The evidence that these two authors cite (and many other authors, from both the left and the right BTW) lead me to believe that our culture has basically become a type of plutocracy. We have fundamentally changed and not for the good. Success is now worshiped to such a degree that:
1) those in power worry about being humane to the perpetrator and not the victim(s)
2) that we openly scold Wall Street Bankers for gambling with our money while making it all too easy for them to gamble with our money
3) that we complain about others getting handouts from the government but have no problem at all with claiming our own handouts
4) that we blame the poor and ignorant who are targeted by predatory lenders instead of blaming the predatory lenders for targeting them and our laws which allow them to abuse them in the first place
5) that we condemn the poor for not paying income taxes4 while at the same time closing off all the various pathways to rise out of poverty and become more successful so they can have income on which to actually pay taxes.
6) that we push for more mandatory sentencing for lesser and lesser crimes that affect the average citizen while ignoring the blatant and sometimes deadly violations of law (and even the Constitution) by the powerful, famous and wealthy
7) that we refuse to allow public expression of doubt about our going to war and our methods in perpetrating a war while simultaneously refusing to fund the war and not caring about the innocent who are destroyed by the war.
We have become the Charlie Sheen of nations–Drunk5 out of our minds, constantly claiming that instead of losing we are “winning” and, in the process, blithely hurting the vulnerable, slowly killing ourselves.6
1. My family experienced this a couple of times in the last few months where a few male players in a co-ed league of 8-9 year olds were actually 11, 12 and maybe even older. One of the boys was almost twice as big as my daughter and needed to shave. The kids, the parents, the coaches and the opposing teams all knew they were too old. Our coaches contacted the league but the league said that they don’t verify with birth certificates and rely on the parents’ honesty. Well, clearly that didn’t work here. The strangest part of it to me was how happy and jubilant the parents were when they won, which was pretty much every game. No guilt, no second thoughts about ‘hey, this might be unfair’, none of that. What message does that pass on to those boys (and my daughter)? That winning is everything and what you do to win does not matter–the end justifies the means. And people wonder why Wall Street is filled with greedy sociopaths…all you have to do is go watch kids’ teams play soccer, baseball, basketball, etc on any given Saturday. That’s where those greedy little cheating f*cks are coming from…from our communities and our families. We are making these greedy, dispassionate monsters.
2. HUGE qualification here–minorities, particularly African Americans, women, the disabled, etc did not have and in many cases STILL do not have the same opportunities as white males. But enough of these disadvantaged groups were able to break through barriers and succeed in the U.S. In some countries, you NEVER see them succeed like this because there aren’t any opportunities to even get started. So, yeah, the U.S. has had the greatest improvement in social mobility for the greatest variety of people in the World. That doesn’t mean that it was/is perfect and that we didn’t/don’t have plenty of room for improvement.
3. I am just as gulity as the rest of society on this point. Sometimes my practicality can overwhelm my ethics. The reason this has been on my mind lately is the increase in drone strikes authorized by Pres. Obama. The main argument in support of the drone strikes are that they are a hell of a lot more accurate than other airborne missiles, causing much less collateral damage AND they are more efficient than sending in top secret assassination squads. The reasons against include the fact that innocents still get killed in drone strikes AND the drones could be used to target U.S. Citizens because of the supposed lack of review (I question this one, there is a review system of some kind but we don’t know much about it and that makes Americans understandably uncomfortable). So from a practical standpoint they aren’t a bad solution. That doesn’t change the ethical admonition that harm to the innocent is still being committed. The solution in the eyes of an ethicist would be, don’t do bombings, drone strikes or anything. While I understand and agree with this from an ethical point of view, the pragmatist in me says, ‘yeah but these Al Qaeda leaders are openly plotting to kill American citizens and other innocents and we need to stop them somehow’. In essence, I am torn. The key here is that I have this internal conversation with myself. The majority of Americans do not and THAT is the key to what is wrong in the U.S.
4. While also ignoring that they pay quite a lot in local, state and sales taxes…in fact, a higher percentage of their income goes to sales taxes than what the middle or upper classes pay. When you tax the sale of bread and milk, that will always hit the poor hardest.
5. Drunk on the dreams of success and fabulous wealth
6. Don’t go accusing me of not loving my country or being patriotic. Performing an intervention for a drug addled loved one is considered a loving act, so consider this my attempt at a national intervention.