In his thoughtful column for the November 9 Seattle Times, Steve Kelley suggested what only a few other commentators have: that Joe Paterno was aware, by no later than 1999, of Jerry Sandusky’s crimes…yet allowed them to continue. At any rate, it’s clear that Paterno and many others in the Penn State chain of command were aware by no later than 2002 that there was something seriously amiss. And yet it was swept under the rug. The mind boggles. But, really, ought it?
Does anybody think that if these sorts of crimes can be committed in the Penn State football program — the very embodiment of virtue — that they can’t/aren’t/won’t be happening in other programs of similar stature? So long as the games go on, so long as we may continue to receive our Saturday fix, we shall choose to remain blissfully in ignorance.
Don’t believe it? Here’s the reaction in Happy Valley — the community in which contrition should have been the strongest — to Paterno’s dismissal:
After the firings, thousands of students descended on the administration building, shouting, “We want Joe back!” then headed downtown to Beaver Avenue. The mood there was boisterous but not angry — almost all the students were decked out in Penn State gear.
Beyond football, are Sandusky’s actions worse than those of the perpetrators and enablers of Abu Ghraib — about which nobody remembers, even though abuses of this nature are still ongoing in Imperial (read: U.S.-run and -sponsored) gulags the world over, the punishing of a few so-called “bad apples” notwithstanding? (See related post, from April of 2004.)
Are Sandusky’s victims more emotionally scarred than are the victims (i.e., the entire populations) of our sickeningly violent blood-lettings in Iraq, Afghanistan, and (by proxy) Palestine — to name just a very few of the latest sites which have been visited with (what ought to be) utterly shocking horror at the hands of the American War Machine (and by extension any who, by consenting to pay their taxes, enable it)? Not only are we not shocked by the ongoing horrors, not only do our lives continue as though the horrors weren’t ongoing, we revel in them, glorify them when they’re at their very height. We allow them to occur time and time and time again.
Each and every day, 30,000 children are killed by starvation and poverty-related diseases; the World’s children are suffering poverty largely owing to austerity measures imposed by the World Bank and IMF:
Today I resigned from the staff of the International Monetary Fund after over 12 years, and after 1,000 days of official Fund work in the field, hawking your medicine and your bag of tricks to governments and to peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean and Africa. To me, resignation is a priceless liberation, for with it I have taken the first big step to that place where I may hope to wash my hands of what in my mind’s eye is the blood of millions of poor and starving peoples. Mr. Camdessus, the blood is so much, you know, it runs in rivers. It dries up too; it cakes all over me; sometimes I feel that there is not enough soap in the whole world to cleanse me from the things that I did do in your name and in the name of your predecessors, and under your official seal.
The media silence is deafening. Our silence is our tacit approval.
There are countless examples of daily injustices of varying magnitude — from the household, to the municipality, to big time athletics, to international affairs. How can we allow them to happen? Uncovered, how can we allow them to continue?
The problem isn’t “bad apples” run amok. It’s power itself. For the granting of power is a license to abuse power — and not a one of us is above corruption, nor knows whether we would have the courage to blow the whistle were we witness to abuse.
This is, apparently, human nature — as is, apparently, the ability to turn a blind eye to atrocities committed in one’s own name and yet retain the audacity to look oneself in the mirror, go to sleep at night, keep hold of one’s sanity.
Moreover, even if individuals were incorruptible, the nature of our societies’ current institutional framework ensures injustice everywhere we turn. Just a few quick examples off the top of the head.
- Capitalism is by definition a means to exploit workers’ labor.
- Blacks and Latinos are imprisoned at rates far beyond Whites’.
- The first Gulf War and the economic sanctions which followed were carried out under the auspices of the United Nations; yet was an injustice of such immensity (considered genocidal by those most in position to know) as to make the utterly shocking Penn State revelations appear utterly trivial by comparison.
The number of examples of injustice delivered at the hands of institutions working as they were designed to work is more less unlimited. The magnitude of institutional injustice undoubtedly far outweighs the magnitude of lawless, or scandalous, injustice…and that’s without even getting into injustices perpetrated against the non-human inhabitants of our blue marble.
In his column, Kelley lays blame in the Penn State case upon the “actions of one evil man and the inactions of so many others.” But Sandusky isn’t “evil” — he’s sick. And how could he not be? How could any individual be anything but a mirror of our sick fucking society? Sandusky’s sickness happened to manifest in the manner that it did. Placed in a position of power, he was enabled to act upon it.
Does anybody really believe that Sandusky wanted to be saddled with his terrible compulsion? That he enjoys it? That he has not been horribly scarred by it? That he believes his victims found their experiences pleasurable, and/or that they will someday find them to have been beneficial? Of course we don’t.
And if we don’t, we need to acknowledge that Sandusky had no choice but to commit these heinous acts. No doubt some individuals, when afflicted with his same compulsion, are able to resist. Others, surely, are able to use counseling to overcome their compulsion. They’re the lucky ones (although probably still miserable). Sandusky, and “so many others”, have been biologically unable to circumvent their compulsions — for had they been able to, they would have chosen different paths. That’s as obvious as the sky is blue.
The crimes of, e.g., Jerry Sandusky and Lynndie England, are symptoms. We may apply some ointment to the open wounds: Jerry Sandusky may go to jail; Joe Paterno has been shown the door. The teevee cameras will soon enough evaporate; on to the next one. But that isn’t “justice”: the crimes can’t be undone, and the punishments won’t prevent future crimes of similar nature taking place.
Whatever admixture of lived experience — upbringing, geography, media, dumb genetic luck, who-knows-what-else — causes one person to reflect societal ills by becoming a pedophile, another by “going postal”, another by designing high-tech weapons systems, another simply by purchasing sweatshop-made clothing — is beyond the limits of our comprehension. But merely punishing wrong-doers and sanctimoniously decrying their actions is, apart from the hypocrisy, as pointless in real life as it would be in the case of the proverbial frog-stinging scorpion.
The addressing of symptoms will not affect cause. Without removal of cause, new symptoms will continue to occur over and over again. This has been so since long before the first slave was ever enchained, or the first “blasphemer” was ever stoned to death. If we don’t change, it’ll continue to be so long after the firing off of the last missile announces the sunset of the American Empire.
It’s kinda fucked, but it’s what we’re up against. And there’s nothing to be gained in the righteously indignant pointing of fingers. We must be willing to rethink the fundamental nature of our societies: authority, institutions, the state, property (as in, it’s theft).
Naive? Fine. But until we’re willing to consider a fundamental societal reorganisation — a polity not founded upon violence and coercion — Renault-esque outrage at the latest abuse of power du jour to burn up the airwaves is nothing more than wheel-spinning hypocrisy.