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November 16, 2011

It’s Not That David Brooks is Angry, He’s Just… Disappointed.

Do you think you know what led so many Penn State administrators to turn a blind eye to child rape?  An insular power structure, perhaps? A single-minded focus on protecting the organization no matter what the cost? An over-emphasis on, and idolatry of, college sports?

According to respected New York Times columnist David Brooks, none of those things can account for the alleged behavior. However he has found a common thread among the participants. A single commonality that explains everything:

Everyone involved was human.

So, yeah, it’s kind of your fault too.

According to Mr. Brooks, we are all full of self-deception and evasion.

How does he know?  Science!

For example, Brooks notes that some experiments have found a behavioral phenomenon known as “motivated blindness” in which people simply do not see what they don’t want to see. Kind of like when your wife makes you watch Dancing With The Stars. You just can’t believe YOU’RE WATCHING DANCING WITH THE STARS.

Sure, Mike McQueary clearly saw what was happening and even testified under oath that he saw what was happening, going so far as to tell Coach Paterno who believed him enough to alert his superiors.

But never stop a conservative when he’s on a roll condemning humanity as inherently sinful. That’s right in their wheelhouse.

Other research cited by Brooks that directly incriminates you found that people tended to talk a braver game than they would actually be willing to play, such as an experiment at Penn State in 1999 that found that while half of people claim they would speak up if someone made a sexist remark, in reality only 16% actually do.

So, what do you think, big shot?  We bet if you heard someone suggest that women can’t drive you’d probably just sit there and do nothing.

Also, women really can’t drive (but then, neither can anyone else).

And how is an offhand sexist remark really any different than witnessing the brutal rape of a little boy?  Sure, you could argue that the sexist remark reinforces a patriarchal culture in which such normative behavior corrupts any notion of women empowerment within the context of even post-modern feminism, but child rape is pretty bad, too.

And that’s not the only evidence. According to Brooks:

“In another experiment at a different school, 68 percent of students insisted they would refuse to answer if they were asked offensive questions during a job interview. But none actually objected when asked questions like, ‘Do you think it is appropriate for women to wear bras to work?’”

Answer: “No.”

Wait! Dammit. It looks like we’re no better than Mike McQueary, either.

Brooks gets to the point:

“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.”

Among those artificial outside forces: The actual perpetrators. Besides, searching for actual causes is so pedestrian. Brooks has a higher calling here.

“People look for laws that can be changed so it never happens again.”

Silly humans, looking for laws that might make it a crime to allow child rape to go unreported by responsible adults at an educational institution, or maybe putting policies in place that break up entrenched bureaucracies and the secrecy the breed.  What do they think that will accomplish?  Aside from making it less likely that such a thing will happen again, we mean.

“Commentators ruthlessly vilify all involved from the island of their own innocence.”

That innocence being based on little more than their innocence.

“Everyone gets to proudly ask: ‘How could they have let this happen?’”

How dare you question how someone could have allowed child rape to happen.  What gives you the right? Aside from not having allowed child rape to happen.

“The proper question is: How can we ourselves overcome our natural tendency to evade and self-deceive.”

If that’s the proper question, Jerry Sandusky is going to be one relieved guy.

“That was the proper question after Abu Ghraib, Madoff, the Wall Street follies and a thousand other scandals.”

Unless you were a prosecutor. Or a victim. Or, really, anyone who isn’t a respected New York Times columnist.

“But it’s a question this society has a hard time asking because the most seductive evasion is the one that leads us to deny the underside of our own nature.”

Also, we’re kind of busy trying to put criminals behind bars and looking for laws that can be changed so it never happens again. But, yeah, sure, we could also examine the larger sociological context in which we’d probably conclude, as have others over the past ten thousand years or so of civilized society, that humans often behave badly.

Which is why, instead of waxing poetic over the inherently complex nature of human beings, we put criminals behind bars and look for laws that can be changed so it never happens again.

But then, not everyone can be a respected New York Times columnist.


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November 16, 2011 at 03:49 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink


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This entire "blog post" is nothing but thinly-veiled anti-ginger hysteria. Hater.

Posted by: Michael | Nov 17, 2011 9:11:13 AM

Oh so now you're an apathy denier? So anti-science!

(Actually I think you're a little hard on Brooks, but somehow I'm just not motivated to speak up for him.)

Posted by: Amarsir | Nov 18, 2011 1:59:21 AM

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