I have been thinking some more about the Penn State case, and why McQueary and Paterno did what they did. And I have come to the conclusion that most commentators are overlooking a rather obvious contributing factor: they liked Sandusky.
The authoritarian "leader" identifies with the powerful, not the victim, so her first impulse is to protect them from loss of power. Authoritarian relationships are based on power, not on emotional ties, but such naked wielding of power is socially unacceptable, so the authoritarian leader cloaks his use of force with emotional words. It makes no sense at all to talk of liking Sandusky. Anyone who liked him before they caught him raping a child would certainly not like him after. Certain personal qualities, such as the need to rape children, are definitely a relationship-killer. Empathy for the victim and fear of violation would destroy any empathy for the rapist. But that would assume that one is capable of empathy, of feeling what others feel.
McQueary grew up in State College; his family was friends with Sandusky, and of course, Sandusky had coached him. Paterno had worked with Sandusky closely for years. And if you think about what you would have done in a situation where you caught someone you love and respect in that position, is it really so obvious, as the chest thumping punditariat proclaims, that you would have leaped into the shower, beaten the snot out of him, and frog marched him to the police station after you rescued the kid? Really? You'd have done that to your father, your favorite uncle, your best friend, a beloved mentor?On a trivial level, McArdle's writing is offensively hackneyed. On a more important level it is just offensive. Yes, we would turn over a rapist we knew to the police. Rapists are dangerous. They rape people. Rape is a very bad thing that hurts people terribly. But this must be spelled out to authoritarians, since rape is partially a crime of power, and they get all confused about whether or not a crime of power is wrong.
It is chest-thumping to say we would get the rapist away from the child he is currently raping and call the police. No frogs would need to be marched, no rapists would need to be beaten. (He could easily be shoved and knocked down). A few steps, grab the kid, wipe your hand on your shirt, pull out your phone and call the cops while getting a towel for the kid. The fact that McArdle creates an imaginary situation to make stopping the rape much more difficult and less attractive is utterly astonishing. People will do terrible things while defending power, as the entire Penn State case shows. But because they are protecting the rapists' enablers and the bankers' thefts and the industrialists' polluting, they must go through a complicated process of denial, which McArdle helpfully outlines below.
Think about what that really entails: overcoming all the shock and horror, the defensive mechanisms that make you question what you're really seeing.This case is so striking to us all because it is, for once, utterly clear what should have been done: stop the rape and the rapist. Nobody needs to search his soul, despite the genuinely shocking nature of the sight. There was no visual ambiguity, no question of what one was seeing, which is not always the case. The rapist was caught in the act. A defense mechanism is to protect one's self; the only question is what McArdle would be protecting herself from.
The total destruction of a long relationship as soon as you name it out loud and accuse him to his face.
The (private) act would not do that? Only the public act of turning the rapist over to the police?
The actual physical logistics of grabbing a naked sixty year old man, detaching him from that child, and then pounding on him for a while as a ten year old you don't know watches.
Strawman. But the words "you don't know" are extraordinarily important and show up again in the comments, where McArdle and a commenter have the following exchange.
eannie 2 hours agoStatements like these should bar people from public life but of course they will not. McArdle has no idea of how repulsive her sentiments are because she has no idea that it is genuinely possible to care about what happens to people we don't know. Empathy for anyone outside of her small circle of family, friends and acquaintances is impossible for her. She does not care if anyone suffers or is even killed by the policies she is paid to push.
What if it was your kid in the shower being raped by Sandusky? It has nothing to do with beating up on Sandusky, it only had to do with rescuing the child . He might have stopped a stranger from beating a dog, but he couldn't overcome the bonds of friendship and loyalty to rescue a little boy? Maybe so.
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McMegan 1 hour ago in reply to eannie
Oh, I'm quite sure that he would have stopped Sandusky from molesting a boy he knew well. In-group/out-group distinctions are an unfortunate feature of human existance. Saying "Well, only bad, authoritarian cultures like Catholic priests/football programs" is itself manifesting exactly the thinking that made McQueary's cowardice possible.
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Snug and smug in her in-group, McArdle declares that building a society based on a hierarchy of power and maintaining power by persecuting those outside the power group is just structural, just something that everyone has to put up with because that's the way things are done. Then McArdle gets in a kick at the critics of authoritarianism, since the silly-headed muggins don't recognize the necessity of obedience to power and scapegoating the powerless. Finally, McArdle goes out in a blaze of glory by claiming that those who denounce authoritarian power structures and their abuses are abetting authoritarian power structures and their abuses.
My god, this woman is worth every penny. She has raised power-worship and naked manipulation to a fine art; her prose gushes forth with an endless stream of Randian invective and moral degeneration. She is Aphrodite, born on a wave of propaganda, who gave herself to the god of war and gave birth to moral monsters such as this post.
The fact that the minute you go to the police, you will have utterly ruined this man's life: he will be jobless, friendless, and branded as the worst sort of pervert by everyone in the country--oh, and also, in protective custody so that the other inmates in jail don't, like, kill him.Have empathy for the rapist, not the little boy.
That's a pretty huge emotional hurdle to leap in the ten seconds or so that McQueary had to do the right thing. Isn't it quite understandable that your instinct might be to get away? To look for some way that didn't have to involve jail? Wouldn't it be a huge relief to tell your superiors and let someone else take care of it?She still hasn't mentioned the naked raped kid standing there. McArdle quotes Andrew Sullivan, who emphatically states that he would help the child, but she finds his attitude "blithe." McArdle asks, what about the Jews, huh? You think you'd rescue them but most people didn't out of fear and conformity. So there!
Oh, well, that's an extreme example, you may say; McQueary was at no risk of life and limb. Fair enough, but one can name dozens of less dangerous situations where only a small minority actually does the right thing, but everyone believes that they woulda. Consider, for example, child abuse (sexual or otherwise) in families. How often is the offender actually reported to the police, and how often do the families simply keep the kids away from Grandpa because, well, you know. I'm sure at some level they worry about other kids Grandpa might be touching--but they also worry about what would happen to Grandpa in jail, and the rest of his family in the court of public opinion.
For an authoritarian, what you say is much more important that what you do behind closed doors. The group will still accept you as long as you bow to their power and live by their rules, within their parameters of what is and isn't acceptable. McArdle reminds her tribe of this fact--it's okay to act immorally because everyone does it; that is, the group says it's okay.
When you find out that someone you know is a pedophile, that doesn't erase your knowledge that they're also a human being. It does in the public mind, of course, but it's very different when you know them.No--and I cannot emphasize this enough--it isn't.
We are evolved to live in small groups, with very deep loyalty to the other members. In most situations, this is in fact a completely laudable sentiment. But this is the dark side: it is very hard for us to betray the members of those small groups to which we belong, particularly if we have strong emotional bonds to that person.
All attention is concentrated on obeying the power structure, conserving it and maintaining it. The powerful is the group. The little boy is not and betraying him is irrelevant.
Sigh. Let's get this over with.
There is a scientific name for people who are not bound by these sorts of ties: sociopaths.
And as I understand it, they do not, in fact, make excellent agents of justice, because they don't care about the victims, either.
Indeed they don't. McArdle spends another two paragraphs reminding her readers of their place in the greater order and justifying letting a rapist go because he's a friend but she obviously recognizes the difficulty of the task and so goes for the audience's jugular, using an argument that she know will work because it has worked for her.
Can you really be so sure that you'd have stepped in right then? Can you honestly say that you've never cut slack for people you like and respect, and maybe people who also happen to have some impact on your career? You've never kept silent while they were doing something that you were pretty sure was really wrong? I'm not talking about looting the company coffers or molesting children, necessarily--maybe it's the friend who cheated on his wife, or the one who's occasionally rather nasty to his children, or I don't know, a political administration who you like but who also does some stuff that is really pretty bad. If you have found yourself making excuses to let them--or yourself--slide, then you know basically how McQueary felt.McArdle does not understand that some people make moral decisions based on their own values, not the values given to them by the elite authority. Here is true moral relativity, since morals are not absolute and are not based on a person's personality and core values. They are based on whatever the authoritarian leaders want their followers to think and feel, whatever will benefit those leaders.
That doesn't excuse what McQueary did. His reaction may be common, but it was still wrong.
Public obeisance to the (fake) standards of the group duly noted.
And we encourage others to do the right thing by forcefully declaring what that right thing is, and shaming those who fail to live up to even a very difficult standard.You don't have to do it as long as you agree to say it and force everyone else to say it as well.
But categorizing his act as depraved and incomprehensible is unhelpful. It's unfortunately normal, and entirely comprehensible. Saying otherwise allows us to write off what happened at Penn State to evil people, or a "culture" full of nasty, macho football lovers. It allows us to avoid confronting the real problem, which is that people are evolved to form intense bonds that often trump more abstract principles . . . and also, to be very good at coming up with excuses for not doing what they should at great personal cost to themselves.McArdle's specialty is taking concrete situations, muddying them up, and declaring the entire situation is too abstract to understand or act upon.
Of course, that's not neat and convenient: we don't get to think that the problem is localized to far off people who are nothing like our wonderful friends and relations. But I think it's perhaps more likely to help us prevent such happenings in our own backyard.Of course it will abet such happenings, but that's the whole point of McArdle's post, isn't it.
Remember, it's not about McArdle, it's about the attitudes and beliefs that have been ingrained in her and millions of other people. But their words are useless before the truth, which is why they work so hard to hide and deny it.