I promised not to blog about Mike McQueary any more, and I won’t. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t point you to someone else’s post on the subject. I’m pointing….
11B40 asked a good question, which is why I’m so focused on McQueary, when it was Sandusky who committed the crime. It’s because I have no fellow feeling with Sandusky who, if the allegations are true, is a perverted monster. I therefore don’t need to analyze my behavior or parenting decisions with regard to his conduct. McQueary, however, is Everyman. Each of us could be in his shoes.
McQueary’s response to a horrible, unexpected situation wasn’t perverse or illegal. Instead, it was just the lowest common denominator of acceptable behavior that an ordinary human could commit. I have within me the capacity to do exactly what he did — but I want to be better than that. That’s why I’m also hammering away at columnists who explain what he did, not just to offer explanations, but also to excuse his conduct. Like them, like all of us, I could be McQueary, but I don’t want to be McQueary.
Perhaps my obsession with this is also because I’m a parent in a morally challenging world, attempting to give my children moral lessons. That hit home yesterday. As I hadn’t quite made it back to the house when my 12-year-old son got home from school, he called me, his voice trembling with unshed tears. “Mom, I have to tell you this. I need to confess. There was this old guy handing out little pocket Bibles at school [actually, next to the school, on non-school land]. Then, on the school bus home, one of the kids had candy and I wanted the candy and the kid said he’d give me the candy if I ripped up the Bible — and I did. Another boy threw a bunch of Bibles out the window. I’m so sorry. I know what I did was wrong and I just had to tell you.”
When I got home, my son was still very upset, partially because he knew he’d done something wrong (both destroying a book and destroying a religious symbol) and partially because he was worried about getting expelled from school. Without actually meaning to, I made him even more upset. On my way back home after his call, I’d already called a friend whom I knew was taking her kids to a non-denominational youth night at the local church. I figured it would be good for my son immediately to go to a place where the book of God matters. When I mentioned I’d told her, he completely broke down, sobbing hysterically. “How could you? She won’t respect me any more.” (And I can’t tell you how glad I am to know that he realized that what he did would impair his standing in the eyes of the community.)
It got worse for my little guy when I opened my email and discovered an email from a friend and neighbor who didn’t know that my son had confessed, telling me about what happened and adding that several of the children on the bus were quite upset. “Oh, no! None of the parents will respect me anymore. This is horrible. I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t mean to destroy God’s property.” More sobbing. My son wrote our neighbor an abject apology for having committed an offensive act, and she sent a gracious reply.
I wasn’t pleased with what my son did, but I wasn’t angry at him. It seemed to me that he was angry enough at himself. He knew that he’d done an irresponsible and offensive act, although he did so foolishly and entirely without malice. He also felt very keenly that what he had done might diminish him in the eyes of people he respects and whose respect he desires.
Indeed, I was quite pleased that he was upset and able to identify his own wrongdoing, rather than arrogant and dismissive. He could have gone the other route: “It’s just a book, and people who believe in it are stupid, and I should be able to rip up a book if I want, etc.” That he didn’t, that he immediately realized he’d made a mistake, was a comforting reminder that my son is a fundamentally good person, who is simply a long way from maturity. He is not, thank goodness, a punk or a sociopath. A good (not angry or accusatory) talk about decency and respect, a total media blackout for two days, and a rather pleasant evening for him at a church youth group (he wants to go back) were, to my mind, entirely sufficient responses.
What was really interesting — and here we’re back at my whole obsession with McQueary and a society that passes the back and practices moral relativism — was the response from a liberal friend of mine. Rather than acknowledging that my son had done something wrong, his ire was all focused on the old man who had handed out Bibles.
“That’s illegal.” ”
No, it’s not. He wasn’t on school property, and he wasn’t handing out anything that is illegal or that is prohibited to minors, such as drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or pornography.”
“Well, it ought to be illegal. You can’t just hand out Bibles to people.”
“Um, actually, a little thing called the First Amendment says you can.”
He was shocked.
My friend’s next challenge was that handing out a Bible to school children was entrapment.
“That man was trying to entrap children. He knew that most of them would throw it away and that boys would play with it. There’s no difference between shredding it and throwing it in the garbage can.”
My friend was unconvinced when I pointed out that (a) the fact that many children on the bus were upset shows that treating a Bible with disrespect is not a natural or appropriate act and (b) that there is a difference between respectfully disposing of an unwanted item and deliberately destroying it in public view. Intention matters. And it was because intention matters that I was upset with my son for what he did, but I was neither angry nor perturbed. His intentions weren’t blasphemous. He just wanted candy.
Because issues such as this pop up in one form or another quite often when you have parents, you can see why I think long and hard about the messages we send our kids when it comes to right and wrong, and about responsibility to individuals and to society at large.
What do you all think, whether about my parenting decisions, about my McQueary tie-in, about societal messages, or anything else this post might have brought to mind?
America’s First Sergeant put up a post that perfectly addresses my last two attempts to figure out Mike McQueary’s inaction. The first post I wrote looked at McQueary’s alleged youth, which I contrasted with the even youthier youth of a few Medal of Honor recipients who didn’t hesitate to act. The second (with lots of help from jj) examined the prevailing moral relativism that gives a pass to all conduct (except, of course, for voting conservative).
If you read A1stS’s post, which reprints portions of a speech that Colonel Barton S. Sloat gave, you will see a perfect statement about the moral compass each of us should have and that, in an unbalanced age, many are missing.
Because for me it’s always about politics, I’m going to drag poor old Newt in here for a minute. In a normal election year, I don’t think Newt, with all of his undoubted baggage, would have a snowball’s chance in Hell of winning. But 2012 won’t be a normal election year.
Past elections have seen the candidates fighting each other in the middle — a little tax more or a little less; a little more foreign aggression or a little less; a little of this and a little of that. Obama’s presidency, however, ripped America from her long-standing economic and foreign policy moorings. It also swept away the warm, fuzzy media manipulation that had prevented ordinary people from seeing the Left up close and personal. The result is that the 2012 election isn’t taking place in the middle. It will be a profound ideological war about America’s identity.
In 2012, we will not longer be talking about a tax tweak here and a battalion there, although those concrete details matter to America’s survival. Instead, we are talking about the moral space in between: Are we a country guided by a traditional morality that lives in each citizen’s heart and soul, or are we a vast government conglomeration with faceless cogs entirely controlled by bureaucratic powers?
In this heated ideological environment, will victory go to the candidate who is pretty darn conservative and whose life is a model for moderation and purity (that would be Romney, who may flip-flop, but he’s still to the right of the political divide), or does it go to the candidate who comes with more shackles attached than Marley’s ghost, but who can spell out in lively, fluid, accessible prose what we stand for as a nation?
I suspect that whether Newt or Mitt becomes president, we’ll see a situation that will be six of one and half dozen of the other in terms of governance. However, when it comes to defining us as a nation, and perhaps helping us determining how we want to fill the moral space in between, Newt may well be the 2012 candidate we need, even if we don’t always want him.
Post Script: If you want to see the vapidity the fills those spaces during evil’s off hours, check out The Mellow Jihadi on the Kardashians.
I had in my car two fourteen year olds and one thirteen year old. All were familiar with the Sandusky case, so I wasn’t exposing them to sordid information they didn’t already know. None of them, however, knew about Mike McQueary’s involvement, or lack thereof. I gave them a simple multiple choice question:
You walk into a room and see a 50 year old man raping a 10 year old boy. Do you (a) attack the man and try to drag him off the boy or (b) sneak away and, hours later, ask your parents what you should do?
The roar from the back of the car shook the windows: “I’d rip him apart!” “Of course I’d attack him!” “I’d kick him the balls!” “That’s a really dumb question.”
As the response from these very young people demonstrates, McQueary’s young age (28) is no defense to his action. Young people can and do know right from wrong, and child rape is wrong.
How to explain McQueary then? I think the problem isn’t his young age, ’cause he, at 28, was no youngster. The problem was his old age. He’d been around long enough to be fully indoctrinated. All those liberal pundits who are apologizing for McQueary’s behavior by pointing to his youth, his tribal loyalties, and his lukewarm, delayed response are hiding the ball. For liberals, the uncomfortable truth is that McQueary probably didn’t act because, after a lifetime in America’s public education system, his moral relativism training had completely erased any absolute moral standards that might once have populated his pre-academic brain.
I was starting to compose a post on just that point, when jj saved me the effort. Let me quote here his astute comment, written in response to an earlier statement I’d made about the law’s “reasonable man” standard for reacting to a situation:
The “reasonable man” standard? The trouble with that particular fairy-tale is simple, obvious, and the same as it’s always been: who gets to define “reasonable?”
I’m afraid I’ll need to take a little issue with that. Since the discovery of political correctness — which in my life first reared its head in the 1950s — the law not only expects us to conform to entirely unreasonable behavior, it requires us to, all day every day.
If you’re a rancher within reach of the Mexican border, you’re not allowed to defend your property or, come to that, yourself. You can, however, be arrested for trying to do so. “Reasonable?” You not only can’t guard your property or yourself, you’re supposed to stand quietly by and watch your country be overrun, your way of life be buried and lost, and all that you believe defecated on. “Reasonable?”
Snookie, or Pookie, or Moochie — or whatever the hell his name was — Williams was a murderer and founder of a collection of organized offal who have spread everywhere, cost society millions, and murdered a good many people. Flushing him should have been a routine, reflexive act requiring no thought whatever, carried out with the same alacrity you’d flush anything else floating in the toilet. Of course it wasn’t. We — or I should properly say “you,” California — went into full coronary angst mode to spare his worthless life. This was “reasonable?”
In Scotland not long ago the cops pulled over a speeding car. The driver’s defense was that he was a Muslim, running late getting from wife #1 to wife #2. The bewigged and ball gown-equipped jackass on the bench (and if he was a High Court jackass, he gets to wear a red ball-gown, woo-woo!) decided that this made it an excusable offense and dismissed him without a stain on his character, or even a speeding ticket — thereby putting paid to a thousand years of Anglo-Scottish law and custom. “Reasonable?” Even for a judge?
We are wound about with laws and enmeshed in requirements that are antithetical to our customs, beliefs, way of life, and the way this country was set up to be that I’m afraid I have to find the “reasonable man” standard laughable. We have our own ball-gowned jackasses making it up as they go along, and referencing Bulgarian law, or Ukrainian law, or maybe Martian law to decide what our Constitution means when it suits them — Ginsberg outstandingly — and this is “reasonable?”
Instead of shunning NAMBLA spokesmen and placing them firmly beyond society’s pale, we invite their opinions on Oprah — because after all, don’t they have a right to be heard? Dr. Phil engages them earnestly for his (large) audience of the brain-damaged, and sadly regrets that while he cannot agree, he does understand. “Reasonable?”
So here we are, scrupulously multicultural, transnational, non-judgmental, standing for nothing — and everybody’s shocked when this McQueary kid doesn’t know what the hell to do when confronted by the situation that confronted him. Everybody here turns into a militant ass-kicker, in no doubt of what we all would have done in the same situation. (And if we’d done it, Sandusky would have lodged a suit for assault against us, and, win or lose, would have f***ed up our lives forever.) “Reasonable?”
We won’t — and don’t — defend our culture and way of life. We won’t — and don’t — defend the fundamental bases on which this nation was founded. You’re surprised McQueary found himself paralyzed? Why? I’m sure he had a nice, politically-correct upbringing — I’m surprised he even reported it. Who the hell knows what constitutes “reasonable” any more?
If my sampling of three youngsters has any validity at all, it shows that 13 and 14 year olds haven’t yet been infected by moral relativism, while a 28 year old man living in a university environment is utterly incapable of distinguishing right from wrong. Let’s pray, long and hard, that we regain our cultural balance before the next generation of kids turns into ineffectual, self-doubting amoral McQuearys.
Dan Abrams, who’s some sort of ABC talking head, has weighed in about Mike McQueary. Because I’ve already flogged the topic to death in other posts, I won’t explain here why I strongly disagree with his argument that McQueary really didn’t do anything that wrong.
What intrigued me in the article was a point I’ve seen others make, but that Abrams makes with beautiful clarity (emphasis mine):
In retrospect, should McQueary have been satisfied with that? No way. Should he have done more? Yes. Could he have done more? Of course. Should he be celebrated as a hero because, as he put it, he “made sure it stopped?” No. But many have even suggested that McQueary is monstrous for having called his father for guidance before immediately reporting the incident. Is that really so hard to understand? A 28-year-old, so troubled by what he has seen in his workplace, that he calls his father for counsel?
McQueary has been described in most articles as a student (albeit a graduate student), which implies that he was very young at the time. In fact, as Abrams establishes, he was 28. Twenty-eight. Not twelve. Not ten. Not even just turned twenty-one. Ten years before witnessing his boss raping a child (and description of his boss’s activity is per McQueary’s own grand jury testimony), he’d earned as a matter of law the right to vote; to marry without parental permission; and to go off to war, with really cool weapons in his hands. Seven years earlier, he’d been given official permission to buy alcohol. He’d passed all the milestones of youth, and then some. He was not a child. By my lights, he was a man.
Now, I think it’s very nice that McQueary has a close relationship with his father. I hope to have a close relationship with my kids until the day I die. I hope, too, that they continue to see me as a source of wisdom, someone they can turn to for advice or just to kick around interesting ideas. But I also hope that, by the time my kids are 28, I will have done my parenting job sufficiently well that, if they see an older man anally raping a 10 year old child, they will intercede immediately, rather than having to sneak out of the room so that, some hours later, they can ask me for advice.
Sorry, Dan Abrams. Sorry, Mike McQueary. Mike’s “youth” is not an excuse.
And just to give you a little perspective:
Rank and Organization: Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps.
Corporal Meyer maintained security at a patrol rally point while other members of his team moved on foot with two platoons of Afghan National Army and Border Police into the village of Ganjgal for a pre-dawn meeting with village elders. Moving into the village, the patrol was ambushed by more than 50 enemy fighters firing rocket propelled grenades, mortars, and machine guns from houses and fortified positions on the slopes above. Hearing over the radio that four U.S. team members were cut off, Corporal Meyer seized the initiative. With a fellow Marine driving, Corporal Meyer took the exposed gunner’s position in a gun-truck as they drove down the steeply terraced terrain in a daring attempt to disrupt the enemy attack and locate the trapped U.S. team. Disregarding intense enemy fire now concentrated on their lone vehicle, Corporal Meyer killed a number of enemy fighters with the mounted machine guns and his rifle, some at near point blank range, as he and his driver made three solo trips into the ambush area. During the first two trips, he and his driver evacuated two dozen Afghan soldiers, many of whom were wounded. When one machine gun became inoperable, he directed a return to the rally point to switch to another gun-truck for a third trip into the ambush area where his accurate fire directly supported the remaining U.S. personnel and Afghan soldiers fighting their way out of the ambush. Despite a shrapnel wound to his arm, Corporal Meyer made two more trips into the ambush area in a third gun-truck accompanied by four other Afghan vehicles to recover more wounded Afghan soldiers and search for the missing U.S. team members. Still under heavy enemy fire, he dismounted the vehicle on the fifth trip and moved on foot to locate and recover the bodies of his team members. Corporal Meyer’s daring initiative and bold fighting spirit throughout the 6-hour battle significantly disrupted the enemy’s attack and inspired the members of the combined force to fight on. His unwavering courage and steadfast devotion to his U.S. and Afghan comrades in the face of almost certain death reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.
Rank and Organization: Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, Battle Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry,173d Airborne Brigade.
Place and date: Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, 25 October 2007. Entered service at: Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Born: 25 January 1985, Clinton, Iowa. Citation: Specialist Salvatore A. Giunta distinguished himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, on October 25, 2007. While conducting a patrol as team leader with Company B, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment, Specialist Giunta and his team were navigating through harsh terrain when they were ambushed by a well-armed and well-coordinated insurgent force. While under heavy enemy fire, Specialist Giunta immediately sprinted towards cover and engaged the enemy. Seeing that his squad leader had fallen and believing that he had been injured, Specialist Giunta exposed himself to withering enemy fire and raced towards his squad leader, helped him to cover, and administered medical aid. While administering first aid, enemy fire struck Specialist Giunta’s body armor and his secondary weapon. Without regard to the ongoing fire, Specialist Giunta engaged the enemy before prepping and throwing grenades, using the explosions for cover in order to conceal his position. Attempting to reach additional wounded fellow soldiers who were separated from the squad, Specialist Giunta and his team encountered a barrage of enemy fire that forced them to the ground. The team continued forward and upon reaching the wounded soldiers, Specialist Giunta realized that another soldier was still separated from the element. Specialist Giunta then advanced forward on his own initiative. As he crested the top of a hill, he observed two insurgents carrying away an American soldier. He immediately engaged the enemy, killing one and wounding the other. Upon reaching the wounded soldier, he began to provide medical aid, as his squad caught up and provided security. Specialist Giunta’s unwavering courage, selflessness, and decisive leadership while under extreme enemy fire were integral to his platoon’s ability to defeat an enemy ambush and recover a fellow American soldier from the enemy. Specialist Salvatore A. Giunta’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Company B, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment, and the United States Army.
Rank and Organization: Master-At-Arms Second Class (Sea, Air And Land), United States Navy
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as automatic weapons gunner for Naval Special Warfare Task Group Arabian Peninsula, in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM on 29 September 2006. As a member of a combined SEAL and Iraqi Army Sniper Overwatch Element, tasked with providing early warning and stand-off protection from a rooftop in an insurgent held sector of Ar Ramadi, Iraq, Petty Officer Monsoor distinguished himself by his exceptional bravery in the face of grave danger. In the early morning, insurgents prepared to execute a coordinated attack by reconnoitering the area around the element’s position. Element snipers thwarted the enemy’s initial attempt by eliminating two insurgents. The enemy continued to assault the element, engaging them with a rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire. As enemy activity increased, Petty Officer Monsoor took position with his machine gun between two teammates on an outcropping of the roof. While the SEALs vigilantly watched for enemy activity, an insurgent threw a hand grenade from an unseen location, which bounced off Petty Officer Monsoor’s chest and landed in front of him. Although only he could have escaped the blast, Petty Officer Monsoor chose instead to protect his teammates. Instantly and without regard for his own safety, he threw himself onto the grenade to absorb the force of the explosion with his body, saving the lives of his two teammates. By his undaunted courage, fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of certain death, Petty Officer Monsoor gallantly gave his life for his country, thereby reflecting great credit upon himself and upholding the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
I could go on, but it will just make me cry, and I assume I’ve made my point: McQueary’s age is no excuse.
I’ll say here again that I don’t know whether I would have done any better in the same situation than McQueary. I’m perfectly willing to concede that I would have fallen prey to analysis paralysis, disbelief, denial, organizational paranoia, etc. But the fact that I too might have behaved badly does not excuse McQueary, a 28 year old man, from failing to do the right and proper thing, which was to act immediately to protect a small child.
I never thought there’d come a day when I’d agree with Andrew Sullivan, but I just saw a pig fly by outside my window, so this must be the day. He and Megan McArdle have differing views about the appropriate response when you see your boss raping a child. Here’s Sullivan’s response to someone’s suggestion that it’s perfectly reasonable to be passive if you respect your boss (or if the rapist is an uncle or father or friend):
If you see anyone – even your own father – raping a ten year old in the showers, the first thing you do is stop it yourself. You don’t even call the cops right away. You clock the rapist in the head or drag the boy out of his clutches. I’m so sick of these excuses for the inexcusable. McQueary is as depraved as all the others who stood by and did nothing.
Well . . . yes.
McArdle, however, takes a more nuanced approach. According to her, we should appreciate the McQueary was looking at someone he liked and respected, and that was obviously going to temper his response:
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.
Think about what that really entails: overcoming all the shock and horror, the defensive mechanisms that make you question what you’re really seeing. The total destruction of a long relationship as soon as you name it out loud and accuse him to his face. 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. 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.
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.
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. 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.
Etc. I especially like it the way McArdle, in the last paragraph I quoted, manages to suggest that turning on someone you know, if that someone is in the act of committing a vile, immoral crime, makes you a sociopath.
I’ll concede here, solely for the sake of argument, that everything McArdle says is probably correct factually, but nothing she says excuses McQueary’s conduct. While reacting instantly when you see a man you’ve respected doing something terribly wrong may be difficult, it’s still the right thing to do. You’re not a sociopath if you uphold moral standards.
Nor are you a sociopath if you overcome your fear of doing the right and necessary thing. Can’t you just see the Marines or the Army or the Navy having a new “most people” standard? “Well, most people would run away if someone was shooting at them. Heck, they wouldn’t even hide. They’d keep running until they were in the next country. So, guys, if someone shoots at you and you run away, no worries. You get a pass.” It is to laugh!
The law does have a “reasonable man” standard, which means that people are not expected to conform to entirely unreasonable behavior. McArdle is trying to craft such a standard for McQueary. Indeed, with that sociopath reference, she’s trying to say that all reasonable men, seeing a child being raped by a figure of respect would sneak away. The problem with this is that the universal revulsion towards Sandusky’s conduct, as well as the universal condemnation towards McQueary’s response, says she’s way off base about the average/reasonable person’s response. The reasonable man, confronted with the same situation, believes that the right and moral thing to do is to rip the child rapist off the child, not to sneak out and call Daddy. To analyze McQueary’s probably fears and doubts is merely to offer reasons for his behavior that don’t rise to the level of valid excuses — and that’s true even if many of us would have the same problem in the same situation.
UPDATE: David Brooks makes precisely the same point McArdle did, which boils down to “I bet you wouldn’t have behaved any better than McQueary if you were in his shoes.” He’s also just as wrong as she was. As a society, we have to believe that each of us would have behaved better. We cannot allow McQueary’s conduct to stand as the appropriate response to witnesses a man rape a young boy. Incidentally, those of you who have children know that a 10 year old boy cannot be mistaken for an older child. A ten year old is little. He’s a boy, not a man or even a proto-man.
In order to have something reasonably approximating a moral, functional society, all of us have to believe that we would be proactive in rescuing the child, and we each have to have a mental image of ourselves acting so that, should the situation arise, we have a moral and practical template to follow. That some of us, indeed, many of us, might pull a McQueary and choke when the moment comes is NO EXCUSE.
In the wake of the horrific child abuse scandal roiling Penn State, many have been trying to understand how Sandusky’s predatory behavior could have continued unchecked for so long. The focal point of this “how could this happen” question is the fact that Mike McQueary actually witnessed an assault. Rather than rearranging Sandusky’s face, McQueary slipped out quietly, called his Daddy, and than made a chain-of-command report. As far as he was concerned, he’d then done what he needed to do. Paterno did exactly the same: chain-of-command report. And so on, up the ladder, with each person punting the problem higher, and each higher level official diluting the story so that it transformed from child rape into inappropriate behavior — and we all know that inappropriate behavior needs to be dealt with tactfully and in a way that doesn’t embarrass the institution.
So, again, we have to ask why?
Because — and this is not an idle boast — I have some of the smartest readers in the blogosphere, I can take a good stab at an answer. In an open thread about Penn State, my readers chewed over the fact that in Pennsylvania, the law allows employees who witness a crime to go up the chain of command, whereas in Texas (for example) the law requires that every person has the responsibility to report to the authorities cases of suspected child abuse. In other word, the culture is different in the two states, with one allowing people to pass the buck, and the other mandating that people take independent action.
There are already demands that Pennsylvania change its laws about reporting child abuse in order to bring them closer in line with the Texas standard. While that wouldn’t be a bad idea, it would be a small bandage over a gaping wound in the American psyche: the death of self-reliance.
Agrarian and frontier societies are, of necessity, self-reliant. (Yes, even Europeans once knew how to make do.) Right up until the 1960s, what separated America from other nations was that, until very recently in historic terms, it managed to be an amalgam of Western intellectualism and frontier self-reliance. This meant that, even as increasing population density and industrialization made it unnecessary for an American family to be almost completely self-sustaining, our Judeo-Christian heritage was sophisticated enough that we nevertheless enshrines as a virtue that personal independence.
And, by gosh, if self-reliance is the standard, those pioneers were virtuous. Here, from one of my favorite books, No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting, you can get a good thumb-nail sketch of how a family prepared to leave East Coast civilization to head for the Wild West:
Once a conveyance was determined, the woman cut and sewed the double-cloth wagon tops and sides . . . with muslin on the inside and heavy linen on the outside for extra warmth and protection . . . and attached pockets or “pouches” so that items such as knives, firearms, cooking pots, mother’s sewing and knitting basket and essential toilet articles could be tucked away safely. [Snip] Each item — all the food, tools, bedding, clothing, a veritable pharmacopoeia of medicinal roots and herbs, axle grease, spare wagon parts, furniture and so forth — was sharply scrutinized to make certain that it was critical to the survival of the family, the wagon and the animals both on the trail and for the first homestead. (p. 73.)
After the pioneers finally reached their destination (and truly, only the strong survived the journey), Dad (and sons and neighbors) began the backbreaking work of hunting and farming so as to tease food out of the land, while Mom (and daughters and neighbors) kept the home fires burning. In No Idle Hands, one can read in their own words how the children of these pioneers remembered their mothers’ accomplishments:
“Mother bore and cared for the babies, saw that the floor was white and clean, that the beds were made and cared for, the garden tended, the turkeys dressed, the deer flesh cured and the fat prepared for candles or culinary use, that the wild fruits were garnered and preserved or dried, that the spinning and knitting was done and the clothing made. She did her part in all these tasks, made nearly all the clothing and did the thousands things for us a mother only finds to do.”
Another mother, in addition to her regular routine of “water carrying, cooking, churning, sausage making, berry picking, vegetable drying, sugar and soap boiling, hominy hulling, medicine brewing, washing, nursing, weaving, sewing, straw plaiting, wool spinning, quilting, knitting, gardening and various other tasks,” found time to exchange work with other neighbors when they gathered together to spin and knit, skeining yarn for immediate use by simply winding it from hand to elbow and hanging it from her arm while she knit. (p. 87-88.)
I am not advocating a return to that level of self-reliance. My family and I would be dead within week if that were the case. I am pointing out, however, that this was normative for large chunks of America only a century and a half ago, and that, even more importantly, this level of competence became part of America’s self-image. We were the can-do generation. While the Roosevelt administration, in the 1930s, jump-started the notion of a comprehensive welfare system, the generation that scrabbled through the Depression and World War II did not succumb to the cultural inertia of the socialist state.
It took the 1960s and beyond to change us into a don’t-do culture. The “why” of that change would take a whole post (no, make that a whole book), but one can target lots of wealth, lots of youth, and a media and academic establishment that relentlessly propagandized both the virtues of socialism, while simultaneously denigrating traditional American culture and playing up the dangers of America’s home grown self-reliance ethos (“So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”).
Whatever the root causes (I can speak Marxist-speak just fine, myself) the end result is that Americans are slowly put surely slipping into the type of passivity that characterizes people living in an excessively bureaucratized, government-heavy society. Some like this. At a recent speech to financially powerful supporters, President Obama warned that, if he’s not re-elected, Americans might have to leave the comforts of government dependence and enter a dangerous era of self-reliance:
At a million-dollar San Francisco fundraiser today, President Obama warned his recession-battered supporters that if he loses the 2012 election it could herald a new, painful era of self-reliance in America.
“The one thing that we absolutely know for sure is that if we don’t work even harder than we did in 2008, then we’re going to have a government that tells the American people, ‘you are on your own,’” Obama told a crowd of 200 donors over lunch at the W Hotel.
“If you get sick, you’re on your own. If you can’t afford college, you’re on your own. If you don’t like that some corporation is polluting your air or the air that your child breathes, then you’re on your own,” he said. “That’s not the America I believe in. It’s not the America you believe in.”
Nothing could more neatly distill Obama’s hostility to the classic American dream, one that believed it was a virtue for people to make it on their own. That the reality didn’t always match this cultural image, since many failed to make it at all, while others made it with substantial government help, is irrelevant. What matters is that, for ordinary people, growing up, working, raising children, personal accomplishment was the cultural paradigm. By contrast, Obama’s American dream, the one that he desires as the overarching cultural paradigm, is one that sees people utterly dependent on the government. It’s impressive that Obama so resolutely clings to his dream, even as the Europeans actively prove that, during the waking hours, the dream is a nightmare.
As more and more people, with media and academic help, enthusiastically turn the government into their paterfamilias, and as more and more rules and regulations mandate that people abjure individual action, we get a rash of stories, culled from headlines in both England, where the dependency rot runs deep, and America. Watching people drown is getting to be an ordinary day’s work in dependency cultures. This story comes from the San Francisco Bay Area:
The Oakland Tribune (via Mercury News) reports on a tragic story of a 57-year-old man who drowned in the bay in Alameda on Monday after wading chest-high in the water fully clothed for nearly an hour before rescuers could reach him.
Witnesses told the Tribune that police and fire crews responded quickly to the scene, but because the Alameda Fire Department is not certified in land-based water rescues, they had to wait for the United States Coast Guard to arrive.
The Coast Guard reportedly responded within 20 minutes with a rescue boat, but because the man was in fairly shallow water, they had to wait for a helicopter instead. The helicopter took 65 minutes to arrive because it had been out on another mission and needed to refuel.
In the mean time, a woman in her late 20s who’s trained as a water rescue nurse, was able to pull the man out when he was about 50 yards from shore. Unfortunately, rescuers were unable to revive him, and he was later pronounced dead at Alameda Hospital.
One can argue, as a surprising number did at the time, that the guy in Alameda wanted to commit suicide, thereby justifying the fact that rescue work suddenly became a spectator sport. That’s not always the case, though. In a surprisingly similar story from England, the person wasn’t committing suicide, but rescuers again stood by, watching:
More than a dozen emergency workers refused to pull a man from a waist-deep boating lake because of ‘health and safety’ fears.
For half-an-hour charity shop worker Simon Burgess, 41, was left face down in the shallow water as they waited for a specialist rescue crew.
Mr Burgess, who had gone to the lake to feed the swans, was pronounced dead at the scene but friends claim that if rescuers had waded straight into the water he could have been saved.
The crews of two fire engines, two police cars, two ambulances and an air ambulance were told not to enter the lake, which is no more than three feet (one metre) at its deepest point, in case they ‘compromised their safety’.
That’s just two stories, right? What if I add a third, again from England?
A jobsworth ambulance boss refused to allow his staff to enter six inches of water to treat a man with a broken back – because it breached heath and safety.
Stricken Brian Bendle, 45, suffered the agonising injuries as he stood in shallow water at a leisure lake in Somerset.
He was waiting to take his £10,000 jetski out onto the water when he was hit by another rider travelling at around 50mph.
Shocked onlookers immediately ran into the lake as Mr Bendle, from Bristol, lay face down in the water.
They floated the dad-of-three in the six inch ankle-deep water, where they supported him until an ambulance arrived amid fears moving him would aggravate his back injury.
But they were stunned when a paramedic arrived and refused his pleading staff to enter the water – because they weren’t trained to deal with water rescues.
They had to slide a spinal board under him themselves and carry him to ambulancemen, who were stood on the bank just 6ft away.
At least in the story above, onlookers weren’t so shocked that they became incapable of saving the man themselves. It’s good to see that some initiative survives.
(I would be remiss at this point if I didn’t note that we here in America have a long and surprisingly honored history of an individual cavalierly walking away from a person trapped in water.)
Passively falling back on regulations when the situation demands immediate individual action isn’t just a water-related activity. Here’s a recent story about someone who watched an atrocious act, did nothing at first, and then acted in the most passive way possible. No doubt his superiors approved, as they engaged in behavior that was either just as passive or, worse, actively complicit:
[Mike] McQueary, according to his testimony in the grand jury report, witnessed Sandusky subjecting what McQueary estimated to be a 10-year-old boy to anal intercourse in the showers of a football building on campus in 2002. According to his grand jury testimony, McQueary, upset, went to his office and phoned his father, who advised him to go home, according to testimony. The next day, McQueary reported what he had seen to Paterno, according to the grand jury report. Paterno passed information that an incident of “a sexual nature” had occurred to athletic director Tim Curley and vice president of finance Gary Schultz. Curley and Schultz were charged with counts of perjury and failure to report.
I’d like to think that, had I been there, Sandusky would have received some immediate, albeit crude, facial reconstruction. I’m small, but I’m game — and a child was involved.
Looking at these few examples, I can’t help but think of another culture that allowed itself to lapse into such a bureaucratic mindset that citizens either passively watched or actively engaged in the most heinous acts. I’m thinking, of course, of the Nazis. If one subordinates people completely to the state, can one be surprised if they lose both will power and moral strength?
As many of you know, I’m an enthusiastic amateur martial artist. (If only my skills were equal to my enthusiasm….) I do martial arts because I really like it — but I also do it so that I can act. After a long hiatus to have children, and then to moan about how having children prevented me from exercising, I read a story in the papers that send me off like a rocket to the nearest dojo. Back in 2008, a man stomped his child to death in front of myriad witnesses, none of whom intervened. All of them fell prey to analysis paralysis, shock, denial (“this can’t be happening!”), etc. I’m willing to bet, though, that a fair number of them were waiting for someone else to take care of the situation. I go to martial arts so that I can be that someone else.
Fortunately, despite socialist government’s best efforts to mandate inaction (or, at least, to give people an excuse for failing to get involved), all is not lost. There will always be decent people who do get involved. As I pointed out above, in the case of the man hit by the jet ski, even though the bureaucratized aid workers refused to do anything, bystanders willingly rescued the injured man.
I doubt, too, that many of us have forgotten the story of the bridge crew that acted with incredible speed and ingenuity to rescue a drowning woman:
“They just harnessed me up and dipped me down in the water and I grabbed her and the crane drug her to the boat and that’s it,” Oglesbee said. “What are you going to do if she’s like that? It’s no big deal. The whole crew did it.”
So spoke Jason Oglesbee after being the last man in the chain that daringly rescued a woman who got swept into a dam. The story says so much about the ingenuity and courage that we like to see in the average American.
Recently, a motorcyclist trapped under a car was lucky enough to find himself in the presence of proactive people, unconstrained by analysis paralysis, government regulations, or career worries. At great risk to themselves, these people acted:
Penn State is a tocsin, warning us what happens when our cultural paradigm encourages us to pass the buck. The nation, as a whole, hasn’t yet reached the moral abyss that is the Penn State athletic department, but Barack Obama has stated clearly that his goal is to create precisely the bureaucratic, dependency culture that makes Penn State’s (and Nazi Germany) possible. This is not to say that Barack Obama and his team have as their goal mass child rape, genocide, crime waves, etc. It is to say, though, that once one creates a government system that turns people into mindless, amoral automatons, the possibilities are endless for mass evil, unconstrained by individual morals.