November 19, 2011 3:00 A.M.

No Man’s Land
Penn State’s moral adolescents

by Mark Steyn

There is a famous if apocryphal tale of a Fleet Street theater critic covering the first night of a new play in the West End of London. At the end of the evening, he went to a public telephone and dictated his review. The following morning, a furious editor called him and demanded to know why he had neglected to mention that, midway through the third act, the theater had caught fire and burned to the ground. The critic sniffily replied that it was not his business to report fires, but that, if the editor had read more carefully, he would have observed that the review included a passage noting discreetly that the critic had been unable to remain for the final scenes.

That, more or less, is the position of those Americans defending the behavior of the Penn State establishment: It would be unreasonable to expect the college-football elite to show facility with an entirely separate discipline such as pedophilia-reporting procedures, and, besides, many of those officials who were aware of Jerry Sandusky’s child-sex activities did mention it to other officials who promised to look into mentioning it to someone else.

From the grand-jury indictment:

On March 1, 2002, a Penn State graduate assistant (“graduate assistant”) who was then 28 years old, entered the locker room at the Lasch Football Building on the University Park Campus on a Friday night. . . . He saw a naked boy, Victim 2, whose age he estimated to be ten years old, with his hands up against the wall, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky. The graduate assistant was shocked but noticed that both Victim 2 and Sandusky saw him. The graduate assistant left immediately, distraught.

The graduate assistant went to his office and called his father, reporting to him what he had seen. His father told the graduate assistant to leave the building and come to his home. The graduate assistant and his father decided that the graduate assistant had to promptly report what he had seen to Coach Joe Paterno (“Paterno”), head football coach of Penn State. The next morning, a Saturday, the graduate assistant telephoned Paterno . . .

Hold it right there. “The next morning”?

Here surely is an almost too perfect snapshot of a culture that simultaneously destroys childhood and infantilizes adulthood. The “child” in this vignette ought to be the ten-year-old boy, “hands up against the wall,” but instead the “man” appropriates the child role for himself: Why, the graduate assistant is so “distraught” that he has to leave and telephone his father. He is pushing 30, an age when previous generations would have had little boys of their own. But today, confronted by a grade-schooler being sodomized before his eyes, the poor distraught child-man approaching early middle-age seeks out some fatherly advice, like one of Fred MacMurray’s “My Three Sons” might have done had he seen the boy next door swiping a can of soda pop from the lunch counter.

The graduate assistant, Mike McQueary, is now pushing 40, and is sufficiently grown up to realize that the portrait of him that emerges from the indictment is not to his credit and to attempt, privately, to modify it. “No one can imagine my thoughts or wants to be in my shoes for those 30–45 seconds,” he e-mailed a friend a few days ago. “Trust me.”

“Trust me”? Maybe the ten-year-old boy did. And then watched Mr. McQueary leave the building. Perhaps the child-man should try “imagining” the ten-year-old’s thoughts or being in his shoes. Oh, wait. He wasn’t wearing any.

Defenders of McQueary and the broader Penn State protection racket argue that “nobody knows” what he would do in similar circumstances. In a New York Times piece headlined “Let’s All Feel Superior,” David Brooks turned in an eerily perfect parody of a David Brooks column and pointed out, with much reference to Kitty Genovese et al., how “studies show” that in extreme circumstances the human brain is prone to lapse into “normalcy bias.” To be sure, many of the Internet toughs bragging that they’d have punched Sandusky’s lights out would have done no such thing. As my e-mail correspondents always put it whenever such questions arise: “Yeah, right, Steyn. Like you’d be taking a bullet. We all know you’d be wetting your little girly panties,” etc.

For the sake of argument, let us so stipulate. Nevertheless, as the Canadian blogger Kathy Shaidle wrote some years ago: “When we say ‘we don’t know what we’d do under the same circumstances,’ we make cowardice the default position.”

I quote that line in my current book, in a section on the “no man’s land” of contemporary culture. It contrasts the behavior of the men on the Titanic who (notwithstanding James Cameron’s wretched movie) went down with the ship and those of the École Polytechnique in Montreal decades later who, ordered to leave the classroom by a lone gunman, meekly did as they were told and stood passively in the corridor as he shot all the women. Even if I’m wetting my panties, it’s better to have the social norm of the Titanic and fail to live up to it than to have the social norm of the Polytechnique and sink with it.

That’s the issue at the heart of Penn State’s institutional wickedness and its many deluded defenders. In my book, I also quote the writer George Jonas back when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were revealed to be burning down the barns of Quebec separatists: With his characteristic insouciance, the prime minister Pierre Trudeau responded that, if people were so bothered by illegal barn burning by the Mounties, perhaps he would make it legal. Jonas pointed out that burning barns isn’t wrong because it’s illegal, it’s illegal because it’s wrong. A society that no longer understands that distinction is in deep trouble. To argue that a man witnessing child sex in progress has no responsibility other than to comply with procedures and report it to a colleague further up the chain of command represents a near-suicidal loss of that distinction.

A land of hyper-legalisms is not the same as a land of law. I’ve written recently about the insane proliferation of signage on America’s highways — the “Stop” sign, the “Stop Sign Ahead” sign, the red light, the sign before the red light instructing you that when the light is red you should stop here, accompanied by a smaller sign underneath with an arrow pointing to the precise point where “here” is . . . One assumes this expensive clutter is there to protect against potential liability issues. It certainly doesn’t do anything for American road safety, which is the worst in the developed world. We have three times the automobile fatality rate of the Netherlands, and at 62 in the global rankings we’re just ahead of Tajikistan and Papua New Guinea.

But that’s the least of it: When people get used to complying with micro-regulation, it’s but a small step to confusing regulatory compliance with the right thing to do — and then arguing that, in the absence of regulatory guidelines, there is no “right thing to do.”

In a hyper-legalistic culture, Penn State’s collaborators may have the law on their side. But there is no moral-liability waiver. You could hardly ask for a more poignant emblem of the hollow braggadocio of the West at twilight than the big, beefy, bulked-up shoulder pads and helmets of Penn State football, and the small stunted figures inside.

— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is the author of After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. © 2011 Mark Steyn

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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  1. Curt Stoller says:

    I agree with His Grace, regarding “East coast snobbishness” and the fall of the National Review from its former glory because of “political correctness.” I think East coast snobbishness is a species of liberal snobbishness in general. I like what Michael Novak says: “Many sophisticated people love to say that they are cynical, that ours is a cynical age. They flatter themselves: They [say that they] do not believe anything; they believe anything. Ours is an age of unbelief. It is an age of arrogant gullibility. Think how many actually believed the romances of fascism and communism. [from the Speech given by Novak at Westminster Abbey 5/5/94].

    This gullibility and naivete is morally culpable: So-called liberal intellectuals believe that unborn children are not human beings. They believe that you have your truth and I have mine. They believe that all opinions are valid no matter that they are contradictory. They believe that man’s first duty is: “thou shalt not ruffle the feathers of others.” In place of Calvinism’s extreme view of the total depravity of man, they have substituted the opposite extreme dogma of “total innocence”: I’m okay, you’re okay, everyone’s okay! La-dee-da. The idea that a human being must OBEY the truth is completely foreign to them. So is the idea of self-control. For them, the two options for human freedom are total moral license or totalitarian government control. The idea of self-control? They never heard of it! Their critical spirit is a sham. They don’t even except the Law of Contradiction. They think the truth can be judged and spun, when it is Truth that judges us and makes us human only when we obey it. They believe in a variation on a theme of the ancient Gnostics: that an Ivy League education raises them to an elite status “above good and evil.” This is Gnosticism a la Nietzsche. And to top it off, they believe their extreme gullibility to whatever intellectual fashion is passing in the wind is a superior critical attitude. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so disgusting and morally and intellectually degrading. And the result of this gullibility? The bloodiest age in human history!!!

    Pascal once remarked that what surprised him most was not that people couldn’t believe in the Gospel of Jesus but that they didn’t want to. People didn’t want Christianity to be true. Today we don’t even want to the truth to be true. We would rather wallow in the slime pit in blissful [but morally culpable] ignorance. A professor teaching a class on the Holocaust blissfully drives past an abortion mill where thousands are being killed. When Pope Pius XII said that Modernism is the synthesis of all heresies, he wasn’t kidding. Heresies don’t die, they just go underground.

  2. abyssum says:

    Petr, I agree that Natlonal Review is no longer the conservative periodical it was under William Buckley. As a Texan I am sensitive to what I describe as East Coast snobbishness. That flaw is responsible, I believe, for their frequent lapse into political correctness. Steyn, Long and Douthat are the only writers I always read.

    – Abyssum

  3. Excellent article by Steyn. The irony, though, is that I quit reading National Review and visiting its website given its pro-homosexualism in its Corner comments policy and frequently elsewhere within its site. The decadence seems so unbridled, and it is terribly, terribly depressing.

  4. Ignatius Martinus says:

    I am certain that if Mr. McQueary would have separated the boy and the pedophile by physical force, he would not have been morally wrong in doing so. And if the offender had offered any kind of resistance, McQueary should have offered resistance in turn. And if it came to blows, McQueary would have been morally excused in defending himself and the boy on the grounds of self-defense and defense of a child. And if physical force proved insufficient, then of course he could have left the scene immediately to report it to the proper authorities. Either way, and in any case, he should have reported the incident as soon as humanly possible.

    This is utterly disgusting. Disgusting, bestial, savage. There really are no words for this, in any of the tongues of the human race. Aside from the heinous and grievous sin itself, the sheer stupidity with which the act was done is almost beyond belief. In a public place, for all to see? He might as well have perpetrated the crime before the largest of crowds at Rome’s Colisseum. But I’m glad that he was stupid, for that low IQ cost him his perverted pastime, and hopefully won him many years behind iron bars. Sodom and Gomorrah, we’ve got everything on you.

  5. Curt Stoller says:

    “The greatest sin of our age is the denial of sin.” Pope Pius XII

    What if an entire society decided to pretend that sickness was an illusion? Would that society suddenly become healthier? No. The death rate would soar. When Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud and Sartre said there was no such thing as sin, the vast majority of human beings ignored them. But today these men are the evangelists of the the secular gospel for millions of people who have never even heard of them. As a variation on a theme by Karl Rahner, I think many secular people could be called “Anonymous Anti-Theists.” For completely secular people it is accepted as axiomatic that human beings are evolved apes motivated by completely normal bestial instincts and selfish genes. Everything is explainable and therefore excusable by “scientific” atheism, which has become the magisterium of secular society. Guilt is considered negative thinking. Abortion is considered family planning. It is only by the grace of God that the rape of children is still considered evil. I hope I will never live to see a time when the rape of children is considered anything but evil. Impossible for a society to sink so disgustingly low, you say? Society already considers infanticide “normal.” Wake up people!

    “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8

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