One of my sons wrote me in reply to my post about Penn State. Here is most of his email and my reply.
Had some spare time and was reading your blog. find the comments thing to be a pain so I figured I’d just respond to you directly…read your post about Sandusky and found it pretty much to be on the mark but one thing I am curious about. Part of the reason everyone is upset is because raping kids is wrong. It also feels wrong, in the way that makes us hate the perpetrator, much more than a bank robber or a murderer or even a frat guy that “date” rapes girls.
But a lot of the moral outrage seems to be reserved for this guy McQueary, who clearly seems to not have done enough. He knew about a severe injustice and did next to nothing, or at least not enough, about it. It seems that if me or you or anybody I know or want to know walked in on that type of thing that they would stop it, tell the cops, and tell the media. Who gives a shit about football?
The thing seems to be that maybe this guy McQueary fulfilled his legal obligation (maybe) but certainly not his moral one. And all of us, atheist or Christian or Jew or whatever, have to agree that there are morals or there doesn’t seem to be much point left in this life.
There is a problem though. Outside from the gut-wrenching disgust one feels when hearing about little boys being raped, the fact of the matter is that they were helpless, and people like McQueary knew about it, and did nothing to stop it. And perhaps by that standard, we are all failing miserably.
I can think of a dozen real life examples, but here is one. Certain people in prison get raped. It is almost certain that large numbers of these people are innocent of the crime they are in prison for, and much larger numbers of them certainly do not deserved to be raped. And by any standard, they are helpless. Just as helpless as those little kids. The word helpless literally meaning not able to help oneself. There is no relativity to the word. And yet where is our moral outrage? Where is our indignity? It is not a political issue. I have lost much of my taste for political labels, although it seems only a bleeding heart liberal would be working for prison reform. And I don’t feel like doing it, and I’m sure you don’t either.
It is easy to say that perhaps had we been the ones to walk in on child rape that we would have stopped it. It is harder to accept that perhaps much of humanity is on the moral low ground much of the time. Certainly an argument can be made for as how the two situations I described are not even close to equal, and maybe the argument would be somewhat valid. But arguments to get out of a moral obligation are the kind that lawyers, and politicians, and football coaches, and child molesters, and the people who cover up for them make. Perhaps it would be better to accept that we are failing, and do something about it.
Anyways, I think you get my point. Feel free to use it on your blog. Just trying to use that philosophy degree a little bit.
Well, there you go, I had showed him RAoP but didn’t realize he was reading it on a regular basis. Since he wrote me, I wrote him back. Here’s my reply.
A couple of thoughts.
Yes, the weak and helpless in a prison are a very vulnerable population. It is a very sad commentary on our “correctional” system that people, guilty or not, are at risk of being sexually assaulted in prison. I don’t know what to do about it, but it is clearly any evil thing. They are comparable to the extent that if people with power know about it they should be morally obligated to act to prevent/stop it. There’s no morally defensible viewpoint that justifies leaving people to be assaulted just because they have been convicted of a crime that includes jail time as a punishment.
McQueary was by no means the only person that knew about this. He is just one that we know about. This is at the heart of the crucifixion story. Innocence condemned because of the failure of supposedly righteous people to act on their moral beliefs. Most of the time I think we are just monkeys that have learned to use tools.
Any abuse of power in human relations, small or large, is an issue of morality. How we confront both ourselves and others in those situations is the true measure of who we are.
Your thoughts on this are welcome, too. I will post any thoughtful insights I get on this subject for all 10 of you to read.