Shorter Ross “I Would Do Anything For Love, But I Won’t” Douthat

by Belle Waring on November 14, 2011

The only reason Catholics like Joe Paterno and Darío Castrillón Hoyos are able to commit such uniquely awful crimes is because they are ethical in a way that run-of-the-mill godless folk cannot understand. Plus, I hereby stipulate that raping children is, admittedly, bad, mumble.

Even shorter: I don’t doubt that people whom I have just admitted committed evil acts are, in fact good, because [makes mysterious, several-part gesture with hand and wrists which magically resolves obvious contradictions.]

{ 207 comments }

1

Oliver 11.14.11 at 8:56 am

Entertaining, very unfair. Here’s Douthat’s conclusion:

“The best piece about Darío Castrillón Hoyos was written by the Catholic essayist John Zmirak, and his words apply to Joe Paterno as well. Sins committed in the name of a higher good, Zmirak wrote, can “smell and look like lilies. But they flank a coffin. Lying dead and stiff inside that box is natural Justice … what each of us owes the other in an unconditional debt.”

“No higher cause can trump that obligation — not a church, and certainly not a football program. And not even a lifetime of heroism can make up for leaving a single child alone, abandoned to evil, weeping in the dark.”

2

Andreas Moser 11.14.11 at 9:26 am

Non-Catholics rape children, too.

3

herr doktor bimler 11.14.11 at 9:35 am

Sins […] can “smell and look like lilies.
Do not send this man to the florist for a wedding bouquet.

4

Belle Waring 11.14.11 at 9:38 am

The final 2 paragraphs sound nice, and like Ross has been hanging out with the Care Bears at Castle Care-a-Lot, but they make complete nonsense of the preceding ones. Editorials with the structure:
paragraphs 1-5: p
paragraphs 6-7: not p
are deprecated.

5

herr doktor bimler 11.14.11 at 9:44 am

Sins committed in the name of a higher good, Zmirak wrote, can “smell and look like lilies.

Also I am intrigued to learn that there was a higher good motivating Paterno’s crime that might cause a casual observer or an over-subtle casuist to view “complicity in child-rape” as an admirable lily-smelling behaviour.

6

Oliver 11.14.11 at 10:23 am

“Editorials with the structure:
paragraphs 1-5: p
paragraphs 6-7: not p
are deprecated.”

I don’t see why all editorials everywhere should be in best business school memo-writing style (“Remember, kids, state your conclusion first, then the argument; your audience is too stupid to cope with anything else”).

But again, you’re mischaracterising. Here’s Douthat’s fourth paragraph:

“How did the man who displayed so much moral courage in Colombia become the cardinal who was so morally culpable in Rome?”

7

Harald Korneliussen 11.14.11 at 11:14 am

What Paterno presumably considered “the higher good”, was protecting the church’s image. But no one think that’s OK. I do not get the impression that Douthat does either.

There is a point in saying that otherwise nice people can do horrible things in defense of institutions/ideologies they belong to, and think are good. The message when you say that, isn’t that these people are really nice.

and like Ross has been hanging out with the Care Bears at Castle Care-a-Lot

You sound like a parody of a snarky blogger.

8

conchis 11.14.11 at 11:18 am

Agree with 1,5 and 6. I’m no fan of Douthat, but this seems unfair.

9

Uncle Kvetch 11.14.11 at 11:45 am

You sound like a parody of a snarky blogger.

Douthat deserves no better.

10

Malaclypse 11.14.11 at 12:00 pm

Okay, I’ll bite. When Douthat writes It was precisely because Joe Paterno had done so much good for so long that he could do the unthinkable, what, exactly, was the good Paterno accomplished? Winning a lot of games? The character-building inherent in sports?

Dude was good at his job. So are a lot of people. Most of them don’t draw the conclusion “I’m good at my job, therefore I’m an inherently good person, therefore covering up kiddie rape is okay.”

11

Patrick Nielsen Hayden 11.14.11 at 12:23 pm

I read Belle’s post and the comments so far, then I read the Douthat piece itself. Belle is right. Where Douthat goes off the rails is when he asserts that while “bad and mediocre people” sin out of mere habit and weakness, “good” and “heroic” people sin for more exalted reasons, because of “the illusion, common to those who have done important deeds, that they have higher responsibilities than the ordinary run of humankind.” There’s a small amount of truth here–people who have achieved a lot can draw on a more grandiose set of narratives when they feel the need to justify their own misdeeds. But it doesn’t make those misdeeds any better than those of people who have just muddled through life without doing anything heroic.

The trouble with Douthat’s piece is that whatever he grudgingly admits in his last couple of paragraphs, his real rhetorical payload is his earlier assertion of the existence of an elect — of the idea that some people are “bad and mediocre” while others are “good” and “heroic,” and that these qualities are independent of whether or not a particular individual was, for instance, complicit for years in enabling the rape of children. After everything we’ve learned, we’re still supposed to agree that “Joe Paterno is a good man.” I’d be willing to stipulate that Joe Paterno has some good in him if Douthat were also observing that everyone else does, too, but Douthat has already come down hard on the idea that some people are plain old “bad and mediocre” no matter what, and conversely, that some people are “good” no matter what enormities they commit.

Douthat’s real business is to make sure we remember that some people are just plain better, no matter what sins they get up to. This is always and everywhere the heart of conservatism, the idea that certain people are better just because. Once you’ve slipped that idea across you can afford to dole out some to-be-sures in your final sentences. The actual work was done several paragraphs ago.

12

Andrew F. 11.14.11 at 12:28 pm

What Douhat claims are misguided attempts to justify individual acts of evil in the name of a greater good, most of us see as skimpy rationalizations for maliciously self-interested behavior. I think it’s this contrast that Belle is putting her finger on.

And neither Paterno nor Castrillon, based on what little knowledge I have, had to display much moral courage previously in their careers (Castrillon displayed great physical courage, obviously, but that’s not quite the same thing). They displayed superior performance to the specifications of their institutional positions, derived enormous satisfaction from those positions, and ultimately were ruthless in protecting them.

13

Belle Waring 11.14.11 at 12:32 pm

You sound like a parody of a snarky blogger.
Just because Ross “I Would Do Anything For Love But I Won’t” Douthat has inexplicably gotten tenure on the NYT op-ed page doesn’t mean his “arguments” suddenly deserve particularly careful consideration. Especially when they are actually merely specious assertions. You give the shorter then, if “I assert that p and not p” is somehow unfair.
His muddled assertion, such as it is, seems to be that people that have done particularly good things are at special risk of committing heinous acts, while ordinary people move from one bad act to another, eventually (possibly) committing heinous acts. So, um.
Further, dragging in what sound to be some genuinely good acts performed by another man serves to obscure the fact that Joe Paterno did not get up from his bed at night to feed hungry children, instead he just won a lot of football games, did somewhat better than his peers when it came to the alleged “student” part of the “student athlete,” and talked a lot about making boys into men.

14

tomslee 11.14.11 at 12:58 pm

Entertaining, very unfair.

Oliver points to the parts where RD says “it’s still a crime” but the point of the piece is the silly contrast between two types of sinner:

Bad and mediocre people are tempted to sin by their own habitual weaknesses…. But good people, heroic people, are led into temptation by their very goodness.

15

Oliver 11.14.11 at 1:16 pm

I’d agree with quite a lot of what Patrick has to say, except that again his reading of Douthat is too glib:

“But good people, heroic people, are led into temptation by their very goodness — by the illusion, common to those who have done important deeds, that they have higher responsibilities than the ordinary run of humankind. It’s precisely in the service to these *supposed* [emphasis added] higher responsibilities that they often let more basic ones slip away.”

That paragraph would be every bit as offensive as Patrick says, were it not for the use of the word “supposed”. Douthat’s saying fairly plainly that “doing bad things is justified in the name of a higher calling blah blah” is an ill-founded belief.

16

Malaclypse 11.14.11 at 1:19 pm

Douthat’s real business is to make sure we remember that some people are just plain better, no matter what sins they get up to.

Patrick’s observation is a good one. Douthat’s Catholicism is a rather Calvinist, uncatholic Catholicism.

17

Harald Korneliussen 11.14.11 at 1:21 pm

I don’t have much faith in meritocracy on the op-ed pages, so agreed on the first. Same for blogs like this – I can’t think of one collaborative blog/thing that didn’t include at least one person who made me go “why on earth did they include him? (Right back to Jon Katz on Slashdot)

But as long as you give attention, I think you might as well give consideration, otherwise you’re just contributing to the noise.

I think you give Douthat an ideologically tinged uncharitable reading if you read him as saying much more than “people who do big things risk seeing themselves as justified”. Maybe that’s not terribly deep, or terribly well-argued, but neither are your attempts at snark.

18

MattF 11.14.11 at 1:21 pm

Douthat’s stuff has always gone into the ‘Inscrutable_Gentiles’ folder, but this one takes the pudding. Isn’t the Doctrine of the Elect a Protestant thingum? What am I missing?

19

Mordaunt 11.14.11 at 1:22 pm

Anatole France makes a similar point to Douhat in ‘The God’s Are Athirst’ when the young idealistic Evariste Gamelin becomes a blood crazed murderer through his enthusiasm for the ideals of the revolution. The difference is that France had the wit to realise that once a line is crossed you become a bad person whatever the inital nobility of your motives. At the end of the book there is no doubt that Evariste is a bad person. If Douhat sympathised with the Jacobins he would claim that Evariste was good irrespective of his actions and that his badness needs explaining in the context of said ‘goodness’. But surely corrupted goodness is not goodness at all?

20

tomslee 11.14.11 at 1:22 pm

Other Ross Douthats:

Bad Iraqi leaders kill Iraqis because of their own evil moustache-twirling. But good, heroic American leaders kill Iraqis because of their very wish to bring democracy to those who don’t have it.

Bad and mediocre poor black people take drugs because of their own corrupt natures (and should be punished severely). But good well-off white people in universities and boardrooms take drugs out of a sense of youthful exuberance and experimentation (and we should celebrate them).

[If this comment overreaches, I was led into it by my own natural caution.]

21

politicalfootball 11.14.11 at 1:25 pm

I was just about to quote the same bit as tomslee, but instead I’ll pull out a sentence from between the two he quotes. This is Douthat describing “bad and mediocre people” when they sin:

The earlier lies or thefts or adulteries make the next one that much easier to contemplate.

Sorry Ross, but this is exactly what Paterno and the Catholic Church did. I keep coming back to McQueary: How did he and his father know that it was necessary to cover up for Sandusky? Even if they hadn’t known Sandusky for decades and been looking the other way for years, they knew that whitewashing sin/crime on behalf of the football program was routine and necessary. They abdicated their responsibility in this instance because they had done so for years, making that abdication “easier to contemplate.”

22

bob mcmanus 11.14.11 at 1:51 pm

Is there a problem with believing there are no good or bad people, but only good or bad acts? All sides of this thread seem to take it for granted that we can, from the outside, determine motivations, states-of-minds, intentions, contingent circumstances well enough to judge people in addition to judging actions.

I am lost. Just send me to the Stanford page so I might dispel my error, and become good again.

23

Patrick Nielsen Hayden 11.14.11 at 2:05 pm

Bob McManus, #22: I don’t actually think we can establish beyond all doubt whether a particular person is fundamentally “good” or “bad”, which is why it’s wisest for those of us who aren’t God to stick to assessing acts rather than claiming to know the state of particular people’s souls. This is of course one of several reasons to dislike Douthat’s attempt to establish categories of people based on their supposed inherent qualities.

I also don’t think it’s remarkable that in casual speech people, including myself, speak as if some people really are knowably “good guys” or “bad” and so forth. Conversational speech is made up of a lot of approximations. But at the level of precision at which Douthat claims to be operating, taking such liberties is less acceptable.

“An adult” at #21: “He sees the powerful as having gained their place by merit and pities them when they’re corrupted by power. He has less pity for the rest of us.” Yes, exactly.

24

Harald Korneliussen 11.14.11 at 2:12 pm

“He sees the powerful as having gained their place by merit and pities them when they’re corrupted by power. He has less pity for the rest of us.”

Simple question: Would he agree with this description of his attitudes?

25

Salient 11.14.11 at 2:15 pm

Is there a problem with believing there are no good or bad people, but only good or bad acts?

Not really, so long as you’re willing to accept that lots of people classify ‘person who has committed a really bad act or perpetrated a really bad negligence/failure to act’ as a ‘bad person’ for shortcut reasons and won’t get on their case about it. There are only good acts and bad acts and neutral acts, and flogging people for reasonable grammatical shortcuts is a bad act. :)

(BTW, I’d agree the general idea of a ‘good person’ is suspect and at the very least far more subjective than ‘bad person’ unless we just use it to mean ‘not a bad person,’ but Douthat seems to be the only one attempting to sincerely assigni ‘good person’ status to anyone — tomslee was mocking. Also ‘bad person’ is subjective in cases where there’s disagreement or controversy between conversation participants that a remarked-upon act or failure to act was ‘bad’ or not, but presumably that concern doesn’t obtain here.)

26

norbizness 11.14.11 at 2:16 pm

Nothing gets the kids excited like Catholic essayists.

27

cian 11.14.11 at 2:23 pm

Is there a problem with believing there are no good or bad people, but only good or bad acts?

There is a practical problem in so much as it becomes difficult to describe people who repeatedly carry out bad acts. In general I tend towards “bad acts” when dealing with the relatively powerless, and “bad people” when dealing with the powerful. Not for moral reasons, but just because labelling somebody a bad person makes it harder for them to survive.

28

cian 11.14.11 at 2:25 pm

Surely for any writer there comes a point where they have so transparently demonstrated bad faith so many times, that it becomes pointless to trying to read good intentions into it. Douthat is a hack, repeatedly behaves hackishly. If there really is a reasonable point burried in that confused article, it was probably a mistake – and really, why bother trying to be fair to the man. He really doesn’t deserve the charitable reading some people are trying on this article.

29

Patrick Nielsen Hayden 11.14.11 at 2:34 pm

Actually, what’s interesting about Douthat isn’t that he’s a hack, it’s that he’s a slightly clumsy hack. His performance is just labored enough that you can see him palming the cards.

30

kth 11.14.11 at 2:43 pm

The problem with the Douthat take isn’t in his readings of Paterno and the bishop as individuals, though those reads are surely blinkered. The problem is that the institutions that Douthat considers so noble–college football and organized Christianity–are themselves of dubious value even apart from the recurrent criminality. WTF are either of them good for, except as palliatives/opiates/narcotics?

31

Craig 11.14.11 at 2:47 pm

Of course, these problems in Christian ethics go back a loooong way; it’s hardly fair to lay all the blame on poor Ross. I was just yesterday reading an interesting little book about Paul the Apostle (E.P. Sanders, “Paul: A Very Short Introduction), and puzzling through Paul’s sense of ethics with the author: Christians are definitionally good, no matter what beastly things they do, while pagans (and maybe Jews, depending on how Paul felt that morning) are definitionally evil, no matter how well they behave.

Well, said the author, we can’t can’t exactly accuse Paul of being an empricist. Quite so. Douthat is laboring in a long and distinguished tradition of scholarship here.

32

Ben Alpers 11.14.11 at 2:52 pm

Semi-OT, but the good acts that people see in Paterno extend beyond the football field. Unusually for a football coach, Paterno was pretty committed to the educational mission of his institution. He has donated millions of dollars to the institution and actively helped raise funds for its non-football-related activities, which is why both the library and a certain professorship in literature at Penn State bear his name.

None of this remotely makes Paterno a “heroic” person in the Douthat sense. Nor does it outweigh the covering-up-child-rape aspects of the Paterno legacy.

But people who see good acts in Paterno’s past are not simply overestimating the importance of football.

33

Harald Korneliussen 11.14.11 at 2:56 pm

Cian: Maybe so, but then it wasn’t demonstrated in this particular article.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden: maybe so, but I couldn’t spot it this time.

If you’ve decided a certain writer is a hack, and want to expose him as such, pick one where it’s obvious even to people who don’t assume every word to he says is insincerity laced with honey. Otherwise, it’s just stupid to give him attention. It just looks like an ideological hatefest.

34

VasVas 11.14.11 at 2:57 pm

As many issues as I have with the Church, putting it in the same bin as college football is ridiculous in the extreme, and another sign that Douthat isn’t worth reading.

As for the thrust of this “argument”, ditto 3, 10, 13, 20

35

Belle Waring 11.14.11 at 3:00 pm

I’ll check with you next time so you can gauge the appropriately level of hackery, Harald.

36

Uncle Kvetch 11.14.11 at 3:00 pm

“It’s precisely in the service to these supposed [emphasis added] higher responsibilities that they often let more basic ones slip away.”

That paragraph would be every bit as offensive as Patrick says, were it not for the use of the word “supposed”. Douthat’s saying fairly plainly that “doing bad things is justified in the name of a higher calling blah blah” is an ill-founded belief.

And as several others upthread have already asked, what possible “higher responsibilities” could Paterno have conceivably thought were being served by his actions (or rather, failures to act?). What exactly is the “higher calling”? If the answer is “the Penn State football program” then to my mind this only compounds the evil and renders Paterno’s moral failing that much greater.

It’s really quite simple: an extremely well-known and popular figure who was also known as a Good Catholic has been exposed as having done something horrible. Douthat’s job is to show that there was some kind of moral calculus at work here, however flawed or misguided, because the possibility that Joe Paterno acted out of raw cowardice and naked self-interest must be slapped down posthaste. Because Good Catholics don’t act like that.

“Hackish” doesn’t begin to describe it.

37

Meredith 11.14.11 at 3:01 pm

Hearing Chris Matthews the other night claim that we all expect people like priests and Saint Joe Paterno to exist on a “higher moral plain” than the rest of us (speak for yourself, Chris), I thought immediately of this confused Douthat column. The fathers-and-sons motif running through this whole saga is stunning. A particular model of the father-son relationship. Fathers as beneficent but absolute authority, with females in the wings supporting the father (or expected to do so — oh, those pesky mothers of the Seven Mile charity victims).

38

AcademicLurker 11.14.11 at 3:04 pm

Don’y you see, the privileged sin differently than you and I. The Little People mustn’t be allowed to judge. They’re not qualified.

39

AcademicLurker 11.14.11 at 3:04 pm

And they can’t spell.

40

mds 11.14.11 at 3:05 pm

Simple question: Would he agree with this description of his attitudes?

Simple question: Who cares? The intention isn’t actually too difficult to discern, especially in the context of much of his other writing. Whether he would cop to it or not is immaterial. Many conservative American Christians with a significant public platform avoid copping to it outside of their own circle, even when they have such attitudes.

It is sweet, though, that virtually every mendacious reactionary hack** given an elevated media platform to spew sophistry all over us lesser folks has a cadre of online defenders. They usually embrace some common themes: suggesting that the blogger in question is engaging in behavior beneath ver by pointing out the latest episode of bullshittery; pulling out scattershot quotations that purport to completely negate the plain reading of everything else in the article; and above all, implicitly or explicity demanding that we evaluate every work sui generis, with no consideration whatsoever of the track record of the author or vis peers. I wonder if someone has made a benefit-of-the-doubt bingo card.

**I suspect that if you asked Douthat if he were a mendacious reactionary hack, he would not agree. Imagine.

41

Harald Korneliussen 11.14.11 at 3:38 pm

Calling me a part of a “cadre of online defenders” is a great way to make me a phenomenon to be analyzed, talked about rather than talked with. But it’s wrong anyway. I am hardly a fan of Douthat. I just don’t see him as particularly more “hackish” than typical for an op-ed writer. I strongly agree he does not deserve a podium, I just think very few people do.

Uncle Kvetch suggests that it is Douthat’s job to defend catholics. Well, who pays him for that? Compare it to a real hack, namely Bill Kristol. Kristol did in fact have a job defending certain evil policies, and he was actually paid for it. Defending his team, no matter what (which is incidentally what the plain reading of this article makes out to be a serious sin) was absolutely part of Douthat’s predecessor’s job description.

Maybe it’s from mostly following climate “debate”, but I probably have a somewhat higher threshold for calling someone a hack. I’ve seen nothing to indicate Douthat doesn’t work in good faith and espouse his own views – misguided as they may possibly be, incompetenly as it may possibly be.

42

zamfir 11.14.11 at 4:01 pm

Perhaps my theology is lacking, but how are the last paragraphs better? He says that death will be the appropriate punishment, like for all us sinners. Isn’t that just asking not to punish good Catholics in this life?

43

bianca steele 11.14.11 at 4:03 pm

@PNH
But also, he doesn’t say whether they are “good” because they fulfilled their roles as good fathers, husbands, and members of the community (and presumably church), or because of what they did politically, or for some other reason. Similarly, he doesn’t say whether they “sinned” because they went too far in being good church members, or in being involved “in the world,” or for some other reason. If it’s not the first, in each case, he’s actually supporting the idea that the child molester who never misses a mortgage payment and helps at the soup kitchen every week is a better man than the famous surgeon who’s never set foot in a church, and that the former should always be defended and the latter always attacked.

44

CJColucci 11.14.11 at 4:06 pm

Douthat may have had the germ of a point, perhaps a somewhat more sophisticated take on “the bigger they are, the harder they fall,” or some Oedipus v. Willy Loman comparison, but he’s the paid professional with the big soapbox, and if he can’t make whatever point he has and write something worth reading about it, he can’t complain if people don’t bend over backward to be charitable in their interpretations.

45

Sebastian(1) 11.14.11 at 4:07 pm

Douthat is one of the few remaining NYTs columnists who isn’t consistently bland and predictable. I disagree with pretty much anything he has ever written, but I’ll still take him over Bill Keller any day.
So Douthat writes a column struggling with questions of sins vs. sinners etc. So, yes, he fails, it’s not a great column, I agree. But I don’t really get why people think it’s a dishonest column. Even less do I understand why it’s supposed to be hackery. It’s not like it’s a terribly flattering column about the Catholic church.
I think taking cheap shots at people with opposing political views based on super-uncharitable readings of their columns is much more typical of hackery.

46

Bruce Baugh 11.14.11 at 4:11 pm

Harald, I want to pick up on “an ideologically tinged uncharitable reading”. I think that giving this to conservative pundits is worthy, deserving, and in fact necessary – I think that all of us who are neither beneficiaries of the current klepto/plutocracy nor chosen toadies of it really need to cultivate the habit of routine disbelief. They deserve no presumption of good will, not because I can psychically peer into their souls but because I can look at the history of what they do. They play on others’ sense of good will, fair play, and honesty, but they don’t take any of these things seriously, and we need to remind each other that we are looking at the words of liars, abusers and the friends of abusers, champions of gratuitous pain and suffering for everyone outside their chosen circle, sadistic tyrants and their sadomasochistic lackeys.

Uncharitable? Very much so. But also honest and entirely justified by the way they present themselves in public and act in private. Giving to the needy is a moral duty, but that doesn’t make mugging okay. The same applies with indulgent looking-for-reasonable-interpretations readings and the stuff these people lay out for us. We should start by assuming that it’s more lies and rottenness and let them prove otherwise. Doing anything else is choosing to remain their straight men and victims, and I decline to do so, or to recommend that anyone else do so.

Seriously, Harald. What in Douthat’s output to date makes you think there’s any goodness in his diatribes and apologetics to be encouraged at the expense of looking clearly at the stuff he glosses over? He’s not unknown or anonymous; he has a history.

47

Uncle Kvetch 11.14.11 at 4:12 pm

Speaking of hackery, look what we have here: David Brooks has managed to make Ross Douthat look thoughtful and profound.

I guess the fact that Douthat resisted the temptation to blame it all on the hippies has to count for something.

48

Sufferin' Succotash 11.14.11 at 4:13 pm

Assuming that Douthat is not a hack (whatever that means) his column does carry a rather unfortunate implication: that the children from low-income disadvantaged backgrounds who were involved in the Second Mile program don’t matter as much as Joe Paterno’s reputation.

49

Aulus Gellius 11.14.11 at 4:16 pm

Uncle Kvetch gets to the point here: it’s ridiculous to take this essay as merely arguing its explicit point, which is an empty, meaningless, “indeed, sometimes good people do bad things.” The REAL point is the hidden premise, “prominent Catholic = heroically good person.” The goal is to head off the line of thinking that leads people, when they see bishops covering up sex scandals, to start thinking that the Catholic Church is Bad Institution, and replace it with one that somehow lets those scandals highlight the essential goodness of the church.

50

Betsy 11.14.11 at 4:20 pm

Look, what Douthat side-stepped here, and what reconciles the divide between those who think this column was less hacky and those who think it was a perfect example of his more-hacky work, is this:

In fact it’s the Catholic Church’s cover-ups — thorough-going and at the highest levels — of child rape and sexual abuse that ENABLED someone like Paterno to commit his own sins of inaction.

Douthat goes as far as to state that sinning in supposed service of the highest good is the parallel principle at work — but then, obtusely, doesn’t use that principle to condemn either the Church or Paterno. To condemn Paterno on that principle would be, for him, to veer too close to admitting the same thing for the Church.

So he has to hand-wave, because being logical would not only condemn his Church, but also show how it, by its own enormity of a “moral example,” leads the way for powerful, respected Catholics to commit their own moral atrocities.

Have a little pity for the poor columnist. He can’t draw a logical conclusion — he’s got a religion to protect.

51

Salient 11.14.11 at 4:23 pm

Calling me a part of a “cadre of online defenders” is a great way to make me a phenomenon to be analyzed, talked about rather than talked with.

The extent to which one is a welcome part of the discussion can perhaps be inferred from this, no?

Maybe there exist coherent circumstances in which aiding and abetting sexual abuse would be a sin committed in the name of a higher good, as Douthat explicitly and specifically claims is the case here. I neither can imagine nor desire the capability to imagine what those circumstances could be.

The words “in the name of” are definitely the most important words here. It’s not attempting to assert “Paterno may be a good man even though he screwed up horribly here,” it’s asserting something like ‘Paterno’s aiding and abetting sexual assault was an evil means to a good end.‘ Douthat’s reflexive defenders might do well to expound upon the specific good they feel Paterno was able to accomplish through his decision to not interfere with ongoing sexual abuse perpetrated by one of his subordinates.

52

ajay 11.14.11 at 4:32 pm

As many issues as I have with the Church, putting it in the same bin as college football is ridiculous in the extreme

I agree. The worst thing that an unruly mob has ever been whipped up to do in the name of its college football team is drink heavily, break windows and overturn cars.

53

Kiwanda 11.14.11 at 4:36 pm

First of all, kudos to Belle for reading the piece before having an opinion about it.

A charitable reading of Douthat’s column is that he’s saying that Paterno and Castrillón convinced themselves that certain evils must be overlooked in the service of a greater good, but they are wrong. For Castrillón and others in the Catholic hierarchy, “they somehow persuaded themselves that protecting their institution’s various good works mattered more than justice for the children they were supposed to shepherd and protect”, but “not even a lifetime of heroism can make up for leaving a single child alone, abandoned to evil, weeping in the dark”.

In Belle’s terms, Douthat says that Paterno and Castrillón *believed* p (pars 1-5), but actually, not p holds (pars 6-7).

I don’t believe the Catholic church or college football represent a greater good, but the important thing for Douthat’s column is not so much what is true, but what Paterno and Castrillón believed, and that their “heroism” in the service of that belief was misguided.

That’s the charitable reading. Now since Douthat is a bad, bad man, maybe an uncharitable reading is more appropriate, and he’s allowing Paterno and Castrillón the honor of being seen as great tragedies, as a backdoor to a forgiveness they don’t deserve.

Maybe that’s right, but it requires an *extremely* uncharitable reading. And such interpretations can form a closed loop: Douthat is a bad, bad man, and therefore everything he says can only be given the worst possible interpretation, which is very bad, and therefore because of all those bad things he says, he’s a bad, bad man.

54

Iszzy 11.14.11 at 4:46 pm

Others have made similiar points here, but those inclined to let words like “supposed” and rhetorical moves like Douthat’s final paragraphs excuse the implications of Douthat’s arguments miss the point: Douthat has a long history of couching his most ugly conclusions in such a way as to partially conceal them or at least allow him plausible deniability.

Pick almost any Douthat column and you have the same rhetorical moves: a sharply reactionary position couched in seemingly reasonable language, with its most objectionable conclusions either phrased vaguely or merely implied.

So when I see him engaged in that same behavior again, I’m inclined to think mockery is the only reasonable solution: arguing with someone who so clearly operates in bad faith is simply unwise.

55

Steve Williams 11.14.11 at 4:52 pm

A question on pronounciation – the title suggests his name should be pronounced like ‘do that’. Is that right? I’d be happy to know – I’ve been saying it like ‘doubt hat’ for quite a while, and I don’t want to look any more foolish than I probably already have done . . .

56

Sebastian(1) 11.14.11 at 4:55 pm

57

Gene O'Grady 11.14.11 at 4:58 pm

Back when I followed college football as a kid, make that college student, Joe Paterno was one of the people I disliked intensely, a real bully and manipulator of the media whose teams (back in the days before instant replay when this was pretty easy a la USC) always seemed to get a little help from the referees, like John Capelleti being given a touchdown when his knee hit at the two and he crawled into the end zone. People like that are often charitable in their later years (also a Catholic tradition), so I would discount much of what Mr. Alpers said above.

I remember sitting in Saint Peter’s on Holy Thursday 1980 and listening to John Paul II’s repulsive sermon on what is still my favorite feast of the ecclesiastical year. The guy seemed to think that Jesus has become incarnate to boost the egos of priests. In mine own service as a eucharistic minister years later I rejoiced in the fact that we were all equally loved by a loving God; the notion that I was better than the communicant and the priest was better than me never entered my head. So Douthat is a very bad man, put up by people who despise all that was admirable in Catholicism.

For what it’s worth in my Catholic days I divided the people into the flawed, the bad, and the out of control. The good wasn’t a category.

58

JP Stormcrow 11.14.11 at 5:02 pm

Even Shorter: “With notably rare exceptions, Joe Paterno acted appropriately in his role as Penn State football coach.”

59

politicalfootball 11.14.11 at 5:02 pm

Kiwanda@56, I don’t think the argument is that Douthat is “allowing Paterno and Castrillón the honor of being seen as great tragedies, as a backdoor to a forgiveness they don’t deserve.” Douthat wants to separate them from common evil-doers in order to defend the corrupt institutions that Paterno and Castrillón served.

Douthat wants to make it about Paterno and Castrillón, so we don’t start thinking about the Catholic Church and bigtime college sports.

Aulus Gellius@52 put it this way:

The goal is to head off the line of thinking that leads people, when they see bishops covering up sex scandals, to start thinking that the Catholic Church is Bad Institution, and replace it with one that somehow lets those scandals highlight the essential goodness of the church.

Think about McQueary, McQueary’s father, Paterno, AD Curley, VP Schultz and President Spanier. Every single person who confronted this – at least six people – made the same decision. That isn’t some kind of weird coincidence; it’s not aberrant behavior. The Penn State system was designed to produce this result. That’s what Douthat doesn’t want you to think about.

60

Salient 11.14.11 at 5:08 pm

I don’t believe the Catholic church or college football represent a greater good, but

…no no, really, no ‘but’ is necessary. It is astonishingly depraved for a person to assert that it is achieving a good end for a person to aid and abet sexual assault, whether to ensure that the Church will not lose the beneficence of a wealthy member, or to ensure that a college football program will not lose the expertise of a longtime coach.

Any Church whose goodness is compromised rather than reinforced by putting a stop to abuse is a morally monstrous church. Any football organization whose goodness is compromised rather than reinforced by putting a stop to abuse is a morally monstrous football organization. To support either in any capacity is not achieving ‘a good end’ in any acceptable sense of ‘good.’

Sure, the Church might be less wealthy and the football program less winning as a direct consequence of putting a stop to the abuse. But those are not ‘good’ ends to achieve (at most they’re morally neutral or amoral or whatever).

If we read Douthat charitably, he’s a sickening moral monster. If we read him uncharitably, he’s… a clumsy apologist who fumbled a rather difficult needle-threading (one that I’m pretty sure I’d fumble too, if I were inclined to try). So what are we to do, O arbiters of acceptable commentary?

61

Lemuel Pitkin 11.14.11 at 5:09 pm

Douthat’s real business is to make sure we remember that some people are just plain better, no matter what sins they get up to. This is always and everywhere the heart of conservatism, the idea that certain people are better just because.

As usual, PNH gets it just right.

62

Sebastian(1) 11.14.11 at 5:17 pm

@Salient:
I’m confused now. I thought you were the arbiter of
“[t]he extent to which one is a welcome part of the discussion” here.

And the charitable (I would actually say – everything but the most uncharitable) reading of Douthat’s column (as I’m not the first to point out here) is that Paterno and the Catholic Bishop were willing to overlook evil, because they believed themselves to be acting as part of a greater good.
The logical consequence of that, I take it, is not that the Catholic church is awesome, but that a strong believe that you’re acting in the name of a higher good can be a driver of evil. If anything this would seem to be me as a message addressed at fellow Catholics/believers rather than an apology for the church/PSU.

63

Craig 11.14.11 at 5:23 pm

Politicalfootball @56 hits it on the head. Kiwanda @56, I think, misses the point of contention. Douthat is not being accused of exonerating Paterno and Castrillón. He condemns them, we condemn them. For the record: Boo to child rape.

But “Boo to child rape” is not much of a theme for so lofty an object as a New York Times opinion column. Douthat wished to say more than that. He seemes to have said two things, one of which is unobjectionable. The other is grotesque.

The unobjectionable thing is, in Kiwanda’s phrasing, “[they] convinced themselves that certain evils must be overlooked in the service of a greater good, but they are wrong.” Well, yes.

The grotesque thing is the idea that there are “good and heroic” people in the world, and there are “bad and mediocre” people in the world–but you can’t tell whether a person is “good” or “bad” by simply observing what they do. Both good and bad people do terrible things, but they sin in _different ways_. Bad people sin because they are weak. Good people sin because they are so very good in the first place.

This is so illuminating precisely because it wasn’t the _point_ of the column; it was just a passing comment that Douthat felt no particular need to develop or defend. The division of humanity into the heroic and the wicked, the elect and the damned, the good and the bad, without any reference to what people actually do, say, or believe, is fundamental to his worldview. It is the water in which he swims.

64

CJColucci 11.14.11 at 5:24 pm

I agree with Kiwanda about both the charitable and the uncharitable readings. But as best I can puzzle out what Douthat is saying, I think Douthat is actually saying both things.

65

Barry 11.14.11 at 5:29 pm

“Maybe it’s from mostly following climate “debate”, but I probably have a somewhat higher threshold for calling someone a hack. I’ve seen nothing to indicate Douthat doesn’t work in good faith and espouse his own views – misguided as they may possibly be, incompetenly as it may possibly be.”

Absolute lack of logical sense, making tortured arguments which end up at an ideologically-predisposed conclusoin?

66

Kaveh 11.14.11 at 5:36 pm

@Sebastian and others, the problem is the yawning chasm between the degree of the evil that these people abetted and that of whatever greater good they thought they were part of. I could buy that coaches can be important moral leaders, in the way that any educator can be, and that Joe Paterno thought of himself that way. But important enough to dwarf the significance of permitting someone to rape children? REALLY? This isn’t, like, “Yeah I cut a few corners, so what?” Even the not-extremely-uncharitable reading of Douthat (which I agree with, by the by) makes any sense here if you take that into account. In other words, Douthat’s problem isn’t so much being inconsistent or believing in an elect as it is horrifyingly failing to realize the seriousness of child sexual abuse.

67

Pascal Leduc 11.14.11 at 5:37 pm

I think that Douthat’s point is that this is a “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” situation.

The Penn State football team can only succeed if enough young boys are assaulted. Now that we know this we must ask ourselves the question if that is not a sufficient price to pay.

68

Ben Alpers 11.14.11 at 6:02 pm

@Gene O’Grady:

People like that are often charitable in their later years (also a Catholic tradition), so I would discount much of what Mr. Alpers said above.

Just to emphasize what I thought I had implied in my earlier comment: I really wasn’t mounting any sort of general defense of Paterno at all. I was principally noting that those who sing Paterno’s praises–rightly or wrongly–do so for reasons that are not entirely connected to football.

69

Sebastian(1) 11.14.11 at 6:13 pm

@Kaveh – I understand, but I don’t agree that the argument only makes sense if you minimize the evil of child rape (“abuse” still seems a rather euphemistic term for what happened).
The whole point of the column, as I read it, is to wrap his mind around how people who had been “good” even “heroic” in their lives up to then*, could be complicit in acts of such magnitude of evil. I don’t think you need to minimize the evil for this argument to make sense. Douthat doesn’t think the people are still “good” in the balance of things in the end: “And not even a lifetime of heroism can make up for leaving a single child alone.” I just don’t see how that minimizes child rape.
The whole “they didn’t concern themselves with lowly things” is a paraphrasing of their thought process, clearly not condoned by Douthat.

[btw. I think Craig’s critique of the whole idea of “good,” “bad,” and “mediocre” people is very much on point. But I don’t think it has anything to do with Belle’s original post.]

*and I agree with others that this seems like a stretch for Paterno. So he didn’t let his athletes skip class and he donated a couple of the millions he made back to the University – seems like a low bar for “heroic”.

70

Sebastian H 11.14.11 at 6:25 pm

Douthat wrote: “by the illusion, common to those who have done important deeds, that they have higher responsibilities than the ordinary run of humankind. It’s precisely in the service to these supposed higher responsibilities that they often let more basic ones slip away. “

Even in an uncharitable reading you have to admit that he is saying Paterno et al were wrong. That is why the words ‘illusion’ and ‘in the service to these supposed higher responsibilities’ are in there. Douthat is clumsy about it, but even an uncharitable reading of the column only gets you as far as something like “How could this happen? It happens because people fool themselves into believing that the good they THINK they are doing ought not be put in jeopardy by bad things in their organizations.”

His good person/bad person thing is crap, but even that doesn’t get you as far as many of the readings here. (And it presupposes that the good person/bad person is the key to the column, which any normal reading doesn’t allow).

His point is a good one: people, especially people in institutions that THEY think are important, are often willing to allow bad things to happen to protect their institutions.

That isn’t a point about Catholics. That is a point about people. It is clearly a tendency of people that we should resist.

(See for example conservatives defending bad police activity, or those more on the left who significantly muted their normal ‘abuse of power’ rhetoric when it came to Clinton calling Lewinsky a lying whore until there was a dress with DNA on it, and than pivoting from there.)

Humans defend institutions they think are doing good. And often it is ugly.

71

politicalfootball 11.14.11 at 6:35 pm

One of the things that Douthat elides about Castrillón and Paterno is the nature of their crimes. Neither is accused of molesting children. Both demonstrated that they put their own public images above everything. Yet Douthat asks us to trust that these manufactured images reflect reality.

Douthat describes Castrillón as a man who

reputedly made his way to Pablo Escobar’s house disguised as a milkman to demand that the drug kingpin confess his sins.

He reputedly did this. Given the success these guys had in the ruthless management of their own reputations, why should we trust any narrative that originates from them or their acolytes?

72

Uncle Kvetch 11.14.11 at 6:43 pm

those more on the left who significantly muted their normal ‘abuse of power’ rhetoric when it came to Clinton calling Lewinsky a lying whore until there was a dress with DNA on it, and than pivoting from there.

Obligatory Clenis tu quoque paired with hippie-punching dismount. So much for this thread.

73

jfxgillis 11.14.11 at 6:45 pm

belle:

Is Michael going to weigh in on this?

74

Sebastian 11.14.11 at 7:04 pm

It is tuquoque when it is an excuse. That is a universalizing example. Get your rhetoric right. ;)

75

Malaclypse 11.14.11 at 7:07 pm

Is Michael going to weigh in on this?

Do you really think his now-unfortunate job title requires him to?

76

Uncle Kvetch 11.14.11 at 7:11 pm

That is a universalizing example.

Yeah, everybody does it. I mean, on the one hand you’ve got someone abetting serial child rape, on another you’ve got people saying that a tawdry sexual dalliance between two consenting adults is nobody else’s goddamn business. They’re pretty much the same thing when you think about.

I’ve gotta hand it to you, Sebastian…for all the years you’ve been plying your schtick on this and other blogs, you still haven’t lost the ability to creep me the fuck out.

77

geo 11.14.11 at 7:13 pm

Can’t help feeling that if Douthat weren’t such a bad writer, he might have made an important point, or at least posed an interesting question. It is, after all, something of a mystery that one and the same person (not Paterno, but apparently the archbishop) can behave nobly at one time and disgracefully at another. Maybe the puzzle is not so much a moral or psychological one as a linguistic one: what is this term “person,” whose normal usage leads us to be so surprised at the coexistence within the same linguistic space of A and not-A? A reminder that nouns are fictions and that the world is simply a field (many fields) of events.

78

Chris Bertram 11.14.11 at 7:17 pm

_It is, after all, something of a mystery that one and the same person (not Paterno, but apparently the archbishop) can behave nobly at one time and disgracefully at another._

On the contrary, I’d have thought that nearly all of us know, on the basis of our own experience, that people are capable of behaving nobly at one time and disgracefully at another. The degree of variation here seems atypical though.

79

Antonio Conselheiro 11.14.11 at 7:18 pm

It’s all about success worship, deference to hierarchy, and institutional loyalty. Good conservative American values.

80

Sebastian H 11.14.11 at 7:20 pm

Well I suppose I could have gone to Duranty winning a Pulitzer prize for cheerleading communism and denying the Ukranian mass starvation. Countenancing the murder of millions might be ‘pretty much the same thing when you think about it’ as hiding child rape.

The whole point is that it is a very human thing to hide misdeeds when you are institutionally invested in something that you think is doing good. For some it is communism for others the Catholic church, for others it was Clinton, for others it was the Iraq War. It is something humans do. And pretending that only (or mainly) your political enemies do it is a great way to let really big nasty things grow on your own side. And you pretty much can’t police the other side nearly as well as you can your own side.

But institutionally, we don’t like to police our side. So when other people point it out, we don’t think about it seriously, we whine about hippie punching or unpatriotic behavior, depending on which side we are on.

81

herr doktor bimler 11.14.11 at 7:22 pm

As various people have already wondered, how can Douthat bring himself to apply the word “heroism” to the job of coaching football? Do meanings mean nothing to him?

But this is a writer capable of losing himself in his own rhetoric to the point of describing “complicity in child rape” as “smell[ing] and look[ing] like lilies” when performed by the right person.

82

Antonio Conselheiro 11.14.11 at 7:24 pm

Suppose a janitor or a student had been molesting a boy in the shower. Suppose that consenting heterosexuals had been having sex in the shower. Wouldn’t more have been done?

As I understand, all the molested boys were black, and the first three reports came from a black mother and two janitors (who wone would suspect were not white). The mother’s report got Sandusky forced to retire, but he still had his charity pimping for him and still brought boys on campus.

83

Watson Ladd 11.14.11 at 7:24 pm

Douthat is wrong. These people weren’t morally upstanding except for a few lapses. They committed real crimes with real victims, and lost all moral authority they might have had with it. That’s what makes his argument ridiculous: we’re asked to assent to a premise that all know now isn’t true.

84

Uncle Kvetch 11.14.11 at 7:26 pm

It’s all about success worship, deference to hierarchy, and institutional loyalty. Good conservative American values.

So are those the “higher values” that, in Douthat’s view, Paterno must have had in mind? I ask because the question remains unanswered, 85 comments in. A number of commenters here want to give Douthat some benefit of the doubt on his main point, but not one of them has actually attempted to flesh that point out.

If you accept that Paterno wrongly failed to act because he was under the illusion that by doing so he was protecting some greater good, again: what was the greater good?

85

Antonio Conselheiro 11.14.11 at 7:26 pm

Duranty is immortal and will always be the typical liberal journalist.

86

Sebastian(1) 11.14.11 at 7:39 pm

@Uncle Kvetch -
read some of the defenses of PSU coming from students and alumni. A foot ball program that has brought meaning and joy to hundreds of thousands and has helped turn a humble state school into a world-class institution, instilled pride in a community, academic standards, character building yadda yadda yadda
I think that’s all a bunch of crap, but there seem to be a lot of people believing it and I think it’s pretty safe to assume that Paterno did.

87

Malaclypse 11.14.11 at 7:43 pm

A foot ball program that has brought meaning and joy to hundreds of thousands

So, roughly the same “greater good” as the producers of Jersey Shore have created.

88

geo 11.14.11 at 7:50 pm

Chris @84: Yes, it happens continually that people defeat our expectations, and we’re continually surprised. At least I am, and I suspect that’s not unusual. The point is the expectations: they arise because we ascribe a certain degree of moral/psychological unity to agents, or “persons.” That ascription and the assumption of behavioral predictability that follows are among the practical bases of everyday life.

Well, if others don’t find the coexistence of good and evil in a single soul to be mysterious — which is not the same thing as unintelligible; the Hammerklavier Sonata is mysterious but not unintelligible — then perhaps it isn’t.

89

Meredith 11.14.11 at 7:53 pm

And now, another bastion of masculinist authority/ariansm admits to inaction:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/14/the-citadel-faces-child-a_n_1092348.html

90

Sebastian(1) 11.14.11 at 7:56 pm

yes – if Jersey Shore runs for 40+ years and is beloved and seen as part of their identity by many people, I’m sure some of the people producing the show develop such a sense of mission that they view Jersey Shore as a “higher good”. I could even see some other media people treating these veteran producers as “heroes”.
Again, I’m not saying that makes a lot of sense, but I’m pretty sure that’s what they themselves would genuinely believe.

91

4jkb4ia 11.14.11 at 7:58 pm

One Jewish view that I have learned about this whole mess is that as the good inclination gets strong, the evil inclination gets equally strong, in order to allow people freedom of choice. So there may be some things that are obviously bad and contemptible that [random person] would never do but there are things that you have yet to learn that you would never do that will tempt you. And a weapon that the evil inclination has is complacency– “I do all of these good things” or “If I report this my reputation/ability to do good things will be taken away.” None of which excuses anyone.

92

Antonio Conselheiro 11.14.11 at 7:58 pm

I suppose that it would be wrong to suggest that the boys are in need of the Church’s spiritual succour.

93

zebbidie 11.14.11 at 8:04 pm

@70
He asserts only that the failures of the great are tragic and the faiures of the small are to be taken for granted.

That’s bad enough.

Well, I’m burning my Shakespeare’s Collected Works then.

94

zebbidie 11.14.11 at 8:06 pm

“That’s bad enough.” should have been be italicized as it was part of the quote. Acronym expressing my bad temper toward this blogging platform goes here.

95

herr doktor bimler 11.14.11 at 9:11 pm

Douthat describes Castrillón as a man who
reputedly made his way to Pablo Escobar’s house disguised as a milkman to demand that the drug kingpin confess his sins.

So the best evidence to be adduced for the Archbishop’s heroism is that if his hagiography is to be believed, he put pressure on a ruthless criminal to take part in a meaningless ritual that would have made no difference to the criminal’s behaviour? Really?

96

Ben 11.14.11 at 9:25 pm

Maxism… consequences of… good intentions… Lenin actually good… Kulaks’ own fault… mumble mumble… hand wave…

97

CJColucci 11.14.11 at 9:28 pm

Most of us fall into sin through our weaknesses. That’s common, and not very interesting. Some of us fall into sin through our strengths. That’s uncommon and very interesting, as the Greek tragedians knew. I doubt that Paterno and Castrillon are Oedipus. I’m damn sure Douthat ain’t Sophocles.

98

Kaveh 11.14.11 at 9:36 pm

Hmmm… okay, I’m going to try this again. Sebastian, your point is sensible, but still misses the core of the problem. What I was getting across was this:

Suppose we replace “didn’t report his friend for child rape” with “murdered dozens of people”. If we applied Douthat’s reasoning in that case, it would be absolutely absurd. Somebody who thought it was okay to murder dozens of people because he didn’t question his own actions because he thought he was a good person because he ran a great football program is obviously a monster, and using hubris as a psychological explanation for this (not even a justification, just an explanation) just sound silly. There simply has to be a lot more going on there than hubris. Or replace the good and bad deeds with “shipped slaves across the Atlantic” and “is nice to his kids and wife”. Also absurd. I don’t think Douthat would make the argument in these cases. The discrepancy of magnitude would this reasoning absurd, even with all the “he thought” qualifiers.

But I think the issue with the difference in magnitude applies in this case too. Even given that serial rape of children is not as bad as murdering dozens of people, it simply boggles the mind to try and imagine what good Paterno possibly could have thought he was doing with the football program that outweighed letting his friend/associate rape children (and having his friend there wasn’t even necessary for him to run the football program). The idea that this is a case of good deeds leading to hubris is absolutely absurd.

99

Aaron Baker 11.14.11 at 9:37 pm

I’d like to second Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Douthat is always a prat, and often an offensive prat at that.

In the past I’ve brought up his sneering little article about himself and a bunch of other Harvardians, confronted by a waiter who went to Tufts. I think that effort is apposite here: he’s always bifurcating humanity into honestiores and humiliores, and we needn’t doubt where he sees himself. I also recommend the article’s magical properties : within me it caused to appear, out of nowhere, a sudden dislike for Harvard students.

100

Bill Benzon 11.14.11 at 9:37 pm

Is Michael going to weigh in on this?

I’ve had some little email communication with him over the weekend and, well, as you might expect, he’s feelin’ a bit shell-shocked. And he’s not yet ready to talk. I figure he’s got enough to handle on the ground at the university that cyberspace should let him alone.

101

Aaron Baker 11.14.11 at 9:41 pm

And yes, I was looking for an excuse to say honestiores and humiliores.

102

dbk 11.14.11 at 9:50 pm

@90
If you accept that Paterno wrongly failed to act because he was under the illusion that by doing so he was protecting some greater good, again: what was the greater good?

Assuming this is a serious question, the greater good was the Church of Big 10 Football and the God of Mammon.

I don’t know if all the commenters here have read the actual indictment (I wonder if Douthat had read it before he penned his opinion piece). Abuse was documented from around 1994, and was known to the Penn State administration all the way up to the President from 1998. Sandusky was “retired” against his will, and the only way to read the indictment is to conclude that this was an effort to make the problem go away. Unfortunately, he retained locker room and sauna privileges, so it continued. Some of the victims were only 7 or 8 years old; the oldest seems to have been 13-14. The most moving, heartbreaking really part of the indictment comes on pp. 22-23 in the reports of what janitor Jim Calhoun witnessed one night in 2000. Calhoun, a Korean War vet, said he had never seen anything like it, and was so distraught that his colleagues feared he would suffer a heart attack. Pennsylvania law is clear on the fact that those who have knowledge of child abuse are obligated to report this fact within 48 hours to the authorities; the only person who appears to have actually reported anything is the mother of one of the victims (which resulted in the 1998 investigation that effected Sandusky’s “early” retirement). As noted upthread, laws were broken; indictments will come down (almost certainly for Curley and Schultz [perjury]; less certainly for Spanier; even less certainly for Paterno). [Spanier appears to have been ultimately responsible strictu sensu, as the CEO of the institution.] It is unclear whether there will be indictments issued for accessory after the fact/aiding and abetting.

How could this (and I suspect there is more to come – this feels to me like a scandal that will keep on giving) come about? I don’t know, I don’t understand, I don’t feel it’s explicable at the meta-level everyone here seems to function so brilliantly at. But every time I log onto this blog, I look at its name, and I reflect:
OOTCTOH, NSTWEM.

103

Antonio Conselheiro 11.14.11 at 9:52 pm

If we’re talking about saintly child-molesters, we need look no further than Marcel Maciel: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Josemar%C3%ADa_Escriv%C3%A1 Perhaps in Douthat’s mind Paterno is standing in for Maciel.

104

Aaron Baker 11.14.11 at 10:13 pm

“A great mind holds great contradiction. Better man than me I guess.”

I’m sure he contains multitudes.

But I’d better re-read the Harvard/Tufts piece, to make certain he wasn’t being ironic.

105

Uncle Kvetch 11.14.11 at 10:15 pm

In the past I’ve brought up his sneering little article about himself and a bunch of other Harvardians, confronted by a waiter who went to Tufts.

I just read that Crimson piece — I’d never heard of it before. What a truly vile piece of work he is.

106

Michael Bérubé 11.14.11 at 10:18 pm

Still wading through my shock and disgust at the worst scandal in the history of college sports (which is really saying something), but I’ll venture two brief comments.

One: in horrifying retrospect, the way Penn State handled this after 2002 pretty much guaranteed that eventually, this scandal would unfold in precisely this way — while ensuring that Sandusky would have another nine years’ worth of victims. Sandusky wasn’t “swept under the rug”; on the contrary, he continued to have access to campus, to conduct overnight camps with boys, to do high-school gigs (one of which generated the complaint that led to the grand jury investigation) … and he even gave the commencement address to the College of Human Development and Family Services. In 2007. All the while running his charity, The Second Mile, not only as the perfect cover but also, horrifyingly, as his personal troubled-child-recruitment device. Now I know what mind-boggling feels like.

Two: the Paterno Family Professorships were created in the library and in the English department, partly because of the family’s commitment to the humanities. (Paterno’s B.A. is in Classics, his M.A. in American literature.) After winning his first national championship in 1982, Paterno gave a famous speech challenging the Board of Trustees to improve the university’s academic profile, saying “you can’t have a great university without a great library.” He and his wife Sue led the capital campaign, which quadrupled the library’s holdings. (We are talking about a college football coach whose favorite poet is Virgil and whose response to his losing seasons in 2000-01 was to spend the second off-season rereading Moby-Dick.) In 1994 Penn State’s English department was ranked #42 in the country; now it is ranked #6.* Once Penn State joined the Big Ten (in the early 90s), it basically had to stop competing with Notre Dame for T-shirt sales and begin measuring itself against the great Midwestern public universities like Michigan. So it poured money into graduate fellowships and senior hires (including me!), and a decent regional university became a real research university. Paterno didn’t do all this by himself, of course, but Ben Alpers is quite right to say that his reputation does not rest solely on his achievements as a coach.

For her part, Sue Paterno appears not to have had any role whatsoever in any aspect of this travesty. When I took the job, she read Life as We Know It and wrote me a very kind and substantial letter about it; she works with Special Olympics, and has always been very friendly to Jamie. Last year, when she heard that I had written about Martha Nussbaum, social contract theory, and intellectual disability, she called me up and asked for a copy of the essay. If there are other football dynasty-families whose matriarch is reading articles published in Metaphilosophy, I don’t know about them. Last but certainly not least, unlike the Kochtopus and the BB&T Randians, the Paterno family has never asked whether my politics coincide with theirs. They didn’t endow these positions with that purpose in mind. On the contrary, when David Horowitz came to town in aught-six, not long after calling me a traitor, naming me a Dangerous Professor, and declaring me a threat to kittens everywhere, Sue wrote and told me she had my back.

But whether all this makes Joe Paterno’s role in this scandal better or worse … that’s up to you. It is not hard to see the case for “worse.” It certainly makes my response to it very complicated and difficult, such that this margin cannot contain it.

_______
* I am well aware that the recent NRC rankings have drawn a great deal of criticism. I want merely to point out that this ranking is the result of the first NRC survey that is not purely reputational. Everyone knows what happens when academic reputation is taken as the measure of itself: places with “State” in their name fare badly, while the Princeton Law School is ranked in the top ten despite the fact that Princeton does not have a law school. For my part, I think these rankings are of limited value, which is why I have always argued that the only way to determine the best English departments in the US is by way of a national playoff.

107

Bill Benzon 11.14.11 at 10:31 pm

…the only way to determine the best English departments in the US is by way of a national playoff.

And may the best band win.

108

novakant 11.14.11 at 10:42 pm

Somebody who thought it was okay to murder dozens of people because he didn’t question his own actions because he thought he was a good person because he ran a great football program is obviously a monster

Sure, but what about a soldier who kills dozens of people and thinks he’s a good person because he believes he’s serving a noble cause or doesn’t question his own actions because he’s just following orders – we routinely excuse such actions.

109

Aaron Baker 11.14.11 at 10:44 pm

No . . . it’s just as snotty as I remembered.

110

politicalfootball 11.14.11 at 10:47 pm

115: There are people who wish to do virtuous things, and people who wish to be seen as doing virtuous things. I think we now have a better idea of which Joe Paterno is.

The desire to be known as a benefactor of humanity is not the worst thing in the world. On the other hand, covering up child-rape in order to maintain your reputation for probity is a pretty bad thing.

111

David in NY 11.14.11 at 10:51 pm

We in the criminal law business are fond of a saying, “A man is not as bad as the worst thing he has ever done.” It’s often true.

112

David in NY 11.14.11 at 11:08 pm

Aaron — that is one of the snottiest things I’ve ever read. Wonder if anybody at the Times read it before hiring him? Feh.

113

Sebastian(1) 11.14.11 at 11:14 pm

Kaveh – I actually did that thought experiment. Think, e.g. of postwar communists. Many of them were genuinely good people. Some of them had been heroic (actually heroic – not “endowed a chair” heroic) in their resistance against Nazi occupiers (or in the case of German communists the Nazi regime at home).
Yet many of them closed their eyes to the atrocities of Stalinism, continued to actively support the regime etc.
I know it’s not a perfect analogy – postwar Western European communists didn’t have a police to go to etc. – but I think the general idea is quite similar. And I certainly don’t think asking the question why good, heroic people with, until then, their politicla hearts in the right place, would support Stalinism at all minimizes its cruelty

114

herr doktor bimler 11.15.11 at 12:54 am

I just don’t see him as particularly more “hackish” than typical for an op-ed writer. […] Well, who pays him for that? Compare it to a real hack, namely Bill Kristol. Kristol did in fact have a job defending certain evil policies, and he was actually paid for it.

I accept that there is a distinction between professional sportspeople and the amateurs who do it for love of the game. One might even argue that the amateurs have purer, more admirable motives. But they’re still sportspeople.

115

Yarrow 11.15.11 at 1:07 am

Sebastian(1) @ 67: @Salient: I’m confused now. I thought you were the arbiter of “[t]he extent to which one is a welcome part of the discussion” here.

Ooo, what a great idea. Salient for Crooked Timber moderator!

We’d get about a 500 percent improvement in the conversational atmosphere, at the cost of a mere pittance taken from each of the front posters! Salient, you’d gladly work your butt off for 17 pittances, right? And front posters, you’d gladly give a pittance each to support the worthy efforts of Salient and see your blog improved 500%, right?

I’m so glad that’s settled. Thank you, Sebastian (1)! (And you’ll kick in the pony, right?)

116

Kaveh 11.15.11 at 1:21 am

@117 I would imagine that most who serve in a military believe that what they do, at least in the long run, has some kind of life-saving consequences. They believe something like “if we don’t fight them over there, they’ll fight us over here”, which is actually wrong, but not the same logic as “I’m a good father, so it’s okay if I go out and kill innocent people for the heck of it”. Like, it’s very hard for me to imagine that even Paterno himself thought his cause (being a moral leader, role model, supporting education, whatever) was worthy enough that it was a bigger deal than letting children be raped.

@122, I don’t disagree with the psychological principle in general, just whether it applies to Paterno’s case. Paterno isn’t a war hero, doesn’t have any reason to think he was anything like that, so Douthat’s sort-of comparison is silly. Although from what Michael says, it sounds like he had a vision that went beyond coaching, not just that he was especially scrupulous, but still… It’s truly bizarre for Douthat to apply this psychological principle to Paterno.

117

jfxgillis 11.15.11 at 1:23 am

Malacylpse:

I had no idea that was Michael’s official title until I looked it up just now. All I knew was that he’s a very smart and humane man and an expert on cultural studies and actually within the very culture that appears to be a critical factor in this case.

Bill Benzon:

Thanks for the update, for a reason that you’ll see below may be bitterly ironic.

Michael:

Sorry for the pressure. I’ve been sort of collecting links and videos of people commenting on this story who were simply absolutely mind-boggled. Good people. Smart people. People from within the culture–Jon Ritchie, Centre County-raised, Stanford educated, friend of Sandusky, on ESPN for instance. That’s because I’m mind-boggled, too.

So then I was wondering, who the hell could comment on this story who I could trust and who could help me un-boggle? And I thought of you. I suppose that was selfish of me, so again, sorry for the pressure.

118

Michael Bérubé 11.15.11 at 2:15 am

No pressure, jfxgillis. I haven’t written or said anything all week partly because I’m still working through it, and partly because there’s still so much we don’t know (and none of my colleagues are expecting that what we don’t know will mitigate what we now know; the mood seems to be divided between “it’ll get worse before it gets better” and “it’ll get worse before it gets even worse than that”). But I thought I’d post a comment on what I have so far. And now, like millions of other people, I’m going to wait with dread for what comes next.

119

Belle Waring 11.15.11 at 2:30 am

We have always been willing to put soldiers in a different category than murderers. We also are aware that there are things called war crimes which are different from soldiers shooting at other armed combatants. The fact that we have given soldiers something of a carte blanche to go around shooting people inevitably muddies the waters, but I don’t think any but the most committed pacifist think there is no difference between soldiers killing other enemy soldiers and random individuals committing the crime of murder. Don’t let’s bother bringing soldiers in when we have enough trouble.

Sebastian, I know you are smarter than this. Important intellectuals who looked away from Stalin’s reign of terror were single-minded people led astray by too-fast adherence to political principles. To the extent that any of them caused it to be the case that a) Stalin ran his system of gulags worse or for longer or b) Communism endured as a ruling ideology in the Eastern Bloc for longer, then they were truly evil rather than merely doing wrong, and willfully blinding themselves to some of the most grotesque evils the world has seen.

A 6’2” former quarterback who walks into the showers and hears a “rhythmic slapping sound,” which he then discovers is a small child being forcibly anally raped against the wall, and then turns around and walks out, after which he talks to his dad and the football coach rather than the motherfucking cops, and then is given a great job in exchange for keeping his mouth shut though he knows nothing has been done is a very bad person indeed and no amount of tap-dancing around Duranty’s grave is going to do anything about it.

Paterno knew already that his assistant coach had been RAPING SMALL CHILDREN, and he had already decided that protecting those children was less important that Penn football looking good. People came to him repeatedly to report these evils, and he made the same decision. Every day he got up without turning Sandusky over to the cops is a day he (in all likelihood) allowed another SMALL CHILD TO BE FUCKING RAPED. So, yeah, not so much with the fellow-travelers.

120

Salient 11.15.11 at 2:47 am

MB, you have all my sympathies in this. I can’t even imagine. Probably some portion of my anger at all this is due to the respect I’ve previously held for Paterno from afar. He’s been the first counterexample I think of whenever someone within earshot launches into a broadside rant about how athletics programs do nothing but denigrate the honor of and compromise the mission of a proper university, and has been the first reason I think of to bite my tongue when veering into such a rant myself. So even from this far away the news of this stung. I’m angry I can no longer point to Paterno as a paragon of an athletics-program superstar who was genuinely personally committed to the success of his university’s reputation for scholarship–who put not just words, but policy and management decisions and serious money, behind that commitment–not because that’s any less true of him now, but because he somehow let this one thing fester that’s so horrible it taints any assertion of praise. But that’s the anger of a person some thousand-odd miles away, who can blow smoke recklessly in response. The thought of it being closer to home than it is, is just chilling, dampening.

Salient for Crooked Timber moderator!

ohdeargodno, but I will happily accept the role of Salient for coordinator of a completely uncoordinated complaint-letter-writing campaign to the Berkeley Police regarding their non-apology for egregious violent misconduct, pittance-free.

121

Antti Nannimus 11.15.11 at 3:38 am

Hi,

Do you think it might finally now be the right time to start dealing with at least a few of the most critical issues regarding our long-held, totally dysfunctional, religio-philo-psycho-sexual socialization processes? How would you describe your own? Are you totally “normal” as a result of that experience [pulling out my deep-probe, fine-gradation, bell-curve scale on you, [and I won’t need a log graph either]]?

No matter how many national leaders throughout history have already fallen, does it actually take the fall of a college football icon to finally create critical mass on this issue?

As far as I can tell, these “falls from grace” are a universal, historical, endemic, international problem, and probably most of us have also somehow been victims of it in some way or another at least during some time in our lives. Young people are particularly vulnerable.

Too bad though, it seems to me that as of now there are still no real honest brokers on this subject anywhere in sight. Sigmund Freud at least gave it a try, but he was shot down in flames almost immediately. Doesn’t “objective” academia have any responsibility to lead us through this shit?

Yes, we have laws, and we should enforce them, and we should enforce them on ALL the perpetrators. But in the meantime, we should also look at the impossible, hypocritical, psycho-socio-religio-edifice we’ve created within which we are all expected to live and conform. Do you really believe that is going to happen any time soon?

In the meantime, the regular, continuing, outrages are predictable.

So have a nice day,
Antti

122

Belle Waring 11.15.11 at 3:47 am

Antti: you mean, should we try to change human society to be more rational and just and free from prejudice and so forth? Um, yes. That what politics is for.

Hi Michael, agreed we have all been thinking this must be kind of shitty for you, even as we remain aware there are lots of real victims whom our hearts should go out to. I hope you’re doing OK. I agree it’s likely Mrs. Paterno was blindsided by this, although I have to say I don’t imagine Mrs. Sandusky was, at all.

123

Sebastian 11.15.11 at 3:51 am

It’s weird. You’ve worked yourself up so much that you seem to think I’m going disagree with you that the assistant coach was really bad. Doesn’t the logic of my statement kind of require that I think he acted really badly? Or do you think I was paying him some kind of compliment by comparing him to Duranty?

“Important intellectuals who looked away from Stalin’s reign of terror were single-minded people led astray by too-fast adherence to political principles. “

Yeah they were. And it was fucking awful of them to provide cover for the mass murders. intentional starvation campaigns, genocide and gulags. (Scary that ‘gulags’ is the least of the evils). I don’t see why ‘too-fast adherence to political principles’ is any more of an excuse than ‘I thought Paterno did great things in my community’.

My whole point is that people are willing to do some seriously bad shit to defend institutions or ideologies that they believe in.

I think the fact that Stalin was defended for so long by so many (and even worse Mao–I mean fool me once, but come on) is crazy, but it is a particular kind of crazy that seems really really common among human beings. Hell Pol Pot convinced people to kill their teachers and parents over an ideology that had already proven to be murderous without leading to anything good. Catholics end up defending priests who raped their children. People look the other way on petty evils defend structures they want to support.

When I compare him to Duranty (who was fully aware of the starvation campaign while he was reporting that it wasn’t happening) that isn’t an excuse for either of them. They both did really awful things in support of things that they for their own stupid reasons thought were more important. Why is supporting Stalin by knowingly and publicly reporting lies about his murder campaigns, for ideological reasons supposed to be better than supporting Paterno for the good you thought he did in your community?

Yes the coach was stupid to think that any alleged good was worth hushing up a child rape. Of course he was! But there wasn’t any alleged good worth hushing up the Ukranian starvation campaign either. In neither case should any outsider with a drop of common sense think that it was worth it.

But people do.

All the fucking time.

And it is scary. I’m fully with you that it is awful. But it isn’t some mysterious awful that we see only every now and then. It is part of how lots of humans operate lots of the time. THAT is what is seriously scary.

124

Sebastian 11.15.11 at 3:52 am

Ugh the petty evils was from another thought that I decided not to flesh out. It should just read evils.

125

Lemuel Pitkin 11.15.11 at 4:02 am

Salient for Crooked Timber moderator!

Seconded.

ohdeargodno

Ah but if you wanted the job you’d be no good for it.

126

Sebastian(1) 11.15.11 at 4:30 am

It’s kind of unfortunate that we have almost the same nick and then – at this time at least – made similar arguments, but yeah, I agree pretty much with what Sebastian @132 says. If I understand Belle correctly, the whole disagreement and her critique of Douthat’s column boils down to the fact that he says he believes Paterno is a good man. But I read that as the lead-up to the conclusion, which is that no amount of good deeds can outweigh the evil that Paterno has abetted. And it’s pretty clear that he judges the Cardinal in the same way. In the and (and I guess, for Douthat, standing before god), these are not good men.
To me that is crystal and unambiguous reading the column as a whole. I really don’t understand how you can come away from that column thinking Douthat believes Paterno deserves to be treated as a good man still.

127

tomslee 11.15.11 at 4:49 am

Sebastian #132: My whole point is that people are willing to do some seriously bad shit to defend institutions or ideologies that they believe in.

That’s not what I get from your comments. If that was your point, no one would bother disagreeing because it’s obvious. But it’s not relevant: when I go back to Douthat’s article, I can’t see that we are reading the same thing at all. The article is not a universal story of the tragedy that people (all people) are capable of doing bad stuff because of their beliefs. Instead he presents these particular and apparently undeniable crimes (at least, he doesn’t deny them) as part of a tragic arc of specific “heroic”, “virtuous” people, while similar crimes carried out by less prominent people are part of a different story – that “Bad and mediocre people are tempted to sin by their own habitual weaknesses.” They are just bad people.

Imagine these stories presented to a judge. They are clearly presented to invoke an identification with the flawed but “virtuous”, and a dismissive lack of identification with the anonymous “bad and mediocre”.

There are bad people lurking out there, but Douthat explicitly excludes Castrillón and Paterno from their ranks.

128

tomslee 11.15.11 at 4:52 am

Sebastian (1). I really don’t understand how you can come away from that column thinking Douthat believes Paterno deserves to be treated as a good man still.

Because he writes, as a complete sentence, “I believe that Joe Paterno is a good man.”

129

Jack Strocchi 11.15.11 at 4:58 am

Belle Waring said:

The only reason Catholics like Joe Paterno and Darío Castrillón Hoyos are able to commit such uniquely awful crimes is because they are ethical in a way that run-of-the-mill godless folk cannot understand. Plus, I hereby stipulate that raping children is, admittedly, bad, mumble…[makes mysterious, several-part gesture with hand and wrists which magically resolves obvious contradictions.]

This is a wilfully misleading and scurrilous post. I always distrust journalists who neglect to quote chapter and verse the source they are attacking. Here is what Douhat actually said about Paterno and Hoyos:

Sins committed in the name of a higher good, Zmirak wrote, can “smell and look like lilies. But they flank a coffin. Lying dead and stiff inside that box is natural Justice … what each of us owes the other in an unconditional debt.” No higher cause can trump that obligation — not a church, and certainly not a football program. And not even a lifetime of heroism can make up for leaving a single child alone, abandoned to evil, weeping in the dark.

Doesn’t sound like a “mysterious…hand-waving gesture” to me. More like calling a spade a spade, but with some some charity towards the spade-wielder. Ross Douhat is one of the few honest and sane conservative pundits in the MSM, who actually understands conservatism. A rare and endangered species, he deserves better than this travesty.

The “crimes” (no charges laid) for which Paterno and Hoyos stand accused were sins of omission, not commission. They did not rape any children, at worst, they failed to denounce suspected child rapists or the protectors of such, out of loyalty to their church or team. I am not an expert on calculus but that looks like the second derivative of a crime.

That does not make their tribalism right but nor does it make them “uniquely awful crim[inals]”. They are about on a par with old time fellow travellers (G. A. Cohen I am looking at you), with the qualification that the Soviet Union provided only illusory goods, whilst Catholic Christianity has, by and large, busied itself with good works. I wonder how many Leftists of a certain age could look themselves in the mirror when judged by Miss Waring’s standard?

130

Michael Bérubé 11.15.11 at 5:01 am

Belle, many thanks, but yeah — the status of the two Paterno Professors is literally (and quite properly) the last thing on anyone’s minds right now. And I don’t think I feel significantly more horrified than any of my equally-blindsided colleagues. I imagine that the people at The Second Mile are even more torn up, since they were that much closer to the victims.

And much more could be said, I’m sure, about Dottie Sandusky’s role in this.

Meanwhile, Sandusky himself has now given an interview to NBC in which he says he is totally innocent and was only horsing around in the showers with young boys. I have to think both he and his attorney are on acid at this point.

131

Antti Nannimus 11.15.11 at 5:03 am

Hi Belle,

Antti: you mean, should we try to change human society to be more rational and just and free from prejudice and so forth? Um, yes. That what politics is for.>

No, Belle, that’s a bit patroning, and of course it’s not what I meant at all, but I expect you already knew that. I suppose this isn’t a good topic for general discourse and public consumption, but yet here today, on CT, it seems to be a topic of discussion anyway.

I’m concerned about something much more fundamental about our early socialization processes, and especially about how they relate to the formation of our sexual identities, which for most of us, are completely beyond our personal understanding . In fact, I think we’re actually mostly forced to suppress it. I think that’s true for both men and women alike by the way. And I think for some, perhaps even many people, that leads to very dysfunctional and anti-social behaviors and outcomes, as evidenced by this and many other popular issues dujour.

I don’t pretend to have any simple, easy, answers either, but I think it’s obvious that what we have now is completely effed up. And I don’t think we can ever get out of this awful situation until we have a much different cultural environment for dealing with this difficult subject. We should start first with marginalizing the influence of all of the religions on this issue. Then of course we would still have a lot of work to do in all our other cultural spheres.

I think I understand your passion about this though, and I mostly sympathize with it. There’s a lot of human exploitation going on here, and I think that is reprehensible. There are obviously a lot of collateral victims too in all these travesties, as we can clearly see in this latest scenario. I also think much of this is also probably ultimately preventable. But I don’t think it is entirely a “good versus evil” problem. We need to be a bit more understanding about our many human frailties, proclivities, tendencies, and socialization consequences, especially when it comes to the many issues of sexuality and erotic motivations, on which the propagation of our species depends. How can such a simple biological objective become so complicated?

If you think this is simply “good versus evil”, then we are probably going to be “ships passing in the night” on this subject. But you seem to be mostly enraged by the exploitation of children, and the use of force in sexual relations, and I completely share your outrage about those behaviors.

Best regards,
Antti

132

Antti Nannimus 11.15.11 at 5:50 am

Hi,

If I’m going to be patronized on CT, I suppose I should at least learn to be able to spell “patronizing”. Sorry. It’s amazing what the spelling-checkers allow though. The CT spell-checker also parses “effing” without at hitch. Even that passes my personal QC check too though.

Have an effing nice new day,
Antti

133

Jack Strocchi 11.15.11 at 5:52 am

Sebastian H @ #86 said:

The whole point is that it is a very human thing to hide misdeeds when you are institutionally invested in something that you think is doing good. For some it is communism for others the Catholic church, for others it was Clinton, for others it was the Iraq War. It is something humans do. And pretending that only (or mainly) your political enemies do it is a great way to let really big nasty things grow on your own side. And you pretty much can’t police the other side nearly as well as you can your own side. But institutionally, we don’t like to police our side. So when other people point it out, we don’t think about it seriously, we whine about hippie punching or unpatriotic behavior, depending on which side we are on.

Here here, thats the most un-biased and fair-minded comment posted in the entire history of the blogosphere. The institutional (and ideological) Left and Right tend to close ranks on their own side whilst declaring the other side a free-fire zone. Its what they do.

Cultural conservatives played dumb whilst the Church winked at child abuse. Although the Church has finally got around to making some kind of restitution and repentance. Even now the Right continues to cover up its monotonous record of catastrophic failure, see Pentagon under the neo-cons and Wall Street under the bankstas.

Here in Australia Left-liberals made a complete balls-up of indigenous self-determination, a free-for-all cultural policy which unleashed an epidemic of child rape in remote communities. Finally one lawyer had the guts to file a damning report. A conservative government declared martial law in the Northern Territories which went some way to restoring adult supervision. For her troubles the lawyer was ostracised by Left-liberals, who still, to their eternal shame, continue with the cover up and stone-walling. No one has been held accountable, because every one had the best of intentions, you see.

And don’t get me started on political correctness and pas d’ennemis à gauche.

Ideological goals and institutional rules are ultimately instrumental, rather than intrinsic, goods. The guy who suggested “thou shalt not worship false idols” was on the right track.

134

Belle Waring 11.15.11 at 6:34 am

I was going to respond but 137 did already. “I believe Joe Paterno is a good man.” This is an unambiguous statement and the overwraught emotionalism of the close does nothing but obfuscate.

135

Meredith 11.15.11 at 6:38 am

I’ve been thinking about Michael Berube’s long comment on and off for hours now. It’s given me greater insight into the Greek tragic chorus (in some plays, at least), the depth of whose painful laments when the disaster comes home to them has sometimes felt to me out of sync with their earlier prudent acquiescence and conventional wisdom. In turn, the Greek tragic chorus gives me a way to think about all of this.
We are invested in our institutions — and shouldn’t we be? Have we really any choice? Isn’t that investment, in some vital way, what it is to be human? Even if our thoughtful and imaginative investment often demands that we utterly transform those institutions? But we need more than conventional wisdom to transform them — after all, the chorus is often, in the end, right, but it is always markedly ineffective.
I’m wondering why Penn State (like my own small liberal arts college) celebrates the coach who actually and truly supports academic endeavors — as if that support legitimated academic endeavors. Shouldn’t things be the other way around? Shouldn’t the auctoritas lie with the professors, who then actually and truly support the value of athletic endeavors? Have we abdicated that authority? If so, why? (And are we thereby complicit, if only through a kind of choral passivity?)
Sorry to get OT Belle’s post, but MB’s comment seemed to me worthy of special consideration.

136

Meredith 11.15.11 at 6:45 am

I would add that I went to Michigan (grad) and have never had more sheer fun than I had at Michigan games. This was in the heyday of the Bo/Woody rivalry. I do appreciate the thrill of big-time college football.

137

Jack Strocchi 11.15.11 at 7:07 am

Belle Waring @ #143 said:

I was going to respond but 137 did already. “I believe Joe Paterno is a good man.” This is an unambiguous statement and the overwraught emotionalism of the close does nothing but obfuscate.

If you add the all the good that Ms Waring (and I for that matter) have ever done it would not come close to the amount of good Joe Paterno has done in his life both on and off the field, even allowing for his moral lapse. Of course Joe Paterno is a Republican, Catholic, crusty old curmudgeon. Thats three strikes!

Jesus was spot on as usual when he scorned the Pharisees.

138

Meredith 11.15.11 at 7:20 am

You can’t count good, or bad. See, for great instance, Euripides’ Alcestis. The technocrats’ nightmare, that play. (Thanatos, Death, as the ultimate, frustrated technocrat — though he does get us all in the end, doesn’t he? Or does he?)

139

chris y 11.15.11 at 8:12 am

the amount of good Joe Paterno has done in his life both on and off the field

OK, somebody convince me that achievement in athletic contests, in any role, in any context, has any moral value whatsoever, positive or negative. I assert that they do not. Athletic contests are essentially decorative, mostly harmless, often great fun, but in themselves completely devoid of moral content.

140

Andrew F. 11.15.11 at 10:58 am

I agree chris y. I don’t know enough about Pennsylvania law to say anything about the feasibility of criminal charges against additional individuals, including McQueary (was he given immunity for his testimony?) and Paterno. But surely Penn State could pursue a civil action against a number of these individuals, including Paterno, for past compensation. Simple termination of employment is insufficient here.

I’ve also heard some talk of greater institutional penalties being levied against Penn State’s football program, but that seems unlikely.

141

Bill Benzon 11.15.11 at 11:56 am

Meanwhile David “We Lack Scripts” Brooks has had time to set his thoughts in order:

In centuries past, people built moral systems that acknowledged this weakness. These systems emphasized our sinfulness. They reminded people of the evil within themselves. Life was seen as an inner struggle against the selfish forces inside. These vocabularies made people aware of how their weaknesses manifested themselves and how to exercise discipline over them. These systems gave people categories with which to process savagery and scripts to follow when they confronted it. They helped people make moral judgments and hold people responsible amidst our frailties.

But we’re not Puritans anymore. We live in a society oriented around our inner wonderfulness. 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. People look for laws that can be changed so it never happens again.

Umm, err, really, Mr. Scripts? There’s some of that going on, yes, but I see mostly confusion. This “society oriented around our inner wonderfulness”, where is that? On Oprah? In the pages of Deepak Chopra? In the upper reaches of the mighty towers on Wall Street? Or maybe inner wonderfulness is a Koch Brothers product. As for those script-loving Puritans, in this case, who would they have burned first?

His last paragraph:

The proper question is: How can we ourselves overcome our natural tendency to evade and self-deceive. That was the proper question after Abu Ghraib, Madoff, the Wall Street follies and a thousand other scandals. 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.

Such wisdom there, yes indeed. Think about that David “Mr. Evasive” Brooks: “How can we ourselves overcome our natural tendency to evade and self-deceive.” How indeed? Almost makes me want to break out my Little Derrida Do-It-Yourself Deconstruction Kit.

142

JP Stormcrow 11.15.11 at 11:56 am

But surely Penn State could pursue a civil action against a number of these individuals, including Paterno, for past compensation.

Not saying that would not be warranted in a just world, but the university would have one hell of a time successfully pursuing anything given the actions (or lack thereof) of its AD and VP. Although the pensions of the various individuals involved have already become a subject of scrutiny. I would not be surprised if the Board of Trustees ends up having very significant turnover/re-organization (not alleging any direct knowledge but a significant helping hand in creating and maintaining the climate).

143

Bill Benzon 11.15.11 at 11:58 am

Whoops! The “But we’re not Puritans…” paragraph is Brooks as well. Sorry.

144

Patrick Nielsen Hayden 11.15.11 at 12:44 pm

Jack Strocchi, #146: “Of course Joe Paterno is a Republican, Catholic, crusty old curmudgeon. That’s three strikes!”

Points off for unearned self-pity. I’m at least two out of those three (hint: not a Republican), and I’m not impressed by whines of this sort.

chris y, #148: I think Strocchi was referring at least in part to undeniably good things done by Paterno aside from athletics, as Strocchi’s link makes clear. Michael Bérubé’s long post upthread talks about this as well. Arguments over the value or non-value of any kind of athletics are off the point; it’s obvious that Paterno did more with his life than coach a successful football program.

Also off the point (and this is a general observation, not pointed at any particular commenter): arguments over what level of good works “outweigh”, or fail to outweigh, various kinds of sins. Since none of us are in the business of making metaphysically determinative rulings on the value and fate of anybody’s soul, this stuff is irrelevant. What we ought to be concerned with are questions of civil justice and equity. Postulate a janitor who failed to report the rape of children by a fellow janitor. Would they have been retired as gently as Joe Paterno has been, with his severance pay and many other perks? Would Ross Douthat be writing sorrowful columns about how when janitors fall into sin, they do so not because of the laziness and bad habits that afflict normal people, but because their janitorial devotion to the high ideals of cleanliness and order leads them astray? I think not. But why not?

As I said above, I’m perfectly open to the idea that the Joe Paterno story is a complicated one, and I’m not in the least interested in demonizing him or denying his good works. The point is that everybody’s story is a complicated one. What’s offensive about Douthat’s column isn’t the case he makes for Paterno and Hoyos, it’s his assertion that the world is divided into mediocre people who sin and fail for uninteresting reasons, and heroic figures whose sins are the tragic consequence of their mighty virtues. Did I say that was what’s offensive about Douthat’s column? It’s also the point of Douthat’s column.

Many people have described what happened to Paterno as a “Greek tragedy.” Well, what happens to most of us is a Greek tragedy. Life is tragic; we all fail in ways that, at least in part, stem from our particular strengths. Paterno did a lot of good in his life. So do millions of people whose good works don’t have the good fortune to be written up on Wikipedia and covered on TV. Paterno deserves justice and compassion. So does everybody else.

145

Antonio Conselheiro 11.15.11 at 12:46 pm

The way the Republican campaign has been going, we should probably expect Paterno to throw his hat into the Presidential ring within the next couple of weeks.

146

blah 11.15.11 at 12:49 pm

‘They are about on a par with old time fellow travellers (G. A. Cohen I am looking at you), with the qualification that the Soviet Union provided only illusory goods’ (Jack Strocchi, 138)
A minor difference is that fellow-travellers did not outrank Stalin and weren’t in any position to stop him.

147

tomslee 11.15.11 at 12:54 pm

For some reason this thread has me more than usually frustrated.

#146: If you add the all the good that Ms Waring (and I for that matter) have ever done it would not come close to the amount of good Joe Paterno has done in his life both on and off the field, even allowing for his moral lapse.

I had never heard of Joe Paterno before this scandal, or Darío Castrillón Hoyos, but I feel I’ve read this narrative many times. There are cases where we (the reading/watching public) hear a portrayal of the accused individual and are asked, in agonized tones, to balance their failures or crimes against their achievements, to treat them as rounded individuals with frailties and strengths.

Then there are the other 99% of cases where the accused has no such three-dimensional shape. Will we anguish about Brittney Carvery, 21, of no fixed address, who is accused of accessory after the fact in Toronto? Or will the justice system say that she is just a bad or mediocre person, tempted to sin by her own habitual weakness.

The fact that the judge who gave Jerry Sandusky lenient bail terms has apparently worked with a non-profit set up by Sandusky is more of the same. Who gets empathy and who gets strict sentencing? If we get to know Paterno, to reflect on the pain this is going to cause him and his family, then we need to get to know Brittney Carvery as well, and what brought her to this point in her life. But I doubt that any newspaper will be doing that.

148

tomslee 11.15.11 at 12:55 pm

I could have saved myself 20 minutes if I had waited until Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s comment appeared.

149

Watson Ladd 11.15.11 at 1:03 pm

Bill, I feel Derrida is part of the fooling ourselves. As for Brooks I have the answer to his question, but I doubt he will want to hear it. (Hint: it starts with an S and ends in “ism”). But that’s not the issue we have. Joe Paterno knew what he was doing was wrong. The person who reported their discoveries to him trusted him to do, what for whatever reason (fear of retaliation, feeling deeply disturbed by what he just saw, perhaps not wanting to get involved) he could not. (Sorry about the plurality of pronouns.) He had a responsibility to at a minimum report this higher up and fire Sandusky immediately. Sandusky’s employment facilitated his crimes. He did not. I doubt that any degree of sophistry could change the nature of what he did.

150

JP Stormcrow 11.15.11 at 1:18 pm

He had a responsibility to at a minimum report this higher up and fire Sandusky immediately.

Not that it changes any of the moral calculations, but for the record, Sandusky was not employed by the university* at the time of the explicit 2002 incident, and Paterno did take it up the chain (so the AD and Exec VP had knowledge of the incident and conducted the “investigation” about which they apparently lied to the Grand Jury leading to the charges of perjury against them). There are certainly grounds for speculation on Paterno’s knowledge of incidents and investigations back in 1998 when Sandusky was employed.

*But he did have free run of the place, and even after 2002 had only slightly-restricted free run of the place.

151

Barry 11.15.11 at 1:22 pm

Sebastian H 11.14.11 at 7:20 pm

” Well I suppose I could have gone to Duranty winning a Pulitzer prize for cheerleading communism and denying the Ukranian mass starvation. Countenancing the murder of millions might be ‘pretty much the same thing when you think about it’ as hiding child rape.”

When one side has to go back 80 years to find their counter-example, it says something.

152

Barry 11.15.11 at 1:26 pm

Andrew F. 11.15.11 at 10:58 am
” I agree chris y. I don’t know enough about Pennsylvania law to say anything about the feasibility of criminal charges against additional individuals, including McQueary (was he given immunity for his testimony?) and Paterno. But surely Penn State could pursue a civil action against a number of these individuals, including Paterno, for past compensation. Simple termination of employment is insufficient here.”

I imagine at this point the Trustees’ first goal is to protect themselves personally, then the power, prestige and wealth of Penn State, then – well, nothing.

Joe Paterno was apparently the biggest man on campus for decades, and a big rainmaker, and a stud in what’s basically an insanely corrupt system (money-making sports). The dirt that he has…………………..

I’m sure that he could testify against the odd current Trustee, about the discussions he had. This wouldn’t necessarily get that Trustee convicted, but it would drag them deeper into the mess, and put them in jeopardy of civil suits, on top of major disgrace.

153

Belle Waring 11.15.11 at 1:44 pm

…the amount of good Joe Paterno has done in his life both on and off the field, even allowing for his moral lapse.
Are you fucking kidding me? Moral lapse? Enabling the rape of small children, this is a lapse now? Boy howdy, isn’t Paterno going to be surprised when it turns out the Ancient Egyptians were actually right, and his soul is tossed to Ammit (a chimera of the deadly crocodile, lion, and hippopotamus) after Anubis weighs his soul against a feather on Maat’s balance!

154

Kiwanda 11.15.11 at 3:03 pm

Patrick Nielsen Hayden: “Would Ross Douthat be writing sorrowful columns about how when janitors fall into sin, they do so not because of the laziness and bad habits that afflict normal people, but because their janitorial devotion to the high ideals of cleanliness and order leads them astray? “

I think Douthat’s point was that such an understanding of the implications of your ideals is a horrible mistake. It reminds me of Steven Weinberg’s “…for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

Speaking of religion: it’s pretty clear that the Catholic hierarchy is shot through with child-rapists, and child-rapist-enablers, including the current pope. What is the moral culpability of donating to such an organization, or regarding yourself as a member?

155

bianca steele 11.15.11 at 3:06 pm

I would like to know whether Paterno qualifies for Zizek as a knight of faith. Really, it would clarify the concept for me.

156

Belle Waring 11.15.11 at 3:11 pm

I would like to know whether Paterno qualifies for Zizek as a knight of faith. Really, it would clarify the concept for me.
I can only imagine that muddying the waters, but perhaps I am insufficiently committed to Sparklemotion.

157

bianca steele 11.15.11 at 3:12 pm

@153
The problem is that Douthat isn’t making an argument, unlike Brooks, to the latter’s eternal credit. Douthat is just meandering around with words like “good” and “mediocre” without caring what his readers will think those words mean (which is why all we can get out of it is “he divides people into two groups”), and he over-relies on readers knowing who he is to get the right point across.

158

Sebastian H 11.15.11 at 3:20 pm

I didn’t have to go back 80 years. That was my second example. The first was the turnabout in narrative about sexual harrassment in the workplace and the seriousness of schtupping low level employees if you’re the boos when favored son Clinton was the one having sex with interns and then having his minions call her a lying sluts with mental problems until it turned out she had a semen stained dress. See extra especially the whiplash of opinion from Gloria Steinem on the subject as well as Patricia Ireland. See also Uncle Kvetch above, who classifies it as “tawdry sexual dalliance” without apparently understanding what the whole abuse of position problem is. (Hint: it isn’t always in the sexual dalliance, it is in the expectations the boss has with other employees and the problems caused when you won’t follow along with the expectations, see also the large number of other women implicated in the Clinton mess. Up to and including Broadrick).

Considering the immense turnabout on workplace balance of power relationships, it is an excellent example.

159

Uncle Kvetch 11.15.11 at 3:34 pm

The problem is that Douthat isn’t making an argument, unlike Brooks, to the latter’s eternal credit.

Sorry, bianca, but I’m not going to give Brooks any credit for “People used to know child rape was wrong, but then the hippies came along and told everybody to ‘just do your own thing, man.'”

160

Uncle Kvetch 11.15.11 at 3:50 pm

161

bianca steele 11.15.11 at 4:05 pm

Uncle Kvetch,
It’s pretty obvious that Douthat and Brooks have pretty much the same prescription for what they believe to be America’s moral ills: religion. Brooks adds modern social science (which he believes can be meshed with religion), and Douthat won’t, but I don’t think that’s the big difference between them. It’s that Brooks says the scandal means we should investigate and change things, and Douthat says the scandal means we should learn to shut our mouths (though of course he doesn’t actually say that, and it’s entirely possible he agrees 100% with David Brooks).

Brooks is confusing because, I think, he would have been a liberal if he’d been in a different place and time. But he came up in the conservative movement (and also, he’s Canadian), and he seems pretty sure only the Republicans can save us.

162

Meredith 11.15.11 at 4:06 pm

@166. It’s to Brooks’ “eternal credit” that he’s making an argument: is that how low the bar has been set for a regular NYT columnist? How about the dime-store sociology and utterly inaccurate historical claims that are the stuff of his so-called argument?

163

LFC 11.15.11 at 4:38 pm

Brooks: “These systems gave people categories with which to process savagery….”

‘These systems’ also licensed a lot of savagery. Indeed, for some of ‘these systems,’ killing “infidels” wasn’t considered savagery. It was considered a moral obligation.

164

Uncle Kvetch 11.15.11 at 5:04 pm

It’s to Brooks’ “eternal credit” that he’s making an argument: is that how low the bar has been set for a regular NYT columnist?

As is often the case, Brooks is merely taking an argument that’s being made further down the right-wing food chain and prettifying it to suit the delicate sensibilities of the NY Times readership.

165

Sebastian(1) 11.15.11 at 5:18 pm

to me, picking out one sentence from the middle of the column and then taking it to be the main message, even though it is directly contradicted by the columns concluding thoughts, is, to me, the definition of uncharitable reading.

More generally, I want to ask what the point of reading and commenting on Douthat is if you actually take that to be the correct reading. It’s clearly not because you think you can learn anything from it, because what Douthat says is obviously stupid. It also doesn’t appear to be to make an argument against Douthat that’s supposed to convince anyone who isn’t already convinced.
So the only reason left I see is to create a nice in-group feeling of “we’re good, they’re bad, we’re smart, they’re dumb.” That strikes me as neither particularly interesting, nor particularly well suited to a tragedy like this – I don’t think raping children and failing to act while the rape and abuse of children goes on is particularly left wing or right wing – but if that’s what you want.
I find it particularly irksome, that people seem to think/assume it necessary to argue about a child rape along partisan lines (and yes, Brooks’ initial reaction, linked to above in @51, is a much more egregious example of that than anything in this thread). E.g. I have no idea what Barry @160 means by “one side.” I like to use the failures of Western communists and socialists facing Stalinism and Maoism precisely because they were on _my_ side – I can’t really empathize with someone who believes religion or football are any types of higher goods that legitimize much of anything, so I take the closest analog of people who did and/or overlooked evil that I can somehow relate to. I could also point to the failure of the German reform school/alternative pedagogy movement to police child rape, but I figure too few people here know anything about that for it to be useful as an example.

(and since at this point some here seem so enraged that they have stopped to see clearly a public service announcement: Jack Strocchi is a troll – don’t feed.)

166

kharris 11.15.11 at 5:24 pm

Well, while some of the discussion of Douthat’s premise is worth reading, it may ultimately miss a more obvious point. Douthat is doing the pundit thing, and really has no reason to pick the particular approach he used, other than that it came to mind ahead of deadline. Douthat says utterly inane things a good bit of the time. He assumes the mantle with the best of ‘em, but is often as vapid as the worst. He, along with Brooks and Samuelson, has a set of explanations that please him, and he deploys them without regard to whether they make sense. The moral failings of Douthat’s boy-rape thinking may be no more than the result of his intellectual failings interacting with his crayon-box full of favorite stories. Seriously, what does Douthat know of the motivation of child rapists? If the answer is “nothing” (and let’s hope it is), then much of what he has written is intellectual drivel, without regard to whether it is moral drivel.

I am far readier to believe Douthat understands being driven to do immoral things by the presumption of personal superiority, but I doubt he understands why he understands.

167

Bill Benzon 11.15.11 at 5:26 pm

Let me offer an obvious observation and a dumb and simple-minded comment.

One. Though Sandusky is the one accused of child molestation, we’re not discussing him. We’re discussing Paterno.

Two. The Paterno discussion would be much easier if he could be put through a Magnetronic Being Splitter that would turn him into four different persons: 1) Paterno the winningest coach in college football, 2) Paterno the benefactor of good things at Penn State, 3) Paterno the figure-head of PSU, and 4) Paterno the guardian of children. If we could do that, then we could execute #4, burn #3 in effigy, give #2 a Let me offer an obvious observation and a dumb and simple-minded comment.

One. Though Sandusky is the one accused of child molestation, we’re not discussing him. We’re discussing Paterno.

Two. The Paterno discussion would be much easier if he could be put through a Magnetronic Being Splitter that would turn him into four different persons: 1) Paterno the winningest coach in college football, 2) Paterno the benefactor of good things at Penn State, 3) Paterno the figure-head of PSU, and 4) Paterno the guardian of children. If we could do that, then we could execute #4, burn #3 in effigy, give #2 a plaque in the lobby of the PSU library, and erect a statue to #1. Alas, the Magnetronic Being Splitter hasn’t been debugged yet, so we can’t do that. We’re stuck with having 1, 2, 3, and 4 in one indivisible person; and we don’t really have a way of making sense of such people. in the lobby of the PSU library, and erect a statue to #1. Alas, the Magnetronic Being Splitter hasn’t been debugged yet, so we can’t do that. We’re stuck with having 1, 2, 3, and 4 in one indivisible person; and we don’t really have a way of making sense of such people.

168

Barry 11.15.11 at 5:28 pm

Bill, something terrible got to your post :)

169

Barry 11.15.11 at 5:28 pm

Sebastian H 11.15.11 at 3:20 pm

” I didn’t have to go back 80 years. That was my second example.”

For which you had to go back 80 years.

170

Bill Benzon 11.15.11 at 5:29 pm

But it does look like 176 went through a beam splitter. Here’s what it should have been:

Let me offer an obvious observation and a dumb and simple-minded comment.

One. Though Sandusky is the one accused of child molestation, we’re not discussing him. We’re discussing Paterno.

Two. The Paterno discussion would be much easier if he could be put through a Magnetronic Being Splitter that would turn him into four different persons: 1) Paterno the winningest coach in college football, 2) Paterno the benefactor of good things at Penn State, 3) Paterno the figure-head of PSU, and 4) Paterno the guardian of children. If we could do that, then we could execute #4, burn #3 in effigy, give #2 a plaque in the lobby of the PSU library, and erect a statue to #1. Alas, the Magnetronic Being Splitter hasn’t been debugged yet, so we can’t do that. We’re stuck with having 1, 2, 3, and 4 in one indivisible person; and we don’t really have a way of making sense of such people.

171

Salient 11.15.11 at 5:29 pm

“is, to me, the definition of uncharitable reading”

Making five paragraphs of assertions that range from cringeworthy to alarming and from disturbing to sickening, and then tacking on a couple paragraphs that flower up the language while maintaining a painfully high degree of ambiguity, is, to me, the definition of uncharitable writing. God forbid we call that out, though.

172

cian 11.15.11 at 5:32 pm

Brooks adds modern social science

No he adds what he thinks modern social science is. In his mind he’s an important sociologist – lets not feed the delusion okay.

173

Antonio Conselheiro 11.15.11 at 5:44 pm

Brooks is confusing because, I think, he would have been a liberal if he’d been in a different place and time.

At any given place and time he would have been whatever would have enabled him to do well for himself and associate with the better class of people. He contains multitudes.

174

Barry Freed 11.15.11 at 5:53 pm

If you add the all the good that Ms Waring (and I for that matter) have ever done it would not come close to the amount of good Joe Paterno has done in his life both on and off the field, even allowing for his moral lapse

Speak for yourself but in my book this: http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2011/10/libertarian-ponies-what-still-may-be-the-best-weblog-post-ever.html weighs heavily in the scales.

“moral lapse,” he writes…”moral lapse,” “moral fucking lapse”!

175

bianca steele 11.15.11 at 5:55 pm

At any given place and time he would have been whatever would have enabled him to do well for himself and associate with the better class of people.

I’m not disagreeing with you, but unless I’m confusing Brooks with someone else, he got his start in real journalism by writing a parody of William F. Buckley at a time when Buckley was trying to recruit large numbers of college students for the new “conservative movement.” So to put it the opposite way, any left-liberal might have his job at the Times if there had been a left-liberal recruiting college kids with Brooks’s interests and approach, in the way Buckley had been doing, in the late 1980s.

176

aimai 11.15.11 at 5:58 pm

“He sees the powerful as having gained their place by merit and pities them when they’re corrupted by power. He has less pity for the rest of us.”

Simple question: Would he agree with this description of his attitudes?

Woah! What difference does it make whether Ross recognizes anything, much less himself in the mirror? He is one of the op ed writers with the least insight into his own motivations and the meaning of his own columns that I’ve ever read. I read Douthat irreligiously and I have yet to see a column that doesn’t include one or more errors of moral or logical reasoning so serious that it should have gotten him booted out of Catholic School, and sometimes out of the human race.

aimai

177

geo 11.15.11 at 6:01 pm

Bill Benzon @179 (part two): I was trying to make a somewhat related dumb and simple-minded point @83 and 94.

178

lemmy caution 11.15.11 at 6:05 pm

bianca steele

I agree that both Douthat and Brooks consider religion to be the answer. They both make no sense. Brooks brings up puritanism like Paterno was some kind of libertine hippy. Paterno is a lot more puritan than I am. Actual existing puritans were pretty awful too.

Brooks is right that the percentage of people who would fuck up like paterno and McQueary did is high. Whatever, they fucked up; it isn’t easy to do the right thing, but you still have to do it.

179

aimai 11.15.11 at 6:13 pm

Also, I don’t see how Douthat can write any column about the acts of a top Catholic Priest without referring to the fact that his decisions as part of the hierarchy were not in conflict at all with Catholic practice and teaching on the subject of “scandal.” For the Priest to be viewed as “tragically misguided” out of something noble, pure, and selfless –love of the good done by the organization–you would have to posit that the organization itself wasn’t asking him to aid and abet its continuity by covering up child molestation on a grand scale. But its trivially obvious that not only was the Priest rewarded for his coverup (so, not doing it from purely disinterested motives) but it was institutional policy that things should be covered up (following protocol with respect to the importance of shielding the church from scandal). He was at no time acting independently at all.

Douthat doesn’t discuss this in his column but his analysis assumes that “great and good men” act while mediocre and flawed men react. He’s arguing that the sins of the little men result from the “no missing a slice off a cut loaf” attitude of the petty person. Since they are never achieving anything or acting out of the common their motives and their sins are always presumed to be self interested. His great men are above that–their goals, like their sins, are for the common good. But there’s just no way to assert that under the circumstances. Both the Priest and Paterno were, in fact, petty apparatchiks in a larger system that rewarded them for precisely that attitude–hey! no one misses a slice off a cut loaf. The harm’s already been done! That they, in Douthat’s version, mistook the future and reputation of the organization for being as important as the future and reputation of the littlest adulterer and thief doesn’t make the choice of the coverup any less culpable.

aimai

180

lemmy caution 11.15.11 at 6:22 pm

“If you add the all the good that Ms Waring (and I for that matter) have ever done it would not come close to the amount of good Joe Paterno has done in his life both on and off the field, even allowing for his moral lapse”

We can define the “Paterno” as the amount of good subtracted from your remaining store of good for enabling a single child rape. What historical figure has most good, and what is his/her good as defined in Paternos?

181

Elf M. Sternberg 11.15.11 at 6:29 pm

“An adult”: I don’t think it’s individualists against individualism. Douthat is arguing quite simply from a different premise.

For Douthat, it’s more like: “Silly liberals, expecting Joe Paterno to suffer the same for covering such a horrendous crime as some shmoe down the street. That’s your ridiculous equality-of-outcome things. Paterno used his opportunity to build enormous goodwill and social capital within his tribe, and now the silverbacks are closing ranks, as they should. You have the same equality-of-opportunity, you know, and you blew it. Don’t expect me to write an elegiac in your defense. You’re not important enough.”

182

Elf M. Sternberg 11.15.11 at 6:54 pm

Lemmy wrote: “Whatever, they fucked up; it isn’t easy to do the right thing, but you still have to do it.”

Even more importantly, we have to continue to hammer home what is the right thing to do. Brook’s “modern morals” and Douthat’s mealy-mouthed excuses just give license to the current age more than any argument in favor of gay marriage or dope smoking or whatever other “laxity” you might perceive. Stopping rape is the right thing to do, and even the meta-excuses being passed around as people try to come to grips with why “good people” don’t do the right thing is an offense to survivors. John Scalzi’s Omelas State University is a good place to start.

183

Bill Benzon 11.15.11 at 6:56 pm

geo@186. Yes, you were. Perhaps we need to repeat the dumb and simple-minded idea yet a fourth time? This is one of those “it does not compute” problems that distinguishes human beings from super-smart computers hell-bent on world domination.

184

geo 11.15.11 at 7:08 pm

Bill: On the other hand, there’s something to be said for just sitting back and watching people repeatedly slam Brooks and Douthat. Those two so richly deserve to be pilloried …

185

geo 11.15.11 at 7:15 pm

PS – Bill: Just clicked on your name tag and discovered your website. Wow!

186

Antonio Conselheiro 11.15.11 at 7:23 pm

As I said, it’s all about success worship, deference to hierarchy, and institutional loyalty, not blindness to child abuse. I don’t think I’m agreeing with Brooks to say that a very large part of modern life is lived within institutional contexts where the individual must satisfy to the institution’s demands, whether the institution is an amoral corporate person or some pluralist liberal entity. Most individuals make their choices in terms of personal prudence, which includes fear of the law.

Since many of us spend our best hours in the service of corporate persons, large parts of our lives are amoral, with ethical considerations only coming up rarely, in extreme and exceptional circumstances which are often damaging to our careers.

“Get along, go along”, “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do”, “You can’t fight city hall”, and “If you can’t lick ‘em, join ‘em” are the four ignoble truths of this aspect of life. In the extreme case, Mafiosi are there as role models.

Paterno didn’t have to defer to anyone and had was already the most successful ever, so his crime was specifically the result of institutional loyalty. Same for the Catholic hierarchy.

So there was an article there after all, but it didn’t have much to do with dope, sex, and rock n roll. And the loyal, deferential, success-worshipping Brooks was not the guy to write it.

187

Bill Benzon 11.15.11 at 7:24 pm

Thanks, geo. Though my current pet project does seem rather far afield from the PSU mess.

188

aimai 11.15.11 at 7:27 pm

Bill Benzon at 179 says:

We’re stuck with having 1, 2, 3, and 4 in one indivisible person; and we don’t really have a way of making sense of such people.

Is that really true or is that some kind of snark? I absolutely don’t have the slightest problem “making sense” of someone who made a lot of money at running a large organization devoted to turning male energy into dollars and, when asked to do something for another person that would cost him a small fraction of his monetary reward and reputation, refused. People behave this way all the time. The only problem the viewer has in viewing Paterno’s behavior is when, like Douthat, they presume all of his public and private life was “good” until a single mistake made it look bad. In reality, like most people, all of Paterno’s private and public life were in service to a demanding and arrogant ego (Joe Paterno). He did lots of things during that life, none of which were truly “selfless” in the sense of not serving and promoting that Persona. Long before the end of his life–which has yet to come–he had many chances to serve others. For instance McQueary, who was a long time student/associate could have been raised to think for himself and have some kind of moral compass–but Paterno preferred to hand rear a moral bullock.

The fact that Paterno turned his back on eyewitness testimony about a rape committed by a close personal friend, of a child affiliated with an ongoing charitable organization which he was facilitating through the use of his organization’s name and buildings, is just the culmination of a life lived for selfish and self aggrandizing purposes.

What’s puzzling about that? All those things–coach, philanthropist, facilitator of child rape are easily united in the one person. The fact that the king occasionally distributes largesse to the populace doesn’t also not make him chief tax collector and chief executioner.

aimai

189

bianca steele 11.15.11 at 7:41 pm

“AC”:
Actually, I thought I had to word that to make room for someone like Leon Wieseltier on the other side, but even before he decided to interpret the whole of the Talmud for a mainstream press, in the 1980s he recruited . . . Andrew Sullivan.

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Antonio Conselheiro 11.15.11 at 7:48 pm

One thing to remember is that Paterno was thought of as a saint because he was being compared to a low baseline — other college football coaches. He did not exploit his players as viciously as most of the others, he gave a lot to charity, and he was reasonably well-read.

Giving to charity is the primary way for malefactors to launder their reputations. Not that Paterno was an enormous malefactor all along, but this is something to keep in mind.

191

CJColucci 11.15.11 at 8:40 pm

It’s true that a depressingly large number of people might not have intervened if they saw a middle-aged man sodomizing a ten year-old — though I am aware of no evidence that things have gotten worse in that respect since the damned hippies took over. But even in our degenerate times, lots of people still would intervene. I, personally, have intervened to prevent a cruel act nowhere near as bad, and many people I know have done so, too. And none of us is particularly heroic. Maybe Brooks ought to spend more time talking to the common run of folks at Applebee’s salad bar.

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chris murphy 11.15.11 at 10:25 pm

Douhat sees Paterno as heroic for getting paid millions of dollars for doing the same job that thousands of high school coaches do for 40k per year and tens of thousands of volunteers do for free, except they do it without being complicit in child rape.
It is precisely the fact that Paterno makes a great deal of money that elevates him to heroic status for Douthat.

193

LFC 11.16.11 at 1:20 am

It’s now being reported, e.g. on the NewsHour, that McQueary has sent e-mails in which he says that he did stop the assault that he witnessed; the grand jury report didn’t include this because it is a compressed summary of a lot of testimony. (Of course, even assuming this is true, which it may or may not be, it still leaves the issue of his subsequent apparent failure to report what he saw to anyone outside the university.)

194

Odin 11.16.11 at 2:58 am

Horrific example of sacrificing the innocent for the presumed greater good, somewhat akin to our military killing young children when we bomb their parents. These guys’ perceptions of their good justifying that evil was horrendously skewed.

Douthat writes about their obligation to further justice for the victims but I want to see them asked why the near-certainty of future victims didn’t morally compel them to act to save those children. Paterno’s let’s-pray-for-the-victims impropriety was heartbreakingly clueless.

195

Jack Strocchi 11.16.11 at 5:29 am

Sebastian(1) @ #174 said:

to me, picking out one sentence from the middle of the column and then taking it to be the main message, even though it is directly contradicted by the columns concluding thoughts, is, to me, the definition of uncharitable reading

That was my conclusion already upthread at #138, good to see some one’s paying attention:

I always distrust journalists who neglect to quote chapter and verse the source they are attacking. Here [in the concluding par of the column] is what Douhat actually said about Paterno and Hoyos:

And not even a lifetime of heroism

Which makes Sebastian(1)’s concluding obiter seem bizarre:

(and since at this point some here seem so enraged that they have stopped to see clearly a public service announcement: Jack Strocchi is a troll – don’t feed.)

A little more self-awareness, a little less self-regarding waffle might help you in your travels.

196

Bill Benzon 11.16.11 at 9:27 am

@Meredith, #144:

I’m wondering why Penn State (like my own small liberal arts college) celebrates the coach who actually and truly supports academic endeavors—as if that support legitimated academic endeavors. Shouldn’t things be the other way around? Shouldn’t the auctoritas lie with the professors, who then actually and truly support the value of athletic endeavors? Have we abdicated that authority? If so, why?

Interesting questions. On the first, one could also read it the other way, that is, that sport supports academic endeavors as a way of justifying its prominence on campus.

But it’s about the money and how the school attracts it.

I did my graduate work at SUNY Buffalo in the mid-1970s. When SUNY took over University of Buffalo (UB) in the late 1960s it did so with the intention of turning it into “the Berkeley of the East” and the English Department was, for whatever reason, one of the first to be targeted for significant upgrading, which it had achieved by the time I got there–that’s why I went, following a newly established ‘pipeline’ between Johns Hopkins (undergraduate school) and UB.

But, things were also heading into decline when I arrived at SUNYB in Fall of 1973. The student riots a couple of years earlier and freaked’ the local worthies and they put the breaks on SUNYB’s rise to greatness. And so forth etc.

Anyhow, either at the very end of my years there or, more likely, some time later, SUNYB started discussing whether or not it should beef up its football program, which had been nothing specia.l In fact, it may have been on a multiyear losing streak, I forget the details. The logic of that discussion was simple:

1) a good football team generates school spirit
2) school spirit generates alumni loyalty
3) and loyal alumni shower their beloved alma mater with $$$$

But UB didn’t have a Joe Paterno. So I don’t really know how that plan went, though, of course, I am aware to the funding nonsense that’s recently been going on in the SUNY system as a whole.

So, big-time athletics is a funding mechanism. Now, just how the funds generated actually work in the school budget, I don’t know. My guess is that they mostly support the big-time athletics that generated them in the first place. In the case of Penn State, Paterno himself put funds and fund-raising energy into academic endeavors. But that’s not the norm for big-time football coaches.

Now, think of the Ivies and would-be Ivies (like Johns Hopkins). They take a measured stance on big-time athletics. They DO understand and support the notion of atheletics generating school spirit, but they’re cagey about it. In the case of good old JHU, football isn’t much of a thing. But lacrosse, THAT’s another matter. And when I was there men’s fencing was a big deal. Among the Ivies proper, well, they’ve got their traditional football rivalvies, etc.

But the general line is that the schools want student athletes and that’s more or less what they do get. More or less. But they can afford to do this because they don’t need the TV exposure to generate money and interest in the school. They’ve got history and old money in the endowments. They’ve got their own brand of elite status to generate institutional loyalty. And, though their elite alumni etc, they’ve got good access to government research funding, etc.

And thus is teh USofA cajoled into funding higher education.

197

tomslee 11.16.11 at 12:18 pm

There are six comments in this thread that criticize McQueary on the basis of the indictment. It now appears that he may not only have stopped the incident he witnessed but also reported it to the authorities. “Innocent until proven guilty” is the right stance to take in all public discussions about culpability, for heroes and mediocrities alike.

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Belle Waring 11.16.11 at 12:53 pm

Tomslee, if we are misinformed by the press, our judgments may be faulty as a result, but this is not a reason never to make judgments about putative states of affairs. Criticizing someone on the basis of court documents seems perfectly reasonable. If the indictment turns out to be inaccurate on this point and he went up and pulled the kid away to safety and broke Sandusky’s jaw I’ll retract any criticisms gladly. But the fact that the authorities claim not to even know what child this is seem at odds with any conceivable situation in which McQueary, say, takes the frightened bleeding child to a hospital after calling 911, just as an example of things a person might do.

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politicalfootball 11.16.11 at 1:11 pm

In the interest of piling on tomslee, I’ll add that I would expect a pedophile caught mid-rape to stop. As best as I can figure, McQueary’s defense – and that of the others involved in the coverup – is that they asked that Sandusky not rape children at Penn State.

200

Salient 11.16.11 at 2:49 pm

It now appears that he may not only have stopped the incident he witnessed but also reported it to the authorities.

…ok, there should be some kind of record of the 911 call and emergency responders, right? In which case, WTF WTF WTF WTF WTF how could a police officer not arrest Sandusky on the spot (and make sure DNA evidence is collected from Sandusky) and why was the kid not ambulance-rushed to the hospital (with some appropriate attempt to recover DNA evidence).

McQueary seems to be accusing the emergency responders of what would possibly be the biggest f#$%-up in the history of emergency response. I’m not really inclined to hear that out, as it boggles my mind that McQueary wouldn’t immediately resign and go public with the information as soon as it became evident that neither the police nor the university were going to follow up on this. It’s been nine years, during which McQueary must have known Sandusky had access to further victims.

Minimum follow-up for legal purposes does not define minimum follow-up for purposes of moral judgment. I mean, hell, take a sledgehammer in to work a month later and straight up shatter the guy’s knees with it. And when you get arrested for that, make a public statement that you’ve witnessed the guy raping a child and you know he has had ongoing access to children since, which neither prosecutors nor the university and you wanted to prevent him from continuing to commit rape.

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Salient 11.16.11 at 2:51 pm

oops
…since, which neither prosecutors nor the university seem inclined to try to stop, and …

202

Meredith 11.16.11 at 3:05 pm

aimee@189, “That they, in Douthat’s version, mistook the future and reputation of the organization for being as important as the future and reputation of the littlest adulterer and thief doesn’t make the choice of the coverup any less culpable.” Do you intend the echo (in my ears at least), “If you do it onto the least of these my brethren, you do it even onto me”?

Bill Bezon@206. Much to mull. I’ve been nursing a quiet hope that this whole business might advance the soul-searching about athletics and academics that is already underway on many college campuses. Another thing I’ve been wondering: the effect of Paterno’s role in this story on coaches. A retired football coach here (as it happens, also a Catholic), someone I have always respected, was a huge fan of Paterno, who was his role model for understanding his own role as a coach and the role of athletics in the larger college experience of his athletes. I wish I had an opportunity now to ask him what he’s going through.

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politicalfootball 11.16.11 at 4:22 pm

The AP lede says that McQueary’s e-mail contradicts what the grand jury report said, but the story doesn’t seem to back that up. I’d say he amplifies on the content of the report.

The grand jury notes that Sandusky and the victim both saw McQueary. Reading that, I assumed Sandusky stopped raping the child, but it’s true that the grand jury report doesn’t actually say that. Nor does it say that McQueary spoke, but I don’t read it as having said he didn’t speak. It did say that McQueary “left immediately, distraught.” I think that still leaves time for McQueary to speak.

Here’s McQueary on the police:

I did have discussions with police and with the official at the university in charge of police

The grand jury report is clear that he spoke to VP Schultz – a week-and-a-half later. So maybe he eventually had a chat with a cop, too. What the grand jury says is that McQueary was never “questioned” by police. I don’t see McQueary as contradicting that.

If McQueary said he called the cops that night, he would be contradicting the strong impression left by the grand jury report, and would considerably mitigate his fault in the matter. But he doesn’t say that.

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Bill Benzon 11.18.11 at 10:06 am

205

lurker 11.19.11 at 5:17 pm

The “grammatical shortcut” responses to bob mcmanus’s question seem disingenuous, or at least superficial. What’s being argued is mostly: what is the correct amount to hate the candidate moral monster Paterno? Which is basically a celeb-infused culture war bullshit issue.

206

Antti Nannimus 11.20.11 at 2:08 am

Hi,

Today the Penn State foot ball team beat Ohio State by 20 to 14, so thankfully I suppose we are on the mend there now. Actually, in retrospect, with the moral example set for the world by the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, how could the Penn State authorities, in defense of their institution, have done otherwise?

Meanwhile, in Grant County, Wisconsin, a six-year-old boy is charged with sexual assault after being caught playing doctor.

So the world is once again, it seems, coming morally aright.

Have a nice day,
Antti

207

Will 11.20.11 at 6:37 pm

Perhaps someone could come up with a list of good deeds that would equal a child rape. Maybe this is like the torture debate about how it is worth it to torture one person to stop the bomb from exploding.

One child rape = a college library?

I am neither an economist nor a philosopher nor a university administrator, so perhaps I am wading deeper than I should. But, I am guessing that Paterno will need to fully fund a lot of humanities departments before he equals out the scales.

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