A few days ago David Brooks’ New York Times column (I’ll give you two reasons why I’m not going to link it – David Brooks, and New York Times.) tried to make the case that the consistent and widespread acceptance of child rape by Penn State insiders was really not such a strange thing. As Mark Steyn put it, Brooks and others are quick to claim that, “nobody knows,” what they would do if, like Mike McQueary, they were to happen upon Sandusky in the process of raping a ten year-old boy. Brooks’ is not the only article I’ve read recently that suggests that it’s normal – and thus somehow, acceptable – to walk away when confronted with something so clearly abhorrent, because the human mind somehow cannot accept what it has seen, and so chooses to ignore it.
Maybe that’s the way it works in New York high society, but in the world I inhabit, it’s considered neither normal, nor acceptable to ignore an abomination. I don’t know how they rear their young in the big city, but where I grew up, we learned from an early age that we are accountable for our actions, and that, simply by virtue of drawing breath, we incur a responsibility to protect those who cannot protect themselves. We learn it early, and we put it into practice: When you see someone being abused, you do what you can to stop it. In the school-yard, on the playground, in the neighborhood – it’s what you do, even if the odds are against you, and even if doing it gets you knocked around a bit.
You start young, because it’s the kind of thing that goes against the grain. It’s a behavior that has to be learned, and it has to be instituted by practice, so that, by the time you are 28 years old, 200 and-some pounds, and 6-something feet tall, like McQueary, you know that the reason God made you big and strong has nothing to do with football, and everything to do with protecting a ten year-old who’s being brutalized. You don’t run away and call your daddy like McQueary did. You pick up the nearest blunt object, and you brain the man who’s raping the child. I know it’s not a sophisticated world view, and it’s not very nuanced, but I like to think it’s acting in a tradition that is very much worth preserving.
Brooks must get some kind of perverse satisfaction from suggesting that none of us is better than those facilitators of rape at Penn State. Maybe it helps him sleep to think that most people are like him, and need a map to tell right from wrong. I know better though, and I have no interest in preserving his illusions. He is a member of a pathetic minority. Incapable of action on their own, they derive their sense of value from smugness, and they contrive to make themselves superior to the very people to whom they would apply for aid, were they to find themselves in the position of that ten year-old boy.