A lot of wrist-twisting and hand-wringing over Mike McQueary’s actions after he came across Penn State Coach Jerry Sandusky raping a 10-year-old boy in the showers. McQueary, who Mark Steyn reminds us was about 30 at the time he witnessed the rape, did not not take pity on the poor boy, he did not stop the buggering, he did not call the cops, but instead ran home to his daddy for advice. The sequel we know.
But McQueary’s cowardice is not what is interesting. What is are the discussions about the event from our cultural betters, which have settled on the opinion that, “You would have done the same thing.” Which is to say, run away.
Typical is this New York Times piece by Alina Tugend whose headline ran, “Doing the Ethical Thing May Be Right, but It Isn’t Automatic.” As my grandmother, a woman of firm Austrian stock, would have said, “Like fun it isn’t.” And if it isn’t, it damn well ought to be.
David Brooks, also of that august journal, opted for sarcasm in his cogitations. “Let’s All Feel Superior.” Recalling a vague ethics, he at least pegged the shower-room rape an “atrocity” but then called the reaction of citizens to McQueary’s failure a “vanity” because of these citizens’ claims that they “would have done something.” Brooks recalled that many Nazis just followed orders.
Only Brooks could have found equivalent a nervous German civilian amidst the Holocaust—a person with nowhere to go, perhaps with wife and children, his neighbor vanished in the night and murdered—with a grown (and physically fit) man witnessing a child rape in a posh university public shower.
In both articles, we’re given to understand that because we are now a nation of cowards, or are at least seen or hoped to be so from vantage of our top newsrooms, that McQueary should be forgiven his sin, or at least that we should cut him a little slack. Why? Because studies—scientific, peer-reviewed studies—show that people sometimes act cowardly in tough situations.
Brooks highlighted a bit of top science to prove his thesis. Seems some “researchers” showed pictures with naughty bits to a sample of citizens. “Eye tracking software” noticed that those who said they were “uncomfortable” with dirty pictures did not look at them. Who would have guessed?
I’ll tell you who: Daniel Goldman, who interpreted the study thusly:
“In order to avoid looking, some element of the mind must have known first what the picture contained, so that it knew what to avoid. The mind somehow grasps what is going on and rushes a protective filter into place, thus steering awareness away from what threatens.”
This trivial logical point was supposed to the Aha! moment, the point at which we grasp that intellects far larger than ours are at work. Goldman’s research reveals why my grandmother never picked up a copy of Screw from the newsstand. Her brain first had to educate itself to learn what the magazine was before telling itself not to read the mag, you see.
Tugend boned up on the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology which had a paper on an accounting firm that, in order not to endanger its large fee, turned a blind eye to its clients finagling. The researcher who wrote the paper scientifically discovered that “unethical acts can become an integral part of the day-to-day activities to such an extent that individuals may be unable to see the inappropriateness of their behaviors.” Once again, who knew?
The infamous Stanford “prison experiment” is trotted out (though it must be out of wind by now, certainly), but only to tell us that the guy who designed that experiment discovered three categories of evil: “individual (a few bad apples), situational (a bad barrel of apples) or systemic (bad barrel makers).” Who never learn which is McQueary.
You’re probably lost by now, but let’s recall we’re talking about McQueary and the outcry that he should have acted like a man. Don’t “deceive” yourself, says Brooks, you’re just as weak as he—probably. “Studies show” that…well, it’s not exactly clear what not looking at pornography or how greed seduced some accountants has to do with not stopping the rape of a child.
But, by golly, this is science! We learned that science has showed us that because some people acted stupidly, we all might. And that is true. We might. But then again, we might not—and we should not.
What Brooks and Tugend forgot is that science cannot teach us morality. It can’t say that McQueary was wrong, nor can it say that McQueary’s critics, filled with honest or false bravado, were wrong.
And isn’t it better that the public reacted indignantly? Doesn’t it show there is a core of decency and manliness left? Isn’t a nation more likely to excuse vile acts if it is convinced that “nobody” condemns them? It should be celebrated that the uproar was so vocal, not denounced.