I’ve argued political topics for a long time. I’ve defended Obama to Republicans, the Afghanistan War to liberals, Palestinians to Israelis and vice versa. As contentious as those topics are, nothing ever evokes anything close to the unanimous orgy of hatred that arises when I say anything even slightly in defense someone accused of any sort of wrongdoing that involves both 1. sex, and 2. children. One of those, and it’s easy to find defenders, but both and it’s impossible. For example, I remember not too long ago I had pointed out in an argument, as one of many examples of the irrational fears played up by the media, that child neglect causes orders of magnitude more deaths than child sex abuse. Immediately, the conversation shifted to claims that I must be a pedophile myself for even entertaining the thought that there are larger issues than child sex abuse.
And that brings us to this – well, what really should be a non-story. Some sex scandal tangentially involving a prominent college football coach. Having read about what exactly is causing all the outrage at Paterno, I thought – can’t somebody defend this guy? A google search could find only one person – a Mr. Kutcher, that attempted a defense of Paterno, but apparently failed.
My first thought upon reading this was, if the feared Ashton Kutcher must flee in disgrace after defending Joe Paterno, what chance do I have? And I’m a strange choice for defender too – I didn’t go to Penn State, and I don’t even follow college football. And Paterno’s supposedly a conservative Republican politically, and I’m about as liberal as they come. Why should I defend him?
Looking at the overwhelming assault on both Paterno and his supporters by the media and the online comment horde, the answer is obvious – because someone has to. Yes, I am going to defend current scum-of-the-earth-by-popular-vote, Joe Paterno.
So, I present you with the following thought experiment:
1. Imagine for a moment that you are a doctor at hospital. You’ve worked at the hospital for a long time, and you can hardly remember working anywhere else. You used to work with one doctor, who you got to be pretty good friends with, we’ll call him Stu. Stu has since left your department and works in the maternity ward, out of your supervision.
2. Now imagine that a medical student doing clinical work in the maternity ward, well call him Mark, tells you that he’s seen Stu pick up a newborn baby out of it’s bed and punt it. Just straight up picked it up and punted it across the maternity ward.
3. You think for a moment, gee, that seems odd. Doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that Stu would do. And you wonder why is Mark telling you this instead of calling the police himself? At the very least, he could tell Stu’s boss, Carl. You might even think – and this is terrible, but you can’t keep the thought from entering your mind – that the child’s parents would notice the various bruises on their baby and report it themselves. And what if Stu didn’t do it? What if Mark – somehow – thought he saw something he didn’t? What if Mark’s nuts? What happens if you make this accusation over something that turns out to be untrue? How embarrassing would it be to falsely accuse a doctor of kicking a baby across a room?
4. Meanwhile, there’s work to be done – more patients are coming in, and you have to figure out what, if anything to do with what you just heard from Mark. So, do you:
- A) Decide it’s a good idea not to get involved, pretend you heard nothing, and go about your own business,
- B) Tell Stu’s boss Carl about what you heard from Mark, or
- C) Call the police and tell them that you heard about, but did not see, a doctor kicking a baby across a maternity ward.
Well if you chose anything other than (C), you deserve to be fired, as almost everyone seems to agree. After all, why are you so in favor of kicking babies around hospitals? Maybe you’re a baby-kicker yourself! I hope you get kicked across a maternity ward…(yes, someone did actually wish for my ass rape because I defended Joe Paterno in a forum).
As we know, Paterno chose (B). He did what was done unto him, and passed it on to someone else. But stop trying to change the subject – we’re not talking about Paterno, we’re talking about you, baby-kicker-sympathizer. Because what studies show is that even (B) is too good for you. If you’re an average person, you’re overwhelmingly likely to choose (A). How do we know this? Any psychology major could tell you: the bystander effect, most famously displayed during the Murder of Kitty Genovese, where several witnesses in New York City watched a young woman get stabbed to death and raped, apparently without calling the police or taking any other action for half an hour. There are many, many more examples of the same thing, and each gets reported with the same outrage at the bystanders, and quickly forgotten. But the demonstrated fact remains the same – when faced with a horrible event that would require you to take an action to stop it, you’re very unlikely to take that action. Instead, you are most likely to say, “Why should I get myself involved in this?” and pretend you have seen – or heard about – nothing. Almost certainly, your (honest) answer to the hypothetical is (A). It’s definitely the practical one – the easiest choice, and the one that’s least likely to get you into trouble.
But if you were Joe Paterno, your answer is the far more admirable (B), which should have caused further investigation by Penn State (even if it didn’t). Had Paterno chosen (A) like you would have, his role probably would have never come to light and he could have feigned ignorance. Instead, he reported it, and created a record that would later be used against him. If only we could all be as righteous as Joe Paterno.