My dad was teaching literature at Penn State when I was born in Happy Valley, PA, but he soon moved on to something more lucrative and less frustrating than trying to get football- and beer-addled students to focus on the subtle pleasures of reading. After listening to a recent episode of This American Life, I sympathize anew with his plight. Sorry Nittany Lions, but ya'll sound like a bunch of drunken nitwits.
I remember reading an interview with an up-and-coming football coach a few years ago. The interviewer asked him the secret to being a great coach. He thought for a moment, then said, "Well, you have to be smart enough to understand the game, but not smart enough to realize how little it really matters." Judging by a lot of the recent press coverage, few at Penn State realize what really matters—and what doesn't.
Pardon me if I sound irritated with my fellow Pennsylvanians. It's just that in interviews I read about the sex abuse case now rocking the school, people keep repeating their disbelief that anyone—especially Saint Joe Paterno—could have ignored the evil going on around him. This disbelief ignores the fact that human beings are spectacularly, chillingly adept at ignoring evil. We do it every damned day.
No need to wag our finger at Germans who "must have known" what was going on just down the road in the 1940s. What's going on just down the road you live on? Is there a prison? If so, you're likely joining the rest of us in ignoring the fact that the United States throws more of its citizens into these dungeons than any other industrialized society on Earth. We're ignoring the fact that a lot of these prisoners never hurt anyone; they're just not white enough or rich enough to walk away from getting caught with a bag of marijuana in the glove compartment. We're ignoring the fact that precisely nobody has ever died from a marijuana overdose, yet we live in a "free" society that destroys thousands of lives every month in this tired "war" nobody believes in, but that keeps grinding on because of financial incentives for police, prison, and legal institutions. We're ignoring the fact that one of every six people in prison is there for marijuana-related crimes involving no aggression against anyone.
We're also ignoring the fact that even our nominally progressive, compassionate president laughs and jokes about his own admitted use of marijuana "and a little blow," while refusing to speak out against these insane, cruel, and totally unjust policies.
Don't even get me started on the evils we're ignoring in Afghanistan, Yemen, and domestic military bases where returning soldiers can't get medical care. Or the several dozen prisoners sitting in Guantanamo indefinitely even though our own government has acknowledged that they are not guilty of anything other than bad luck. Don't mention the fact that Catholic clergy is still condemning others' sexual choices and telling parisioners how to vote, while still paying no taxes and trying to cover up their own sexual abuses of children. Or the planet's continuing slide into meteorological chaos while our "leaders" ignore and deny the obvious.
Can't believe Paterno and the others ignored the evil happening in Happy Valley? Come on, the whole culture of beer-enhanced sports worship is designed to facilitate the ignoring of evil. It's the essence of civilization.
Now, pardon me while I get ready for the NBA finals, the European soccer championship, and the Olympics. I can hardly wait.