Ok, one more post about Maureen Dowd, then I’ll leave her alone (if she lets me). I just can’t help but point out that in her latest NYTimes column, the Mean Green Queen, writing under the consummate mean green title, Moral Dystopia: As our institutions decay, is our sense of right and wrong crumbling as well?, once again draws precisely the wrong conclusion about the state and trajectory of our culture.
This time her subject is the Jerry Sandusky Penn State child abuse case. First, yes, Sandusky’s actions were not just immoral, but outrageous and heartbreaking. And yes, Mike McCreary, the young assistant coach who witnessed Sandusky “grinding against a little boy in the shower” failed the test of decency by not stopping it RIGHT THE FUCK NOW, and instead waited till morning to “report it” to Head Coach Joe Paterno, a failure that was compounded by a series of authority figures who allowed Sandusky to continue his predation.
But an adult having sex with a child is not new. It has been going on since time immemorial, almost certainly at far higher rates than today and with much less social approbation. What is new is that it is news — and this week it’s news 24/7, a fact that is painfully apparent to anyone with cable TV. This is not moral decay, this is moral progress! Child sexual abuse (in fact abuse and violence in general) diminishes with cultural development. The truth of this trajectory is not particularly hard to ascertain. It is well known that in pre-modern, warrior cultures, even advanced ones like ancient Greece and Rome, adult/child sex was often not only accepted, but glorified. In today’s world, according to an aggregate analysis of 65 studies over 22 countries, published in Clinical Psychology Review, the highest rates of child sexual abuse occur in Africa (34.4%) and the lowest occur in Europe (9.2%) with North America and Asia falling in between. Again, this correlates with cultural development. Interestingly, some of the highest rates reported (in other research) are in South Africa and India, probably because these cultures have both substantial pre-modern populations that accommodate such behavior, and modern populations that notice, report and prosecute it.
But no matter, moral development is not allowed in the mean green worldview. We’re living in an ever-darkening dystopia, remember? The only good news here is that, as Dowd demonstrates repeatedly, we get to be glib and feel superior. As for her blithe observation that our institutions are decaying (which is received as Revealed Truth in the mean green meme where progress is ridiculed), again, not necessarily. What is surely decaying is our blind trust in institutions and powerful people. But is it regrettable that the vaunted institution of Penn State football, with Paterno as God and Sandusky at his right hand, is knocked off its pedestal? No, it is precisely the previous state of deification that blinded people, including young Coach McCreary, to what was going on in the showers.
Remember, evolution is beautiful, not pretty.
This can be also be seen in another great institution that is often deplored as being in decline: the American Presidency. Ask yourself what’s worse: Bill Clinton’s Oval Office escapades with a wily, consenting adult, about which we know waaaay too much … or John Kennedy’s serial philandering — including the deflowering of a 19 year old White House intern (and having her orally service his assistant while he watched), about which most people know next to nothing? And let’s not even get into Thomas Jefferson, who today would be in prison for serial rape by our radically superior moral standards.
As I’ve said before, my beef with Maureen Dowd is not simply that she is wrong, wrong, wrong, but that she is demoralizing — to the very people at the leading edge of culture who are most able to think and act in fresh ways that might actually be helpful, including friends of mine who pass her columns around as sad justification for their malaise. Stop that, people! Imagine what we could do if we felt we had a chance, that history was bending in our direction and we could get excited about progress without feeling like dupes.
So getting back to our main topic: no, our sense of right and wrong is not crumbling, most certainly not in terms of child abuse. It is strengthening, and the Sandusky case is a booster rocket for further moral development. After the appropriate public humiliation of Mike McCreary, what do we think the next strapping 6 foot 4 assistant football coach is going to do if he sees some old coot manhandling a kid in the shower? My guess is the manhandler will be manhandled, and it won’t be pretty. It will be beautiful.