Monday, November 14, 2011

Fake Morality

So here's the Penn State scandal, neatly summarized by Wikipedia.

Jerry Sandusky allegedly did horrible things. James Calhoun says he saw it first-hand and told his supervisor, Jay Witherite. Neither James nor Jay told the police nor anyone further up the university chain of command. Mike McQueary says he saw it first-hand and told his supervisor, Joe Paterno. Neither Mike nor Joe told the police, but Joe told his supervisor, Tim Curley.

Tim and his supervisor, Bill Schultz, told Jerry not to bring kids to the university facilities anymore. Bill's supervisor, university president Graham Spanier, approved the decision (although it's unclear to me if Graham's approval was of the "Bill says he's a little concerned about Jerry having kids in here" variety or of the "Bill says Jerry is sodomizing kids in here" variety).

Jerry Sandusky's been arrested. Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier are said to have known about the crimes and have been fired. Mike McQueary, who says he SAW the crimes, has not been fired.

False accusations of sex crimes ruin lives. Joe Paterno had no knowledge (being told something is not knowledge), and so probably thought, "Hell, it isn't my job to investigate further," and passed along the tip to the man whose job it WAS. Tim Curley and Bill Schultz decide to cover it up. Graham Spanier signs off on something he probably wasn't told was a cover-up.

Fire Sandusky, obviously. Fire Curley and Schultz, fine. But also fire McQueary, the guy with first-hand knowledge. And don't fire Paterno--the victim of his supervisors' crimes--and probably don't fire Spanier--seemingly the victim of his underlings' crimes.

Pundits say Paterno "failed as a human being." But his decisions reflect uncertainty and the modern world. Uncertain of the truthfulness of the allegations, but aware of the modern world, where a single misconstrued event or sentence can ruin a man's career and reputation, Paterno acted rationally. With hindsight his critics now say he "should have done more." But at the time, he correctly balanced concern for the alleged victims with concern for the possibly-falsely-accused man.

"Acting with concern for the criminal?! That's repugnant!" That's the hindsight talking again. Critics who want a single baseless accusation to create immediate certainty of guilt are destroying our legal system in the name of "the victims."

Here in the DC area, a woman murdered her coworker. At the trial, it was said two employees of the shop next door heard arguing and someone ask "Please help me." These eavesdropping employees are said to be terrible people for not responding.

Responding how? Is the only way to be a "decent person" to be all up in everyone's bidniz? They employed Bayes's* Law and said, "Hmm, most disagreements aren't workplace murder."

Of course, Bayes's Law has had a tough time of it lately, being thrown out of court in England. We're entering a world where serial killers' neighbors no longer say, "He was so quiet," but now face prosecution for not TELLING someone the killer was so quiet. After all, murders are usually quiet, aren't they?

I feel bad for the Pennsylvania victims and the murdered DC worker. I condemn the crimes. But I cannot support spreading blame from those who knew and should have known to those who COULD have known.

* = Eighteenth-century is not ancient enough for me to give him the "just an apostrophe" treatment. Of course, with grammar you also have this "court of public opinion" issue, where continually referring to "baseball stadia" doesn't do anything but confirm your status as a pedant. Stephen Fry has an interesting take on language pedantry, but the video is too annoying to watch for me to imbed. Here's the link; be aware that it involves words flying around the screen for five minutes (pedants call it "kinetic typography").

No comments: