Recently by Butler Shaffer: Does Integrity Matter?
It began in the morning with a televised football game between my old school, the University of Nebraska, and Penn State. Before, during, and after the game, however, we witnessed the playing out of a tragedy — in the original Greek meaning of this word — involving Penn State's fallen deity, coach Joe Paterno. I use the word "deity" carefully, for in an age in which amateur and professional sports are beset by a good deal of corruption, criminality, and the drive to win no matter the consequences, it is important to acknowledge the exceptions. Joe Paterno has long been recognized as a coach who ran a "clean" program, as is the long-time coach and present athletic director at Nebraska, Tom Osborne. As this game was about to start, my mind raced to the symbolism in the contest: two of the most respected and virtually spotless programs in college sports playing the first game in forty-six years that Paterno was not the Penn State coach! Performed in an outdoor arena whose design was reminiscent of ancient Greek theaters, the game took on dimensions that ran deeper than BCS ratings or television revenues. Sophocles could have written the script!
As you are doubtless aware, this tragedy arose from allegations that one of Paterno's assistant coaches had, nine years ago, engaged in sex with young boys — one being ten years old at the time. That these acts allegedly took place at Penn State athletic facilities aggravated Paterno's offense: even though he had not engaged in any of these perversions, did he not have an obligation to more vigorously pursue an investigation of these wrongs than he did, once he had been informed of them?
I have nothing but contempt for adults who victimize children. There is an age of innocence — which, in my view, extends into teen-age years — that ought to be respected as inviolate. I have no quarrel with those who would punish such sexual transgressors, although I prefer the alternative that I have been told prevails in Italian neighborhoods. Italy has few acts of child abuse, it has been said, not because they don't occur, but when they do, the men in the neighborhood corral the offender and warn him — in no uncertain terms – not to repeat his acts. One sees this attitude at work in penitentiaries, wherein prisoners reserve the worst treatment — often the death penalty — for men who have been convicted of crimes against children.
Hours later, and on another channel, I watched Ron Paul engage in a one-man debate with seven life-sized sock puppets. The seven are auditioning to play the lead in a modernly-defined tragedy: to be the President of the United States. They recite their lines with nary a break in content or meter — except for Rick Perry, who was unable to remember his — hoping that the show's producers will find their responses suitable to the boobeoisie who fill audience seats. It is just like taking a show on the road to New Haven or Baltimore before letting it open on Broadway! Ron, on the other hand — when allowed to speak at all — addresses not the show's owners, but those outside the theater.
How interesting was the contrast between the morning tragedy played out on a football field, and the content of what was sold as a GOP "debate." Had these eight candidates been asked their opinions about the Paterno matter, I have no doubt that each would have forcefully condemned the alleged victimization of children, and rightly so. But Ron Paul was seemingly alone in showing any moral integrity in responding to other issues. While not all seven sock puppets shared the same views on each question, there was an apparent unity in embracing the virtue of political viciousness. The willingness to start a war with Iran or Syria or Pakistan — none of which has threatened the United States; support for allowing people to be tortured or held in prison without a trial; seeking out and killing Iranian scientists who might be engaged in nuclear research; or permitting the president, on his own motion, to order the murder of any one he considers worthy of being killed — be they American or foreign — were some of the more heinous stands defended by all except Ron Paul.
Put these two television events alongside each other. In an age in which the worship of state violence runs rampant, and in which so many candidates for political office feel obliged to advertise their credentials for cruelty, dehumanization, and the mass killing of other humans — including children – why would so many people get agitated over allegations that a coach would have sex with young boys? Those who are so in love with everything military must be aware that ancient history documents how commonplace was the practice of soldiers having sex with young boys.
Perhaps I am reading too much into all of this. A number of thoughts come to mind, however, that seem to be connected. I am convinced that Western Civilization is in its death throes; that there is nothing anyone can do to change this. Turbulence is generated by the collapse of our once regularized ways. The study of chaos informs us that either of two options is available to any system in such a state: the first is to make no changes; to keep following the same course and allow entropic forces to play themselves out until a total collapse occurs. This is the approach taken by institutions in our culture which, operating on the premise that they are ends in themselves, will resort to any means possible to retain their existing positions and practices. Looting taxpayers to provide money they can no longer derive from the marketplace, and utilizing as much brute force as necessary to restrain the forces of change, are the more evident responses in our highly-structured world. Institutions are the systems that are "too big to fail," and whatever police and military forces, or government monetary policies that can benefit the established order, will be put to use. This is why the so-called "war on terror" is, in reality, a "war for the preservation of institutional hierarchies." The seven GOP sock puppets represent the forceful retention of the status quo.
Ron Paul, on the other hand, represents the second option as a response to the turbulence brought about by the decline of our institutionalized world. That option consists of using chaotic forces creatively, by keeping systems resilient and open to the changes that keep a person or a culture vibrant. Peace, liberty, respect for property, and market-driven — rather than politically-driven — economic systems are not just nice ideas. They are, rather, the means by which we express our humanity and, in the process, remain vibrant and creative in a world of constant change. They are the energy of life itself.
Perhaps — just perhaps — the unconscious forces that worked themselves to the surface of a football field this past Saturday had something to do with the release of psychic energies running deeper than the firing of a beloved coach. What if the students who rioted and turned over vehicles at Penn State were unconsciously expressing anger at systems reaching far beyond the boundaries of Happy Valley? Could they be reaching out for a world that does not victimize children — whether they be in an athletic department shower, or in a land arbitrarily chosen by a president to be the latest "enemy of the week?" What if the students began to understand that older children — their parents and grandparents — had also been victims of an institutional order impressed upon their young minds by schools, churches, the media, corporations, and other agencies assigned the task of creating endless generations of conscripts for a faceless system over which they have no control?
What if people could see the inhumanity of our well-organized insanity reflected in the faces of seven sock puppets whose moral character reached no higher than the boots of those whose favor they so desperately sought? What if the children of the next generation — full of the passion and idealism so characteristic of youth — insisted upon a life that fulfilled rather than exploited the best of what lay within them? What if they learned how to just say "no" to those who want nothing more than to be a forceful authority over their lives? Can the rest of us help and support them as they struggle to free themselves from the grasp of Leviathan?
Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law. He is the author of the newly-released In Restraint of Trade: The Business Campaign Against Competition, 1918–1938 and of Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival. His latest book is Boundaries of Order.