Recently by Butler Shaffer: Where Do We Go From Here?
Few of us can easily surrender our belief that society must somehow make sense. The thought that the state has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable. And so the evidence has to be internally denied.
~ Arthur Miller
One of the myths that helps to sustain our vertically-structured culture is that academia houses the clear-headed, rational thinking necessary for an intelligently run society. Since at least the days in which Plato created the blueprint for a world managed by "philosopher kings," this premise has been embraced — particularly by academicians who fashion themselves such intellectual monarchs. FDR reinforced such thinking during the New Deal, as Ivy League "experts" constituted his "Brain Trust" to formulate state-imposed rules for bringing society to order.
The idea that academia is comprised of men and women who employ focused reason – rather than fear-driven reaction — in addressing social problems is an article of faith embraced by most people who have never spent much time on university campuses. The reality is that a PhD confers upon its recipient no greater capacity for wisdom and thoughtful reflection than is to be found off-campus. The truth of this observation was revealed in a newspaper story informing us that the Big Ten Conference — a group of twelve of some of the most prestigious universities in America — is considering a proposal that would give its commissioner the power to fire coaches at any of the conference's schools. The proposition is being advanced, of course, as a knee-jerk response to the recent scandal at Penn State University. Some may object to coalescing athletics and scholarly pursuits; that sports programs are not synonymous with what goes on in academic departments. But the reality is that such extra-curricular activity — particularly the football team — brings far greater amounts of attention, money, and alumni support to the school than do research botanists or fine arts professors. The concern underlying all of this is, as the news story informs us, to punish schools whose behavior harms the conference's reputation. In our institutionalized world of false-front affectation, the image of those who sit atop the pyramid must be protected at all costs.
Among other thoughts being considered by some Big Ten officials is that Penn State be kicked out of the conference. Should Penn State be prohibited from playing football games in this, or any subsequent season, is another idea that might help restore the desired shine to the Big Ten name. Should those who participated in the sexual abuse of boys be punished for their actions? Among decent and intelligent persons, such a question contains its own answer. The more telling inquiry, however, has to do with what kind of response is appropriate. In a world driven by dark-side forces and reptilian reactions to events, clear thinking is too often confused with trying to justify the wrongdoing. Once the reptilian-brain has been aroused, the response of "see, act!" is all that is allowed.
The idea that the sanctity of a contract between a university and one of its coaches should be disregarded and that one who is not a party to the agreement could terminate it, is so goofy that one would have to suspect its academic origins! Perhaps such power should be bestowed upon usurped by the President of the United States. But is this enough of a sanction? Why not go further, and require Penn State alums to tear up their diplomas and, perhaps, have the rest of the academic community in America shove Penn State down the memory hole? Another option to consider is to have Penn State retroactively forfeit all of its football victories going all the way back to its first season! Do you find such suggestions troubling? What's the matter with you: are you in favor of molesting young boys?
As I am writing this, news of the shooting at a Colorado movie theater is being brought to my attention. A dozen people have been killed and fifty-nine more wounded, allegedly by a young man now in custody. We are also being informed that he was an honor college graduate with a degree in the sciences. The television networks are bringing academicians and other "expert professionals" on camera, not so much to help Boobus understand the underlying causes of such violent behavior, but to provide him with the "official" explanation he is to internalize as his understanding.
This shooting occurred in Aurora, a suburb of Denver. In 1999, in another Denver suburb, two students at Columbine High School, murdered thirteen young people before committing suicide. The failure to ask the right questions in 1999 led some to seek causal explanations in such factors as teenage bullying, teenagers wearing long coats and, of course, guns. I can only wonder how many lives might have been saved in Aurora, last night, if just one of the other movie patrons had also been armed! But clear, rational thinking will not be heard in the mainstream media; we shall have more of the nitwitted commentary such as was expressed by one network newscaster who referred to the alleged shooter as a "gentleman." Another news channel provided details about how this young man had dyed his hair red and wore black clothing, while another voiced the Hollywood concern that this might discourage people from going to movies. (Do you really wonder whether Western Civilization is in collapse?)
President Obama's former chief adviser — and now Chicago mayor — Rahm Emanuel once declared "you never want a serious crisis to go to waste." This is a premise upon which political behavior has long relied. To illustrate the point, Obama rushed to network television cameras to inform America that, yes, he was against these killings and, yes, he is against the terrorism and rampant violence that is destroying the sanctity of life. That neither he nor media voices suggested that America's wars against the rest of the world; wars whose casualties include many American soldiers who, like the Columbine killers, end up committing suicide; wars whose bipartisan enthusiasm is nothing if not an all-out exercise in terror and war against life itself; that all of this might provide troubled young minds with a role model for the destruction of themselves and others.
But, alas, there was no such introspection from anyone in the political establishment; nor will there be. Mr. Obama stated that now is the time for u201Creflection,u201D but the reflection he has in mind is of the narcissistic form, not an examination of the assumptions underlying one's thinking. How convenient it is for the Aurora killings to take place just as Congress is considering an international arms control treaty, and as federal and state gun-control efforts continue. Indeed, no "serious crisis" will be allowed "to go to waste" in our world.
On the other hand, perhaps there is something to be learned from the Big Ten Conference's current musings. The idea that Penn State might be thrown out of the conference because of its alleged wrongdoings, might also be considered as an appropriate response to the latest Colorado mass-shootings. This is the second time the deadly violence of young people has resulted in so many deaths in that state. Perhaps President Obama could stand up for the principles he pretends to embrace, by kicking Colorado out of the Union!
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, Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival, and Boundaries of Order. His latest book is The Wizards of Ozymandias.