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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
– 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