David Brooks, from his fixed position as Moral Center of the Universe, bemoans our collective feeling of superiority over those who failed to stop the horror of the Penn State scandal.
Commentators ruthlessly vilify all involved from the island of their own innocence. Everyone gets to proudly ask: “How could they have let this happen?”
The proper question is: How can we ourselves overcome our natural tendency to evade and self-deceive. That was the proper question after Abu Ghraib, Madoff, the Wall Street follies and a thousand other scandals. But it’s a question this society has a hard time asking because the most seductive evasion is the one that leads us to deny the underside of our own nature.
Wrong. There are two proper questions. One is indeed the question Brooks asks about how we as a species can ignore the horrors all around us.
But I’d say that “How could they have let this happen?” is itself a pretty god damned good question too, and I hope people are asking the ever-loving shit out of it right now.
This is something that drives me nuts about Brooks (besides his expertise at the Douthat Twist), who I think is a well-meaning, thoughtful guy; he never wants to attack a specific problem or person, as he’s obsessed with more global or systemic failings, or really, “sin.” That’s fine, we are too short-sighted as a culture and need the wide view brought to bear far more often. But with Brooks, it’s so often either/or; ‘let’s not vilify wrongdoer X, because the “real” problem is everyone and everything.’
Yes, let’s tackle the overall illness holistically, fine, but let’s also make sure we’re not forgetting to cut out the actual tumors.