One More Time

I shall once again refer to Lionel Trilling’s excellent novel The Middle of the Journey because it raises a fascinating question, one that so many of us have forgotten to think about. I refer to the problem of human freedom and responsibility. Rather than accepting blame for our many mistakes we have become used to making excuses, prodded on by the social sciences (or the “pseudo-sciences,” as a friend of mine would have it) that insist we are the product of social causes, environment, education  (or lack of education), economic pressures, the “character pattern imposed by society” (as Trilling puts it). This leaves us no room whatever for human freedom and when freedom disappears so also does moral responsibility. We buy into this tripe because it is an easy way out. After all, if there is no responsibility for human beings then since I am a human being I bear no responsibility whatever for anything I may happen to do — including taking the life of another, or inciting others to do the same. How very comforting!

Trilling raises this question toward the end of his novel when a small group of friends is gathered around following the death of a young girl who was slapped by her father and died because she had a weak heart about which he knew nothing. The question is whether the man deserved to be published. The liberal view, the view of the social scientist, the view shared by the majority of the small group, is ready to make excuses for the man, though the most vehement member of the group wanted to have nothing more to do with the man, despite the fact that he could not have known his daughter would die from his slap. In a word, she didn’t hold the man responsible yet she can’t forgive him. These are human beings after all, albeit fictional ones, and they are as full of contradictions as are the rest of us.

In any event, Trilling insists that this woman, despite her strictly deterministic viewpoint, cannot forgive the man. Moreover, he has the former leader of the group, Gifford Maxim, the former card-carrying member of the Communist Party who has found God and left the Party at considerable risk to his own life, reply to the notion that there cannot be any responsibility — or forgiveness. Maxim makes a series of points to counteract the view of the social scientist who would blame “society” rather than individuals:

“I can personally forgive [the father of the little girl] because I believe God can forgive him. You see, I think his will is a bad one, but not much worse, not altogether different in kind, from other wills. And so you [who cannot condemn the man because you blame society] and I stand opposed. For you — no responsibility for the individual, but no forgiveness. For me — ultimate, absolute responsibility for the individual, but mercy. Absolute responsibility is the only way that men can keep their value, can be thought of as other than things. . . .”

Now whether or not we buy into the religious aspects of this point, it is worth pondering. It is so because the notion of human responsibility can be rescued only if we insist upon the fact of  human freedom — if we reject the notion that we are products of society, simply. We might be forced to admit that society, broadly speaking, plays a role in the formation of who we are. Doubtless it does. But to insist, as so many in the social-sciences do, that we are totally the product of our social conditioning — poor potty training, angry baby-sitters, or a third grade teacher who hated us — a claim that cannot be proven, is to leave no room for responsibility whatever. As Maxim points out, there can be no forgiveness because everything is pre-determined.

But the point that strikes me as the salient one in this discussion is near the end of Maxim’s comment above, when he notes that “Absolute responsibility is the only way men can keep their value, can be thought of as other than things.” This, of course, is the heart and soul of Kantian ethics as it is of the Christian ethic, and it is a point that cannot be denied without reducing, as Maxim says, human beings to things. In the end human freedom can be rescued from the snares of the social scientist by virtue of our own felt-experience; the fact that no logical proof has ever been devised to prove that we are not free; and even Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which shows that activity on the sub-atomic level is in principle unpredictable. Accordingly, human beings can be held responsible. And they can be forgiven, or condemned as the case may be — depending on the degree of their culpability.

 

Advertisements

Ignoring History

As Santayana famously said, “those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.” But I would add that those who ignore history will find themselves lost in an increasiomghly confusing world. For all we know many of them would vote for a megalomaniac demagogue for president! Can you imagine??!!

I have referred in the past to the excellent group in Washington, D.C. — The American Council of Trustees and Alumni — that is acting as a watchdog over American higher education, drawing attention to the fact that the colleges and universities in this country (including most of the so-called “prestige” colleges) are failing their students. One of their favorite topics is the astonishing ignorance of American college students, across the country, regarding the history of their own country.

As we know, high schools no longer require a civics course, which would attack the problem a bit. But many do not require history either and the colleges that used to fill in those gaps are increasingly inclined to simply teach what the students want to learn rather than what they ought to learn. Call this a lack of confidence on the part of college faculties who lack conviction about what it is students ought to know. Or call it simply a lack of courage. But whatever we call it, it demonstrates why there is such wide-spread ignorance on the part of an electorale that has elevated a moron (and, some have said, a sociopath) to the position of one of the major candidates for president of this country — though one must note the exception of the students at Harvard in the Republican Club who recently voted (for the first time in Harvard’s history) not to endorse the Republican candidate for president! However, I stand by my generalization: this exception proves the rule, as they say.

In a recent publication by the A.C.T.A. we read about the depth of ignorance of which I speak:

“In surveys commissioned by the ACTA less than 20% of respondents could identify — in a multiple-choice survey — the effect of the Emancipation Proclamation. Little more than half could identify the purpose of the Federalist Papers. Only 23% could pick James Madison as the Father of the Constitution.

“American colleges and universities are failing their students. . .only 18% [ of those institutions] require students to take even one course in U.S. history or government. . . .

“Despite the colleges’ purported commitment to the noble ambition of training graduates ‘to be responsible and active participants in civic life’ or ‘civic leaders for our society,’ American history has disappeared not only from the schools’ general education curricula, but also from the requirements for history majors.”

The report goes on at some length. But you get the idea. People from other countries who must take citizenship tests to become citizens in this country and earn the right to vote are asked to know more than those born in this country who are simply assumed to know enough to pull the right handle in political elections, or color in the correct box. It is appalling. But it certainly helps to explain why there are so many in this country who are prepared  to vote for Donald Trump and who hate Hillary Clinton because they have been told by those sitting on the political right that she is the devil incarnate. Without thinking they believe what they hear.

In a word, the failure of educators to take their responsibility seriously in helping students gain control of their own minds is at least partially responsible for the wide-spread ignorance in this country that has become gallingly apparent in recent months. But parents must also take responsibility for not demanding that the schools teach their kids what they need to know in order to become informed citizens of our democracy, and for insisting that their college-age kids avoid the Humanities and Arts (where they might learn to think). There’s plenty of blame to go around. But in the meantime, we are faced with a close presidential race when it ought to be a blowout!

Then And Now

I live in the Southwest portion of Minnesota which is big farm country. The spaces are wide and the fields these days are full of young corn and soy beans, with a few fields of wheat or even beets for the sugar-beet plant nearby. For generations these have been family farms, but the corporations are taking over as we can see by the number of old homes and groves going the way of the bulldozers. But there are other signs of change as well that are equally disturbing.

Our two sons are now in their late forties and have children of their own. But when they were in high school they worked every summer “walking the beans” — pulling up weeds in the soybean fields. The town paid a young person to collect names of kids who wanted to make some money working for the farmers and that person took calls each day from the farmers and then arranged with the kids to work the next day. The farmer would pick them up and drop them off after lunch — which they usually called “dinner.” Occasionally they  joined a team of kids who rode a tractor and sprayed the weeds with poison. But we discouraged that and mostly they walked the beans for local farmers. Or they helped the farmer remove rocks from his field that had appeared over the winter. Those farmers always fed them a big “dinner” and the pay was pretty good. They usually worked in the mornings, ate “dinner,” and were then driven home. They kept what they earned and usually put most of their earnings into a savings account. One time they worked for a corporation de-tasseling corn. But they both hated that (my wife had to literally drag my younger son out of bed one morning to make him stick with a job he hated). The day started very early and the fields were still wet with dew that soaked them through their shirts. And their faces were scratched by the sharp edges of the corn plants. But they did stick with it until the job was done, working full days and hating every minute but making more money than the farmers could pay them.

But no more. The kids don’t walk the beans these days. Or pick up rocks either, except the rare farmer’s son or daughter helping out Dad. As for the rest of them, they stand around on street corners looking bored or drive their cars and pickups around making noise and waiting for something to happen. This is the age of entitlement, after all, and very few young people in this area seem to feel it necessary to earn money to pay for what they want. They simply charge what they want on their credit cards (so they won’t have to wait) or they ask their parents who (out of guilt??) pretty much give them what they want. As a result, farmers either douse their genetically modified crops with Roundup or hire migrant workers who dot the fields this time of the year while the kids are nowhere to be seen. With few exceptions.

People will say that when old codgers like myself complain about the younger generation they are forgetting what it was like when they were kids — things don’t really change that much, they say. Old folks have always complained about the young since the time of the ancient Egyptians, forgetting what it was like when they themselves were young. But that is a bunch of hooey, because things have changed considerably — not only since I was a kid, but since my sons were young. And I don’t see that the change is for the better. On the contrary, it is far worse because these young people are not learning “life-lessons” about responsibility and patience, doing jobs they don’t particularly want to do, waiting for the things they want, and saving money until they can afford them.

Things have not stayed the same at all. Just ask the folks around you who are trying to hire young people to work and can’t find any who are willing to do a full day’s work for decent pay. The young — including recent college graduates —  want shorter hours and larger paychecks. These things I hear from those who are in the know. Things do change, and change is not always for the better. And old codgers like me may have good grounds for complaint.

Mental Health

A recent story about the spate of suicides at Tulane University raises several important questions. As the story tells us, in part,

No college is immune. The problem is growing, and it’s universal. Universities are welcoming a generation of students who are more anxious than ever, and who appear to be cracking under the weight of the growing pressure to get into a good college and then to pay for it. Society burdens kids with this pressure, and then sends them off to college to deal with it. At the heart of the wrenching debate is a touchy question: How much responsibility do colleges really bear for the psychological well-being of their students?

The question at the end seems to be the central one. But let’s take a look at the suggestion — which we hear a great deal — that today’s students are under more pressure than their predecessors. As one who has been connected with academia for the vast majority of his life, I have made the claim, which I stand by, that students have always been under pressure. Indeed, one could argue students were under even more pressure before the average grade became an A-. Previous generations had to meet much more stringent academic standards, most had to work their way through college and face such things as the draft. In a word, there was a great deal of pressure to succeed. In fact, there were frequent suicides in colleges that were  explained on the grounds that the students feel anxious because of the pressure to get good grades in competition with other students who are as bright or even brighter than they are. In high school this was not the case because high schools have a much broader spectrum of students, the bright students tending to feel less competition.

Whatever the case may be, it’s a moot question whether there have been more suicides in colleges and universities recently. But if we allow that the problem has grown, it does seem to me that this simply reflects an anxious age in which suicide in our culture as a whole is doubtless more frequent than it may have been in past years. For one thing, there are more people on earth now than ever before: it is becoming very crowded and the pace of life is faster than ever. For another thing in this country, at least, corporate agendas have taken priority in Washington and as a result the problems that increasing numbers of folks are becoming aware of, including the bright college students, are being largely ignored by those we elect to address them. This surely adds to the stress. And with families struggling to pay the bills, the kids growing up tend to be ignored and must feel a lack of connection with those they love. This increases the anxiety levels as well. So it’s not just college students who feel the pressure.

But the question at the end of the story above is central to the discussion. How much responsibility do the colleges bear to solve this problem? To what extent are they responsible for the “psychological well-being of their students?” I once argued that colleges are only responsible for training young minds, setting them free from prejudice and stupidity in preparation for a chaotic and ever-changing world. The family and the church mold character. I still maintain that, since I have seen what happens when the colleges start to address social problems and their sense of purpose becomes fragmented: they lose their focus and in trying to do everything they do nothing well.

I still maintain that their primary focus should be on training young minds. I would also add that no matter how busy they are, parents should be more involved in the lives of their children and many of these anxieties could be dealt with before they become mental health issues. And our churches should do more to attract young people who are staying away in droves. At the same time, colleges should assuredly be aware that the students feel pressures and there should be professionals available for counseling. But this concern must be secondary for the reasons given above: colleges and universities cannot be all things to all people. They cannot solve all of our society’s problems. But they can address them by training young minds to deal with those problems in new and creative ways. That is what colleges and universities are designed to do and what they do best — when they remain focused on their central purpose.

High In The Wilderness

A recent Yahoo News story raised a number of interesting questions. It begins as follows:

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Two teen hikers lost for days in a California forest might have to pay for part or all of the $160,000 search after a small amount of drugs was found in their car, authorities said.

Officials initially said Nicolas Cendoya, 19, and Kyndall Jack, 18, wouldn’t be responsible. But Cendoya was charged this week with drug possession because methamphetamine was allegedly found in the car the pair parked before going on a hike last month in Cleveland National Forest.

“The recent drug charge on Cendoya may change things,” said Gail Krause, a spokeswoman with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

To begin with, there’s a case to be made that anyone who wanders off into the wilderness unprepared or takes off on a ski trip in the face of avalanche warnings should have to take responsibility for the consequences, whatever they might be. In this case, Orange County, California paid $160,000 to rescue these two people who were apparently high on meth and became disoriented as a result. Now, it appears, they may have to pay all or part of the cost of the rescue — but only because drugs were involved. In other words, it’s not because these two did something incredibly stupid making it necessary for others to risk their lives coming to their rescue that they will have to pay the piper. It’s because authorities happened to find drugs in their abandoned car. In this case, the authorities got it half right. In my view, these people should have to pay for the rescue even if the drugs hadn’t been found.

I heard tell of a man who served for a number of years on a search and rescue team in Montana who finally quit because he decided that the people they were rescuing really shouldn’t  be kept in the gene pool. I love it! This is why they give out the Darwin Awards each year, because people do incredibly dumb things and somehow manage to survive — usually — while others often have to risk their lives to save them. But when people do dumb things that require that others risk their lives or spend thousands of dollars rescuing them the very least that fairness demands is that those who were rescued pay the bill.

I wrote a blog some time ago about a man who fell through the ice while fishing on thin ice after being warned not to do so. His rescue cost the country a great deal of money and it was decided that the rescued man should pay the cost. He insisted that he would not pay because it would discourage others from calling for help when in trouble. Now THERE’S a rationalization for you! Instead of accepting responsibility for his actions, he determined to make someone else pay for his blunder on rational grounds as weak as the ice he fell through — and didn’t even have the decency to thank those who pulled him from the icy waters. Ingratitude coupled with smallness of mind. In the end it is all about accepting responsibility for our actions, or, at the very least, thinking our way through the actions to imagine possible outcomes. But we as a people and a nation don’t seem to be very good at that sort of thing. And we’re getting worse as each of us is learning that we can hide, secure behind the word “victim.”

Miss America Conservatism

I am borrowing Mark Schmitt’s delightful and descriptive phrase from a blog I recently read by SaltyPoliticalMusings. The phrase suggests the tendency of conservatives to embrace only those causes that affect them directly, to smile and pretend that everything is hunky-dory until events are so rude as to slap them in the face. As it happens, this is not necessarily a conservative tendency: we all share it. But the case in point is that of Senator Rob Portman who has recently come out in defense of gay marriage — after discovering that his son is gay. Matthew Yglesias, in a column quoted at length by “Musings,” notes that Sarah Palin also embraced the cause of disabled children because she happens to have one. In sports Ernie Els the golfer promotes aid for autism because he has an autistic son and Phil Mickelson began to raise money for cancer research after his wife came down with the dreaded disease. In a word: when it is about us we take notice. Congress and the wealthy who support this Congress ignore the plight of the poor because as Yglesias says “Congress does not have poor children.”

In this regard, I read on Yahoo News about the terrible drought affecting Somalia where we are told that:

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Global warming may have contributed to low rain levels in Somalia in 2011 where tens of thousands died in a famine, research by British climate scientists suggests.

Scientists with Britain’s weather service studied weather patterns in East Africa in 2010 and 2011 and found that yearly precipitation known as the short rains failed in late 2010 because of the natural effects of the weather pattern La Nina.

But the lack of the long rains in early 2011 was an effect of “the systematic warming due to influence on greenhouse gas concentrations,” said Peter Scott of Britain’s Met Office, speaking to The Associated Press in a phone interview.

People are dying in that part of the world, but it isn’t us and therefore we really don’t care. And those deaths can almost certainly be connected to global warming. So many people in our part of the world, including many of those in Congress,  go about their business denying the obvious and embracing fossil fuels as the solution to all of our energy problems and will continue to do so until the drought that is also affecting large portions of this country starts to drive the food prices upwards and makes some foods unavailable to us. When it is about us we will pay attention.

We thus have a complex moral issue here. To begin with there is the convenient attitude that ignores the plight of those in need until someone close to us suddenly becomes one of those in need. Closely related is the moral failure to make ourselves aware of human suffering that requires our attention. Jean Paul Sartre insisted that we are defined by our freedom and said freedom implies a responsibility for everything that happens anywhere on the planet. If we are not aware of a problem, we have a responsibility to find out. While this may seem a bit extreme, he makes an interesting point.

We are clearly caught up in love of self and the determination to deal only with those problems that affect us directly, forgetting that we are part of a human community and as such have obligations to all who suffer, which requires — at the very least — that we not ignore the plight of others.  The moral imperative that seems to weaken as time rolls on is the one that directs us to take action to prevent evil whenever and wherever we see it and also demands that we take notice even when it doesn’t happen to affect us directly. Awareness of a problem coupled with the ability to address the problem implies a responsibility to act. It all begins by opening our eyes to what is going on around us.  Our active concern shouldn’t have to wait until the problem is in our back yard.

Pointing The Finger

In a provocative story in HuffPost we find the Republicans blaming hurricane Sandy for the predicted loss of their Presidential candidate. Instead of talking of the devastation and suffering the storm has caused, or the likelihood that this storm is the first vivid sign for a great many people that the planet is in fact in danger, the talk instead in the Republican camp — especially by “Republican strategist” (read “mega-doner”) Karl Rove — is about how the storm halted their candidate’s momentum. Consider Rove’s comment:

“If you hadn’t had the storm, there would have been more of a chance for the [Mitt] Romney campaign to talk about the deficit, the debt, the economy,” Rove said. “There was a stutter in the campaign. When you have attention drawn away to somewhere else, to something else, it is not to his [Romney’s] advantage.”

Obviously this comment was made prior to election day. It would suggest that the brain trust within the Republican party was reading the handwriting on the wall and preparing to find someone or something to blame for their loss. It can’t possibly be the result of their man’s inherent inconsistency, his recurring gaffes, his ineptitude, or his proclivity for telling untruths and then denying that they are untruths. It has to be the Frankenstorm…… or something.

I find this story interesting on two counts. To begin with, it suggests that these people are more disturbed about the storm’s impact on the election than on the thousands of people who are struggling to put their lives back together after the worst storm to hit the Northeast in recorded history, or the fact that this storm portends future catastrophes that might in fact dwarf this one. Secondly, it suggests a mind-set that looks for excuses somewhere else: it’s not us, it’s them (or in this case, it). The lack of sympathy for the victims is especially galling. Note the further comment:

Putting all campaigning aside, [New Jersey Gov.] Christie repeatedly commended Obama’s outreach and support in a rare show of bipartisanship — the kind the president has been promising to pursue if he wins a second term. Earlier on Saturday, Politico reported that the Romney campaign was frustrated by Christie’s recent show of affection for Obama, another sign that they felt their candidate had been placed in a losing position on account of the storm.

Again the lack of sympathy for their fellow humans and nothing kind to say about one of their own who had the audacity to show his gratitude to a politician from the other party. Christie, as expected, apologized to the Republican leadership and came back quietly into the fold. He aspires, after all, to be the Republican Presidential candidate the next time around. In any event I don’t yet know who will be our next President. But I sincerely hope it is a man who has people around him who have their priorities straight, who know what is important — that the suffering of their fellow humans is more important than winning an election. And I also hope they are people who are willing to take responsibility for their actions.

What You See…

In addition to the famous statue of Joe Paterno on the Penn State campus, about which there is considerable controversy these days, apparently there is a gigantic mural downtown featuring Joe Paterno’s image. That image was recently retouched in light of the Freeh report placing Joe Paterno at the center of a giant cover-up that went on for fourteen years and involved the agony of numerous young boys whose cries fell on deaf ears.  A recent story on-line tells us that the picture of Paterno on the mural had a halo painted on it which the artist recently erased. In addition

Pilato [the artist] added a large blue ribbon, instead, on Paterno’s lapel symbolizing support for child abuse victims, a cause the artist said Paterno had endorsed.

I had to read the story, and especially that sentence, twice because I couldn’t believe what I was reading. To place a halo over the head of any ordinary person, no matter how highly we regard them, is what the medieval mind would regard as blasphemy and I would regard as presumptive arrogance. But to paint a blue ribbon on the man’s chest  signifying that Joe Paterno “endorsed” support for child abuse victims — after the recent allegations came out in the Freeh report — beggars belief, as the English would say. This is beyond hypocrisy.

I don’t doubt that Paterno did indeed wear the blue ribbon. I simply question how he could have done so knowing what he clearly knew about one of his own assistant coaches and what the man was doing in Paterno’s own back yard. It tells us something about the man that we might not want to know. Joe Paterno had immense power at Penn State and could have simply said “no” at any point during the fourteen years and the attack on young boys would have stopped. But it would have damaged the reputation of the football program and of the university itself. Ironically it would have embellished the image of Paterno himself as the coach who “did things right,” an image his family and former players are so eager to protect after the fact. However, by ignoring those boys and attempting to protect his empire Paterno compounded the problem and guaranteed that his reputation will be forever tarnished, as it should be, and the university and his former football program will take years to recover.

To make matters worse, it appears that as the Sandusky scandal was breaking Paterno managed to arrange a “sweetened retirement contract” between himself and the university worth $5.5 million that would guarantee him a comfortable retirement at the end of the year — had he not been fired.  While Rome was burning Paterno fiddled — and made sure he would be taken care of, regardless of what happened to Sandusky, the football program, or Penn State. His family will enjoy the benefits of that contract following the man’s death from cancer: the university does not plan to contest it.

The man was not what he seemed, clearly. And it is a warning to the rest of us not to “buy into” the public image of the larger-then-life men and women built up by the media. We are all fallible humans and we make mistakes. Some of those mistakes are large indeed. And while it seemed at first as though “Papa-Joe” was taking responsibility for his failure to act when he said “I should have done more,” it now appears he was faking it even as those words were coming out of his mouth. He failed to act for fourteen years.

The halo is gone from Paterno’s portrait and there is a movement afoot to remove the statue of the man from the Penn State campus — though the Trustees recently said this would not happen, at least for now. There has even been the suggestion (In USA Today) that the entire football season should be cancelled for a year so the university can come to terms with what has happened. None of these steps seems to me to be appropriate, however. For one thing, they would involve a distortion of the truth. The destruction of the statue would be much like re-writing history in order to make people feel better about themselves. It is a vengeful act.

But a suggestion I heard recently that I would endorse involves the building of a monument outside the P.E. facility dedicated to the young boys who were attacked and abused in the building coupled with a fund to support groups that will help see to it that this sort of thing does not happen again in the future. What happened in this place is difficult to grasp. It is not only the campus that must come to terms with what has happened, it is all of us.

Polishing Joe’s Image

Joe Paterno’s death was a sad business. Sad because he was unable to win the fight against cancer, but also because he made a mistake that will certainly tarnish his image evermore. A friend of mine called his life and death an “American tragedy,” tragic because he brought his spiritual suffering upon himself and American because we  place our sports heroes on a pedestal from which they have so far to fall. And we also endow them with a sense of entitlement that is seldom deserved. But there is more to ponder here. In the wake of Joe Paterno’s death we are once again reminded of the growing tendency in this culture not only to turn ordinary folks into tin gods but also to shirk our responsibility.

To be sure, there were things about Paterno that were admirable, and his success as a coach and a supporter of Penn State University are well recorded. He deserves praise for his contributions to the world in which he lived. But our tendency to create a larger-then-life figure out of a man who was clearly flawed — like the rest of us — is somewhat distressing. ESPN spent the day of the man’s death polishing his image so bright that it blinds us to the man’s flaws: the man could do no wrong. This is a kind of dishonesty that flies in the face of one of the few values our culture is proud of embracing. Further, the attempt by some of his supporters to place blame on the Board of Governors at Penn State for firing Paterno after his refusal to take action against Sandusky in the recent scandal that rocked the university and the college world, or to blame the “media” for covering the scandal and throwing mud on Paterno’s image — whether or not is was well deserved — is disquieting.

In the end, Paterno looked the other way as one of his favorite coaches abused a child. After all is said and done, that fact remains a part of the man’s legacy. He himself was apparently willing to accept responsibility for his action — or lack of action. After all, the religion he practiced recognizes sins of omission as well as sins of commission. But a number of his supporters want to cast the blame on the world that responded to that wrong as though Joe Paterno himself was blameless, despite the immense power he had at Penn State and his knowledge of what was going on in his own locker room. Such a deed needs to be uncovered and we need to learn from it.

The actions of the Board in firing Paterno were entirely appropriate, and the media’s attention to the actions of Sandusky and the surrounding scandal, was also appropriate — though, as usual, the media tend to exaggerate and are given to hype. We need to learn how to place both blame and credit where they belong. And despite the fact that Joe Paterno did many remarkable things during his lifetime, he was also to blame in the Sandusky case, as he was willing to admit. “I should have done more,” might well have been his dying words.

But the tendency of Paterno’s supporters to find fault with everyone but Paterno himself is our culture’s tendency as well. We look elsewhere when the blame for our own mistakes lies with us and no one else. It would seem that this is one feature of a culture that refuses to grow up. We cling to youth as though, next to unlimited wealth, it is the only thing worth having, and continue to act like adolescents well into our 60s and 70s. We really are a culture of spoiled children who are used to having things our way and don’t know how to behave when things go wrong. Like the child caught with his hand in the cookie jar, we immediately look elsewhere to see where we can place the blame. As I say, Paterno was apparently able to accept responsibility for his failure to speak out. Perhaps we should take a page from his book and accept the fact that we are ordinary folks who make mistakes and we need to learn how to accept the responsibility that goes with the freedom we like to brag about. Now that would be a legacy Paterno could be proud of!