Monthly Archives: November 2011

Cowards Within

David Brooks published an article in the New York Times yesterday about the Penn State scandal – you can read it HERE. I think he is spot on.

I’ve been thinking about Mark McQueary the last few days and I think I’ve changed my mind about something. The story is that McQueary allegedly walked in on Sandusky as he was raping a young boy – and then walked right back out. He told his father, told school officials, told Joe Paterno, and that was it. Naturally, most people are outraged and disgusted by the fact that McQueary walked away, instead of running over and rescuing the boy. One writer declared that he would take the boy in his arms and tell him “I am here. You are safe.” While a warm embrace from a stranger strikes me as the last thing a rape victim needs, I get what he means.

Every man I have seen write about Mark McQueary has been universal in their condemnation of his actions – and they should be. Yet every one of them has been equally certain that, presented with the same circumstances, they would have reacted differently. Of course we would all expect as much of any decent person. The problem is that as David Brooks notes, people who know for sure how they would act in a hypothetical situation routinely contradict themselves when placed in a similar real-life situation.

I think there is another reason that men are especially repulsed by what McQueary did, and why they are so eager to say that they would have done differently. Men are protectors; or at least, they are supposed to be. When we see a man fail so utterly to protect the helpless, we are filled with anger: this is not how things are supposed to be. So there is that side of things, because we implicitly know how men are supposed to act.

But when men declare publicly that they would act differently, I think that they are going beyond simply saying how men in general should act. I believe that the greatest fear of every man is this: that deep down, he is a coward. All men, whether they would acknowledge it or not, secretly fear that when placed into circumstances that are dangerous, or difficult, they will fail. Not fail to succeed, but fail to act as they should.

Let’s say that you go back in time and find 25 year-old Mark McQueary. The incident in the showers is still a few years away, but you ask him what he would do should he find himself in that “hypothetical” situation. I guarantee you that if you told him that he would walk away, he would deny it, become furious at the very suggestion. Yet what he actually did tells us who he truly is.

And the greatest fear of most, if not all men, is that when it comes down to it, their true self will be revealed as cowardly.

It is certainly my greatest fear. I want to believe that I would do the right thing, the brave thing in every situation. The truth is that I do not know. I want to believe with every part of me that I would have saved that boy from Sandusky – but the truth is that I have often failed to protect the helpless. Yes, there have been times when I have stood up and protected them and though none of my failures reach the magnitude of McQueary’s, the dozens of small, seemingly insignificant failures make me wonder which side of me would prevail in those moments that matter most.

The truth is, that courage must be practiced every day, and in all things. It is not enough to know what is right, it is not even enough to want to do right. I can make all the declarations I want – there is still a coward within, and my fight is with him and not Mark McQueary.


Well When You Put It That Way…

I was reading a story on The Atlantic Wire about comic book legend Frank Miller’s opinion of Occupy Wall Street (FYI: he’s not a fan) when I noticed a link for another short article with an irresistible title: “How Much Eugenics Are We Willing To Tolerate?” So I read it. It’s very short; here’s the link if you would like to read it as well:

http://www.theatlanticwire.com/technology/2011/11/how-much-eugenics-are-we-willing-tolerate/44923/

The article is quite remarkable. What amazes me is the writer’s apparent ability to ignore what he is really saying. Or maybe he knows exactly what he is saying – I’m not sure which is more disturbing.

The first line of the article reads: “A new prenatal test for Down Syndrome arrives, and with it, the possible end of the condition.” Well, that sounds just great – an end to Down Syndrome! I assumed the prenatal tests might enable doctors to more effectively treat the condition, though that didn’t seem to make much sense. What else could the writer mean?

As it turns out, the writer means exactly what he says – well, almost says. The article claims that 92% of mothers who find out that their baby will be born with Down Syndrome choose to abort. Thus, if we catch all cases of the disease, we can, as the writer so delicately puts it, “eradicate Down Syndrome.” Except that he doesn’t mean eradicate the condition, so much as he means eradicate those who are afflicted by it.

Let’s not quibble over terms, though. If you want to make an omelet, you have to eradicate a few eggs.

It’s a pretty contemptible suggestion, which begs the question: if we’re really serious about ending Down Syndrome, why stop with the unborn? Just think: we could end Down Syndrome tomorrow, if we were really serious about it. If unborn children with Down Syndrome shouldn’t be allowed to live, why in the world should children or adults with the condition be treated any differently? Why should they receive special treatment just because they had the misfortune to survive the womb?

And why stop with Down Syndrome? Frankly, I think we all need to dream a little bit bigger. Imagine: the end of AIDS is within our reach! Prenatal testing can help us find out which babies would be born with the condition and then we can, you know, just make sure they aren’t. And let’s not get all wobbly in the knees now that we’ve made it this far; let’s face it – the mentally ill and physically deformed cramp our style. If we can’t figure out a way to cure them, then obviously the next best thing is to “end [their] condition,” to modify the article’s delightful phrase. Just think: a world without disease and deformity (though we’ll still fight to make the death penatly illegal, natch.) and all because we realized what the real problem is: those pesky Down Syndrome babies.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard arguments like this. The virtues of aborting children who possess, ahem, flaws has been discussed for years. If the children will have a terrible quality of life, the logic runs, then shouldn’t we simply prevent their suffering? Yet this is the first time I have seen abortion advocated as a way to fight disease in general.

Only God can grant a person the right to life. Any child growing in the womb has been given that right, just as much as any adult. I realize that view has implications for the morality of the death penalty, which is pertinent to this discussion. If you oppose the death penalty, if you fight for the rights of convicted (rightly or wrongly) criminals, then I would certainly expect you to fight for the rights of the unborn as well – if criminals have the right to life, how can it be denied to unborn children? If you favor the death penalty, then you presumably believe that there are certain acts that cause a person to forfeit their right to life. Yet the unborn have certainly committed no such acts.

In any case, if any human life is sacred then all human life is sacred. If inherited disease disqualifies an unborn person from possessing the right to life, then it is a very short step to deciding that adults with debilitating disease are also disqualified.

Call it whatever you want – fighting disease through selective abortion is simply murdering the people we don’t think deserve life as much as we do. Sounds to me like the final solution to all our problems.