David Brooks annoys the living daylights out of me, and his newest “Let’s All Feel Superior” doesn’t fail. He wants to take us down a peg: you have no idea how you’d act in the face of atrocity, he says. Look at genocides. We’re all capable of evil and inaction in the face of evil.
No kidding. Ya think?
There’s a reason why we don’t buy the Nuremberg defense. We already know that power creates its own rationality, and that we are capable of going along.
But we also know we are capable of standing up and resisting.
The official policy of the Catholic Church was to stay in bed with the Nazis; meanwhile, groups of principled nuns and priests and other Catholics risked their lives to do the right thing.
To equate the pressures faced by the “ordinary German”–e.g., the threat of death to oneself and one’s family—to the consequences of whisteblowing at Penn State, where one might lose one’s job or graduate assistantship for turning in a pedophile *to the police* who would have taken on the physical risks of arresting said pedophile, strikes me as, simply, a ridiculous analogy. They are in no way comparable, given the differences in the personal consequences of whistle blowing. I understand why the graduate student might have been afraid to physically confront Sandusky, but not going to the police?
Perhaps Sandusky is innocent; it’s entirely possible, since I haven’t seen the evidence. Due process, you know. But to try to shame people who are outraged that a group of people valued their football program more than the health and safety of vulnerable young boys? Please.
Social groups need to pass moral judgments; it’s not mere vanity. That’s one of the reasons why we should construct ethics with care. We need to have consternation when immoral acts occur, and we need to be able to picture ourselves doing the right thing if we are ever in a similar position. The fact that some of us don’t do the right thing isn’t the point; the point is that we have free will, and Brooks’ silly contrarian argument reduces moral choice to a function of mob conscience or vanity.