Vanity And Atrocity: 'How Could They Let This Happen?'

Vanity And Atrocity: 'How Could They Let This Happen?'

"First comes the atrocity, then came the vanity."

94
views

"First comes the atrocity, then came the vanity."

This week, I'm writing a meditation on David Brooks's "Let's All Feel Superior," a 2011 NYTimes column about the vanity of commentators following the news of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. The vanity Brooks describes is a sort of indignation and outcry in which people make assumptions of how they would have intervened or done a lot better if they were involved in the situation. With regards to Sandusky, many commentators put themselves in head coach Joe Paterno's shoes, and have a general attitude that "they would have taken action and stopped any sexual assaults."

But most people don't intervene, especially during the worst mankind has seen. The Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide are two examples noted by Brooks. The lack of intervention in the face of atrocity may happen for a variety of reasons. When horror happens, many suffer from the normalcy bias, in which when people find themselves in a horrifyingly unsettling situation, "they shut down and pretend everything is normal." People also suffer from motivated blindness, a subconscious effort for people to not see things in their best interest to see. For example, machines tracked the eye movements of people shown pictures of sexual imagery, and subjects who were more uncomfortable with sex skipped over looking at uncomfortable sexual imagery.

Brooks even cites one psychological study at Penn State itself about people's tendency to not intervene when they consciously know something is offensive. A 1999 study asked students whether they would say something if someone else made sexist comments around them. Half of the participants said they would, but when the researchers arranged for someone to say a sexist comment in their presence, only 16% of people said something. In psychology, this is the bystander effect, and is amplified if more and more people are around. In the most egregious and well-known case of the bystander effect, Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death in Queens, New York, with 38 witnesses watching who did nothing.

What lies behind this, however, is self-deception. "We attend to the facts we like and suppress the ones we don't. We inflate our own virtues and predict we will behave more nobly than we actually do," a universal blind spot in the human condition.

Moral systems are built to acknowledge this lapse in hypocrisy. Christianity, for example, believes that each person is a sinner, and that none are righteous. "Life was seen as an inner struggle against the selfish forces inside." These moral systems, from religions to philosophies, "gave people categories with which to process savagery and scripts to follow when they confronted it."

Now, however, Brooks argues that our society today has changed drastically from the days of the Puritans. "We live in a society oriented around our inner wonderfulness. So when something atrocious happens, people look for some artificial, outside force that must have caused it." In the case of the Penn State child sex abuse scandal, the culture of college football was often that target. People often look for change, whether in law or in culture, to prevent anything as atrocious from happening again, yet history often repeats itself over and over. Commentators constantly cast blame on everyone involved in the Jerry Sandusky scandal "from the island of their own innocence."

"Everyone gets to proudly ask: 'How could they have let this happen?'"

At the very end of the article, Brooks redirects the question inwards to "how can we ourselves overcome our natural tendency to evade and self-deceive?" I'm relatively certain that a few years from today, we may look back at atrocities happening in Yemen or in Myanmar today and ask "how did we let this happen?" We asked the question after many scandals in our own country, especially with regards to the events that led up to the Great Recession. However, we have trouble asking it an always do, because "the most seductive evasion is the one that leads us to deny the underside of our own nature."

Scrolling through the comments, the majority were of scathing nature towards Brooks for what was perceived as excusing coaches like Paterno or Mike McQueary, who could have stopped sexual assaults with a single 911 call. These very comments and mindset prove Brooks's point. We love to be on a moral high horse because it soothes our vanity and distracts us from our own moral and ethical failings in our own lives.

I rarely agree with David Brooks and his politics, but in this case, I do. He may be wrong and I may be very wrong about the human condition, but look no further than a column published the same day by Joe Nocera, titled "Penn State's Long Road Back." Nocera details five steps Penn State had to take to reckon with their moral road back, and ends the article saying "the path to restoring [Penn State's] values is clear. The question is whether Penn State has the moral spine to choose it."

Similarly, Nocera was condemned in the comments section of this article for sitting on his moral high ground and vanity. Even if Nocera were right and his ideas were the best course of actions, the holier-than-thou superiority complex exhibited in the piece is condescending to a fault. In an ideal world, we can condemn and do our best to act on the atrocity without the vanity.

Personally, I have taken a huge step back from the villifying high horse I used to be on. I have learned that the human condition means everyone is capable of anything, no matter how good or how bad. I choose, in my articles, to build people up instead of condemning them for their mistakes. Frankly, a large part of this is because I can see myself being in the same situation as people I used to condemn for inaction or poor decision making. I am not in their arena. None of us are, and in the meantime, just reserving our condemnation and judgment is imperative.

Popular Right Now

I'm The Girl Who'd Rather Raise A Family Than A Feminist Protest Sign

You raise your protest picket signs and I’ll raise my white picket fence.
356351
views

Social Media feeds are constantly filled with quotes on women's rights, protests with mobs of women, and an array of cleverly worded picket signs.

Good for them, standing up for their beliefs and opinions. Will I be joining my tight-knit family of the same gender?

Nope, no thank you.

Don't get me wrong, I am not going to be oblivious to my history and the advancements that women have fought to achieve. I am aware that the strides made by many women before me have provided us with voting rights, a voice, equality, and equal pay in the workforce.

SEE ALSO: To The Girl Who Would Rather Raise A Family Than A Feminist Protest Sign

For that, I am deeply thankful. But at this day in age, I know more female managers in the workforce than male. I know more women in business than men. I know more female students in STEM programs than male students. So what’s with all the hype? We are girl bosses, we can run the world, we don’t need to fight the system anymore.

Please stop.

Because it is insulting to the rest of us girls who are okay with being homemakers, wives, or stay-at-home moms. It's dividing our sisterhood, and it needs to stop.

All these protests and strong statements make us feel like now we HAVE to obtain a power position in our career. It's our rightful duty to our sisters. And if we do not, we are a disappointment to the gender and it makes us look weak.

Weak to the point where I feel ashamed to say to a friend “I want to be a stay at home mom someday.” Then have them look at me like I must have been brain-washed by a man because that can be the only explanation. I'm tired of feeling belittled for being a traditionalist.

Why?

Because why should I feel bad for wanting to create a comfortable home for my future family, cooking for my husband, being a soccer mom, keeping my house tidy? Because honestly, I cannot wait.

I will have no problem taking my future husband’s last name, and following his lead.

The Bible appoints men to be the head of a family, and for wives to submit to their husbands. (This can be interpreted in so many ways, so don't get your panties in a bunch at the word “submit”). God specifically made women to be gentle and caring, and we should not be afraid to embrace that. God created men to be leaders with the strength to carry the weight of a family.

However, in no way does this mean that the roles cannot be flipped. If you want to take on the responsibility, by all means, you go girl. But for me personally? I'm sensitive, I cry during horror movies, I'm afraid of basements and dark rooms. I, in no way, am strong enough to take on the tasks that men have been appointed to. And I'm okay with that.

So please, let me look forward to baking cookies for bake sales and driving a mom car.

And I'll support you in your endeavors and climb to the top of the corporate ladder. It doesn't matter what side you are on as long as we support each other, because we all need some girl power.

Cover Image Credit: Unsplash

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

The Revival Of The Coal Industry Is Unattainable

Clean beautiful coal will never be a reality. President Trump's backing of a declining industry is misguided and will have despairing environmental impacts.

504
views

The coal industry and its workers were placed at the forefront of American politics during the 2016 election cycle. President Trump promised a revival of the coal industry and promised to secure the jobs of coal country. The President, halfway through his first term, has so far taken measures to do just that. Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement, threw out Obama's Clean Power Plan, and did away with an Obama-era regulation that would prevent coal ash from entering streams and other bodies of water.

On one hand, it's quite extraordinary for a politician to do good on his campaign promises. On the other hand, is anyone considering whether or not the President is putting all his eggs into the wrong basket? Coal has been on the decline for about a decade now. Even without environmental regulations, the energy produced by coal is expected to reduce by 20% by 2030. Renewable energy such as wind and solar are replacing coal.


For an election campaign, it's easy to see why a candidate would align with coal. States like West Virginia and Pennsylvania are key when running a national campaign. The votes are there in those counties that support the coal industry. They will vote for any candidate who sides with their industry. But from an environmental standpoint, there's more on the line than just an election. It's about our clean air and water. Climate change is real and the effects of coal will only accelerate the process.

Coal ash that finds its way into water streams can damage that water supply for good. It could also impact the wildlife within the area. Coal also pollutes the air we breathe. Clean coal is a myth. Plain and simple. Coal is anything but clean. Clean coal sounds good in a stump speech, but we all know it's a fallacy.

Mountaintop mining also has a deep environmental impact. The Appalachian mountains have been destroyed from surface mining. West Virginia residents hold their beautiful mountains in high regard. Now, some of them look very different and the destruction is permanent. If the mining continues, the mountains of the Appalachia region will be gone. It would be a shame if you went to West Virginia to admire their mountains, and none were left.

In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt passed the American Antiquities Act of 1906. Roosevelt protected 230 million acres of land during his presidency. Roosevelt understood the importance of conservation and preserving our nation's natural beauty. The same natural beauty that God envisioned. We should not take that for granted. We should restore our mountains, forests, and lakes so that our children's children can reside in the richness of our natural environment.

President Roosevelt also ended the coal strike in 1902. The United States was much more dependent on coal in the 20th century than it is now. Roosevelt knew the coal strike had to be resolved because the cold winter would have been fatal. The change of the Republican party over a century later is quite intriguing to ponder. The party went from a strong conservationist in Roosevelt to Trump, who is willing to move mountains for a dying industry.

All of these facts surrounding the coal debate cannot be ignored. The rest of the western world will move on to new forms of renewable energy. While the United States will be stuck in neutral, reviving coal. Renewable energy should be strongly considered if we are to protect our water, air, and lands.

Disclaimer: I understand the risks coal miners make when they show up for work. I know that safety regulations are not always up to par and that coal mining is a very dangerous profession. I also understand the viewpoint of coal miners and their reasoning for disagreeing with me. I know they want to work and provide for their families. That's what we all want to do. As I write this, I wish not to offend coal miners, I only aim to critique the President and his policies about the coal industry.

Related Content

Facebook Comments