Does your conscience bother you

25 01 2018

How do you live with yourself knowing that you at best did nothing to stop a predator, at worst aided in the predation?

The case of Larry Nassar is likely one of the worst cases of sexual abuse by a single individual in US sports, if not US society. The number of victims who testified at his sentencing hearing is 156; about 40 more submitted testimony anonymously, and still others have stated that they, too, were abused by Nassar.

Nassar, justly, will spend the rest of his life in prison. Yes, I believe we incarcerate too many people, for too long and in too horrid conditions. I support sentencing and prison reform. I also believe some of us have behaved so monstrously towards others of us that they have lost their right to live among those on whom they would prey. So, yes, I think it is just that Nassar will live and die a prisoner.

But what of all those who enabled him, who didn’t stop him? Rachael Denhollander, who was the first victim willing to identify herself as such,

said she felt certain the officials had been told. It seemed impossible to her that no one knew about it. From the practiced way Nassar did what he did, it seemed like he had done it thousands of times. (Which he later admitted to doing.) “This must be medical treatment,” Denhollander remembered thinking. “The problem must be me.”

Denhollander would later learn that women and girls had come forward before she walked into Nassar’s office in 2000. Four women to be exact. None of them were believed. That’s the reason why Denhollander spent a large chunk of her statement indicting the institutions that enabled Nassar’s abuse to go on, unabated, for nearly thirty years.

These institutions include Michigan State University, which conducted self-examinations which—surprise!—revealed no wrongdoing, and USA Gymnastics, which “kept secret files with sexual abuse allegations against member coaches rather than immediately forwarding those complaints to the police.”

Yes, yes, institutions turning away from inconvenient truths: nothing new about that. But how do you, as a person, turn away? The coach, colleagues, the president of the university: they supported Nassar, dismissed complaints, pleaded ignorance. They didn’t want to know.

Is that it, finally? They didn’t want to know? Because it was, what? unpleasant? a hassle? Because it was more important to think of themselves as good than actually to do good?

I ask because as much as I’d like to think I’d say HEY!, would I, really?

I don’t know that I’d do it out of a sense of Kantian duty—to do the right thing for the right reason—but I think there’s a decent chance that I’d realize that I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t step up. Universal law may set the absolute standard, but as a non-absolutist, I’ll have to make do with conscience.

That conscience is not unerring, but it keeps working on me, perhaps because I keep working on it. And maybe because I do the work, it’s possible that I’d think, Hey, and so thinking, say Hey!, and maybe even shout HEY!

Again, I don’t know for sure that I would, but I do know that if I didn’t, well, that would mark me for the rest of my days. I would be diminished.

So how will these enablers live with themselves? Will they, like MSU President Simon, cover themselves in ashes while pronouncing themselves righteous? (You think I exaggerate? I do not.) Will they deflect and deny, or downplay the severity of the crimes? Will they keep themselves whole, and hollow?

What will they do?

~~~

Ursula Le Guin died yesterday. I like her stuff, but as a fitful sci-fi fan, have more to read than I have read.

Still, when I was reading all of Dvora Meyers’s and the other Deadspin staff’s reporting on Nassar (and, really, you should follow all of those links I provided, then the links within the links) I did think of one of the Le Guin’s stories I did read: The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.

Unlike many of you, I didn’t read this in school: I only read it for the first time a few years ago. But it insinuated itself into me, is still working on me.

I don’t know that I’d walk away—I mean, I live in the US: I haven’t walked away—which is why I’m not sure that I’d have done the right thing by all of those girls and women.

Ach, I could say, it’s not the same, not at all the same. But I’m not so sure, I’m not at all so sure.

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3 responses

29 01 2018
dmf

9 02 2018
6 03 2018
JoshuaWelch

Nice post

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