The shame sensibility

It’s been a terrible month for losing one’s faith in basic human dignity.

First came Herman Cain, the Republican presidential candidate accused of sexual harassment by not one but four different women who once worked for the former head of the National Restaurant Association.

And, of course, there’s the Penn State sexual-abuse case, in which the university’s former assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, stands accused of sexual abuse against dozens of young boys. The boys, some as young as 10, were kids that Sandusky had been entrusted to counsel and coach as part of a youth charity he founded in 1978 for at-risk boys.

Then, earlier this week, officials at The Citadel announced its “regrets” for not informing police in 2007 of allegations levied against an alumnus, now charged for sexually abusing five boys.

While there’s been some fallout—the firing of Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno for failing to follow through on earlier accusations against Sandusky; the media’s relentless questioning of Cain—there’s also been, strangely, a deep sense of status quo.

Yes, there’s been some outrage—particularly over the Penn State case—but there have also been oddly puzzlingly, downright shameful reactions that run the gamut from a status quo, business-as-usual mindset to outright outrage if someone dares call bullshit on such behavior.

Case in point: Cain is still a top contender for the Republican presidential nomination.

And then there’s this: After Penn State officials fired Paterno—before the school’s big game against Nebraska—thousands of students rioted to protest his firing.


Thousands rioted to protest the firing of their beloved JoePa—a man who could have, but didn’t, prevent the abuse of more children.

“I think the point people are trying to make is the media is responsible for JoePa going down,” one angry Penn State student told The New York Times.

“[M]ake no mistake, the board started this riot by firing our coach. They tarnished a legend,” said another.

Such reactions are revolting and shameful and tragic and, yet somehow, not entirely surprising.

“This is the product of living in a rape culture,” a colleague said to me, disgusted by the news.

This isn’t just rape culture; this is entitlement culture—a pandemic sensibility that knows no line of demarcation.

Paterno may not have committed those crimes, but he contributed to them, without a doubt, by keeping silent, by remaining inactive.

In that respect, the so-called winningest coach in college-football history on the field very much perpetuated this horror off the field. He is guilty by association, guilty for his silence.

And similarly, while the Cain scandal doesn’t rate nearly as high on the scales of injustice, it also highlights a horribly skewed collective sense of right and wrong.

Although Cain’s numbers are sliding—down to 22 percent from a November 6 high of 40 percent—there is still a startlingly high number of voters who support his campaign, unperturbed by the allegations.

In an interview with NPR, one supporter even breezily compared Cain’s alleged misconduct to former President Bill Clinton’s dalliances with a White House intern.

You know, boys will be boys and all that.

Sorry, but there’s a huge difference between levying unwanted advances on a person and a mutually agreed-upon blowjob.

It’s time to stop condoning, much less celebrating, those who take advantage of others as well as those who look the other way and allow this entitlement culture and old boys-club mentality to thrive.

It’s disgusting, shameful and it has to end.