News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sacrificial beheading is all the rage in America

In the constant revelations of men who have sexually harassed and abused women, some have flummoxed me and other people I know.  One is the matter of Bill Cosby.  What he has allegedly done to women is totally contradictory to the values and character he has portrayed in his entertainment.  Another is the matter of the Olympic gymnast physician, Dr. Lawrence Nassar, who sexually violated hundreds of young female gymnasts for which he has been sentenced to multiple lifetimes in jail.  

The Nassar case was particularly bothersome because he was on the faculty of  Michigan State  University, where I have spent much time and worked with some impeccable, talented people.  The Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature, of which I am a member and a former officer, is headquartered there.  As a result of the Nassar revelations and trials, a number of Michigan State officials, including the university president, have been forced to resign.

The revelations of sexual misconduct  of all degrees produce a hysteria in which resignations or firings are demanded.  In many cases, probably most, they are likely justified.  But a lot of people with talent and expertise who were not directly involved in the incidents are sent into oblivion, their talents and accomplishments banished along with them, and we never know what actually happened or what can be done to prevent such things from happening again.  In the case of  the MSU president, the chair of the Board of Trustees said,“President Simon has served with distinction as MSU’s President for 13 years and has been a constant presence at the university for more than 40 years. She literally has devoted her entire professional life to this institution, and more than anyone else has helped make MSU a national and international leader in higher education.”  So, figuratively speaking, she was beheaded anyway.

Many humans are intellectually and socially primitive.  They need ritual killings.  To maintain their delusions of moral self-esteem and superiority, they need scapegoats and sacrificial lambs.   People, including in America, used to pack picnic baskets and attend hangings and beheadings in throngs, as if the occasions were celebrations.  In Orwell's 1984,  children berate their parents because they won't take them to one of the periodic mass hangings held in  Oceania.  Seeing people humiliated and killed in public is essential to their feelings of self-worthiness.  Such sacrificial atrocities purged any sense of guilt or blame they might harbor about the injustices other people experience.  A popular piece taught in freshman literature courses is Shirley Jackson's short story  "The Lottery,"    In the story, everybody in the community gathers at an annual event at which each person draws a slip of paper.  One slip has a black circle on it which designates who is to be stoned to death by the rest of the community that year.  Many people take offense at the story because it presents such a bleak portrayal of human nature.  It addresses the social psychology that society clings to which requires people to be sacrificed in public to satisfy the group's sense of self-esteem and righteousness.

The #MeToo movement has taken up an injustice inflicted upon women through sexual harassment and assault.  It is an advance toward a just and equitable society.  Women's complaints about sexual harassment and assault were often ignored or dismissed.  The #MeToo movement has brought into general recognition the prevalence of sexual aggression and the torment that women face.  

The forms the aggression takes ranges from spousal abuse, sexual assault and molestation, and sexual harassment from verbal abuse to suggestive double entendre.  The accepted solution for all degrees of sexual misconduct is to fire the accused miscreants or those associated with them and to publish the allegations.  No matter  what level of misbehavior is alleged, from physical assault to verbal suggestiveness, the required punishment is firing the accused from their jobs--in other words end their ability to make a living.  Figurative death, beheading.

In the case of Dr. Nassar,  people who had oversight over him, such as President Simon, are said to have received complaints of his molestation and abuse of girls.  Nasser was investigated but no substantive charges were forthcoming until he was fired in September 2016.  The state attorney general was asked to investigate how the university handled the  complaints,  but no report from MSU was ever submitted. At one point, when Nasser was investigated after some complaints, he was cleared by the university, but instructed to follow a protocol which required another person to be present when examining and treating patients.

Administrators at  Michigan State could have been more thorough in their responses to reports of Nassar's transgressions, perhaps,  but those who demand vengeance for his actions by beheading anyone associated with him ignore the complicated and conflicting circumstances in which they were operating.  Nasser was considered to be a medical star.   One of the women he treated but did not molest said. He was great. I loved him. I looked up to him.”  He performed some of his acts with the girls' mothers in the room, and they thought he was administering treatments, not performing acts of molestation.   Some of the young women did not realize they had been sexually violated until the accounts of other women were published in the media.  Nassar developed such a reputation for being an outstanding physician that it earned him a role with the US Olympic Womens Gymnastic Team.  A coach for the men's team remarked, Everybody knew who Larry Nassar was — he was the renowned gymnastics doctor on the women’s side."

In addition, Nasser was know as an active, benign member of the community in which he lived.  A neighbor woman said, “I really cannot say enough good about Larry because he is just a wonderful man. He will do anything in the world for anybody. We all love Larry. We really, really love Larry.”

The question raised about Nasser is, how did he manage to engage in his molestation so long and nobody did anything about it?  The answer is complex.  The stories of the victims indicate that their own parents were not aware of his actions or did not understand reports from the children.  And the reports to officials at MSU apparently did not provide the evidence to support the allegations.  Those who are applying due process are bound to test accusations according to the evidence provided and to guard against specious or malicious claims.   Such claims are a frequent presence in the academic world and are the resort of vengeful students unhappy with a grade and, unfortunately, of faculty as they compete for promotion or tenure.  As a result,  academics are likely to treat accusations of sexual misbehavior with a measure of doubt.  And they are wary of the  threat of severe legal consequences if they raise an accusation that is not true.

Academic officials treat their  "stars," such as Nasser had become, with deference, especially if they contribute to  the university's reputation for innovation and excellence.  Nasser operated under the cover of that kind of reputation and being a person much liked and respected in his community.

Instead of President Simon convening her faculty and examining what circumstances allowed Nasser to operate as he did and formulate procedures and policies that would prevent it,  she was fired, along with others who could provide information and perspectives on the issue that are necessary in devising solutions to such problems.  Instead,  these people are thrown on the discard pile,  making them as much victims of Nassar's deceit as the young women he touched with his hands.    Heads had to roll.

For many people,  the only reaction they can conceive of for a wrong is acts of harsh vengeance and public humiliation, even if they are inflicted on people who were not involved in the offending incidents.  They have no interest in addressing the circumstances surrounding the incidents or finding ways to repair and compensate for the damage done;  they just need to see someone suffer.  And so,  they compound the damage.  And they absolve themselves of any culpability for matters that go wrong in society.

Another tactic for dealing with accused offenders is borrowed from George Orwell's 1984.  One day you come to work and find that the work desk of a fellow is gone.  Every trace or memory-producing evidence of the fellow is gone.  He has been vaporized for some reason by the powers that be.

 Minnesota Public Radio vaporized Garrison Keillor--or tried to. Someone accused Keillor of making lustful advances to a woman.  The head of Minnesota  Public Radio declared them an unforgivable offense and true.  As a result MPR ended all its contracts with Keillor and his companies, stopped broadcasting his syndicated show The Writer's Almanac, stopped rebroadcasting highlights from A Prairie Home Companion, and separated from an online catalogue and website associated with Keillor.  The Washington Post for whom Keillor wrote columns ended their relationship. Then the University of Minnesota removed a plague which honored Keillor for his contribution to the state's culture.  Keillor was vaporized.  Precisetly for what was never explained, but one day he found himself holding that slip of paper with the black circle on it in his hand.  Zap.

Al Franken who was accused of sexual misconduct wanted the  U.S. Senate Ethics Committee to hold an investigation and a hearing,  but his colleagues chose  beheading instead.  It made the senators feel responsive and righteous, even though Franken's staff members, both from the Senate and Saturday Night Live, came out in public support of him.  The guillotine is better than due process because it makes everyone feel better.

Franken and Keillor were put in the same category as Cosby and Nasser,  and they had to go.  And the powers took out a university president while they were at it.The collective demise made a lot of people feel good.  We need to reinstitute public mass hangings or stonings so we can feel great about ourselves again.    We could watch the heads of a whole bunch of university presidents roll, and we could really rock.


    *Forty-one  "unionists" hung in Gainesville, Texas, in 1862.

No comments:

Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States