A Penn State alumnus on what’s wrong with the school: personality worship

LA to Aaron S.:

I was just reading my 2010 exchange with Mencius Moldbug and came upon your discussion about him. Top notch stuff. It’s an honor to run a blog that has such intelligent commenters writing at it.

Aaron S. replies:

Thanks for the kind words. I’d be hard pressed to name other places with such consistently high levels of discussion on a wide range of topics. I think one of the best testaments to this fact is that I often find myself doing exactly what you’ve done here: pulling something good from the archives.

Just last week in a discussion with a friend I quoted your citation of “evil seen from the department store elevator.” As is happens, much of my correspondence lately has concerned my alma mater (yes, Penn State University). I’ve enjoyed your several threads on the topic. So far, I identify three strands of thought here: the “symptom-of-homosexual-liberation” strand, the “symptom-of-race-related-destruction-of-norms” strand, and now, the “cult of personality” strand. For what it’s worth from a man who lived there for five years (undergraduate education plus one year of graduate school), I count the third as the predominant factor in this case. I find the first strand persuasive as a broader cultural observation, and would not discount its having exerted some pull here. That said, the general culture of PSU and State College—at least when I was there in the late 80s—set itself against the liberationist view of sex. It is—or was—a rather conservative place, culturally speaking. The second factor makes sense too, though I see that—pace Mr. Kersey—as an aggravating element rather than the driving one.

I put it this way to friends from PSU earlier this week and no one has disputed my formulation:

But the question is why it (the scandal) isn’t disturbing to many—even most—in State College. Why can’t even one player quit the team out of a sense of honor? Why can’t the fans stay away, even for a week or two? Why wouldn’t even one prominent person in State College suggest that there might be something disrespectful in playing football after what has happened? The answer is because they can’t. This is not within the realm of possibility. To do this requires a sense of virtue or honor external to football and Paterno. These people honestly believe they are honoring the rape victims by showing school spirit and tailgating.

There is a very old name for this—it’s called “idolatry.” I believe this is true of college athletics as a whole, but in this case we have a particularly egregious manifestation at PSU. To put it in religious terms, you can say places like state college exist as concentrated rebukes to the second commandment. If this bothers you as too old-school, or lest you think we need to don ceremonial robes for such a thing to make sense, then consider: “Thou shalt not worship idols” is not just about worshipping things other than God. It’s also about preventing a fundamental disordering of community and soul.

I can remember many many undergraduate conversations, with otherwise-intelligent young men, that contained my utterance of this sentence: “Remember, he’s just a football coach.” This was usually followed by a litany on their parts about improved lives, high graduation rates, and other rather low bars being cleared. The standards for judging the football team came from the football team. A strong plurality of people on campus and in the surrounding community never really left that mental circle, even if to all appearances they were otherwise normal, conservative-leaning Americans.

So in my mind, Sandusky could have involved himself in any number of hideous activities and the apparent cover-up would have followed.

Incidentally, many of us are following this story with such great interest because there were some rather fine academic corners of the university (the honors college was in some ways a world unto itself), and at least when I was there, a set of genuine alternatives to the football culture. I’m hoping that the whole business comes to resemble the excision of a tumor, but I am not so optimistic to assume that things will work out that way.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 18, 2011 08:21 AM | Send

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