Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Death of Integrity

I don't want to hear about it anymore. It's a dead topic, dead to me, gone, obliterated, covered in sackcloth and ashes, shamed, defamed, besmirched,soiled, sullied, trampled underfoot and left for - who cares for what? It's dead already, never really existing in the natural world, as far as we can tell with electron microscopes, spy satellites, and the entire, vasty science armada who tracked down the super-secret Higgs Boson particle.

I'm referring, of course, to the long, slow - bullet-time, really - super, super slow-mo - fall from grace of college football's own Mother Theresa look-alike , Joe Paterno. Joe Pa, as he was affectionately referred to by legions of Penn State students as well as players, current and former.

The death knell is sounded by a forensic whiz, a guy with credentials of his own, former federal judge, former director of the FBI, Louis J Freeh who looked it over, looked it over for seven months - they talked to everybody, over 400 interviews according to the New York Times, and tons of email and other documents - and Louis says that the top guns at Penn State, Joe Pa included, were more into protecting the status quo than they were into protecting children. Poof! There goes a legacy. There goes the whole enchilada.

This kind of thing happens all the time. It just doesn't happen to hallowed old men, for pity's sake, practically sainted old men, enjoying near universal adoration. This is different than simply powerful old men, this is old men lauded for being different, different in outlook, different in motivation, made of special stuff, sprinkled with the extra-special pixie dust, men, we love to say, of integrity. You can hear the holy hush bracketing that word when uttered, the angel choir sighs out a long breath in perfect harmony, and eyelids snap more open by a couple of millimeters. Hey, you've got our attention. Here comes a prince among men - nay! - grander than that. He's like an emperor.

And guess what? The emperor is buck naked.

If you're an institution - and that's a loaded word, meaning either an organization held to a higher standard, or an individual perceived just as trustworthy because of decades of perceived flawless, selfless service - if you're an institution, at some point you get more interested in preserving the institution than in doing the stuff that is the reason for the institution's existence.

What's the upside of this debacle?

Maybe it calls on us to quit trying shotgun coronations, kangaroo parliamentary promotions designed to win arguments and corral vast sums of loot or prestige or maybe just say-so. Maybe we'll quit trying to wield that kind of club, because it turns out that the sorry thing is hollow, rotten to the core - more useful as a threat than an actual stick to hit someone with. And now it's not that great a threat, either.

"Oh, really? Your guy's got integrity? ... Isn't that what Joe Pa had?"

Maybe we could start to cooperate instead of coerce. Maybe we could start to collaborate instead of compete. Maybe we could learn to discuss instead of attack.

I know that's not very likely. But less likely is the man of great integrity. It's now officially dead.

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