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David Brooks Lazy Accusations: Young people don’t recognize evil, sin

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This morning’s Meet the Press featured a segment with E.J. Dionne and David Brooks, discussing the Penn State Scandal, and what it means. I was saddened by David Brooks response.

According to David Brooks, young people do not know what evil is. Young people do not recognize sin and have been raised to live a life that says, if it feels good to me, do it. This is not a direct quote, but it is very close. This is so condescending and so arrogant, it is maddening.

Such statements are filled with the moral superiority that drives “young people” wild. Because, you see, David Brooks has the inside story, he knows that raping children is evil. Not us young people, who lack a ‘moral script,’ and do not act or live in a way that recognizes what is evil.

This claim is especially frustrating coming from a mainstream, popular journalist and being aimed at “young people.” Presumably someone like David Brooks knows this is untrue. The problem of “young people” and their moral shortcomings are the same moral failings of all other people. The behaviors of youth always disappoint their elders. This is not an excuse. There is no excuse here for the rioters who took to the streets of Penn State to protest the firing of a man who covered up child sex abuse. No excuse; they are tasteless, and wrong, actions. Protecting such a man is disgusting.

But let’s not allow the idiotic and classless acts of college protests to distract from the evil that took place at Penn State, and who it was that failed to recognize that evil, David Brooks. The actions of the students after the firing of Joe Paterno are not the story. The story is the protection of a person who sexually abused children by an institution designed to educate youth. It is a man using an organization designed to help children as a way to find children to sexually abuse. And it is the culture of insulation, protection, money and power that allowed it to go on for decades. Perhaps worst of all, it represents the systemic and political and cultural power that has become Football in the United States.  Worst of all because football is so meaningless. Even Penn State football.

Perhaps David Brooks wants to go back to the previous moral scripts, the golden days. Maybe the past fifty years, when the moral teachers and leaders were sexually abusing children, and the byzantine structures of the Church were used to cover it up. Those were the days when our society was better able to recognize evil.

There are so many evils on display in this terrible, disgusting event, but the problems unfolding in our society are not going to be answered with the tired argument that youth are losing the moral script. The claim is as lazy as saying everyone in the Church lacks a sense of sin as a result of the Church’s history of abuse. Lazy and wrong.

So, David Brooks: You’re accusation of the “young people” being unable to recognize sin and evil, being without a moral center, is a lazy accusation and distraction from the true evils of this whole situation. You have grasped  a tired lesson that doesn’t stick and never seems to fade. It is as  filled with condescension and pride as it was when your parents generation made it about the college students of the 1980s. The moral failures that are on display at Penn State are sickening, disgusting, grotesque, there aren’t adjectives to describe how terrible these acts are. But they are also not new, nor is the behavior of Penn State’s students. Don’t pretend otherwise, and don’t fall to easy explanations of how this could happen by looking to the failings of  “young people.”


Written by Christopher ZF

November 13, 2011 at 10:48