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The Penn State Rape Scandal and the Myth of the 'Otherwise Decent Person'

As I've said over the years, the world owes Christopher Hitchens a great debt for coining a term for this sort of outrageous moral relativism and childish antinomianism: sinister piffle.

The idea that people who cover up the rapes of children -- facilitating further rapes in the future by either inaction or becoming accessories -- can be considered "good" people is to turn the very idea of virtue on its head. One cannot deny justice to rape victims through their actions and still be called a "good man" as Douthat calls Paterno. The myth of the Otherwise Decent Person is just that -- a myth. It is a fantasy perpetuated by small people of poor character to excuse their own perfidy and moral cowardice.

Writing about crime, I come across this corrupt and wearisome idea with what is unfortunately no longer alarming regularity. Any time some criminal matter gains sufficient traction on the Internet, the family and friends of the criminal show up in the comments of crime blogs and news sites with the same tired apologia. "Sure, so and so murdered someone in a robbery but he was a good father" or "Of course pimping out your kids is wrong, but at least they were well fed" are phrases I assure you have been left on sites I run or frequent.

The arguments are always the same -- some person does something horrible and people that know the person detail the nice things they've done which usually consist of nothing more than the bare minimum of what you expect functioning adults to do. I just blogged about a man named Robert Walker who was caught with child pornography on his computer. During the investigation, both he and his wife tried to blame Walker's two teens for the illegal material even though forensic investigators determined that Walker was the person downloading the child porn.

By Douthat's logic, Walker's wife is still a decent person who was just "led into temptation" by her good intentions of keeping her family together. Again, this is sinister piffle designed to relieve degenerates of the weight of their moral failings.

Though no piffle written about the Penn State scandal is quite as sinister as Megan McArdle's argument in defense of the craven and despicable Mike McQueary. McQueary apparently told the grand jury that he witnessed Sandusky anally raping a child in the shower and ran home to his father to figure out what to do next. That story earned him well-deserved scorn so he's changed his story, saying now he did stop the rape -- just not physically. I guess he gave Sandusky a talking to. For actual decent people, that's not quite the reaction we want to see from a person who purports to be a man.