Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Shadow Knows

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.

We want justice to be easy. We want it to be obvious.

From Jesus to The Shadow to the never-wrong investigators of modern cop dramas, we idolize those who seem to have magical powers to see into the hearts of men. They see beyond all the distractions; they separate the evidential wheat from the chaff; they know guilt before they weigh a single shred of proof. They Know Truth.

For those who Know Truth, doubt and uncertainty are cancers, eating away at justice from the inside.

Malcolm Gladwell’s latest essay in The New Yorker explores the dark world of child molesters in our midst.
The pedophile is often imagined as the dishevelled old man baldly offering candy to preschoolers. But the truth is that most of the time we have no clue what we are dealing with. A fellow-teacher at Mr. Clay’s school, whose son was one of those who complained of being fondled, went directly to Clay after she heard the allegations. “I didn’t do anything to those little boys,” Clay responded. “I’m innocent. . . . Would you and your husband stand beside me if it goes to court?” Of course, they said. People didn’t believe that Clay was a pedophile because people liked Clay—without realizing that Clay was in the business of being likable.
Unlike serial killers, pedophiles are most often expert grifters whose long con is not for your money, but for your children.

Some readers, including a writer at Deadspin, have translated Gladwell’s piece as an apologia of Penn State’s administrators rather than an earnest attempt to explore how pedophiles can fool so many people so utterly.

Daily Beast correspondant Megan McArdle hits closer to a reasoned reaction with her piece, “The Cost of Costly Punishment.”
I am sure all of this is true, but I would like to point out one other thing: our natural resistance to believing the worst of someone. And "child molester" is the worst. It is literally the most horrible thing you can do in our society; morally, the child molester sits above only the child molester/serial killer who rapes and kills children. That makes an accusation of child molesting an extraordinary claim. And as the saying goes, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
McArdle’s conclusion is also more than reasonable:
I don't really see any way around this. Some crimes should be viewed as so morally horrific that they cut one off from decent society. But society also needs to be careful about who it cuts off. It is very terrible to let a child molester keep working on new victims. But it is also very terrible to destroy the life of an innocent adult--to brand him with a label that will probably keep him from ever associating with decent people again.
None of this is an attempt to excuse Graham Spanier or Joe Paterno, nor is it an attempt to justify their persecution. It is about how we as a culture attempt to handle matters of trust, justice, and fairness. Believing such vague but vital concepts to be simple and easy is every bit as dangerous and destructive as those who live to circumvent them for criminal and immoral deeds.

The need for quick and simple truth and justice results in a man shooting his own son, thinking he’s a burglar. “Shoot first, ask questions later,” right? Isn’t that the Code of the Brave Republican?

Gladwell’s report isn’t about Jerry Sandusky. It’s about Greg Austin and the unknown thousands of (mostly) men like him, plotting and making connections with young and teenage kids. It’s about how these men get away with the unthinkable. It’s about how difficult it is for us mere humans to Know Truth, even when it’s staring us in the face, especially when the truth is so damn dark.

1 comment:

Daisy said...

I was just recently reminded that not all pedophiles are men. It really is impossible to know the truth about people! It is also becoming even harder not to be the overprotective helicopter mom with all the evil lurking nearby.