State College, Pennsylvania, home of Penn State University, is ensconsed in a somewhat bucolic region of the commonwealth called Happy Valley. The name exquisitely connotes tranquility, American values, and the smiling faces of guileless, hard-working citizens. It is also home of the Nittany Lions, a name long synonymous with Penn State’s football team. The Nittany lion was adopted by the student body in 1907 as the official football mascot and was taken from the name of nearby Mount Nittany, which derived its name from a Native American word meaning “protective barrier.” Since then, Penn State has become synonymous with football and all of that sport’s infinite sexual connotations such as “penetration,” “tight end,” and “wide open in the end zone.”
The events of the past few weeks have indeed given new meaning to the notion of “protective barrier” as more alleged victims of former football coach, Jerry Sandusky, come forth asserting that he sexually molested them in the past. The scandal seems to swell by the day and sometimes by the hour as more victims emerge and as Sandusky made a pathetic attempt to exonerate himself in a disastrous interview this week with Bob Costas.
We can certainly perceive this story as yet another in a long line of indicators of how decadent industrial civilization has become. We can rightly compare it to the scourge of child sexual abuse that has marked the Roman Catholic Church for centuries. And just as we can become obsessed with the story or turn white hot with anger, we can also choose to ignore it or simply chalk it up to the sports industrial complex. However we choose to respond, I believe it is important not to miss this debacle as a prototype of empire itself and to construct a vision of how this not-so-happy valley could be deconstructed and revolutionized in a post-industrial world.
I’m often asked if I think that there was just as much child sexual abuse in the Middle Ages or in Victorian Era as there is now or are we just hearing more about it today because we live in the information age. I don’t know how to answer this question except with “yes.” I believe that both statements are true.
Child sexual abuse has been with us for thousands of years because it has little to do with sex and everything to do with power. Wherever human beings thirst for power and are willing to do whatever is necessary to acquire and maintain it, the most vulnerable of society will be exploited in myriad ways. Moreover, those in the power hierarchy do not abuse each other or each others’ children but rather those who have less or no power and are less likely to resist or are incapable of resisting. Derrick Jensen notes that “…this culture is based on an often unarticulated hierarchy and violence that flows down the hierarchy and is often unnoticed or invisible. When it is noticed it’s fully rationalized. Violence flowing up the hierarchy is unthinkable, and when it does happen it’s met with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.”
Venues of power, whether in politics, business, sports, or religion tend to be replete with all manner of abuse because, I reiterate: Abuse is all about power. It is the drug of choice for those who feel inwardly power-less. And while it is axiomatic that women, like men, abuse children, it is also true that elaborate and complex pedophile structures are usually maintained by men.
When Jensen was asked by the interviewer to explain what he attributes the high percentage of sex crime in Western society to, he answered:
A couple of things: one is that I would like to blame this culture for it entirely but there have been studies done on rape crime culturally and what they said was there are high rape and low rape cultures. The characteristics of high rape cultures, the valorization of the male, the valorization of the military, the perception of women as objects and this interestingly includes a history of ecological dislocation within the last several hundred years. What this says is if the culture gets stressed this way, then women as a primary group ends up paying for it.
So what he has articulated is a description of industrial civilization to which I would only add that children as well as women are perceived as objects and that children as well as women pay the price for empires within empires such as the Penn State Sandusky subjugation system.
Industrial civilization is by definition exploitative—of women, children, and men. Moreover, it is particularly exploitative of the ecosystems because it is dissociated from them, believing itself to separate from and superior to everything else in the earth community. Could anything be more symbolic of rape than natural gas fracking? Watching the fracking process is similar to witnessing a rape as the penile drill blasts into the earth, brutally ejaculating toxic chemicals and as we have recently learned, generating earthquakes in the vicinity of the rape. (Oh honey, did you feel the earth move on that one? What a fabulous frack!)
Here I must pause for some fundamental psycho-spiritual definitions. In most cultures throughout history, we see examples of masculine energy that are benevolent, protective, generative, and kind. We also see examples that are destructive, exploitative, and invasive. Likewise, most cultures exhibit positive feminine values such as nurturance, compassion, and creativity and at the same time exhibit values that devour, betray, and capitulate to malevolent forces.
Patriarchy simply means rule by the fathers, just as matriarchy means rule by the mothers. Neither in ancient times was inherently malicious, but today’s oligarchy, which often includes the Madeline Albrights and Condoleeza Rice’s of the world, cherishes negative male values, and women who play in that system do so only because they have bought into negative masculine values. So when I use the word “patriarchy,” I am talking about a system based on power and control in which the white, heterosexual male dominates at the top of the hierarchy and in which everyone and everything else downward is essentially under his thumb.
Readers of these words are likely to assert that they want nothing to do with negative male values, but I would ask you dear reader to reconsider that assumption. As we allow ourselves to become aware of the collapse of industrial civilization and begin preparing for that, do we tend to emphasize logistical preparation at the expense of emotional and spiritual preparation? If so, then we are once again minimizing the feminine principle of inner work in favor of the masculine principle of external action, and in some sense, setting the stage for a repeat of the Penn State catastrophe.
If we hope to create in the next culture, as Clinton Callhan calls it, a world of gender equity which has no tolerance for abuses of power, sexual or otherwise, and where human beings grasp in every cell of their bodies that they are not separate from anyone or anything, we must commit to the journey into the sacred self within ourselves and within the earth lest we replicate more unintended Happy Valley empires.
In a 2008 interview with Derrick Jensen by “Abolitionist Online,” he states:
“Everything is set up to protect the abuser and what that means is that we all conspire to help the abuser not face the implications of his abuse.” Jensen has written voluminously about empire as yet another form of rape—rape of the soul, rape of the mind, and rape of the earth, and using that analogy, he never fails to mention the role of the enabler in perpetuating the abuse.
This week, Mike McQueary, the graduate assistant who says he saw Jerry Sandusky raping a ten year-old boy in the shower, stated that he intervened in the incident, stopped it, and later reported it to campus police. McQueary claims he also reported the incident to head coach Joe Paterno, the athletic director, and the vice-president of the university, all three of whom have recently been fired for not taking action against Sandusky. Additionally, in an ABC Nightline interview, Paul McLaughlin, a former Penn State student, alleged that years ago a now-retired university professor who is a nationally-acclaimed authority on child development sexually abused him. In 2001 McLaughlin recorded a phone conversation he had with the former professor in which the professor admitted to sexually abusing him. Later, he sent the recorded conversations to the professor and to university officials who were not interested in discussing them and essentially told him to go away. When the Sandusky story broke, McLaughlin contacted Graham Spanier, the university president who recently resigned in the wake of the Sandusky story, and who told him that as far as he was concerned, McClaughlin’s accusations were “hearsay.”
In a conversation with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on November 16, criminal investigator, John Walsh, asserted that there is and has been a huge coverup regarding Sandusky. This alongside several other network airings of a mother of one of the alleged victims stating that when she contacted State College Police after becoming suspicious that Sandusky had abused her son, she was essentially told to shut up and not make waves.
At the moment, we do not know how far-reaching Sandusky’s trail of soul murder extends. Nor do we know if others are involved alongside him in pedophile behavior, as well as covering it up. It is not uncommon for individual pedophiles to be linked with larger organizations involved with child sexual abuse or human trafficking. Many appalling secrets may exist around this case that will never be uncovered. That’s the reality of well-organized, highly lucrative sexual exploitation empires around the world that can buy law enforcement officials, judges, and lawyers in order to make full disclosure virtually impossible.
However, perpetrators in all aspects of society cannot carry out their exploitation without enablers, and in my experience, enablers are far more difficult to treat than perpetrators. In a culture where the 1% function as perpetrators, the 99% either function as enablers or abdicate that role by breaking silence and saying what is so. The stench of the Penn State ignominy now wafts up in our faces as an atrocious example of what happens when human beings refuse to confront what is so in favor of money, power, fame, and winning. Let us not fail to notice the irony that the Penn State scandal is happening in the context of the Occupy Wall St movement worldwide in which millions of 99 percenters are breaking silence regarding peak oil, climate change, global economic meltdown, contrived resource wars, mass extinction, political corruption, and unprecedented greed. With each victory experienced by the Occupy Movement, every human being on this planet is bolstered in his/her commitment to speak truth to and about power.
What Exactly Sealed Their Lips?
Although exhaustive research in recent years done by distinguished researchers such as Kurt Freund and Nicolas Groth has revealed a false link between pedophilia and homosexuality, individuals unaware of the distinction, and I believe heterosexual males threatened by male-to-male erotic contact in particular, often equate the sexual assault of males by males with homosexuality. However, in his book on men who rape, Groth states that:
…male sexual assault has nothing to do with the sexual orientation of the attacker or the victim, just as a sexual assault does not make the victim survivor gay, bisexual or heterosexual. It is a violent crime that affects heterosexual men as much as gay men. The phrase “homosexual rape,” for instance, which is often used by uninformed persons to designate male-male rape, camouflages the fact that the majority of the rapists are not generally homosexual.
Might the deafening silence of those aware of Sandusky’s escapades be attributed in part to homophobia? Could it be that they assumed that these were homosexual acts which the “real men” of the Nittany Lions would do well to ignore? Or more poignantly, were some of the enablers also victims of other offenders in other times and places, preferring not to think about what they were told was going on in the locker room and beyond because of what it evoked in their own psyches?
What Would Occupy Penn State Look Like?
Penn State is not Berkeley. Known as a diehard party school, one would not expect it to become a bastion of revolution anytime soon. However, it is only one of many venues of so-called higher education where the values of patriarchy prevail but which students and faculty could “occupy.” Here are a few of the motivations they might have:
- The inordinately wasteful and energy-depleting sports program could be radically downsized. (I do not say this lightly as I am a Big Ten girl. True confessions here: I still enjoy college football.) However, I believe that sports must be redefined holistically in terms of excellence rather than limited to competition.
- The student loan system must be revolutionized within the context of a total deconstruction of the current higher education system. All levels of education must be returned to local control and local functioning. College must again become “free” or at least minimally financed with tuition.
- A college education must be inextricably connected with community needs and services. Farming; assisting the homeless; working in healthcare facilities, nursing homes, animal shelters, and daycare centers should be an integral aspect of a higher education.
- A balanced, holistic education must be an education that includes extensive studies in ecopsychology. Cultural historian and eco-theologian, Thomas Berry, called our educational system a consumer factory which prepares students to assume the roles of consumer and exploiter of the earth. “Our educational institutions need to see their purpose,” Berry said, “not as training personnel for exploiting the earth but as guiding students toward an intimate relationship with the earth.” Myriad studies confirm that when students of all ages spend significant amounts of time in nature, their academic performance improves.
- A college education must be de-coupled from the necessity of finding full-time employment in a world where jobs as we know them will increasingly cease to exist. College level classes are now being taught in various “occupy” venues, and libraries are being assembled in those venues with books being made available to occupiers and to the community. Occupiers are already creating the next culture by way of myriad social experiments in their camps which range from making policies about how they will treat mentally ill occupiers to the creation of sacred spaces for themselves and the community.
- A college education must be made available to anyone who wants one for the purpose of personal and community enrichment. The original definition of education comes from the Latin word, educare, which means “to lead out” and must be explicitly understood and practiced in higher education. That is to say that authentic education is not about cramming information into the human mind, but rather drawing out from the human soul the gifts that are inherently present therein.
I do not anticipate that colleges and universities as we know them today will exist in ten years. With millions of college graduates drowning in student loan debt and unable to find employment, we are likely to see young people drastically distancing themselves from colleges and universities in the coming years. They may enroll in community colleges or vocational training but will be less likely to invest in a four-year degree. All levels of public education in the United States are collapsing with increasing velocity. The Occupy Movement will not and cannot prevent that collapse, but it can put new structures of education in place which can be implemented when it becomes indisputable that the educational system is incapable of functioning.
While the world drowns in information, very little wisdom is known or lived because human beings have chosen to sacrifice deeper learning for power and greed. The Jerry Sanduskys of the world are made not in the halls of higher learning which were intended to take us to the depths of our souls, but in the sewers of avarice, competition, and world class ego-tripping while posing as pillars of the community in places with names like “Happy Valley.” Alongside the unraveling of industrial civilization, “occupiers” celebrate the demise of dominance and seize each dissolution as an opportunity for constructing the next culture. As Walt Whitman might have said to us:
Long enough have you dream’d contemptible dreams,
Now I wash the gum from your eyes,
You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light
and of every moment of your life.