Sunday, November 13, 2011

Guest Blogger Dr. Jesse Hellman on The Penn State Matter



The news media has published numerous pieces exploring various aspects of what happened at Penn State. The sports culture, the prestige of the program, the money it brought into the university, the parallels with the Catholic Church, and so on. What kept action from being taken by administrators after an employee allegedly witnessed a violent crime? What kept that employee from stopping a violent act? What kept him from taking further action later?

The media has looked at various aspects of these questions, but two aspects have received little attention: Is there a difference between the way men and women react to these events, and are there factors that actually inhibit men from taking action in these circumstances?

Here is a "thought experiment:"  What would happen if the alleged crime were different-- if, for example,  a man had walked in on someone violently raping a ten year old female child? Would he have reacted the same, observing but not interfering, reporting it up the line, but not taking subsequent action? What would have happened if one of the administrators who learned of this had been a woman? My thesis is that it would have been very different if it had been a little girl, and that women involved as administrators would have been far less likely to ascribe this to "horse play," look the other way, and remain passive after reporting it up the line to superiors.

A man coming across a heterosexual rape, whether of an adult or a child, would know immediately that this is a terrible crime and would have immediately stopped it. It would be clear that the police should be involved. I wonder whether the homosexual act, even with a child, arouses feelings in men that actually inhibit action, that make it easier to turn away and rationalize not taking action. It is something that is harder to confront, to even think about. To the psyche it is perhaps the most forbidden of crimes, worse than incest.

Again, the purpose of this post is to discuss the general principles, not the individual actions at Penn State, of this subject. What are the Psychological Factors that inhibit Action when Evil is
Encountered?