We Are Still Capable of Outrage

This article was originally published in The Blaze.

I stood in Baltimore’s BWI airport Friday night when word came that the jury in the trial of former Penn State University football coach Jerry Sandusky had reached a verdict.  As news rippled through the terminal that the jury foreman would soon reveal whether that verdict was one of guilt or innocence, weary travelers anxiously crowded around televisions not certain of what they would hear.  That Sandusky was guilty they were all certain, but confidence in America’s legal system isn’t what it used to be.

Then came the verdict:  Sandusky, the network reporter said, had been found guilty on 45 of 48 counts of child sex abuse.  Something short of a cheer went up.  Perhaps it was more of a collective sigh of relief that the child molester, against whom the evidence seemed overwhelming, hadn’t gotten away with it after all.

The verdict delivered, people turned away from the television post-trial commentary and returned to their chairs or resumed their journeys.  For a brief moment one could catch snippets of conversations that had a consistent theme: how could such a thing happen?  And how could it happen to so many children for so long?  Relief had turned to questioning, and in the absence of satisfying answers, questioning had turned to outrage.

The response of those people at BWI to Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of no less than ten children has proved fairly representative of America’s response, and in an age when Americans seem outraged by very little beyond ATM fees and Hank Williams, Jr., that is reason for optimism.  After all, one might have reasonably expected the Reality TV Nation to respond with an indifference to match that of officials at Penn State University when they were first informed of the abuse.  That we didn’t is an indication that our moral sensibilities are not yet dead.  And in a society that has sexualized children from Jonbenet Ramsey to Hannah Montana, from Abercrombie & Fitch toGlee, that is no small thing.

Still, given the rate that we are moving, one wonders how the next generation will feel about the things for which Jerry Sandusky was convicted.  Will they feel morally outraged, too, or would they walk away from the televisions at BWI shaking their heads indignantly for an altogether different reason?

Is it far-fetched to suppose that a generation in the not-so-distant future will regard us as bunch of ignorant bigots who just didn’t understand that pedophilia is “natural”, was practiced by the Classical Greeks, and is perfectly acceptable provided that it is consensual?  That we have redefined marriage in less than a decade is proof that my scenario is anything but far-fetched.  A society whose morality is defined by the prevailing cultural zeitgeist is capable of almost anything.  As Fyodor Dostoevsky observed, “If there is no immortality, there can be no virtue, and all things are permissible.”

© Copyright 2012 Larry A. Taunton