plural taboos also tabus

Definition of TABOO

1: a prohibition in some cultures against touching, saying, or doing something for fear of immediate harm from a mysterious superhuman force
2: a prohibition imposed by social custom or as a protective measure <the view that incest, not cannibalism, was the world’s first taboo—Phyllis Grosskurth>

3: belief in taboos


Societies establish taboos to prevent their members from doing things that may seem beneficial or pleasurable to the individual but over time and numbers, causes damage to the community. (I’ d love to cite something scholastic here but haven’t found anything. This is just me saying it.) I’ve been thinking about Jerry Sandusky ever since the scandal broke.

“People in this area say they had long harbored suspicions about Matt and his adoptive father—suspicions that were renewed during trial when accuser No. 4 testified that Matt nervously left a Penn State shower when he and Jerry Sandusky entered and the former coach began to pump foam soap in his hand—a signal, the alleged victim said, that a soap fight would lead to sexual contact.”

I can’t understand his actions. One of my favorite lines of literature occurs in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Charles Ryder’s first meeting with Sebastian Flyte happens thus:

“D’you know I feel most unaccountably unwell. I must leave you a minute,” and there appeared at my window the face I knew to be Sebastian’s—but not as I had formerly seen it, alive and alight with gaiety; he looked at me for a moment with unseeing eyes and then, leaning forward well into the room, he was sick.

Charles admits to how public drunkenness is not all that uncommon.

His friends bore him to the gate and, in a few minutes, his host, an amiable Etonian of my year, returned to apologize. He, too, was tipsy and his explanations were repetitive and, towards the end, tearful. “The wines were too various,” he said; “it was neither the quality nor the quantity that was at fault. It was the mixture. Grasp that and you have the root of the matter. To understand all is to forgive all.”

To understand all is to forgive all.

“Sandusky called himself the “tickle monster” before embracing him in a shower.”

This is my first barrier to achieving closure with this. I do not understand the compulsion, the reason for Sandusky’s aberrant behavior. It is clearly something he can neither explain or control.

“Petrosky said he then saw Jim Calhoun, a temporary worker who was close to retirement age, crying and shaking. He said Calhoun told him, ‘I just witnessed something in there I’ll never forget the rest of my life. That man who just left, he had the boy up against the shower wall.'”

“Petrosky said Calhoun claimed to have witnessed the man performing oral sex on the boy. ‘That man?” Petrosky said he asked Calhoun. “That’s Jerry Sandusky.'”

If his actions are truly those of a sick individual who blasts through our laws, mores and taboos to perpetrate these crimes then from a certain perspective, do we have to look elsewhere to understand where the blame lies?

I think we do. In my day job, I am a middle manager for the technology and IT division of a huge bank. Often my activities are an endless series of checking things, approving decisions and certifying that our records are correct and appropriately set up. It often feels like a lot of nothing. Layers and layers of checking, certifying and verifying.

By clicking this link I certify that audit findings saying that everything is correct is correct.

But occasionally something comes across the e-desk that looks amiss. I check and see something that doesn’t look quite right. I ask some questions or do some investigating. I try not to put my name to anything that isn’t kosher. Like I said, it doesn’t feel like I add much value.

Until I read a story like Sandusky’s. In the  independent report by Louis Freeh, it is clear that a legion of managers, trustees and officials, including the legendary Joe Paterno himself, knew what was happening and failed to do their jobs. This intrigues me because it’s the intersection of my day job with my other job, coaching. I can see how important my decisions are, even if I find everything is copasetic 99% of the time. Because all it takes is one time where someone is violating our rules or practices, someone who has no ability or desire to control his actions, and our whole shop can come down around our ears.

Today we learned that the officials at Penn State have had Paterno’s statue removed from in front of the Beaver football stadium.  “It turned into a target for critics after the Freeh report’s stunning allegation of a cover-up by Paterno, ousted President Graham Spanier and two Penn State officials, Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz. Their failure to report Sandusky to child-welfare authorities in 2001 allowed him to continue molesting boys, the report found.” Penn State released an official statement that had this to say:

With the release of Judge Freeh’s Report of the Special Investigative Counsel, we as a community have had to confront a failure of leadership at many levels. The statue of Joe Paterno outside Beaver Stadium has become a lightning rod of controversy and national debate, including the role of big time sports in university life. The Freeh Report has given us a great deal to reflect upon and to consider, including Coach Paterno’s legacy.

I don’t forgive Sandusky for anything he did. I support the decision to put him behind bars. But  in terms of responsibility, he was not in the mental state where he could control himself. However, many officials at Penn State who did not suffer from psychological disorders saw this problem cross their desks. They were not impaired. They just fucked up.

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