Sunday, November 27, 2011

Society's double standards, old boy networks, and homophobia

Today, Andrew Sullivan appeared on Chris Matthews, and made the comment that one of Sandusky’s victims at Penn State was being bullied for allowing himself to become the “cause” of the fall of Penn State football.  This sounds like “string logic” carried into moral absurdity as far as possible. But it also illustrates how deeply divided our society still can be when it lives by “double standards” (or frankly contradictory standards) of conduct. Doing what is right as an individual is not always what expresses loyalty and cohesion for the group.Sullivan’s Daily Dish has a blog entry  (“Is Penn State only a symptom?” )that refers to a few other commentaries on the “old boy network” problem, link here.

But there is more than just the “old boy” problem.  People in larger groups tend to assume someone else will act, or that the “crowd” or “herd” (even “nerd herd”) knows more than the individual. On Nov. 17, Washington Blade Editor Kevin Nash gave an example of a political science professor at Penn State who opened a classroom window on a subzero day, and found everyone afraid to ask her to close it (see Nov. 24 here). 

There is a natural tension between individual self-compass and sharing the values of a group.  That’s a definite quandary for society, because shared purpose is important for sustainability.

The New York Times has an interesting piece today about the old double standard, particularly as it applied to homosexuality in the old, pre-Stonewall days (and sometimes still does).  Baltimore native Dudley Clendinen has an opinion piece “J. Edgar Hoover ‘Outed’ My Godfather”.  Clendinen questions how far Hoover’s relationship with Tolson really went (as in the recent film), but Hoover definitely kept files on private lives and hunted down suspected homosexuals in government, at least through the 1950s.  (Yes, Hoover, the ultimate hypocrite, eptomized the "double standard".) It didn’t take too much to draw suspicion – not dating women (having “roommates” was common enough then, but still attracted negativity). The link is here. It has always struck me as an odd paradox that homosexuality was regarded by some as the ultimate sin and threat to society.  Why?  Someone like me could not be credible competition for someone’s wife or even girlfriend, or a direct threat to a marriage.   Someone like me was not going to create a baby and abandon it.  Was it because someone like me reminded other men that they could “fail physically” or experience real submission?  Was it because some who was perceived as unlikely to reproduce was a potential burden and drag on the family, or threat to its vicarious immorality? Was it because (as I experienced things during William and Mary and the aftermath at NIH) I was refusing to experience affection for or interest in less-than-perfect people when it would normally be socially expected?  Was my own personal “fantastic perfectionism” the penultimate threat? 

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