Matt Forney
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When Good Men Do Nothing

Moral crusades: don’t you just love them?

Live 8. #Kony2012. Text “GIMMEDAT” to 69105 and donate $10 to help Haitian earthquake victims. Every other day there’s a new crusade that all Right-Thinking, Moral People must support. Crusades are popular because they allow the average moron to think he’s important. That he’s making a difference in the world. This feeling of do-gooderness lasts a couple days, or a week, or until the media finds something else to talk about.

After that week is up, Joe Average goes back to drooling in front of the TV, as if whatever world crisis he was obsessed with never happened.

A couple weeks ago, the Internet was gripped by another crusade: anti-bullying! An elderly bus monitor was bullied to tears by a bunch of middle schoolers. This was bad enough, but then some do-gooder from Toronto started up a fund to help poor Karen Klein take a vacation or retire. As of right now, the fund’s collected six digits worth of money from thousands of fellow crusaders who will promptly forget all about bullying as soon as the media moves on.

The problem with crusades is that they aren’t about solving problems, they’re about making the crusaders feel good, and because of that they never accomplish anything. In the case of bullying, we’ve literally been having this argument since Columbine and not one thing has changed. Giving money to Karen Klein will help her personally, but it will do nothing to solve a problem that is systemic and entrenched in the American school system.

Crusades are nothing more than moral masturbation.

Crusaders don’t know jack about whatever they’re crusading about and they don’t want to know. Take a gander at this story for a prime example:

(NEW YORK) — Karen Klein is living proof that it’s not just children who are the victims of bullies.

Uh, hello? I’ve known for a fact that “it’s not just children who are the victims of bullies.” When I was in high school, my classmates harassed teachers all the timeThis Whitney Houston conception of children as innocent arbiters of morality and sweetness needs to go. Children are universally cruel, barbaric savages, and teenagers are the worst of all, having the mentality of children but the bodies of adults. Puberty is wasted on the pubescent.

Let me relate a story that gets to the heart of the matter.

When I was in the tenth grade, I had a math teacher I’ll refer to as “Mrs. Wallace.” She was your typical middle-aged teacher; thirty pounds overweight, wore glasses, sanctimonious lilt in her voice. There was nothing special about her and I didn’t have strong feelings about her one way or the other; she was just another educator who got paid to bore me for forty minutes a day.

Except that my classmates loved to torment her.

Before anyone gets any ideas, let me tell you that I went to a private Catholic school, the kind where we went to Mass regularly and prayed at the beginning of every class, and 99% of my classmates were white. Not only that, they were middle- and upper-class (or as upper-class as you can get in a provincial backwater like Syracuse); children of orthodontists, bankers, lawyers etc. I won’t name what school I went to, but anyone who knows me knows where I went, and since there are only three Catholic high schools in the Syracuse area, there’s not a lot of guessing to do for everyone else. Greece, New York, where Karen Klein is from, is a ritzy suburb of Rochester, so her tormentors are cut from the same cloth as my classmates.

Anyway, while women teachers at my school typically had a tough time keeping their students under control (save for the nuns of course), I never saw any teacher get harassed like Mrs. Wallace before or since. Math class that year was like being trapped in a TNT factory with a bunch of screeching chimpanzees. Mrs. Wallace was never able to keep things under control for more than a few minutes at a time before my classmates started backtalking her, playing on their cell phones or otherwise being disruptive. I was never a teacher’s pet or academically driven, and I absolutely hated math, so I just went with the flow… until things came to a head.

One day, after a particularly rowdy day (I think it was April Fool’s, but I can’t remember), one of the class clowns popped a water balloon in Mrs. Wallace’s face. (At least that’s what I think it was: my memory is hazy, but it was something that got her wet.) Naturally, the entire class thought this was hilarious. This was the last straw for her and for the administration. The principal was called in to watch us and give us a stern talking-to while she went to the bathroom to dry herself off.

Something in me snapped that day.

Like I said, I didn’t care about Mrs. Wallace one way or the other, but watching her getting ganged up on by twenty some-odd sneering jackals made me angry. When I was in elementary school, I’d been bullied frequently, and I’d tried more than once to rally my friends to help me out: as much as I tried to fight back, there’s not much a third-grader can do against a 350-pound guy six inches taller than him. None of them ever gave me a hand because, in the words of one kid, “we’ll get beaten up too.”

There was no ambiguity, no “shades of grey.” What I was witnessing was wrong.

I’d love for this to be a hero’s tale. I’d love to be able to tell you that I stood up and confronted my classmates: “What the fuck is wrong with you people? What the hell did Mrs. Wallace do to you? Leave her alone!” I’d love to say that even if I couldn’t convince them that they were being a bunch of pricks, I had “died on the hill” standing up for what I thought was right.

But if I told you that, I’d be lying. Instead, I just sat there fuming as my classmates jeered.

Silence implies consent.

When Mrs. Wallace came back from the bathroom, her eyes were bloodshot and her porcelain cheeks were stained red. She’d been crying.

After class, I was so sick I felt like I was going to vomit. I was disgusted with myself, with my cowardice. As surely as my “friends” had left me to get clobbered by that fatass back in the third grade, I’d abandoned someone who was getting ganged up in the same way. “Why didn’t you say anything? It’s not like this is a John Hughes movie; you wouldn’t lose any vaunted ‘coolness’ from doing what was right!” I treated Mrs. Wallace with the same listless apathy that characterized my entire life.

The water balloon incident and the tormenting of Mrs. Wallace in general was the work of a couple of class clowns. The rest of the class, including myself, went along with them just to fit in, humanity’s herd instinct at play.

It must be that the increase comes of the inborn human instinct to imitate–that and man’s commonest weakness, his aversion to being unpleasantly conspicuous, pointed at, shunned, as being on the unpopular side. Its other name is Moral Cowardice, and is the commanding feature of the make-up of 9,999 men in the 10,000. I am not offering this as a discovery; privately the dullest of us knows it to be true. History will not allow us to forget or ignore this supreme trait of our character. It persistently and sardonically reminds us that from the beginning of the world no revolt against a public infamy or oppression has ever been begun but by the one daring man in the 10,000, the rest timidly waiting, and slowly and reluctantly joining, under the influence of that man and his fellows from the other ten thousands. The abolitionists remember. Privately the public feeling was with them early, but each man was afraid to speak out until he got some hint that his neighbor was privately feeling as he privately felt himself. Then the boom followed. It always does. It will occur in New York, some day; and even in Pennsylvania.

Mark Twain, “The United States of Lyncherdom

This happened close to ten years ago. Like most of my memories of high school, I’d long suppressed it. Watching “Making the Bus Monitor Cry” brought it rushing back.

While watching the video, I thought to myself, “Wasn’t there at least one kid on the bus who knew what was happening was wrong?”

I seriously doubt every single kid on that bus was a cruel sociopath. Like when Mrs. Wallace got a water balloon in the face, Klein’s torment was the result of one or two punks, with the rest of the bus joining in to avoid looking “unpleasantly conspicuous.” But there had to have been one or two who was as sickened as I was by the whole spectacle and wanted to do something… but didn’t.

The problem isn’t “bullying.” It’s moral cowardice. It’s the willingness for good men to stand by and do nothing when evil is in their midst.

The crusaders wringing their hands at the cruelty of life and dropping Jacksons in Karen Klein’s retirement tin don’t understand this at all. I hope they all choke.

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