In several items (first, second, and third) about last month's horrific episode in Foshan, China -- in which 18 people walked or biked past an injured 2-year-old lying in the road, until she was run over a second time and mortally wounded -- I mentioned that such "not my problem" behavior was a failing of human nature rather than of any one nation's culture. But the uproar over the episode inside China showed that it touched a nerve there. Specifically, it was a trigger for mounting concerns about the social and cultural effects of the me-first rush for riches these past few years.
It's worth recognizing how much the details of the grand jury report of (alleged) multi-victim, multi-year sexual predation in Penn State's football program make it a moral parallel of the toddler video. People who were not themselves "to blame" for a terrible situation also did not take responsibility for rescuing its victims.
The specifics of the moral choice for onlookers obviously differ: in China, it was a random assortment of people faced with an out-of-nowhere decision in a few seconds of real time. At Penn State, it was stewards of an organization convincing themselves to turn a blind eye over a period of years. But the results -- implicit decisions to distance oneself from responsibility for other people's suffering -- are similar. And while the Penn State case could be a trigger for larger concerns -- about bigtime sports culture, about the God-coach tradition of which Joe Paterno has been a main example, about unaccountable male-run hierarchies that seem to attract pederasts -- mainly we're reminded of human failings again. I tell myself that I would never have walked by an injured toddler -- or that I would never condone an episode like the one at Penn State quoted after the jump. But people who think of themselves as "good" did these things, which is mainly a sobering reminder of what we're all capable of. Mon semblable, mon frere.