The renowned private boarding school school Choate Rosemary Hall, alma mater of such luminaries as John Dos Passos, Edward Albee, Glenn Close, multiple Kennedys and dozens more of the rich, famous and powerful, , just revealed that at least twelve former teachers had sexually molested, and in one case, raped, students without the crimes being reported to police. The pattern continued over decades. In some cases, teachers were allowed to resign after being confronted with evidence of abuse, and administrators wrote still letters of recommendations for them after they were fired. The predators then went to other schools, sometimes in positions of power and authority.
After the similar institutional conduct revealed by the Catholic Church and Penn State, does anyone believe that this is a rare occurrence in institution, including the most prestigious—and virtuous!—ones? The lesson is that established, powerful, iconic institutions are programmed to protect themselves above others, and regard their own missions and continued vitality more precious than any single individual, even a child.
Revisiting one of the most important of the Ethics Alarms’ 92 rationalizations:
13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”
This rationalization has probably caused more death and human suffering than any other. The words “it’s for a good cause” have been used to justify all sorts of lies, scams and mayhem. It is the downfall of the zealot, the true believer, and the passionate advocate that almost any action that supports “the Cause,’ whether it be liberty, religion, charity, or curing a plague, is seen as being justified by the inherent rightness of the ultimate goal. Thus Catholic Bishops protected child-molesting priests to protect the Church, and the American Red Cross used deceptive promotions to swell its blood supplies after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The Saint’s Excuse allows charities to strong-arm contributors, and advocacy groups to use lies and innuendo to savage ideological opponents. The Saint’s Excuse is that the ends justify the means, because the “saint” has decided that the ends are worth any price—especially when that price will have to be paid by someone else.
Think about it: the reputation, vitality, and continued ability to do grand and good things creates the ultimate utilitarian trap into corruption. Of course those intimately involved in the organization or institution believe that protecting its long-term survival and influence out-balances any other considerations on a utilitarian scale. Not only are they biased, but they are thoroughly conditioned by the organization’s culture to truly believe that even crimes must be covered up, because the society, humanity, the world depends on the institution’s survival.
This is a natural reaction; I believe it is almost an inevitable reaction. Foundations, charities, corporations, universities, schools, religions, political parties, empires based on personalities, like Bill Cosby, Inc,. all have the Saint’s Excuse telling them to behave that way. If they do not, it is only because one of three conditions exist: there is a courageous, popular, powerful leader who rejects the cover-up, a cover-up is no longer possible, or the organization has built and maintained a solid ethical culture from the organizations origins.
The last is the rarest by far.
I hate to think how rare.