The Original Sin: A Brief History of Abuse of Power
The recent allegations of the misconducts by Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania are so shocking that reflection on Abuse of Power is warranted. Accounts of rape of 9 yr-old girl in a hospital bed, forcing performance of felatio by a 9 yr old boy and rinsing his mouth with holy water afterwards - the horrific nature of these atrocities would even shock Adolf Hitler.
How can such evil exist, especially when cloaked in the garments of supposed spiritual leaders?
This requires a brief look at the history of humankind and of the original sin: abuse of power.
A recognizable distinct species of animals, homo sapiens (humankind) arose approximately 200,000 years ago. It was probably around 30,000 - 50,000 years ago that we would be able to recognize them as: this is us, when cultural development evolved to the level of creation of remarkable art works in a number of caves throughout Europe, and less extensive findings elsewhere, In Africa and Asia.
Approximately 10,000 years ago is when the great civilizations began to develop, fostered by their location along major rivers in Africa (the Nile) and Asia ( the Euphrates, the Ganges, Yellow River) which allowed a steady food supply and the resulting free time that cultural development requires.
Major collective societies, civilizations, developed in many regions of the world by 5,000 years ago. With increased human populations, and increased organizations, came more organized leadership. Although band leaders likely existed from the earliest days, 200,000 years ago, as with other primates, and other animals, such as wolves; leadership with an attendant bureaucracy likely surfaced with larger collective groups, around 10,000 years ago. An almost essential feature of a principle leader: is that an individual convinces others that they were somehow better suited than them to lead, and this manifests abuse of power.
Abuse of power is almost an essential component of leadership, and only in the last 100 years has this been considered by society to be abhorrent - previously it was just how things were.
Abuse of power comes in essentially 3 forms: psychological molestation, physical molestation, and murder, and frequently some combination of all 3. With sentient, competitive animals like humankind, a critical component of abuse of power, is hiding it from competitors: cover up; and to ensure continued dominance, to prevent organized objection: reprisal and retaliation. Holy books should be rewritten to describe correctly that the devil's trident of evil is: abuse of power, cover-up, and retaliation.
As we have seen with the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania, the devil's trident of evil is fully operational to the present day. It is frightening to consider that Pennsylvania is just 1 of 50 states in the USA, and the USA just 1 of 200 or so countries in the world. The full extent of child molestation by Roman Catholic priests world-wide must be staggering. There is no reason to believe that proportionally similar numbers of child molestation has not occurred with other churches and religions. The Royal Commission in Australia described close to 2,000 abused children by Roman Catholic priests over presumably 2 decades, and Chile also recently had child abuse exposed. Humans certainly have not evolved in their thinking or behavior for at least 10,000 years.
Much of the negative discourse today is actually centered on abuse of power: denigrating foreigners and visible minorities, molesting children, molesting women, these are all manifestations of the same behavior: the ruling society controlling others.
In the Western World we make the erroneous myopic assumption that our experience is the world experience, but it is important to realize that it is not. In the Western World the ruling society is white men. Ruling societies though are specific to the region of the world that they are in, and also the age that they are in.
In other countries the ruling society of men is different: in China, it is Han men that form the ruling society; in Myanmar, Buddhist men; in Iran, Shia men; in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sunni men; in many African countries, the numerically largest tribe. Most often the numerically largest group of men in that country or region form the ruling society. Throughout history though, for periods, outside invaders were able to assert themselves as the ruling society of men: ancient Rome, 12th century Mongols, 19th century England are notable examples. When minority men of that country form the ruling society, this, like foreign invaders, is inherently unstable.
In essentially all countries, and throughout all time, the ruling society of men have enacted abuse of power over other groups. Most of these are actually much worse than what we observe and are horrified about in North America - though maybe not much worse than what Roman Catholic priests have done in Pennsylvania. Look at the plight of the Rohingya people to see what shocking abuse of power can look like.
What can be done about abuse of power? Starting point: recognize what it represents, the sources, and attack each tentacle.
The first step is that there must be the recognition and the will of the people to combat abuse of power. The big break for white women in North America came with the First World War. With men at war, women had to do outside-the-home work such as working in factories to generate weapons of war. After the war, they refused to give up their independence, hence was born the flappers, the prototypes of the modern independent North American women. Asian and African countries that did not experience the First World War, never had this early 20th century fortuitous emancipation of women. For this historical reason, and compounded by cultural conditions, they never experienced this emancipation, explaining how women elsewhere in the world have lagged behind North American women in culturally-accepted self-sufficiency.
It is essential to recognize the impulses of abuse of power in order to combat the complex tentacles of abuse. Essentially abuse of power is an expansion, to include the entire society of men, of what is described as the divine right of kings: power, money, and sex. It is important to recognize these impulses as they manifest differently towards different external groups.
An important example of this differentiation is in the treatment of women. Often times authors on this subject describe mistreatment as monolithic. It is however far from that, and recognition of the bimodal nature of abuse of women is critical in order to effectively combat it. Quite simply: attractive women are objects of desire, and heterosexual men will pursue them on that basis. Average appearing women fit into the category of outsiders and lesser individuals and are minimized in that collective fashion.
Recognition of the abuses of power, recognition of the cover up, and recognition of the retaliations are all critical. I am not certain that training sessions or training modules are of any help: I think even without a module, men understand that raping a woman on their desk is wrong. Essentially all religions have taught tolerance for at least 1000 years or longer, and look where we are today. It may be true that creating an environment where women are treated too much as hands-off distance-maintaining individuals may have the opposite effect than desired, which is women's equality. If women are too challenging to interact with, men may not want them in the work-force to avoid any potential for charges of abuse. So it is important to be cautious that the pendulum does not swing in this fashion.
What is critical is accountability, and essentially forcing accountability on perpetrators. Punishment must also be levied, and appropriately stern punishment, to fit the type of misconduct.
At the same time, especially when it comes to heterosexual men and attractive women, and homosexual men and attractive men, it may also be critical that handling of these cases are measured. The level of harassment and abuse should be considered as a stratification of molestations, that require a stratified response. If minor misconducts are treated in the same manner as serious ones, ultimately it will delegitimize the effort to combat abuse. It is impossible to undue 200,000 years of human behavior in 2 years, but obvious and malignant abuse must be dealt with harshly. If surveys suggest that at least 1/4 of women have experienced unwanted sexual advances/experiences, that would suggest that may be something like 1/5 of men have been perpetrators. Even the profit-driven private prison system cannot accommodate 20% of men. It is essential that crime and punishment for harassment and abuse be measured, but appropriately harsh when warranted. The problem really is men, and this is genetic-based starting from the origin and the success of the species. It also seems legal folly to equate abuse committed by women as comparable to abuse by men. The numerical difference is at least 100 male perpetrators to 1 female, and severity of abuse also with a proportionate difference.
An obvious change that must arise from the Pennsylvania gross child violations is that statute of limitations must be removed for rape, for all individuals, but especially children. There must be no limitations to when charges of sexual abuse can be pursued with litigation. In an earlier blog I had described that sovereign immunity must also be removed for all state universities.The Roman Catholic church and other churches and religions have used their religious status as protection against criminal prosecutions. Religious figures must be treated the same as any other sexual criminal. Those that cover up these crimes must also be treated in criminal court with harshness. It is shocking how often that priests found to be molesting children in one parish, are transferred by a bishop or archbishop to another location. This is utterly unconscionable.
Lastly, where are the bystander silence-breakers? How is it possible that no religious figure in the Roman Catholic church, or for that matter other churches, have spoken up about these horrific abuses. There can be no crimes more deserving of eternal damnation than allowing children to be horribly abused by fellow priests - no just God would allow for absolution of the sins. It is the most absent individual in all the cases of abuse of power, largely because of fear of retaliation. Society and the law must change to foster individuals who are not victims, to speak up on behalf of victims.