Kathleen Parker: Theta Tau’s indecent expose

PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. — Courage isn’t required to condemn the Syracuse University chapter of the Theta Tau fraternity for simulating a sexual assault on a disabled student.

Video of this ape-ish display, now in wide circulation, should horrify anyone with an ounce of decency. That is, assuming people still recall what decency is.

Alas, this once-aspirational, if now-uncommon, denominator of the American experience has been on the wane for the past several decades, so that apparently the most anyone can say about young men performing as no self-respecting baboon would is that the video was “appalling and disgusting on many intersecting grounds.”

This pronouncement came from university Chancellor Kent Syverud after the clip was released Saturday. Indeed, sir. Quite, quite.

In the clip, we see a group of apparently drunk males surrounding an individual seated in a chair, who, his head bobbing, is pretending to be disabled. One of the young lads can be heard saying that the reason the supposedly disabled person is drooling is because “he’s retarded.”

The video proceeds to show fraternity brothers approaching the seated fellow’s face in sexually aggressive maneuvers. In an earlier video released last week, one Theta Tau member is shown kneeling before another, who extends a penile-shaped “something” as if a lance to a knight’s shoulder. The kneeling member repeats as instructed that he’ll keep his heart filled with hatred toward blacks and Jews. (The video’s poor quality makes it difficult to follow, but this is how it has been described.)

The foregoing would seem ample justification for the expulsion of these students for disgusting behavior unbefitting the school’s motto: “Knowledge crowns those who seek her.” The university has begun disciplinary proceedings and referred the videos to the district attorney. Fine. In America, even knuckle-dragging quadrupeds are granted due process.

Meanwhile, some consolation can be found in the university’s having already expelled Theta Tau — described as the “oldest, largest and foremost” fraternity for engineers — from the campus. Let the record show that the national Theta Tau organization has condemned the actions of the Syracuse chapter, whose members insist they were merely satirizing political correctness and spoofing all things deemed off-limits.

If you, dear reader, are thinking that the world has gone barking bonkers, then you might be one of The Decents, a very small social strata whose constituents quietly wander in search of like souls. I’m reminded of novelist Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” a deeply disturbing story about a post-apocalyptic America in which survivors have sorted themselves into either cannibalizing criminals or, in the case of a father and young son, guardians of the last burning ember of civilization.

These two are among the last of a very few who remember what civilization looked like and what it takes to “carry the fire”: vigilance, dedication, unwavering courage, discipline, loyalty and commitment. Such guardians of the light are much needed in these overcast days of indecency, cruelty and behavior bereft of empathy.

Campus protesters and others have described the Syracuse videos as proof of the toxicity of fraternities, generally. It is tempting to agree, but a fraternity gone bad is a symptom of a larger cultural disruption. The causes are many — from the high rates of broken families and fatherless homes to omnipresent pornography (and celebrity porn stars) to rampant narcissism (and the accompanying selfie-obsession) — to name a few. Permissiveness in the guise of non-judgment has aided in the triumph of selfish expression predicted by cultural historian Christopher Lasch in his 1979 book, “The Culture of Narcissism.” Somewhere in his imagination, he may have envisioned a future president who would act out his infantile impulses on the world stage when he wrote that “the logic of individualism” would be carried to “the extreme of a war of all against all, the pursuit of happiness to the dead end of a narcissistic preoccupation with the self.”

Thus, Theta Tau’s disgusting frat theater was but a fresh episode in what should be understood as a gradual unraveling of decent society — a dimming of the light. But what, you ask, can anyone do to shift the chancellor’s “intersecting grounds” in such a rough culture?

It’s an old saying, but charity begins at home, meaning that children learn the values of decency — do unto others — from their parent-leaders within the family’s miniature social system. It’s a big lift to fix, but history has determined that solid families best serve the community interest. This surely is Ground Zero for our ascent.

Courage, it seems, is needed now to do the hard thing at Syracuse and expel the boys — not for expressing racism and anti-Semitism, or for lampooning the disabled, none of which brought actual harm to anyone and is probably legally protected speech. Rather, they should be expelled because someone has to carry the fire. Expel them, Mr. Chancellor, because their behavior is beneath the dignity of your institution — and of a nation they little deserve to inherit.

Courage, sir. I’ll loan you a candle.

Kathleen Parker’s email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

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