Thursday, June 12, 2014

People vs Values

Here is a scenario that raised an issue that I though deserved a post all its own:

SSgt Peter Vega-Maldonado was a highly rated NCO who served two tours in Iraq with 12 convoy missions to Baghdad. SSgt Vega-Maldonado pleaded guilty to having sex with female trainees while he was an MTI in exchange for 90 days confinement and his testimony against another MTI. He later acknowledged 10 other trainees whom he had inappropriate relationships with. He groomed trainees by giving them candy and extra time on the phone. He also had phone sex and sent risqué text messages to prior trainees.

SSgt Craig LeBlanc used his post as an instructor to conduct wrongful sexual relationships with trainees. He is serving 30 months in prison and is dishonorably discharged from the Air Force for 9 convictions of having sexual relationships with trainees, adultery and maltreatment of male trainees.

These two instructors exhibit narcissism; a sense of self importance and a pursuit of self-gratification because the culture allowed them to get away with it. What is meant by “the culture allowed them to get away with it”?

  • The rank and power that comes with rank is not challenged by trainees in that environment
  • The other MTIs who knew about their behaviors did not correct or challenge them
  • The continuum of harm (sexual harassment, sexual innuendos, etc.)was present in the environment
  • There is a sense of loyalty to peers over loyalty to values

Peers vs. values:  who is more likely to let me down?

The answer isn't obvious.  My median expectation from a random sample of the people I see every day is frankly pretty low.  But if you come to me talking about "values", my first question will be:  are they in the Bible?  My second question:  are they in the U.S. Constitution?  If the answers are "No/Don't know/Don't care," then I'll take them under consideration, but I'll be inclined towards skepticism.

As an example, let's take the "Core Value" of the Air Force:

  • Integrity First.
  • Service before Self.
  • Excellence in All We Do.

Now, as values, these are not prima facie objectionable.  It's not especially encouraging that they replaced the values implied by the phrase, "Bring Me Men"; then again, the Cold War is over, and so is the space program.  The future of air combat is a pimply-faced enlisted man with a joystick at a drone control station.  So maybe more process-oriented values are more appropriate than values of adventure and conquest.

On the other hand, there is nothing "core" about them.  They aren't even 20 years old yet.  Get back to me in another 50 years, and assuming America is still around, and assuming it still has an Air Force, and assuming these are still the Core Values, and assuming their application during that time has been non-stoopid, then I will concede the deference that is being asked for them.  Until then, I'll wait and watch.

And that's a relatively benign example.  On the other extreme, consider the value of "professionalism".  If there is any doubt that professionalism isn’t just a word used to bully people you don’t like, consider its infinite malleability in the case of tattoos and hair styles.  The armed services have in the last few months begun rigorously screening out for enlistment people with large tattoos, and they have also moved to prohibit elaborate hair styles among women, all in the name of professionalism.  But will they stick?  Since the rules against tattoos mainly affects white men, nobody cares, but the elaborate-hair-style-ban is getting Congressional pushback, since this affects black women. 

Now consider the "values" promulgated in this excerpt from another of the SAPR scenarios:

Col Scott Lockwood, the Commandant of the Air Force’s Officer Training School (OTS) at Maxwell AFB, addresses every new Officer Trainee (OT). He briefs them about vision and mission and leadership. He stresses that the nation and the Air Force’s success is dependent on leaders of moral character. Col Lockwood describes what leaders of moral character look like and how they act. He speaks about a culture of dignity and respect. He uses historical and contemporary events to clearly define this culture as he realizes that OTs come from diverse backgrounds and perspectives. He lays out clearly his expectations and the cultural and climate demands for moral character and behavior. He talks directly about behaviors on the continuum of harm that degrade and humiliate others and support offenders who harm our Airmen. The Commandant tells the trainees that they will embrace this culture and adjust to AF standards, values and ethics or they will be asked to leave.

Come off it!  These "values" are nothing more or less than the latest iteration of the effort to confer special privileges and immunities on protected classes of people, and everyone with a lick of sense knows it.  They don't actually prevent a person qua person from being treated like crap.

Indeed, as an expression of "values" the whole of SAPR Day is an exercise in bogusness.  I do not impugn the many honest commanders who justify their participation on the grounds that combatting sexual assault is a worthwhile enterprise.  But in point of fact, the problem of sexual assault -- indeed, the problem of forcible rape -- is orders of magnitude worse in America's prisons than it is in the Armed Services.  Yet because those victims are men (and indeed, probably white men suffering at the hands of blacks), the problem receives almost zero political attention.  Likewise, SAPR Day informs us that jokes about rape are awful, yet as depicted in entertainment, the threat of prison rape is routinely used by "good guy" detectives against (white male) suspects, and nobody complains.

Yet because the military victims of rape are women, and because the perpetrators can be cast as an expression of the military's "masculine" culture, only now is the issue a "crisis" meriting vast effort and resources to extinguish it.  In light of such hypocrisy, my answer is:  No.  I have no loyalty to such values beyond the reach of their enforcement.  I choose to oppose rape according to the dictates of my own conscience as guided by a transcendent moral code, not a bogus, made-up, politically expedient moral code.  By that code, even the loyalty to random stranger looks good by comparison.

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