Thursday, December 2, 2021

Nicholas Goldberg: Should we cut Ridley-Thomas’s indulgence because his alleged crimes were committed on behalf of his son?

There are a thousand ways to think about Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas and the crimes he is accused of, but I keep returning to the saddest thing: he was trying to help his child.

I don’t want to sound like I’m sorry or downplaying the seriousness of the accusations. Bribery is bribery. Ridley-Thomas pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges that he sent millions of dollars in government contracts to USC in exchange for a full scholarship and paid professorship for his son. If he really did this, it is as illegal and immoral as if he were putting money in his own pocket.

But I can’t help it, I’m still drawn to something.

I had a similar reaction when I first read about the 2019 college admissions scandal (also a focus of USC). On the one hand, it was corruption, simple and straightforward – parents paid officials and lied about their children to disrupt the admission process.

But part of me felt a pity for those privileged, deserved parents who deceived themselves into thinking they were helping their children. I have no reason to doubt Laurie Laughlin (prosecutors said she gave her daughters away as rowers and paid $ 500,000 to accept them into USC) when she told the court, “I thought I was acting out of love for my children.”

And I felt that pain again when I read about former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos of New York; I knew him many years ago when he was a promising legislator. Skelos, one of the state’s most powerful officials, ended up serving a four-year sentence for bribery and extortion – crimes he committed on behalf of his son Adam, who he said was struggling with learning problems and substance abuse and couldn’t hold back his job. Skelos are powerful businessmen who needed government contracts and legislation to pay Adam over $ 300,000 for no-show and near-no-show.

There is an element of tragedy and universality in these stories because on some level we can all imagine doing insane and irresponsible acts for our children in desperate situations.

And sometimes bad behavior towards your children – even illegal behavior – is excusable. I recently read about a man named Henry Zeidman who was sent to prison in 1911 for stealing $ 30 worth of merchandise from his employer, a jeweler.

When sentencing Zeidman, his wife said, “My God, Your Honor, he stole for me. I was ill. The baby was sick. We didn’t have a home, and we walked the streets. His business failed and we lost everything. Henry came to this awful city for work and sent me almost all of his salary. Then the kid got sick and he stole. Oh please, please, your honor, let him go; don’t send it away from me. “

The judge responded, according to the New York Times, that “if a man cannot raise children decently, he has no right to have them.” With this heartless remark, he led Zeidman away. Even 110 years later, I was furious.

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But stealing $ 30 to feed a hungry scarlet fever child is one thing; Another thing is to persuade Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, who was then 30 years old, to take the place of professor, so that he would get back on his feet after a difficult period. Sebastian ran into debt and risked losing his job as a member of the state assembly (a job that he allegedly got with the help of his father) due to allegations of sexual harassment.

Not every action performed on behalf of a child gets moral freedom. You can’t abuse your official position, like Skelos, or lie and buy your child a way to college, like a parent during the college admissions scandal.

Dan Ariely, a behavioral psychologist at Duke University, points to a phenomenon called “altruistic deception.” People find it easier to justify cheating for themselves if they do it on behalf of someone else, he said. Moreover, adds his colleague, social psychologist Dar Peleg, people who cheat on others not only feel less guilt and remorse, but they also cheat more often than otherwise.

There are biological explanations for why parents do their best to help their children. Kinship selection theory assumes genetic advantages. To keep it simple: anything a parent does to help their child survive and reproduce benefits their shared genes.

Whether because of genetics, psychology, or simply love, parents throughout history have acted immorally in the best interests of their children. Livia, wife of Augustus Caesar, may have turned to murder in her machinations to make her son Tiberius emperor. Elfrida, mother of thelred the Unread, allegedly killed her son’s half-brother to clear the way for the English throne.

Not to mention the unnamed woman who garnered so much attention on Reddit a few years ago after being caught helping her first grader cheat on his home reading tests.

Some people believe that when parents cheat on their children, they are actually acting on their own behalf, often to enhance their status or prestige.

May be so. But here’s something clearly the truth: by cheating on your children, you risk harming not only yourself, but also them.

Adam Skelos went to prison with his father. Felicity Huffman, who pleaded guilty to the admission scandal, admitted: “I am ashamed of the pain I caused my daughter.”

And I’m willing to bet that Mark Ridley-Thomas – if he is found guilty as charged – may find that he, too, has hurt other people besides himself, including those he most intended to help.

@Nick_Goldberg

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