As a young electrical engineer designing and testing spy satellites for Eastman Kodak Co. in the 1960s, I brought an evangelical fervor to the task. I have referred to that fervor in the past as “defense of the corporate soul.”

The Internet, that technological grandchild of the early satellite age, has uncovered the moral weakness in defense of the corporate soul.

SURVIVAL TRUMPS PERSONAL ETHICS

Two current instances of survival trumping personal ethics are the dissembling of Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain and the pathetic story of Joe Paterno, the winningest football coach in the history of top-level college sports.

Because Cain has been highly successful in business, he insists that he is above moral reproach and points to his accusers’ troubled personal lives. Those accusers, bit players in institutional culture, are suspect for failing to sacrifice personal dignity on the altar of the greater corporate good.

Paterno’s worship of the corporate god indirectly contributed to the sexual abuse of scores of young boys. His response, “I did what I was supposed to do,” simply doesn’t cut it. Elevating the policy manual to biblical proportions is a weakness that cannot be mitigated by the glory of the gridiron.

Cain and Paterno are locked on the respectable side of our criminal justice system. They represent the possibilities of great achievement. Thousands — perhaps millions — have rallied in their successes. On the other hand, the price has been the destruction of human dignity. Thousands in future generations will be affected by their actions and failure thereof.

MURDER OF HUMAN DIGNITY

The murder of human dignity is a mere casualty on the road to greatness.

As a chaplain at the maximum security Maine State Prison, I witnessed firsthand the worship of the institutional god.

Two hundred years of secrecy and solidarity have created an internal system stripped of human dignity for both staff and prisoners. Current, well-intentioned efforts within the Maine Department of Corrections are timely and well-received. Yet, the “kid system” of patronage of both prisoners and staff survives and prevails.

Cain and Paterno have enjoyed the freedom that prosperity and success have afforded, while remaining enslaved to the illusion of institutional holiness. Cain has been resurrected to the right hand of capitalism. For Paterno, the greater good is a winning strategy on the football field and survival of the good old college spirit.

Their accusers can point to neither prosperity nor success.

They stand on the thin, uncertain ground of victimhood or that of a higher calling of their own choosing, the battleground on which the soul of our nation is at war.

OMERTà AT MAINE STATE PRISON

Among the instances of omertà, or institutional code of silence, within the Maine prison system stand the 2009 deaths of Sheldon Weinstein and Victor Valdez.

Weinstein died in solitary confinement (segregation) four days after a prisoner assault. He died within two hours of my having requested toilet paper for him (he had been using his pillowcase) and after a robust conversation. An autopsy revealed death from a ruptured spleen, information withheld from his family until six weeks later.

In Valdez’s case, the most salacious but unconfirmed scenario is that he died from injuries received in solitary confinement, was whisked to emergency at Maine Medical Center 80 miles away and declared dead on arrival. No medical examiner; no autopsy; promptly cremated.

FALLACY OF INTERNAL INVESTIGATION

The final arbiter is something called “internal investigation,” the seal of approval on questionable institutional behavior. Penn State reportedly conducted its own investigation and opted in favor of the greater good of gridiron glory and school spirit.

Cain’s internal investigation was conducted by his presidential campaign staff that looked him in the eye and believed him.

Weinstein’s death was carried out by the Maine State Police while witnesses were carefully screened by prison administration conducting its own investigation. That screening alone clearly conveys to the witness what is in his or her best long-term employment interest.

For Valdez, there was no need for investigation. The evidence was summarily destroyed.

The war cry from the institutional womb has morphed from “stay the course” to “don’t be disruptive”; the focus shifting from Iraq to Wall Street. The message: “Give us just a little longer, and we’ll steal your honor!”

The Rev. Stan Moody, of Manchester (www.stanmoody.com), has served in the Maine Legislature, was a prison chaplain and has written scores of articles about prison reform.

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