by Doctor Science
A couple of weeks ago I happened to catch a couple of minutes of the Fresh Air interview with Frank Calabrese, Jr., who testified against his own father in Chicago's Operation Family Secrets mafia trial.
What if what I was doing was wrong? How could I live with myself? I loved my dad dearly, and I love him to this day. But I was repulsed by the violence and his controlling ways. I had to decide between doing nothing and cooperating with the Feds, two choices I hated.I went to the NPR site to listen to the rest of the program and get more information, and read the comments there.
I'm reluctant to make sweeping generalizations about humanity based on news site comments. However, I was surprised at how many of the comments expressed the feeling that Frank Jr. was a "traitor" or "rat" -- I make it about 1/3 of the comments that evaluate his actions (praise or blame). For instance, commenter "J C (JC1530)" wrote:
I have strongly ambivalent feelings about this. On the one hand, his father was a criminal and deserved what he got, on the other hand, nobody deserves a son like this. He committed treason against his family, and however noble his intentions were, that is not something I can see as honorable or forgivable.I would expect this attitude in a lot of traditional cultures -- including the Mafia -- but I'm surprised to encounter it in general American culture, if that's what the NPR comments represent.
I've actually seen quite a few discussions of family secrets/family betrayals, including ones where someone is struggling with the decision to turn a relative in to law enforcement. But in the circles I travel, the issue has always been child abuse (present or past). Traditionally, abuse has been the kind of secret families keep, "dirty laundry that you don't air in public". That has changed enormously in the last 4 decades or so, and I now expect people in general to agree that children do not owe loyalty to their abusers.
It was clear to me, listening to Frank Jr. and reading the excerpt from his book, that Frank Sr. was at least emotionally abusive to his children, and that his murders and other crimes were of a piece with the abuse. He was a murderer and an abuser for the same basic reasons, they both came out of the same basic personality and way of dealing with other people: ruthless, self-centered, and fundamentally cold. Sociopathic, in fact.
Do you-all find it surprising that a significant number of people think Frank Jr. is a "traitor"? My gut reaction is that those comments are from, well, the Mafia, and *highly* unrepresentative of the population at large, but I'd like to triangulate with your reads on the situation. I also don't know whether the fact that the relationship is father/son is important for people's expectations of loyalty -- my unscientific guess is that people would be more shocked at "betrayal" of a mother than of a father, and less shocked by the disloyalty of a daughter.
The underlying question I'm chewing on is to what extent we expect family ties to override the law or fundamental morality. How much damage does a first-degree relative (parent, child, full sibling) have to do to a stranger before you tell the authorities? (abuse and injury to other family members is always weighed differently) How do you-all think this is weighed by people you know?
UPDATE: Can any of you-all think of a movie or TV episode which revolves around a conflict between loyalty to first-degree relations (parents, children, full sibs, spouse) and damage to a stranger? (Except for Hawaii 5-0 1.18, which is part of what prompted this post.)