During his years as a city magistrate and JP, Bob Scriver had developed a few short aphorisms.
People will do whatever they CAN do, until other people stop them.
If a crime is outrageous enough, no one will realize it’s happening. (The model for this is the genocides by the Nazis during WWII.)
Geraldo Rivera, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Harvey Weinstein, Garrison Keillor, Al Franken, John Conyers, Glenn Thrush, John Lasseter, Louis C.K., John Besh, Mark Halperin, Lockhart Steele, Michael Oreskes, James Toback, Chris Savino, Roy Price, Ben Affleck, Kevin Spacey. George H.W. Bush, and Trump. More today and tomorrow. What an assortment, what a range of offenses all focused on sex, what a stampede of mostly women determined to at least identify them.
The women are often highly dramatic, in tears, claiming serious life consequences. It’s easy to believe this about Roy Moore, who probably is demented judging by his history. But that has little in common with Charlie Rose walking around naked like John Gielgud in “Prospero’s Books.” Clearly, environment has a lot to do with it. Context. What people are reluctant to criticize. Picking up girls at the mall barely old enough to be sexual is one thing. Arts that use the human body as it is, unclothed, is another thing.
We are so confused in this country about what sex really IS, what it means, what is an extension of it, or even what cultural context we as individuals find coherent enough to claim. Relativism, defended by history and anthropology, is now considered a maladjustment. “Treatment” is quickly offered as compensation. Can you imagine trying to “treat” Harvey Weinstein? Make sure the door is open and someone is stationed just outside. By now Trump has been explained and analyzed publicly in very convincing terms. Intractability, failure to grasp, is the main part of the problem.
Some of this is left-over Christian patterning: terrible offences, confession, absolution, conversion to the prevailing Truth, pledges of obedience to a higher authority. Because this is the pentimento under everything we do, if “we” is Euro-genetic.
I’m going to my favorite strategy here, based on science, which also came out of Euro-genetic thinkers, but augmented by others of quite different origins. Primally, sex is the evolved system of germinating new humans. The delivery system that gets sperm over to the ovum’s cradle in the uterus has evolved to be very pleasant, though there is a continuum of individuals from those who really would rather not over to those who want it, want it, want it. The mechanism is spongy tissue that can become stiff and hot by filling with blood, then men are the key, women are the lock, the rest of the body turns on codes of molecules, and the tissues swell and swell, exquisitely sensitive, until a paroxysm is reached. Then the blood leaves.
The pleasure of the tissues is augmented by a tide of serotonin and the activation of the organ/brain mechanisms and neurons of addiction. “This was good. Mark for return.” The same brain patterns as for heroin, pain, and power. Sex is addictive and meant to be but like any drug, it can be abused. It can be seen on an fMRI screen. No need for Freud. At this level, a sheep is good enough.
Our sexual standards are so cattywampus that it’s hard to tell how to compose a law. But in the case of these men, I want to suggest that the sex is a distraction. It’s obvious that they’re dealing in power and control, trying to prove to themselves and others that they can grab a woman by whatever parts. This is a boundary-baiting, boundary-riding strategy that kicks adrenaline into the cocktail.
I thought this conversation linked below was interesting, though NPR has become so middle-class bourgeois vanilla that they would seem the last context for abuse of women. But they are the home of Charlie Rose and Garrison Keillor. Too outrageous to be believed.
The sly covertness of most of these harassments, private as footsy under-the-table that everyone pretends not to notice, is part of their turn-on value. It’s a finger in the eye of propriety, all those people who are shocked, SHOCKED, though they knew it all the time. Would do it if they could get away with it. In fact, it’s not just the acts that offend us but also the knowledge that if we tried that, we’d be arrested or at least called out.
Quieter voices have mentioned that many offending men — or even those who restrain themselves — believe that they are wanted, even invited. They mistake polite attention or even enthusiastic understanding into a true desire. Partly because of doing law enforcement and partly because of ministry, I come closer to people than some are used to. I ask questions that might be personal.
Some men start the machinery of approach/avoidance, which I recognize and sometimes makes me step back. Others start talking about their mothers. (I’m almost eighty.) Around here, it is assumed that all older single women are looking for a man to take them in, provide a house to clean, do escort services, and help with things that require muscle. Everyone pretends sex is involved, and maybe it is. Maybe. The men think this makes them irresistible, able to step over onto a woman’s territory, which includes her body.
In the case of the powerful and wealthy men who are being accused here, I think the situation is worse. Women ARE territory, nothing more, not fully human. Add to that the idea that women are often the face of enforcement for institutions, which builds up resistance from very early school years. That’s got to be a strand in the dynamics of violence.
And women are decoration, endorsement. An elegant secretary, a pretty wife, a prom-queen-level date — men are judged by the women who find them worthy. And women can use that for control. Some are doing their boss’s jobs for them.
Desire, yearning, attachment, bonding, are potent mixtures of molecular interaction, physical acts, and behavior both in and out of social standards, thrilling or reassuring accordingly. But social standards for people whose lives are governed by great numbers of people — like government or entertainment — can be tempted out of step with the rules, underestimating them, mistaking them. They don’t have time to be normal.
Disaster ensues. And a great need to be more explicit about what we expect. We’ve made sex far more public, far less outrageous. It’s not so much that we’ve gone too far, but that the rest of the stuff that comes with sex is not keeping up. No one wants to be just a teddy bear.