Feeding frenzy might be the best caption for our scandal-ridden headlines. Paradoxically, the designation fasting frenzy would be equally suitable.
Let me explain.
In recent weeks and months, reports of sexual misconduct have propagated faster than entries on a nine-year-old’s birthday wish list. Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Steven Seagal and, of course, Harvey Weinstein are just a few of the 33 alleged predators listed in a recent L.A. Times article. Since then, accusations have been leveled Roy Moore, Richard Dreyfuss, George Takei, and Louis CK.
Perhaps the brightest silver lining is the extraordinary speed with which Kevin Spacey succeeded in destroying his own career. It’s reassuring to know that there are still forms of behavior sufficiently deviant to evoke universal condemnation.
In most cases, the alleged perpetrators have either fired back with furious rebuttals or dissembled with transparent evasions. Sadly but unsurprisingly, they remain unrepentant despite multitudinous plaintiffs or even their own court settlements.
Given the venal culture of both Washington and Hollywood, many of us are eager to believe every indictment and highly skeptical of the denials. But not all of us.
THE DARKER SIDE OF THE DARK SIDE
What effect do these scandals have on our culture? As with so many things, there’s good and there’s bad. The real question is: which outweighs the other?
On the positive side, when predators see that society will expose them and hold them accountable for their actions, the safer all potential victims become. On the other hand, the more such incidents are reported, the more degenerate behavior appears to become the norm. The result, perversely, could be to destigmatize and even enable similar behavior.
Then there is the sheer number of accusers. With so many plaintiffs, it’s hard not to wonder if some might be opportunists, simply piling on to genuine claims in hope of cashing in on the misfortunes of others. The frequency of such claims also increases the likelihood of defamation becoming a popular form of harassment itself, with baseless accusation converted into a weapon for character assassination.
Moreover, there’s the problem of exaggeration, of innocuous episodes unreasonably magnified. To wit, when former President George H. W. Bush – 93 years old and no longer fully in command of his faculties – pats a woman on her backside, this does not rise to level of abuses currently dominating the news cycles. We do real victims a disservice when lurid headlines paint every indiscretion with the same brush.
LESS THAN CHARMING
Depravity is bad enough. But the preponderance of charges, the kneejerk denials, and the moral equivalence of the petty and the abhorrent – these form a caustic trifecta of venality that sows cynicism all across the social landscape. With tragic irony, we can become so disgusted that we no longer care.
King Solomon says, If the snake bites because it was not charmed, there is no benefit to the charmer’s art.
How easily we convince ourselves that whatever we want is ours for the taking, that with craft and persuasion we can win anything we desire with no concern for risks and consequences. And when we overreach and fall victim to our own devices, the venomous destruction we let loose not only endangers us but all around us as well. In our arrogance we free the viper from its pit, and no one knows where it will strike.
Most of us will never come close to committing acts as horrific as those that fill the headlines. But without positive action, the persistence of such stories can erode our own commitment to ethics and set our own moral compass spinning in all directions.
So how do we protect ourselves? First, by taking responsibility for even the smallest of our own actions. Second, by refusing to excuse the misdeeds of others – regardless of station or alliance – and, simultaneously, refusing to accept unsubstantiated accusations until all the evidence is in.
To see that all people are treated with the respect they deserve, to always rise to the defense of the defenseless, to hold ourselves and all others to a higher standard of personal conduct – this is the formula for a healthy, respectful, and civil society.