Sexual Misconduct, the Loss of Virtue, and the Rise of Careers
The worst, and therefore most likely, outcome of the current rash of sexual misconduct accusations is that people will continue to think they are primarily about bodies, about who touched whose body, about who exposed his body when he shouldn't have. That most of us currently already assume that such incidents are mostly about bodies itself indicates our lack of vision.
Such interactions are really about souls – about the collective soul of our nation, and the sickness infecting it.
The disease afflicting our souls is liberalism, by which I mean not so much the policy positions of the Democrats, but all those cultural movements that have, in the modern era, conspired to liberate men and women from the strictures and formative influences of family, religion, tradition, and community. Once we had thrown off these burdensome yokes, advocates of such changes promised, our lives would be free and unencumbered. Instead, we now see that this revolution has led to an atmosphere of fear and decadence, where the only free and unencumbered thing is, allegedly, Matt Lauer's penis.
The excesses of human misbehavior, we were told, could be curbed, if not eradicated, by a combination of education and legislation. Sexual harassment seminars in the workplace combined with anti-discrimination laws would bring about a world where the age-old dynamics between powerful men and attractive women would evaporate like pheromones dispersed by the tender breeze.
The revelations of powerful men persisting in their scurrilous ways have exposed that lie. Are we to believe that Louis C.K., for example, would have refrained from asking random women to watch him do disgusting acts if only he'd had an H.R. rep there to remind him that such behavior is wrong? Indeed, that is exactly what we have been asked to believe until now: that telling people that forcing sexual conduct on the unwilling is "unprofessional" would somehow stop such things from happening. What every human being knows, save members of Congress, corporate executives, and a few other comedians, apparently, is that human beings misbehave not because we lack knowledge, but because we lack love.
Because we lack love as individuals, the best of us once sought to build a culture that would encourage its development in the form of virtue. It is precisely from the moral influence of that culture that we have been liberated. Instead of virtue, we now have "careers."
In all of the allegations so far, the notion of "career" as the ultimate source of meaning has been implicit. Consider Gwyneth Paltrow's allegations against Harvey Weinstein. She did not come forward earlier, she said, because she feared that doing so would have hurt her career prospects. For the sake of her career, she suffered whatever degradations Weinstein managed to inflict on her, and she allowed him and others in the industry to inflict even worse on other young women. The idea underlying so many of these claims is that standing up to louche behavior puts at risk careers, and that careers are far too valuable to risk merely for the sake of doing the right thing.
We cannot blame Ms. Paltrow or any of the many other victims, though. They were simply operating within the system of values they had been taught was normal. They were operating within that scheme of liberation that we now see is its own sort of slavery.
To criticize our worship of "career" is not to say men and women ought to indulge in idleness or to refuse to cultivate industriousness. But such virtues can be pursued in ways that do not place us so tightly in the liberal hold or leave us at the mercies of those whose appetites have, through indulgence, grown overpowering.
An example: I know a young woman who, as a teenager, started an online business. By the end of high school, she had cultivated it to the point where she was able to open a brick-and-mortar store. She has a secure income and a future. Her most powerful coworker is her mother. Her chances of being sexually harassed at work are, as you might imagine, slim.
This young woman's efforts are entirely laudable, and she should be an example to others. Work, even entrepreneurship, is not the problem. The problem is "career" elevated to a source of spiritual meaning. We cling to careers now, not only because they enrich us materially, but because, in our state of liberated poverty, they are all we have.
The answer to the problems that have come to light in recent weeks, we are told, is more education, more legislation, more shallow efforts to circumvent deep human nature. In short, we are told that the solution to the problems liberalism causes is more liberalism. This is always the way. This prescription, we can be sure, will only worsen our malady.
The real and only cure for a sexually out-of-control culture is the cultivation of sexual self-control. Only individuals, in pursuing the good, can heal societal moral sickness. This does not mean that institutions play no role. They do. The role of our social institutions ought to be to reinforce and reinstitute the strictures that the bonds of faith, family, and virtue place on us. When that happens, the number of such deplorable instances plummets.
But such medicine is repugnant to our body politic. It tastes bitter. A society as deeply in the thrall of liberalism as ours finds itself is unable to consider ideas beyond that frame. Thus does liberalism make all that truly leads to health seem noxious, everything that leads to life seem like steps backward toward decay.
And so, in the end, the steady flow of accusations will amount to little besides a bump in the ratings at The Today Show and grist for the gossip mill. In a few weeks, audiences will tire of hearing about such things and will forget them. Meanwhile, our culture will continue to weaken. Our symptoms will only intensify. And we, a sick and beleaguered people, blind to the causes of our pain, will deny ourselves the necessary treatment, darkening, ever more, our long-term prognosis.