Home2017-2018Social brinkmanship breaking orbit

Social brinkmanship breaking orbit

By Sean Weeks
Contributor

Our collective memory is preternaturally short. The aptly named Dick Fuld, one of the masterminds behind Lehman Brothers’ and 2008’s financial armageddon, gave a keynote speech on how to run a business without going bankrupt. The Israeli “paranormal” Uri Geller, who was sued was proven to be a fraud in the eighties, practices his parlor tricks to the tune of thousands of C-notes. Crimes repeated near the warm corpse.

Yet they see results over the course of their lifetime. Save for a few paltry exceptions, they pay no price beyond the occasional scathing article. Why aren’t they the class misfit who’s shunned and relegated to a dark corner?

There’s a dark side to social life that we don’t care to admit. In terms of human warmth or acceptance, ethical behavior means nothing, or at least it’s subordinate to seemliness. The bizarre and unseemly is ejected into outer space. Insensitivity toward subgroups, omission of truth, coy raconteurs, deflection of responsibility and profiteering have never barred anyone from dinner parties. In fact, dinner parties are the stomping grounds of social predators. We systematically give in to the halo effect. We could limit this phenomenon to white-collar vs. blue-collar crime, but it goes much deeper.

The thug gains power when he breaks orbit. When decency reclamation efforts – the raised eyebrow, the sigh, the sideways glance – become inadequate, then they cease full stop. The thug achieves escape velocity and he’s beyond the pull of any social sphere. How else can society tell off a child for a dirty word and simultaneously produce Brock Turners and Steubenvilles? How else can we castigate a lack of hygiene and approve of the negligent sod who manipulates others into doing their homework? I have seen and heard others chided for the tenor of their voice or how boring they are. I have watched in silence as a fellow student, a very popular student, offered to pay someone to write their essay. We are draconian when the stakes are small and increasingly sheepish when they climb. Not to excuse minor offenses, but shouldn’t the punishment fit the crime? The Law understands this, so why don’t we?

Because we are frail. Because it’s easier and less hazardous to push and upbraid the weak. Because we aren’t conflict-averse as much as conflict-terrified. We confuse charisma with bluffs and braggadocio.

Our cowardice in this matter causes damage. The 2016 election was a showdown between the disagreeable and the despicable, and the despicable won. And there was nothing resembling charisma to be seen, only a certain fearlessness and the temerity to raise beyond the public’s ability to call. In his triumph, he has razed our most sacred institutions, poisoned the highest court of the land, dirtied the nobility of his office and grown fat off the wealth of the nation, off literally the welfare of its people.

Above the chatter and maneuvering, what even his detractors mistakenly identify as “charisma” feathered the gilded nest of our Terror in Chief.

After witnessing far too many sociopaths, psychopaths and narcissists, I believe that they are not so much unseen as unchallenged. I believe that we pick on those capable of reform as a kind of consolation. I believe that the more social and interconnected we become, the more powerful this rule becomes.

We caught Roman Polanski, Weinstein, Roy Moore and Al Franken, and I hope this becomes a trend. They profited from the silence and shaming of women. They also profited from our disbelief, the rule of propriety and “what shant be spoken of.” American culture built this monument brick by brick. Tear it down.

 

scweeks@willamette.edu

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