Tag Archives: unsafe in any station

Unsafe in any station, Part Two of infinity

Back when the “me too” movement kicked off, I posted on FB that line from Cato’s letter that “The only security which we can have that men will be honest, is to make it their interest to be honest; and the best defence which we can have against their being knaves, is to make it terrible to them to be knaves. As there are many men wicked in some stations, who would be innocent in others; the best way is to make wickedness unsafe in any station.” A friend of mine replied that this is exactly what was happening: predators were finally finding their position unsafe.

The story of Louis CK returning to stand-up for an impromptu set despite sexual harassment charges he admits were true makes me wonder how unsafe these stations really are. Fans gave his appearance on stage a standing ovation. Some pundits are arguing being off-stage a few months is more than enough suffering; Michael Ian Black, for instance, argues Louis has “served his time” — he’s trying to find redemption, aren’t we obligated to give it to him? If there’s no redemption, why should he (or any man) even try to be better (a line of thinking beautifully mocked here)?

I agree there needs to be a path for redemption, but this ain’t redemption. It’s the comic’s fans not giving a crap about what he’s done, or what he might do in the future. Will we see the same if Matt Lauer successfully works on a comeback (or for that matter Trump’s racist ally Steve Bannon almost getting a platform again)  As Rebecca Traister puts it “these men can return to their industries, with the expectation that their reentry might be near the top.” The women who backed away from projects because Louis CK or Lauer were involved? Had their careers wrecked by Harvey Weinstein? Had to deal with the alleged climate of harassment and Who Cares Who Grabbed You under Les Moonves at CBS? The men’s defenders don’t seem worried these women might not be able to find a path back, or concerned about fairness for Janet Jackson (at the link it details how Moonves allegedly trashed her career). As Abigail Nussbaum says, Louis CK returning unrepentant and unredeemed is a workplace safety issue.Harassment’s not just about sex, it’s about women (in some cases, men) becoming unable to work in their profession, do their job, earn a living because of the risk.

CK taking a few months time out is not redemption: “Louis CK” says Nussbaum, “has done absolutely nothing to indicate that he is seeking redemption. He clearly wants his career back, but there has been absolutely no indication that he regrets his past behavior (except inasmuch as he regrets what it eventually cost him), much less any attempt to make restitution to his victims, or work on himself to try to become a better, less toxic person. But because he is a famous, rich white man, Black automatically assumes the existence of his regret.”

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg points out the difference between forgiveness (given, voluntarily, by the victim, if they so choose), atonement for sin (granted by God) and redemption, which requires actual work: Acknowledge the wrong you’ve done, preferably publicly. Become a person who won’t do it again. Make restitution. Apologize “in whatever way will make it as right as possible with the victim.” And when the opportunity arises to do it again, don’t. Samantha Field discusses the same process from a Christian perspective (her point that restoring someone to their old position does not redeem them seems relevant to the CK mess). John Scalzi suggests, though I don’t have the link handy, that ten years away from the limelight/political office should be a minimum.

We have a long way to go yet before unsafety for the wicked is the norm.

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Unsafe in any station

The only security which we can have that men will be honest, is to make it their interest to be honest; and the best defence which we can have against their being knaves, is to make it terrible to them to be knaves. As there are many men wicked in some stations, who would be innocent in others; the best way is to make wickedness unsafe in any station.”—Cato’s letter

This is one of the great challenges of imposing the rule of law: holding powerful people accountable. As a Vox article pointed out this week, it’s possible Trump won’t pay any penalty for colluding with Russia to rig the election. President Ford pardoned Nixon’s crimes. Obama refused to prosecute American torturers. Like the song says, if you’re rich you can buy immunity, if you’re poor better write your eulogy.

It’s not just the government of course. Fox News spent millions ensuring Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly were safe in their station. Churches cover up for religious leaders. Michigan University covered up allegations against gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. The most anyone usually suffers is to lose their job; massive falls such as Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein are rare.

And it’s not just sex. The GOP has denounced a lot of the neo-Nazis crawling out of the woodwork to run on their ticket, but it’s staying mum about veteran legislator Steve King’s white supremacist tweeting.

This isn’t new. In the Skinner case that ended the eugenics movement (though lots of states continued sterilizing people they didn’t want reproducing), what led the Supreme Court to rule against Oklahoma was that the mandatory sterilization of criminals exempted the kind of white-collar crime the state legislature or its poker buddies might be found doing (bribery, corruption). It was for the lower classes, not them.

It’s one reason why law is important: it doesn’t completely stop people breaking it, but it does draw a line in the sand they have to cross. Alan Greenspan actively pushed for loosening controls on banks, which contributed to the disastrous financial meltdown of a decade ago. In the aftermath, Greenspan said it had never occurred to him that the banks would make such terrible decisions if they weren’t constrained.

But of course, if people don’t prosecute those who break the law, the law has its limits. And there’s lots of reasons not to go after powerful people: they have money, influence, voters won’t like it.

What do we do to make them more accountable? And to make breaking the law something that will actually cost them? Trump is an extreme example, but he’s not unique.

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