Apparently, I have some philosophical issues with Wiener’s wiener…

I blogger that I respect – Miriam of Brute Reason recently blogged about our government’s latest sex scandal: Rep. Wiener’s twitter escapades. Miriam noted that American culture as ridiculously “puritanical” and despite the fact that I think I probably agree with her in many ways, I found myself toying around with why sex scandals enter into our ethical debates… And I guess I thought my readers might want to weigh in -

In response to Miriam’s post I wrote:

I have often found myself defending President Bill Clinton’s ability to govern – despite his affinity for cigars. That said – I am not 100% sure that the most sound argument behind what were calling “puritanical” is that these men are role models and therefore they should be chaste. Is there absolutely no correlation between the choices they make in their private lives with regard to honesty and morality – to clarify when I say morality I’m not speaking of sex acts because a person’s sex life is their business? Rather, I find my mind drifting to Wiener’s recent marriage to Huma Abedin.

It may be a completely outdated and residually patriarchal concept, but marriage is a commitment to chastity – I think. Although, theoretically I guess that to depends on the constructs of the personal agreements between the two parties. I guess I am asking why get married? I could speculate – Huma Abedin links Wiener to some very important people – and perhaps this is a marriage of that nature.

I guess what I am getting to is the idea that we – Americans – are generally too “puritanical” when it comes to our ideas about sex and partners and what is normal sexual behavior – and yes we absolutely hold our politicians and other ‘role models’ to standards of moral behavior that are absurd and quite frankly not normal – if there were such an idea as normal, which there really isn’t – but still isn’t there a link between being a good decent person in your private and public lives – even if that link is tenuous. What I am saying is anyone can get drunk and misbehave every now and then but at some point if your drinking becomes a constant pattern your a really more a drunk than a functioning person – even if your just a weekend alcoholic. Can you really always separate and compartmentalize people’s deeds and behaviors?

That said I am so tired of this bull – it seems all the government does is drown in sexual scandal on both sides, which leaves me questioning Weiner’s intelligence. As a politician you have to know your whole life is being scrutinized – how can you be so stupid as to tweet images of you wienis? Doesn’t he watch television – the internet leaves tracks – duh!

Miriam responded:

“Hm…I agree that you can’t ALWAYS compartmentalize, but I guess what this brings us to is the issue of why we seem to have higher standards for politicians to begin with. Would a successful research scientist be asked to step down from his position if he’s caught having an affair? Would a professor at a university? Would a journalist? These are all professions that require a commitment to ethics, and yet we don’t conflate adultery with an inability to do these jobs properly.

You’re right, though, that he was stupid in this case… :)

And I followed up with this:

Clearly, sex is a very particular issue – one which people righteously disagree about in regards to defining an ethical practice. And some (perhaps myself included) doubt if there is a need to consider sex within the framework of “ethical” practice at all, right? Right and wrong are always complicated and never black and white – determined by cultural standards and theoretical practices.

That said, University Professors, Journalist, Scientists etc. are not in the public eye the same way a politicians but they do get fired for their “ethical” actions and statements – i.e. lying, or speaking opinions which people clearly view as derogatory all the time. Teachers are often fired for sleeping with students – even if everyone is of legal age. Psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa was just recently fired because he wrote a racist article – and while this is clearly a different issue all together obviously Wiener’s photos on twitter are different – but my point is that mass culture/society regularly makes decisions about all people based on their ethical or unethical behavior. So the real issue here comes back to my original point – why are we so obsessed with sex in terms of its “ethical” nature.

There is this wonderful book by Nancy Tuana – The Less Nobel Sex – and another by Gerda Lerner – The Creation of Patriarchy – and finally one by Susan Griffin – Silence and Pornography – All three of these books consider how we came to our current cultural state of oppression and each looks at least briefly at the nature of sexual oppression and heteronormativity. They are worth looking at – but I bring them up because they have led me to know that while a “puritanical” perception of sexuality is slanted, skewed and as far as I am personally concerned completely unhealthy – it IS the understanding of the general population -often including these politicians that “misbehave” sexually. So, my second thought for today is they (politicians) know or believe they’re wrong – and they are intentionally doing something they consider ‘unethical’ – Does that – or should affect our thinking with regard to them in anyway?

I know I’m playing Devil’s advocate here – like I said earlier I tend to lean towards the idea that the American cultural obsession with other people’s sex lives is ridiculous. The argument that cheating on your wife will lead to cheating politically on the country – uses the same slippery logic as the idea that smoking marijuana will ALWAYS lead to shooting heroin but still sometimes that’s worth while to philosophically throw around the idea – and see what sticks – don’t ya think?

Yesterday, after our philosophical banter, Wiener resigned and I read in the NYT that after he stepped off the podium some one hollered “bye-bye pervert.” As far as I’m concerned – while I don’t want to be friends with Wiener – and I certainly don’t want to be married to him – sexual banter between consenting doesn’t equate to perversion.  Now, Brett Farve - that’s another story.

Thoughts?

One response

  1. Thank you for starting up such an interesting conversation! I’m sorry I completely forgot to respond to your second comment.

    Here’s the interesting thing about people in other professions getting fired for ethical breaches, though–it usually has to do with their jobs. A teacher can’t sleep with a student because that creates a conflict of interest when it comes to evaluating students’ work, and also because it sets up a power dynamic in which the student may feel pressured because the teacher is in a position of relative power.

    Kanazawa, meanwhile, was fired only from his Psychology Today job (to my knowledge), not from his post at the London School of Economics. He wasn’t fired simply because he said something racist, but because he made a lot of PT readers very unhappy and because, assumably, what he was saying wasn’t in line with the message that PT wanted to spread.

    In other words, in both of these cases, the person loses their job or gets in trouble because they are not fulfilling their responsibilities in some way. A teacher who sleeps with a student is setting up a conflict of interest. Kanazawa angered readers, and readers are the people who keep the magazine afloat. But these sex scandals are completely different.

    Perhaps you’re right that a person who cheats on his wife may also cheat the country. But in that case, it should be up to the voters to decide that.

    Thanks again for commenting! :)

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