End of the professional/personal divide

An article on how the Navy has been sacking commanding officers for personal misconduct ends with a striking quotation:

The Navy has fired a dozen commanding officers this year, a near-record rate, with the bulk getting the ax for offenses related to sex, alcohol or other forms of personal misconduct.

The terminations, which follow a similar spike in firings last year, have shaken the upper ranks of the Navy, which has long invested enormous responsibility in its commanding officers and prides itself on a tradition of carefully cultivating captains and admirals.

Over the past 18 months, the Navy has sacked nine commanding officers for sexual harassment or inappropriate personal relationships. Three others were fired for alcohol-related offenses, and two on unspecified charges of personal misconduct. Combined, they account for roughly half of the 29 commanding officers relieved during that period.

Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of naval operations, called the increase in firings “bothersome” but said the Navy was duty-bound to uphold strict behavioral standards, even when commanders are off-duty. He attributed the rise in part to the revolution in communications and technology, which has made it easier for sailors and their families to snoop on one another and then instantly spread the word — even from once-isolated ships at sea.

“The divide between our private and professional lives is essentially gone,” Roughead said in an interview. “People can engage in the debate — does it really matter what a commanding officer does in their personal life? We believe it does, because it gets right to the issue of integrity and personal conduct and trust and the ability to enforce standards.”

via Navy has spike in commanding-officer firings, most for personal misconduct – The Washington Post.

It has been something of a mystery why Rep. Anthony Weiner was forced to resign for his social media postings, while President Clinton with his actual as opposed to virtual adultery was re-elected.  Perhaps this is the answer.  Our technology has evolved to the point that there is no longer a boundary between one’s private and public lives.  Not just when it comes to misbehavior but in other areas as well:  Computers and cell phones enable people to work and do business at home as well as at the office.  People are always on their cell phones, sometimes dealing with business while at a ball game or a family gathering, and sometimes dealing with family issues at work.  But it isn’t just work. . . .

Could it be a healthy development that we are becoming less compartmentalized?  At least when moral behavior and holding people accountable are concerned?

Getting treatment

Ruth Marcus, writing in the Washington Post, notes that today bad behavior is thought of in terms of “addiction” and the need for “treatment.”  She prefers the concepts of sin and absolution:

The arc of modern scandal is depressingly familiar. Transgression followed by exposure, perhaps accompanied by a fleeting detour into denial. Then tearful confession and, finally, the inevitable journey to rehab.

Didn’t you know, from the moment the story broke, that New York Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner would end up checking himself in somewhere?

I don’t begrudge Weiner the therapy — he could no doubt use “professional treatment to focus on becoming a better husband and healthier person,” as his spokeswoman said in announcing that he would seek a leave of absence.

But whether or not Weiner manages to hang on, the episode underscores how rehab has become an all-purpose laundromat for irresponsible behavior, an infuriatingly easy substitute for accepting blame and living with consequences.

Increasingly, in our Rehab Nation, the concept of sin has been replaced by the language of addiction. Shame has been supplanted by therapeutic intervention. The disease model of misbehavior dictates that there are no bad people, only damaged individuals compelled to commit harmful acts. In this scenario, personal responsibility evaporates and virtue becomes an anachronism.

“This is not something that can be treated away,” Weiner said at his tearful news conference. One excruciating week later, Weiner was, yes, getting it treated away. The congressman, his spokeswoman said, “has determined that he needs this time to get healthy.” Excuse me, but this isn’t about Weiner’s health; it’s about his shameful behavior. . . .

Writing on Time.com, Maia Szalavitz, herself a former heroin and cocaine addict, described the dangers of defining addiction downward.

“If anyone can go to rehab when his actions lead to public humiliation, is rehab still a medical treatment or does it become some form of absolution?” she asked. “If every time someone behaves like a jerk and the reason behind it is addiction, doesn’t that mean addiction is just an excuse for bad behavior?”

via In Rehab Nation, sin becomes addiction – The Washington Post.

Of course, some bad behavior does need “treatment,” just as, theologically, some sin calls for spiritual counseling and pastoral care.  And yet simply medicalizing sin, as in Rep. Weiner’s case, seems like a way to duck responsibility.   How can we tell the difference?  What bad behavior calls for medical help and what calls for spiritual help?

“But it’s not really adultery!”

My old friend Karen Swallow Prior has some interesting observations about the excuses of both Bill Clinton and Anthony Weiner and their underlying gnostic assumptions.  The good news is that the public is no longer buying it:

Media coverage of the story and the public’s reaction seems to indicate that we’ve come a long way in our professed sexual ethics since the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, circa 1998. At that time, then-President Bill Clinton insisted that oral sex did not constitute actual sex, and that he had therefore not committed adultery. Although 87 percent of Americans disagreed with Mr. Clinton then, much public discussion at that time centered on the exact definition of adultery, and which particular sex acts crossed the line (fellatio?) and which ones didn’t (cigars?).

However, with Weinergate (as the case, naturally, has been dubbed), the discussion is a bit more morally sophisticated. For the moral debate swirling around this scandal, besides whether or not Weiner should resign, centers not on the merely technical definition of adultery but on the more holistic, and even more biblical, idea of fidelity. If the Clinton sex scandal focused on the letter of the law, the Weiner situation seems to be more centered on the spirit of the law.

Neither the public nor the proliferating experts and bloggers seem to be buying into a bright line between actual physical contact (which Weiner denies) and online liaisons, despite Weiner’s attempt to cop that plea in his confession. In fact, a quick poll done by the Associated Press in the wake of his Monday confession found that many Americans say that it doesn’t have to be physical to be cheating. In another poll, “60 percent considered sending lewd photos over the Internet ‘to people other than your partner’ to be cheating.”

Like the public, experts, rather than being concerned with one specific sexual act, have been discussing the larger context of marital fidelity, one describing Weiner’s online behavior as “foreplay for an affair,” stating simply that “cheating is lying [to] and betraying your spouse.” Over and over, the experts are wisely identifying the litmus test for infidelity as the question, “Would you do this in front of your partner?” Many say the congressman’s conduct does constitute adultery or, at the very least, an “emotional affair.”

Both national sex scandals — first Clinton’s and now Anthony Weiner’s, with oodles more in between — reveal at work the old mind-body dualism that Christian tradition has worked hard to overcome. This dualism sees the human being not as an integrated whole self, but as a composite of warring elements, material vs. immaterial, physical vs. spiritual, and, in this brave new world of technology, “real” vs. “virtual.” The Clinton scandal emphasized the physical aspect, such as which kinds of bodily contact are considered adultery. Weiner, on the other hand, parses his transgressions according to this body-mind split: he acknowledges virtual liaisons, but suggests that his alleged lack of physical contact constitutes a difference in kind not degree.

In the space of a decade and a half, these two cases reflect a subtle transition of our cultural mindset away from a modernist way of thinking, one based in black and white classifications and definitions rooted in a scientific worldview, to a more nuanced (some would say postmodern) way of thinking that focuses more on the relationships and contexts that transcend the old categories.

via Her.meneutics: Anthony Weiner, Gnostic.

The Honorable Anthony Weiner

So Congressional Representative Anthony Weiner, D-NY, now admits that he twittered the lewd photo and has been lying about it.  And now it turns out the congressman has been sexting and exposing himself to other women.

See Anthony Weiner admits he sent photo, but won’t resign – The Fix – The Washington Post.

I refuse to make any of the obvious jokes and bawdy wordplay.  I find the whole episode repellant, but it seems telling for the degradation of our politicians and the way our brilliant technology is being used for such base, degrading purposes.

I don’t have anything else to say about this.  If you do, go ahead.  But don’t be base and degrading yourself.


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