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Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The economics of sexual harassment

The harassment scandals tell us a lot about the origins of ethical behavior.

O ne commentator on the Internet said something profound the other day—proof that, even in the age of the Internet, miracles do happen:

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.

He goes on to say that “[The] cure for a sexually out-of-control culture is the cultivation of sexual self-control.”

Is this really possible? Is this really about sex? Ethicists have long understood that morality does not arise from within, but from interactions in a group. If you were the only person in the universe, beholden to no one, then morality or ethics—we don't have any good terms for it anymore that don't sound like tut-tutting—would be not so much irrelevant as meaningless.

Maybe that's what's happening here. Are high-profile people being accused because they have deep pockets, or because they are, for all practical purposes, beholden to no one? If anything is a creation of society (the term “social construction” having come mean “something fake,” which isn't what I mean here), it is ethics.

This isn't to say, as feminists do, that power is to blame, that these men do it simply because they can. Saying this would be indulging in mere political gamesmanship: if men in power is the cause, take away their power. Power being zero sum, it will have to go to us. Then we can have our boot in their face.

Replacing creeps with creepesses won't solve the problem. Women in general tend to be more risk-averse and conformist, so it will merely transform it. Piling on more rules, more mandatory harassment seminars, and more HR types would only make Hollywood more like our corporations and universities, where employees dare to say nothing that might offend the herd, and allow themselves to think only happy thoughts, lest in an unguarded moment their true opinion slips out and they find themselves in the parking lot holding a cardboard box.

But if not power, then what? The accusers have told us why they tolerated being harassed and raped yet kept their silence: there is only one Hollywood, only one mainstream media, and (for the most part) only one academia (and increasingly, only one corporate world). What these institutions say is true is true by fiat; if you disagree, you're out. Whether you're blacklisted by a Hollywood mogul because you wouldn't put out, or by a corporate HR department because they disliked your political opinion, you are through. If the media decide to label you with the term of collectivist opprobrium of the day—kulak, wrecker, reactionary, running dog, white supremacist, or whatever—you will never work again.

Where there are gates, there will always be gatekeepers. Cronyism creates rent-seekers, as do nations with single parties, and even junior high schools with only one desirable guy or girl.

It's not even confined to people: just yesterday an app on my telephone tried to block my access until I let it become my TV remote control and tell it what kind of TV I owned. It thought it could be a gatekeeper. Alas, it was mistaken. (I'm not claiming to have been sexually harassed by my cell phone; it's just an example of gatekeeping.)

Gatekeeping positions don't just attract pervs; their very existence can turn even the kindest person into one. Even the most self-disciplined, altruistic medical researcher or missionary, when put in a gatekeeper position where he or she knows the employees have nowhere else to go, can turn corrupt without realizing it has happened.

Men and women in such positions automatically begin to harass and oppress, in different ways to be sure, but without even realizing they're doing so. Did Harvey Weinstein or Charlie Rose, or for that matter, Queen Ranavalona III of Madagascar, who tossed her subjects off cliffs for fun, realize what they were doing was wrong?

When there is no competition, the one in charge, whether it's the head newsreader at National Public Radio or the queen, becomes the only person in the universe whose opinions count, and the concepts of right and wrong lose their meaning.

Ethical behavior comes from the recognition that others have a choice. Wherever there is no competition, the employee is forced to tolerate injustice for the sake of a career. We're hearing about Hollywood and the MSM because the victims have the public ear, but it's a universal phenomenon. If you eliminate one kind of injustice, the law of conservation of inequality will ensure that another takes its place. Those who remain become passively aggressive, becoming participants in the injustice and consigning others to the same fate.

The only solution is to break up these monopolies. These big institutions will collapse on their own due to the rotting effect of corruption, but they could use a push. With competitors ready to take their place, the collapse will be like a tree falling in the forest making no sound.

dec 06, 2017, 6:17 am

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