More on Not Courting Trouble

In the late 90s, I was in an abusive relationship with someone who had serious trust issues – or, who pretended to as a way of manipulating me. My view is that it was the latter, but I’m willing believe that they believed what they said. Life gets complicated like that, sometimes.

The end result was that I would sometimes come home from a trip and be accused of cheating, which I wasn’t, but it meant yelling and drama and sometimes having to dodge thrown objects. With hardly any conscious thought, I began subtly altering how I lived – I tended to avoid any situation where I might even be plausibly accused of impropriety, and kept a much more detailed calendar so (if it came to it) I could accurately recount everything I had done on a particular day at a particular time and who I was with and when. There was one time we were walking through a mall and I turned to look at something in a store window, only to be accused of having turned to check out another passer-by’s backside, and I spent several hours defending myself against increasingly wild conspiracy theories. Eventually, as happens with all over-used strategies, I began to develop defensive parries and eventually that resulted in even more over-the-top accusations, and I finally realized what was going on and got that person out of my life. It was a sad and unsettling time for me, but I learned a lot from it, which is namely:

You can always be accused of anything at any time.

Can you tell me you are positive that space aliens were not involved? What about a goat? Did you do it in a boat? Did you do it near a moat?

If you’re being accused of something and your accuser is willing to ramp up the accusation with a great big load of conspiracy theory, then it can continue endlessly. Look at what happened with the endless investigations of Benghazi.

I hate to say this but there’s some merit to Lord Hewart’s observation that it’s not sufficient that justice be done – justice must be seen to be done. It’s not sufficient that you were well-behaved, it’s necessary that you be able to show that you were well-behaved. Hopefully you’re recoiling a bit from your screen as you read that because it’s absurd: we cannot prove a negative, we shouldn’t have to constantly be on the defensive. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg: you can always be accused of anything at any time.

Then, it comes down to a grinding process of establishing credibility and facts and opportunity and evidence and all that fine-slicing. In the case of something like the Benghazi investigation(s), I’m comfortable saying that was a long-running smear campaign; the fact that Clinton was being investigated was sufficient to do the dirty work for some. For others it backfired and damaged the credibility of the accusers, who probably didn’t care much. For those that remember back in 2013, slyme-pitter Rich Sandersen tried to make trouble for then-FTBlogger Avicenna, claiming he had raped someone. The claim wasn’t credible for many reasons, not the least of which was that Avicenna was on an entirely different continent from where the alleged rape allegedly occurred. The accusations were lies, and didn’t stick. But it’s always possible for someone unconcerned with the truth to accuse you of anything at any time.

Assaulting Taylor Swift on camera: cost his job, his career, and $1

My accountant used to say “there are only two kinds of people in hell: those who were caught in the act, and those who kept notes.” Nowadays we’d say “emailed about it.” Or maybe “took a selfie while doing it.” Which brings me finally to the point of this discussion.

Even if that guy hadn’t been groping Taylor Swift, he set himself up so that he’d have been unable to defend himself if anyone had accused him of it. It shows a remarkable lack of situational awareness – or, it would – if he hadn’t actually groped Taylor Swift.

So, I think back to my abusive relationship in the 90s and how I hyper-developed my situational awareness: nobody ever was going to see me going off alone with someone unless it was in my calendar and there was a solid explanation for it. There have been a few times in my various travels that people have taken selfies with me (“selfie with grumpy white guy”) and I remember – thanks to my hyper-developed caution – I never would be touching someone; I was the guy in the picture with his hands in his pockets, body slightly angled. For one thing, you can’t tell how the other person is going to compose and crop the picture.. So:

Stupid strategic blunders

Sorry, but there was a while when I thought Al Franken wasn’t just another stupid Washington insider numbskull. But anyone who’s going to run for any political office in the era of the endless investigation has got to have better game than this; that’s just political naivete.

He’s rubbing her boob on his chest. It’s good to the the king?

And these aren’t bogus accusations. It’s becoming clear that a lot of politicians appear to believe that grabbing the electorate’s butt – or worse – is a perk of office. Just like Donald Trump appears to believe that owning the Miss Universe Contest came with the entitlement of putting his tiny hands all over the tiny waists of the contestants. I’m surprised, honestly, that there haven’t been a flood of former contestants coming forward to confirm Trump’s self-incrimination from the Access Hollywood tapes.

That politicians and powerful gatekeepers and comedians seem to think this is a perk, ties back to wealth and power, but only in the service of control. As I have offered elsewhere, power has no value unless you take advantage of it. [stderr] It doesn’t matter what perks you have unless you exploit them. It doesn’t matter how nice your Lamborghini is, if it just sits in the garage. Etc.

Back to not courting trouble: these serial abusers are doing exactly the opposite. Wouldn’t you imagine that, if you were Al Franken and thought someone might come forward about you handling them inappropriately, you’d have been a bit more careful? Wouldn’t you imagine that, if you were Anthony Wiener, you’d stop sending dick pictures after half-destroying your career? Then, you have weapons-grade cases like Ohio Representative Wes Goodman [nyt]

A series of reports alleged that for years Mr. Goodman had sought, or engaged in, consensual sexual encounters with men. The Washington Post also reported on an allegation that Mr. Goodman had groped an 18-year-old college student in 2015.

There is something else going on; it beggars the imagination to believe that these people are thinking at all. I search for words and I keep coming back to “power” and “conspicuous consumption” except neither of those works. I don’t trust the vocabulary of psychology, but “obsessive” and “compulsive” might work. There’s something completely irrational at the core of these people – a popular trope I’ve heard is “they want to get caught” – but no, they tried to hide. What makes a person pose and grin like a goon for a photograph in the very act of groping Taylor Swift’s butt, and then try to deny that it happened?

I don’t think there’s a single explanation for all of these disastrous personalities, but there’s a common thread running through them: power, privilege, and bending other people to their will.

For a long time I bought into the narrative that sexual abusers were doing it for the sex. I was wrong; someone like Harvey Weinstein, or Louis C.K., could get all the sex they wanted. What they can’t get is the kind of sex they want: the kind that gives them a frisson of power and the excitement of control.

Whenever I think of the intersection of power and control, I think of George Orwell’s 1984 and this scene: [1984]

‘I told you, Winston,’ he said, ‘that metaphysics is not your strong point. The word you are trying to think of is solipsism. But you are mistaken. This is not solipsism. Collective solipsism, if you like. But that is a different thing: in fact, the opposite thing. All this is a digression,’ he added in a different tone. ‘The real power, the power we have to fight for night and day, is not power over things, but over men.’ He paused, and for a moment assumed again his air of a schoolmaster questioning a promising pupil: ‘How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?’

Winston thought. ‘By making him suffer,’ he said.

‘Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.

Louis C.K. could have masturbated on his own; the act only gained value for him when he was able to shock and use that shock to control another person. Anthony Weiner wasn’t actually meeting with any of the girls he was sexting with, but he was controlling them, bending them to his will. The groper who grabbed Taylor Swift, same thing – it’s not as if Taylor Swift’s backside is magically different from any other backside – he was stealing her fame and showing he was powerful because he could do things to Taylor Swift.

Since the paradigm for sex has been one of conquest, possession, and violation, I think many men believe they need an unfair advantage, which at its extreme would be called rape. I don’t think they need it. I think both intercourse and sexual pleasure can and will survive equality.
– Andrea Dworkin

One of the tropes I heard a lot following elevatorgate and a sexual assault incident at a computer security conference [ranum] was “we don’t need more rules…” – there was a concern voiced that “if there are too many rules, then the rules will just be used to game them and blame men.” That’s why I raise the point that one can always be accused of anything at any time. The canard that “rules will make it easier for false accusations” cannot hold, because it is already infinitely easy to falsely accuse anyone. More rules don’t make that matter worse, nor do fewer rules make it better. If someone is truly concerned about not being falsely accused, they cannot simply focus on the scenario in which someone comes forward and says “he assaulted me!” – they have to live in a constant state of auditable openness. Imagine what that would be like. I tried a mild form of it for a year or so and what I learned was that, if someone is willing to get imaginative, there is no end to the possible accusations – no matter how open you are.

The focus on accusation is a deflection: the real issue is that, with all these people, the accusations are true. There are plenty of apologists for the accused in spite of the truth of the accusations. That shows me that if someone were genuinely falsely accused, there would be plenty of benefit of a doubt and – more importantly – a definite shortage of damning evidence. Sure, if someone wanted to spend $250,000 to fabricate some evidence and have a few people come forward, any one of us could be framed fairly effectively.------ divider ------

“Bending other people to their will”: Keeping a secret is another form of bending people to one’s will; as long as they’re getting away with it, having a secret life is a way of feeling superior to everyone else. “Ha, ha, I’m so clever, nobody can catch me!” the people they are manipulating don’t realize they are being manipulated.

The quote I mined from Andrea Dworkin is from a fascinating interview conducted by Michael Moorcock (yes, that Michael Moorcock!) – there are depths in it that we all might do well to explore. [moorcock]

I said “easy” not “cheap” – $250,000 – a number I pulled out of my hat. It’s predicated on paying a dozen or so people on the order of $10,000 each, to corroborate a set of pre-planned lies, the rest would mostly be for legal fees leaving $50,000 to hire someone to kill any of the witnesses if they got out of line. For someone more famous, I’d estimate a good frame at closer to $1m and because of the potential of one of the actors breaking, I suppose there would need to be aggressive trimming of loose ends. Trimming … with extreme prejudice.

Benghazi: In retrospect I’m surprised they didn’t just create some evidence pointing at Hillary. Why not?

1984: Orwell’s O’Brian is an extreme psychological sadist. He eroticizes destroying people’s will; he is the extreme end of the “control freak” spectrum – if he discovers something he cannot control, he will try to crush it until it acknowledges his control. This is relevant to BDSM (I know: that topic keeps coming up) (but that’s because these people keep making my “that is a fucked up dom” meter ring uncontrollably) the sexual fetishization of power-play is the appeal of BDSM. The difference between a BDSM player is that they might play-act a scene from 1984, whereas a sadist would want to re-enact a scene from 1984. That may sound like a fine distinction but it’s the distinction between playing Dungeons and Dragons and trying to actually be Sauron.


  1. John Morales says

    A superb post. Shame it’s unlikely to get the sort of exposure it deserves — for mine it belongs somewhere where a lot of people could peruse it (such as the Guardian’s Comment is free section), with minor suitable changes to reflect its different readership.

  2. Siobhan says

    This is relevant to BDSM (I know: that topic keeps coming up) (but that’s because these people keep making my “that is a fucked up dom” meter ring uncontrollably

    I’m biased as a fellow kinkster, obviously, but I don’t think it’s irrelevant. My kink ethics are constantly bleeding through on unrelated topics, and any of my posts on power could easily be adapted to an explanation of my kink ethics. Like you say, the immoral latch on to BDSM’s symbols because it gives the imitation of violence and domination, but the non-assholes often have to put their ethics through a pretty rigorous analysis to reconcile such an activity. That’s why resistance to any kind of ethical analysis in kink is pretty much a “I will never allow myself to be in a room with you alone” type red flag–it gives away that the person never really cared if they were playing or not.

  3. says

    John Morales@#1:
    Thank you, I appreciate the feedback.

    Shame it’s unlikely to get the sort of exposure it deserves

    Well, I’ve got a pretty good cadre of regular readers (which is gratifying) and I’ve taken to occasionally splatting a link out on Facebook if one of my postings seems particularly relevant to the discussion. I’m not exactly growing my readership, though. I’m not sure if I want to, really. The discussion-oriented format of this blog doesn’t stretch to being much more widely-read. You’re right, the posting could be re-targeted for a larger audience, but it’d need to be re-written; I am relying heavily on related postings for context.

  4. says

    That’s why resistance to any kind of ethical analysis in kink is pretty much a “I will never allow myself to be in a room with you alone” type red flag–it gives away that the person never really cared if they were playing or not.

    Well, I knew you’d understand.

    That brings up a point that I’ve sort of been dancing around but I’m not sure how to make, cleanly: we ought to have a sense of “this person is a political creep” that is as finely honed as our sense that we’re dealing with a fake dominant (by which I mean, a person who is a selfish asshole who is pretending to be a dominant in order to find easy pickings for their prey) – I’m finely attuned to them and have warned off a few subs at various times – saving them a great deal of bad stuff. My politics, I’m sure you’ve noticed, are all about doubting authority, since I equate authority with a desire to abuse it. That directly applies to BDSM as well – someone who wants to be a completely irresponsible ‘dom’ (a fake dominant) is – I believe – broken the same way as a politician who seeks authority in order to avoid responsibility. There are way too many of those. Loving power for its own sake is a red flag. Loving power because it lets you do X – well, it depends on X and how well the politician articulates it.

  5. jazzlet says

    I too appreciate your articles Marcus, they give me a lot to think about. I also found much to think on in the Dworkin/Moorcock interview so thanks for the link.

    I read a piece of research recently (and I’m sorry I’ve no idea where) that reckoned to have found that what power did was bring out whatever kind of person you already are to the max, it sounds so appealling I am sceptical and would like to see a lot more work done before I accepted it, for of course one likes to think “well if I had power I would use it responsibly, for the benefit of the greatest number” …

  6. says

    Thanks for the feedback!

    what power did was bring out whatever kind of person you already are to the max

    I’ve been tussling with that for a looooong time. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of how I see it:
    power = will, opportunity, and ability
    What happens is that when someone gets powerful (or rich) (money is a portable form of power) their opportunity goes up. Their ability goes up, too – so suddenly it because easier to explore the edges of possibility that weren’t open to them, before. That often includes possibilities that were avoided because of legality or social sanction – the powerful person may realize that they can now get away with things that they couldn’t before.
    In other words, I don’t think it makes you more of what you already are – it broadens one’s opportunities and allows the person to do things that they never would have otherwise thought they could do.

    I absolutely loathe hunters that come on my property and have once or twice thought “if I could afford a security guard, that’d be great. scare those bastards.” It’s something I would never do unless I found myself with so much disposable $$ that I could hire a guard and buy the local state police and maybe a magistrate or two. So there’s a potentially explosive situation that could happen if and only if I were very powerful. Expansion of opportunity doesn’t always mean we’ll expand in a nice direction.

    The friends of the powerful have a lot to do with it. They sometimes encourage them to misbehave and sometimes stand by and ignore it as long as it doesn’t bother them directly. Camille Cosby, for example – she found an arrangement that allowed her to not have to know or care what Bill was doing. That broadened Bill’s opportunity, as did the money. He grew into it.

    In that context, it’s scary to think that Donald Trump is growing into the role of President.

  7. jazzlet says

    You express a just the reason I have doubts about the idea. I’d like to think I would be more moral, but then I think of what I’d like to do to, say divers who harrass cyclists and I’m not so sure. Though making them cycle every where for at least a month probably wouldn’t end up with too many getting badly hurt. And that is one example I am quite happy to admit to as it makes me sound quite reasonable, some others would be rather more violent.

    However the one politician I knew quite well (sadly dead, although dying in the back of a taxi as a result of choking on his nicotine chewing gum would have appealed to his sense of humour) was as far as I could tell all that you would hope a public servant to be. He was an MEP called Terry Pitt who I worked for for a year or so and who was the lover of a good college friend of one of my brothers. Terry would do things like getting single ticket out to Brussels/Strasbourg on a Monday then buying a return on Friday because weekend returns were cheaper, even though he wasnt paying for the tickets it was all covered on expenses.He used to be an economic development officer in Papua New Guinea and had a great story about introducing deer farming, it wasn’t economic just for the meat, it broke even if you sold the antlers too, but it reallly hit the jackpot when you sold the balls to the Chinese medicine market … But of course I wasn’t with Terry all the time, he had plenty of opportunity to do odious things and may have done them, I just don’t know.

  8. says

    a frisson of power and the excitement of control

    And here I was thinking that sex was about pleasure for everybody involved… /sarcasm/
    It ought to be though.

    Regarding that Trump photo: It made me realize that nobody has ever touched my waist like this without permission. All the jerks seem to go straight for the ass. And polite people simply do not touch me without permission at all.

    I do not like being touched without permission and for me it makes no difference whether some jerk touches my ass or my waist. Both would be equally unpleasant. Yet when the jerk touches the waist (or other supposedly “safer” body parts), it becomes harder for the victim to complain. The jerk can pretend that they didn’t intend it to be sexual harassment.