The attack on congressional candidate Alex Morse for consensual sexual relationships is disturbing for many reasons, but mostly because it reveals a new American phobia toward adulthood
Annnnnnd this is why im happy to be a paying subscriber. this whole notion of mass victimhood and helplessness is taking us in to dangerously anti-democratic territory. Your framing of the problem is just fantastic.
If a college student finds consent so complicated, why in the world do we allow them to vote? Make contracts (loans - yeah, THAT one's already biting us in the ass)? Take any serious role in society?
If college students find consent too complicated, perhaps they shouldn't be allowed to make ANY decision by themselves. Or be allowed to drink alcohol. Or smoke marijuana. Or drive a car. Or go out in public unsupervised. Or dress themselves.
This generation seems all too eager to infantasize itself. And too many adults are allowing.
Here, have a ribbon
I agree with everything EXCEPT the homophobic nature of this smear campaign. For a glimpse into how this exact scenario plays out in a hetero context, look no further than what happened to the Canadian artist Jon Rafman just last month. The parallels are uncanny. In his 30s he had completely consensual sexual encounters with women in their early 20s that he met on dating apps. The testimonies which can be read on an unironically titled instagram page surviving_the_artworld, reveal that the women admired his art and saw him as a “gatekeeper” to success. They now state that after multiple sexual encounters with him and no grievances ever being aired, they couldn’t possibly have actually consented, after apparently consenting, because of the power imbalance derived from his social clout in the Montreal art scene. None of the women worked for him and he made no promise of art world success.
Rafman’s consequences seem even more severe than Alex Morse’s as well. Multiple museum exhibitions were cancelled and galleries dropped him within the first few days the accusations becoming public. No investigations seem to have been done at all. More proof that cultural institutions are run like HR departments, terrified of the slightest controversy.
Sorry, Matt, but I think you've dropped the ball on this one. There is a power imbalance such that, and the students here used exactly the right phrasing, "consent becomes complicated." This isn't rape, where consent is absent. But nor is it as consensual as two strangers meeting in a singles bar and deciding they want each other. It's complicated, and the students are right to raise questions if events they organize are being used in a troubling manner.
Your assumption that "this question would less likely be raised about a 31 year-old part-time male lecturer having sex with female students," seems like an ad hominem attack offered without evidence - a sexuality version of playing the race card. Don't discard an idea because of assumptions you choose to make about the person offering that idea. Either the idea stands on its own merits or it doesn't. (I don't share your assumption, BTW, because I know of a male speaker who was sleeping with females at colleges where he spoke, and his career took a huge hit during #MeToo. Plenty of people find it troubling even when the one with the power is straight.)
I am sorry to report that I am part of a generation who raised their kids who are now all in their 20s to be afraid of everything. To be afraid of a world that is out to hurt you. After Columbine and the era of therapy and child abuse and the need to raise your kids to not be school shooters -- we raised them on the idea that they had to always be protected, visiting friends, on schoolyards, at restaurants. We came out of the era of child molestation being to our generation what Me Too is to this generation thus every adult was suspect. We would worry and interrogate our kids to make sure nothing like this was happening ever by anyone at any time. Imagine growing up like that. We're already at the place where a 21 year-old sleeping with a 17 year-old is considered pedophilia. Not rape, not statutory rape but pedophilia.
I agree that the treatment of Morse is deranged. But are you really sure this would be treated more leniently if the "perpetrator" were a 31-year old straight guy having relations with young adult women? I think it would worse, because they would add some pablum about the inherently unequal relations between men and women, in addition to the supposed overwhelming power one has as the mayor of a medium-sized town.
It's pretty amazing to me that a whole segment of society can't admit that at 18 or 21 or some age whatsoever, it's time to let people make their own decisions and mistakes. I'm on the slightly older side of millennial, and I would have found the idea that I — as a college student — couldn't consent to sex with an older partner fucking insulting.
Before I ran for office in 2008 (I served 2 terms in a countywide office), I had a criminal background search run, paid off my outstanding student loan, paid all my parking tickets and tollway fees, and put my financial affairs in order. For the next nine years, I never set foot in a place of "ill repute" including (gay) bars with strippers, 'novelty' shops, and avoided parties or gatherings where drugs were used. I even dropped my private masseur for a corporate massage provider to avoid any "talk."
If you're going to seek a public office, then you have to accept losing some of the perks of private life. You have to watch what you say and how you behave. One of the hardest things for me was driving without flipping anyone off.
The fact that Mr. Morse was picking up tricks on Grindr, let alone even having a membership, as a Mayor and congressional candidate shows a profound immaturity and lack of seriousness. If he wants to be a member of Congress, he needs to keep it zipped. I understand that many young college students are cute, but hitting on them as a candidate is just a tad smarmy.
I live in Neal's congressional district. There was no chance he was going to lose, but it's amazing how quickly the Morse signs all came down in my very liberal town. Neal's position makes him one of the most powerful Democrats in the House, which is usually a reason to keep him so the pork keeps rolling our way. But I don't think he's done anything for our district in decades. It would have been helpful if Morse could have given the near comatose Neal a scare but it looks like it's not to be.
This is a great piece. Thanks. You've been terrific for years, but your work these last few months has been in every way indispensable.
I don't know if anyone's seen or commented on this, but chapters of the DSA, the Sunrise Movement, the College Democrats and others have thrown Mr. Morse under the bus based on these accusations. (Sunrise, whose raison d'etre is to get Green New Deal legislation passed, revoking an endorsement of a GND-positive candidate based on accusations of totally legal behavior because they are, in their words, a "youth movement" is wild.) I feel like all of these groups misinterpreted Bernie Sanders' 2016 platform and perverted it into the most wild version of identity politics imaginable (maybe because those battles are winnable?). Even the Justice Democrats and "the squad" worry me. AOC using constant accusations of racism and sexism as a cudgel don't inspire my confidence.
I suppose there's this idea that you can bring down people - as they have at the university level, the media level, and elsewhere - by levying an accusation of sexism, racism, or some form of "bad thoughts," but this will ultimately be self-defeating, and doesn't square with any form of leftism or liberalism in my mind. I had to do a work project with one of the aforementioned groups recently, and every interaction I had with them felt like I was communicating with a cult. It was not pleasant, and their stated political goals are mainly aligned with mine. At least I was getting paid.
I know people keep bringing it up, but people on this "new left" seem more and more anti-sex daily. (Even the commenters here seem to be on board to punish Mr. Morse!) It's great that we can now have openly gay politicians winning legitimate national elections, but we're quick to punish the behavior of a sex-positive, young, gay bachelor. (Sometimes I feel like the only answer with these people is to never have sex. Or talk about it.)
Don't get me started on what's been happening in the underground music, film and art scenes of late. A slew of Instagram pages devoted totally to unsubstantiated and anonymous rumors have become quite popular, and have broken up bands, labels, review websites and shut down art shows without investigation or remorse. (An Ellen DeGeneres is big enough to withstand a thousand accusations of being mean, or having sleazy producers, or, uh, keeping the studio too cold during tapings and survive, but a small independent art venture can't withstand any attack at all. A fairly large indie label, with a popular yearly music festival, was just totally shut down in less than 48 hours based on an Instagram page designed to do exactly that.) A multi-decade American arts counterculture is in danger of disappearing, and I hate it.
I've read a great many of these comments and found the discussions really informative, compelling and interesting. As I read them two maxims out of my past that came down through my family come to mind.
1> Don't shit where you eat.
2> Trouble is like a bucket of shit. The more you stir it the more it stinks.
The first maxim is elucidated by the politician who posted below. You are held to a different standard. Fair or not (mostly not), deal with it. Stay out of the student body "cafe". As in law, even the mere appearance of impropriety is to be avoided.
This article is a rollicking exploration of the bucket of shit the young Dems have produced for all the unwoke masses to feel bad about. (Everyone white and marginally powerful, please hang your head.) So, unfortunately we have to stir the bucket to make some sense out of what's been presented.
Why do messages from the young ones of today always seem to descend from on high as would words from a vengeful God? Dictums and directions about what the entire society has done wrong, what woeful failures are running the country (something to that part) and specific tasks that must be preformed and penance offered before we are grudgedly forgiven (or as often not). It takes some brass to make today's pandemic realities even more vividly oppressive.
Their self righteous navel gazing and ego fragility, coupled with the pronouncements from on high often make me annoyed and angry. Lately it all just seems ridicules and sad.
I don't think this is limited to only gay relationships. Laura Kipnis has written quite a bit about how this fear of supposed abuse of authority applies to heterosexual couples as well (as long as the supposed predator is male).
Actually Matt, if you remember correctly, the Republicans weren't the only hysterical culture censors. Al Gore's wife Tipper had her little corner table in Censor Land. Actually it was a huge table & it led to Parental Advisory labels on cds which, in retrospect, seems even more inane than it did at the time. The irony that a party who championed the censorship of "gangsta rappers" & "super predators" is now the "hope" of self styled anti-racists everywhere probably deserves some comment. Sadly, my irony meter broke a ways back. If I plug it in now it just spits oil in my face & laughs at me.
In the 1970s, I went to a high school where a senior got pregnant by her science teacher, they got married after she graduated, and nobody batted an eye. I know an undergrad who had a sexual relationship with the college professor who was her mentor, and they later married.
Nowadays, there's this assumption that those men must be sexual predators, and that the women must have been entrapped into abusive relationships that they were entitled to not merely regret, but to be enraged about.
This dictum does not accord with my own observation. I think that whoever it is that has been attempting to impose this as the new social consensus reality is either dishonest, or they're attempting to turn their own personal issues into a universal narrative, or they're terribly deceived. Deceived by another sort of power inequality: the pressure on students to treat everything taught in the Academy by a person with credentialed authority as if it were Truth, even when it conflicts with their personal experience and observation of social behaviors.
How did the Personal get this Political? It really isn't a new phenomenon. But the people who used to have the monopoly franchise on that obsession were intolerant punitive moralists of the Right. I thought that the purpose of the social liberation movements of the 1960s was to get rid of busybody snoop moralism and replace it with mind-your-own-business respect for the choices of other adults. Not to issue a new (and ever more stringent) set of categorical judgements, prescriptions and proscriptions on personal behavior, this time from the faux-mo Left.
I applaud the recent emphasis on providing shelter and recovery for victims in abusive relationships. But I know what real fear and terror look like, and sometimes horror itself. It doesn't remotely resemble the "problems" attendant to simply rejecting or ignoring a polite overture to get better acquainted on the part of someone who might possibly be exhibiting overtones of sexual interest. Like an email.
Reciprocation, of course, entails a lot more responsibility. But freedom has risks. More freedom, more risks. If security is someone's main concern, they'd be better off with an arranged courtship- or voluntary accord of both partners with the limits imposed by mutual chastity, until they know each other a lot better. Even then, there are no guarantees. Attempts to game the system with "heads I win; tails you lose" rules are unethical, no matter who the player is.
As Matt Taibbi points out, one of the significant ways the American public is being infantilized is be dividing us all into perps and victims. In some instances, as in sexual behavior among consenting adults, the new puritanism just does not fit. The attack on Alex Morse is not justified by anything except what Matt identifies as a new American phobia toward adulthood. Enough already!
I'm surprised that so many people commenting didn't see this article as I saw it - not about gay vs straight; or teachers having sex with students, or even following the rules, but about the political power machine that will find a way to silence any imminent voice not spewing out its agenda.