Matt Damon suggested that the punishment should fit the crime, and for this thought-crime the public deemed the fitting punishment to be the end of his career.
This is the sad story in which an actor is forced to apologize for reminding us that we shouldn’t exact extreme punishment for minor transgressions. The irony being that he was punished extremely just for saying so, and then forced to recant. Moral of the story: the more extreme the punishment the more effective it is in stamping out … .. .. .. … any opposition, contrary notion, or politely expressed rational counter-argument.
When people become afraid to say what they believe is true, for fear of excessive persecution — and people ARE afraid to stick their necks out — should we assume the force causing such trepidation is fair, kind, generous, open, rational, and forgiving? Should we assume they welcome criticism and an open dialogue? I think not. Quite the opposite.
The social justice movement is overturning what I was taught were the pillars of justice:
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
You are innocent until proven guilty.
Give people the benefit of the doubt.
Do onto others as you would have them do unto you.
The punishment must fit the crime.
Matt Damon went public with a little corrective to the overzealous faction of the #MeeToo movement. While wholly agreeing that sexual harassment and worse has no place in Hollywood and needs to be confronted at all levels, Matt reasonably argued that we should differentiate between patting a girl on the butt and violent rape.
“You know, there’s a difference between, you now, patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right? … Both of those behaviors need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated, right?” ~ Matt Damon.
Probably not the best example, since he could have just gone with touching someone on the upper back, which was the accusation that ended Garrison Keillor’s career. True, there were further allegations, such as that he fired a female employee in order to hire a younger and more attractive one, though just because someone is younger and more attractive doesn’t mean they are less qualified or that they are being hired for their appearance rather than their skills.
Yes, I understand that many women have had to put up with decades of sexual harassment, and patting a girl or woman on the butt at work is a sexual power move and absolutely unacceptable (unless, y’know, she’s your finance and she just smacked you on the ass. Love happens.). My sympathies in such cases are with the women and girls, and have been so for decades.
I was ejected from a teaching job in China for calling out a couple male teachers for sexually harassing the Chinese female teachers and staff on a routine basis. My female Chinese friends told me the men were repeatedly asking them for dates after they’d refused, and teaching them words like “jizz”. I suggested the manager explain the Code of Conduct as part of a meeting, without naming names or making accusations. For this I was called a prude and threatened with being fired, at which point I quit. Now I find myself having to defend a dude against overarching accusations and punishments delivered by women. I’m Just trying to remain reasonable and grounded, folks, no matter which side is going overboard. [See the addendum on the bottom of this article for a recent example of me arguing against a conservative defending sexism.]
Over 20,000 people signed a petition to SHUT DOWN Matt Damon for suggesting that a pat on the bottom isn’t tantamount to murder. And SHUT DOWN is the proper phrase here. There was the infamous SHUTTING DOWN of a Bernie Sander’s rally because … white supremacy. There was the attempt to SHUT DOWN a Dana Schutz’ show of paintings because she had a painting in another show in which she tried to empathize with Emmett Till, and that’s impossible because, as a writer for Hyperallergic argued, “Dana Schutz doesn’t know what it means to be Black in America. She doesn’t even know what it means to be white in America”. The petitioners didn’t want any part of Matt, his image or voice, in any new movies because of the heinous thought crime he expressed.
People will resent the reference to Orwell’s 1984 where a thought could be a crime, because, well, it’s authoritarians who designate thoughts as crimes, and the radical left are revolutionary, fighters for justice. How can they be authoritarian? How can freedom fighters be aligned with abuse of power? They will say that when they insist that a painting be burned or that a painting be taken down it is NOT CENSORSHIP!! It’s not censorship because it is being done for the cause of the good (as opposed to being done for the cause of someone else’s idea of the good, which is bad). But, no matter how you slice it, if you punish a thought like it’s a crime, than you are indeed someone who believes thoughts can be crimes. You aren’t waiting for someone to actually DO something wrong. Don’t blame me for pointing it out.
What is so vile about saying that there is a continuum of sexual harassment, all of which needs to be confronted, but some acts are much worse than others? Why does that statement trigger people and make them sign petitions demanding the end to someone’s career? It’s because of the notion of a micro-aggression (not to be confused with a micro-penis, and it’s perfectly OK to place life-sized sculptures of Donald Trump with a micro-penis in public). Micro-aggressions are often not even conscious, hence the unconscious micro-aggression, which is necessarily tantamount to violence, and linked with the oppression and genocide of indigenous people [yes, this argument has been made]. The core notion is that an unconscious micro-aggression is equal to violence (and hence deliberate physical violence is justified as a counter-measure).
It’s systemic and institutional, folks. Thus the unconscious micro-aggression is woven with the same fabric as violent sex murder and the gas chambers. It is now possible to be party to violent crime without actually directly harming anyone, without even knowing you did anything at all. We can see this sort of connecting of the dots with Jodie Foster’s claim that all men over 30 are part of the problem:
“It’s not just one socioeconomic bracket or one complexion. Pretty much every man over 30 has to really look and start thinking about their part. And I guarantee, lots of it is unconscious. When you’ve been in a privileged position where you haven’t had to look at your part, you didn’t 100 percent understand you were in a bubble. It’s an interesting time for men.”
ALL MEN ARE GUILTY!? And if you are guilty of such terrible deeds, than you should suffer the consequences. Here is the recipe we can use, if we wanted to, to punish people we know are innocent.
I think the actress, who is financially more secure and otherwise more privileged than 99.9% of people who have ever existed (so is Matt) may be the one in a bubble, simply assuming that essentially all men are troglodytes abusing power and privilege. In reality, most men work jobs in which they are subordinate to their bosses, and have to subordinate themselves on a daily basis. To paraphrase Billy Shakespeare, they are more subordinated than subordinating.
Let’s pause here and pan back to see the underlying concept bolstering Foster’s argument. It is a brand of biological determinism coupled with behaviorism, two outmoded views of people from the last century. She asserted that because of biology at birth a group of people necessarily harbors deleterious thoughts and beliefs which manifest in actions. That is biological determinism. The watered down but no less lethal version, because the conclusion is the same, is that you are necessarily conditioned in a certain way because of your biology at birth (a.k.a. Behaviorism). This is precisely the underpinning of stereotyping, discrimination, and racial profiling – All people who belong to a certain group are tarnished as necessarily deficient in some way.
Can we use a proven fallacious and destructive argument for the cause of the good? Or should it be a red flag?
I think Foster overstated her case. I’m over 30 and so she directly accused me of being guilty of tacitly supporting the oppression of women and taking advantage of them sexually. I am guilty of Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulting Hollywood actresses? The accusatory finger is pointing at me and demanding that I pay the price. And I am pointing a different finger back, one digit away. I don’t believe people are guilty at birth or that they should be punished for someone else’s crime. If someone wants to punish someone for something they didn’t do, it’s going to be a tough sell to persuade me they do so in the name of the just, or the good. Much, much more likely, it’s scapegoating.
There’s a problem when we say that something is something else, that a faux-pas is indistinguishable from the worst crime, especially when our reaction is to seek fully conscious dire retribution. Does any of this sound familiar? When we insist that people are guilty by association, and we try to destroy their lives for saying something that merely counters our cherished beliefs, I think there are historical precedents for that which I don’t need to belabor you with.
If Matt Damon should be banned from acting for his statement, than we must assume he was wrong. In that case, the opposite must be true: we should make no distinction between inappropriate flirting, child molestation, and rape — because once you cross the line than you have committed a type of heinous crime and are punishable to the full extent of the law, or whatever the public is capable of dishing out without going through the law.
Alyssa Milano makes this sort of peculiar argument:
There are different stages of cancer. Some more treatable than others. But it’s still cancer. Sexual harassment, misconduct, assault and violence is a systemic disease. The tumor is being cut out right now with no anesthesia.
Because all inappropriate sexual conduct is a cancer, she argues, it should all be treated with the same painful antidote, regardless of degree. Whatever the infection, it’s an infection, so amputate the leg! But is someone who makes a tasteless joke, or mistakenly thinks it’s time to try making the first move, the same as someone who lurks in a car park waiting to assault and rape someone?
Minnie Driver makes a similarly odd argument:
“You don’t get to tell women that because some guy only showed them their penis their pain isn’t as great as a woman who was raped.”
Did she never learn to reverse an argument to test if it sounds preposterous? Does she get to tell a woman who was raped that it’s no worse than some guy showing her his penis? It seems Milano and Driver are doing bizarre rhetorical back-flips to make any and all sexual misconduct equal in offense and deserving equal punishment. Their response to Damon’s statement proves that he was addressing a real phenomenon, as in there truly are women insisting a pat on the butt is as bad as violent rape [remember, he carefully and explicitly said both needed to be eradicated, without question].
And, no, by the way, I’ve never patted a girl on the butt at work, nor so much as touched her upper back, unless we were already in a relationship, and I can’t remember doing that. You don’t have to be guilty of something to defend people from excessive punishment. My concern is that even innocent men, such as Damon, are also subject to the treatment, if they are over 30, or don’t agree with the most overarching claims. I am guilty of THAT.
When faced with such standards, a reasonable person would test if the precedent works in other situations. Should someone who steals a bottle of milk because he’s hungry be considered a criminal on par with an armed bank robber? Should the police, when using force, distinguish between someone who is armed or unarmed? Should the government consider peaceful protest on par with domestic terrorism?
The same people who are outraged that black men are holed up in prison for merely possessing a small amount of marijuana – because it does not necessarily mean they are selling it, or taking or selling harder drugs, or involved in any serious crime – nevertheless insist on connecting dots themselves to condemn men of the most outrageous crimes for making an unwitting gesture. We must ruin an actor’s career for arguing that some things are worse than others. And we can congratulate ourselves for our thwarting the evil oppressor.
And if another actor were to plead that the police should treat unarmed suspects differently than armed ones, should tens of thousands of people demand that he not be allowed to act anymore? Oh, wait, uh, hmmmm.
Now we should take into consideration all the circumstances, the degree of the offense, listen to the story of the accused, have a trial by jury, and so on. Why do we throw out those protective measures when the suspect is Matt Damon? I’ll let you answer that for yourself. Some things are so obvious it’s cringe-worthy just to articulate them (thinks about deleting this entire post for that reason, except that people actually don’t see what I think is blindingly apparent).
And there’s something else strange in all of this, which is a contest of realities. Alyssa Milano made a bold statement about the fabric of American, or Western society that should raise a few eyebrows:
“… they are all connected to a patriarchy intertwined with normalized, accepted–even welcomed– misogyny.”
Apparently, she believes that we live in a patriarchal society in which dislike and contempt for women is normal and welcome! Le’ts pause and think what this should look then look like. Misogyny, like systemic, isn’t just a buzzword, it has a definition, and it is the dislike, hatred, or contempt of women. According to Milano, the majority of men actively dislike and don’t respect their mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, girlfriends, and female peers because the men have a systemic disease. This is a conclusion that comes out of radical, academic, feminist theory. I learned all about it in grad school in the 90s. It is not a fact born of extensive research and objectively analyzed statistics, but rather a perception which is shared by some women, backed by persuasive arguments and some supportive evidence (kind of like Frued’s Oedipus Complex). It is also dismissed by other feminists and critics. But Milano accepts it as unalloyed reality.
We should clearly understand the difference between a proven reality and a supposition crafted by angry, radical academicians such as Andrea Dworkin (similarly, I wouldn’t take Camille Paglia or Jordan Peterson at face value for their contrary opinions). Milano speaks of her outrage being righteous and seeks to perform metaphoric invasive operations on men without anesthetic while refusing to make a distinction between a minor offense and brutal assault. Perhaps cooler hearts with more objective analysis should be the judges and the jury. Is it possible that Milano’s perspective is distorted by accepting hyperbolic theory as concrete fact?
When confronted with such an overarching and extreme statement about the world we live in, I should be able to look back on my life and see ample evidence that it is true. I don’t. I can’t think of even a handful of people I know personally who are misogynists. I just asked my girlfriend if she thinks we live in a society in which misogyny is normal. No, she doesn’t. She groaned at the idea. If neither of us have experienced this to any significant degree, it’s hard to accept that it is overwhelmingly true.
I’m sure there’s sexism, chauvinism, and some misogyny, but to say that it is the norm is outrageous, as is saying men over 30 are uniformly part of the problem. When you put these things together we have a very negative portrayal of men — all masculinity becomes toxic, and all expressions of male sexuality must be repressed — in which case the argument for endemic misogyny smacks of misandry. And this is the problem Damon was addressing. While we want to support and protect women, eliminate sexual harassment, and obviously anything worse: we don’t want to slip into demonizing or belittling men, nor punishing them for wrongs they didn’t commit. If the goal is fairness and equality of treatment, than what is desirable about turning the tables and disparaging males?
Does Matt’s statement really warrant him being banned from acting? Not in a sane world. Consider that what Jodie Foster said is much more offensive. Is anyone clamoring to SHUT HER DOWN!? Have we devolved into not trying to determine what is right, but instead defer to who is automatically right? Jodie is right because she’s a woman? By the logic of today’s social justice, Jodie Foster’s career should be ended as well, unless double standards and hypocrisy have become systemic and institutionalized. In my world-view, neither committed any crime. They just expressed their opinions on a topic. No big deal here. People are allowed to have opinions in my democracy. It’s not even newsworthy. Not even close.
See my article The Argument for Free Speech & Against Censorship.
In a just society a thought is not punished as a crime. Matt was right, and the people’s reaction proved his point.
In the end he apologized. He said, “But I should get in the back seat and close my mouth for a while”. No, Matt, nobody has to shut up and sit in the back of the bus. Misapplied retributive oppression is still oppression, and of the self-congratulatory variety. Admittedly, I’m really disappointed in him for doing this, in the same way that millions were angry with Bernie Sanders for endorsing Hillary Clinton. Yes folks, I was a passionate Bernie supporter. No, I didn’t vote for Trump. If someone doesn’t agree with your agenda it doesn’t make them a fascist and you don’t get to hit them over the head. Damon and Sanders went against their own principles, and were beaten into submission. But I shouldn’t be upset at them for backing down. Rather, I should steer my ire to those who forced them to put their tails between their legs, because that took a severe dose of oppression. Are we fighting oppression, or are we just shutting down scapegoats?
I believe those truisms which were impressed on me as a child have held up, because I just don’t see anything better. No thank you. I am not going to trade the punishment must fit the crime for those guilty of thought crimes must be made an example of and their lives destroyed.
If you honestly choose the latter, I think you gotta’ go look in the mirror. It’s time for some self-reckoning. And take a look at the date while you are at it. You are 34 years too late*.
*to be a character in 1984, of course.
People assume that if you aren’t on board with their agenda you must be on the complete opposite side of the spectrum, or else just clueless in the milquetoast middle. Uh, no. It could be that you have learned over time to get away from the shallow banks and swim in the deeper current in the middle of the river. The Zen types were right that moderation in all things is a sound general notion.
Here’s a comment I made yesterday on a female singer’s YouTube video — Can Sexism be Justified — in which she argues that it can:
Nah, Doris. It’s not A or B, it’s C. True, there are biological differences between men and women. False, we are dictated by our biology. Sure, there are some things we just can’t change without dramatic effort (ex., women’s muscle mass), but you defined us by our bodies, and if you do some research you will discover some interesting things about our minds.
First off, go back to Descartes and what was the one thing that proved to him that he existed. No, it wasn’t “I have a penis”. It was, “I think, therefore I am”. In other words, he was “conscious”. Many creatures have bodies and gender, including mosquitoes, but they are not conscious, and they certainly don’t have rational, abstract thought, nor the ability to imagine. It’s those things (like your singing) which all take place in consciousness that make us human, much more than our bodies. If you could put your mind in a frog, and a frog’s mind in your body, which creature would you be? Yup, you’d the frog with your mind.
Well, Doris, science can’t find consciousness. It doesn’t exist as a physical property. Consider that a moment. The one thing that assures us that we exist does not even exist according to science. Therefore, our core being is non-physical, timeless, spaceless, and non-gendered. So, the next question is, do we define ourselves by our minds or by our bodies, and which controls the other? When you sing and play the keyboards it’s your mind controlling your body. That’s the answer. So, while biology is definitely a factor, the more you involve the mind, the less it is so.
Consider that George Eliot (her real name was Mary Anne Evans) wrote under a male pseudonym so she wouldn’t be discriminated against as producing “women’s literature”, and her novels fooled everyone. How is this possible? Because her imagination was powerful enough to jump the gender divide, and she could imagine what it’s like to be a man. Her mind wasn’t limited by female biology.
So, when you talk about some things, sure, the biology applies, but the mind is far more powerful than the body. It’s a mistake to think the physical controls the psychic, that unconscious anatomy controls the conscious mind. So, don’t underestimate your own mental potential. You are more than a woman or a man or both.
I’m not siding with feminists, because this isn’t their message. They are busy saying men are bad. Either way, you guys are arguing that we are biologically determined, or else conditioned socially because of our biology to be a certain way. We are better than that and not so easy to pin down or restrict.
You guys are rockers, and you instinctively know the unfettered power of the imagination. That’s the real you. What you see in the mirror is like your computer case, important though that is. But it’s the user who really matters, what’s in the case. And the user is like a ghost without gender or any form. Our minds just associate so much with our bodies we think we are the same thing. Nope. If we could put your mind in a different body, you’d still be you in that body, even if it was a guy’s.
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