Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sidetracked and Stupefied

Good luck, Lt. Gov. David Paterson! New York's new governor will have his work cut out, as do we all.

Eliot Spitzer was going to be a superdelegate...but instead became Client #9; that number begs the question just who else was on that list.

If Spitzer hadn't been so arrogant and self-righteous maybe more people could see shades of grey of this particular liaision--although renting someone's body is undoubtedly damaging even at the "three diamond" level. Why didn't he just seek out the help of a therapist? I feel most sorry for his children.

More important than this person's downfall, what about the sex trade's exploitation of children and the economically distressed? What about the kidnapping and smuggling of girls, the abuse of teenager run-aways by pimps? That should be the focus.

I tend to agree with Nicholas Kristoff's recent New York Times column; he suggested the U.S. adopt Sweden's model with regards to prostitution. Instead of making it illegal to sell one's body, make it illegal to pimp or to buy sex from another.

Yet with regards to Spitzer, I think David Brooks' New York Times column is very astute:

The Rank-Link Imbalance

Published: March 14, 2008

Every society produces its own distinct brand of social misfits, I suppose, but our social structure seems to produce significant numbers of people with rank-lnk imbalances. That is to say, they have all of the social skills required to improve their social rank, but none of the social skills that lead to genuine bonding. They are good at vertical relationships with mentors and bosses, but bad at horizontal relationships with friends and lovers.

Perhaps they grow up in homes with an intense success ethos and get fed into the Achievatron, the complex social machine that takes young children and molds them into Ivy League valedictorians.

They go through the oboe practice, soccer camp, homework marathon childhood. Their parent-teacher conferences are like mini-Hall of Fame enshrinements as all gather to worship at the flame of their incipient success. In high school, they enter their Alpha Geekdom. They rack up great grades and develop that coating of arrogance that forms on those who know that in the long run they will be more successful than the beauties and jocks who get dates.

Then they go into one of those fields like law, medicine or politics, where a person’s identity is defined by career rank. They develop the specific social skills that are useful on the climb up the greasy pole: the capacity to imply false intimacy; the ability to remember first names; the subtle skills of effective deference; the willingness to stand too close to other men while talking and touching them in a manly way.

And, of course, these people succeed and enjoy their success. When Bigness descends upon them, they dominate every room they enter and graciously share their company with those who are thrilled to meet them. They master the patois of globaloney — the ability to declaim for portentous minutes about the revolution in world affairs brought about by technological change/environmental degradation/the fundamental decline in moral values.

They treat their conversational partners the way the Nazis treated Poland. They crush initial resistance, and the onslaught of accumulated narcissism is finally too much to bear.

But then, gradually, some cruel cosmic joke gets played on them. They realize in middle age that their grandeur is not enough and that they are lonely. The ordinariness of their intimate lives is made more painful by the exhilaration of their public success. If they were used to limits in public life, maybe it would be easier to accept the everydayness of middle-aged passion. But, of course, they are not.

And so the crisis comes. Perhaps alpha male gorillas don’t wake up in the middle of the night feeling sorry for themselves because “nobody knows the real me.” But those of us in the business of covering the great and the powerful know that human leaders have an almost limitless capacity for self-pity.

They seek to heal the hurt. Maybe they frequent prostitutes because transactional relationships are something they understand. But in other cases, they just act like complete idiots.

I don’t know if you’ve seen a successful politician or business tycoon get drunk and make a pass at a woman. It’s like watching a St. Bernard try to French kiss. It’s all overbearing, slobbering, desperate wanting. There’s no self-control, no dignity.

These Type A men are just not equipped to have normal relationships. All their lives they’ve been a walking Asperger’s Convention, the kings of the emotionally avoidant. Because of disuse, their sensitivity synapses are still performing at preschool levels.

So when they decide that they do in fact have an inner soul and it’s time to take it out for a romp ... . Well, let’s just say they’ve just bought a ticket on the self-immolation express. Some desperate lunge toward intimacy is sure to follow, some sad attempt at bonding. Welcome to the land of the wide stance.

Maybe they’d be O.K. if somewhere along the way they’d had true friends, defined as a group of people who share a mutual inability to take each other seriously. Maybe they’d be prepared for what is about to happen if they’d subordinated their quest for immortality to the joys of domestic ridicule.

But they are completely unprepared. And in the middle of some perfectly enjoyable dinner party, a woman will suddenly find a tongue in her ear.

I once visited a home in which the host had photos of himself delivering commencement addresses lining the stairway wall. I’ve heard countless presidential candidates say they are running on behalf of their families even though their entire lives have been spent on the campaign trail away from their families.

These are rank-link tragedies waiting to happen. The reputation recovery interview on “Larry King” is but a few steps away.


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