I think we have far too many people around already who've found an excuse to think of themselves as different and better. I'm not ready to let self-righteous, scolding prudes pose as different and better and go unchallenged.
Two recent events have made me realize that in many ways the mainstream in this country has ceded the right to make some rules to the most prudish among us. One event was a more or less compulsory teaching session on workplace harassment I attended two days ago. The other is the widening fuss over the resignation of CIA director David Petraeus.
As of today I doubt that we know all the details about General Petraeus. But taking what we know at face value, Mr. Petraeus has resigned as CIA director because he had an extramarital affair. Why this should disqualify him is puzzling to me. The reasoning I have heard is that he could be subject to blackmail. This is the same excuse that "justified" kicking homosexuals out of the military and many other high security positions for decades. Somehow that excuse even seemed to hold water for years after people began to "out" themselves. (Or at least, that excuse kept being offered up because homophobes couldn't come up with anything better.)
Mr. Petraeus promptly made public the affair himself when it was likely to be revealed. To me, this shows that he couldn't have been blackmailed -- I think he would have gone public with the information promptly if it were a blackmailer threatening him, just as he did when it became clear the FBI needed to reveal it. And now that the news is 'out there', he certainly can't be blackmailed.
So why should people at the CIA or members of the military be subject to rules considerably stricter than the general public follows? As an article in today's New York Times points out, this is a bad idea:
Other national security experts warn that a decade of conflict shouldered by an all-volunteer force has separated those in uniform - about 1 percent of society - from the rest of the citizenry. Such a "military apart" is not healthy for the nation because the fighting force may begin to believe it operates under rules that are different from those the rest of civilian society follows, and perhaps with a separate set of benefits, as well.I think we have far too many people around already who've found an excuse to think of themselves as different and better. I'm not ready to let self-righteous, scolding prudes pose as different and better and go unchallenged.
"Our military is holding itself to a higher standard than the rest of American society," said Kori N. Schake, an associate professor at West Point who has held senior policy positions at the Departments of State and Defense. "That is beautiful and noble," she added. "But it's also disconcerting. Sometimes military people talk about being a Praetorian Guard at our national bacchanal. That's actually quite dangerous for them to consider themselves different and better."
In extreme cases, say some military officers and Pentagon officials, the result of this "military apart" is that commanders may come to view their sacrifice as earning them the right to disregard rules of conduct.
The same goes for what I consider overwrought rules about harassment in the workplace. That session I sat through the day before yesterday was given by ADP, the company that provides payroll and 'human resource management' services where I work and to a sizeable fraction of the workforce of the United States. There was a video with well acted examples of various kinds of harassing behavior. That part was educational, and I thought good. But the lady giving the session also said that if an employee complains to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the process is very strongly stacked against the object of the complaint. According to her, the EEOC investigators consider the alleged harasser guilty until proven innocent, and the fines/settlements/penalties they ask for are big money. She also said fighting a complaint is an expensive uphill battle. The bottom line was "Don't say anything at work that you wouldn't say in church." I said I really don't want to spend forty hours a week at church, but that didn't get me any moderating response from the presenter. One irritating conclusion was that if we all act like we're in church, it'll improve morale in the workplace. Not mine. I'll have a very sore tongue from all the times I'd have to bite it, and I'll feel oppressed. Come to think of it, I'm not that religious. If I become a confirmed atheist, would I be harassed by having to act like I'm in church?
After the session I made a point of asking some employees if they felt harassed by me. I particularly asked the lady who seems the shyest about off-color jokes. She said definitely not. I'm happy to try to make it as easy as possible for any co-worker to tell me if something I do or say makes them uncomfortable. There ought to be a "safe harbor" of inviting anyone who feels harassed to tell me or one of my partners, and if necessary find a mediator to see who's being unreasonable, without draconian penalties. I fully intend to try very hard not to make anyone feel uncomfortable again once they've told me. But I don't intend to try to give myself a personality transplant, and if someone or something in effect tells me I need one, I think I'm the one being harassed.
Apparently Federal law defines several "Protected Classes" that it intends to protect from harassment. These are:
"Race, Color, Religion, Sex, National origin, Disability, Pregnancy, Citizenship, Uniformed services, and Age 40 and over." Many of these are minority groups. We need to add a group to that list: "People with dirty minds." But I'm pretty sure that's a majority group. After all, anyone who gets the suggestive meaning of a double entendre has one.