12 March 2008

Why Do They Do It?

“Those whom the gods would destroy,
they first make mad.”

Why do powerful men, mostly in politics but not exclusively, get themselves caught in tawdry sex scandals and ruin their lives? Elliot Spitzer, Jim Mcgreevey, Larry Craig, Mark Foley… the list goes on and on. In the religious world we were forced to spitzer witness the revolting melt-downs of Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart and Ted Haggard. In the latest case, New York Governor, Elliot Spitzer, has been revealed to have been a patron of an uber-expensive call girl operation in Washington D. C. for over a year, at the Mayflower Hotel, no less. With this dalliance, Spitzer has wrecked his career and his marriage, and made a mockery of all that he professed to stand for. He was Mr. Clean, the crusader against corruption far and wide. Now, I’m not judging Spitzer on the morality thing, except for the fact that I don’t like hypocrites who bust prostitution rings while secretly patronizing them. I think prostitution ought to be legal for consenting adults. The moral issue is not really my concern. What fascinates me is the exercise in self-destruction that these men do.

With Spitzer, I can’t imagine that it’s the sex. His wife, with whom he has had three daughters, is a very attractive and intelligent woman. She makes me think of a more mature Jennifer Anniston. In other words, for a 40-something, she’s a doll. She is also highly accomplished in her own right, a total package that most men would give whatever they had to have her in their lives. [If some of that sounds sexist, I apologize. I’m trying to get across my own impression that this lady is a high quality partner. I think most sane men would worship the ground she walks on.] It’s not the sex.

Power. Any man who rises to the governor’s office in the state of New York is turned on by power. Power is a strong motivation and intoxicant. But, if you’re the governor, you can get your power rocks off in a multitude of ways that don’t involve getting tangled up with a call-girl service. Prior to being governor, Spitzer served as Attorney General for New York. He had busted prostitution rings. As the chief law enforcement officer of the state of New York, he knew how risky it was for him to get involved with the call girl service, and he did it anyway. He had to know that he was risking all of his power to play sex games with a Washington D.C. hooker.

More than sex, prostitution for the “John” is an exercise of power, in this case, financial power. For people who are stimulated by the domination of others, coercing another person to give the most intimate parts of themselves to another for money is a potent turn-on. This cannot be denied, and I have little doubt that part of the allure of prostitution for Spitzer was tied up in a fascination with domination of another person. Nevertheless, for a man in his position, this activity and its attendant risks is irrational. It doesn’t make sense by itself. The risk/reward ratio is all wrong. One cannot exercise power by throwing it away.

My dad was an administrator in the Presbyterian Church, the functional equivalent of a bishop. From time to time, it would fall to him to deal with a situation in which a minister had fallen into one of these kinds of self-destructive situations. Once, before I was old enough to understand the impossibility of "why" questions, I asked him why ministers allowed themselves to slip into such obvious career-ending episodes such as having an affair with a member of their parish. He answered, "How do you say no to God? For people who believe they have been called by the Almighty to do this job, just walking away is not an option, so they set themselves up for something that gives them an ‘out’ without having to take responsibility for the decision." Hmmm, deep stuff there, Dad. It made sense to me, though. Is there intentionality in our self-destruction?

These days, when we talk about Freud, we talk about suppressed eroticism, fantasy wish-fulfillment, Oedipal complexes and the like, and when we do this, we are really only presenting half of Freud's model, Eros, the drive to life. In fact, Freud's model of human psychology actually held that there were two great opposing forces which drove us through our lives. One was Eros, the will to life, and the other was a death drive, which after Freud came to be called Thanatos, the will to death. These two great forces swirl around each other like Kundalini serpents, battling for dominance throughout the course of our lives.

Do the Spitzers, McGreeveys, Craigs and Haggards of this world need an out? Do they unconsciously engineer an escape so that they can avoid the psychic suffocation of the lives they have built for themselves, lives built on conscious principles that turn out to be too narrow to sustain the emotional life of the whole person? What happens when they are armed with nuclear weapons and the treasuries of great nations? Maybe I don’t want a walk-on part in someone else’s Götterdämmerung. My own is perking along nicely.

Are the self-destructive episodes of our lives part of our psychological development? Maybe. It's as good an explanation as any for why otherwise rational and intelligent people suddenly begin to do things that destroy their lives and relationships. If that doesn't work for you, maybe we could just fall back to, "The Devil made me do it."

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1 comments:

HillbillyX said...

You need to submit this to Huffpo, or 23/6 or somewhere, or I'll never forgive you.

j

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