If you’re scratching your head trying to figure out what I mean by this post, good! We all woke up this morning to hear the news that Matt Lauer had been fired from NBC. The level of wailing and gnashing of teeth on the network was a bit hard too watch. What was more difficult was listening to pundit after pundit saying out loud “Where do we go from here?” or “He is a friend of mine.” As if being fired should or would terminate a friendship.
In this post, I’m not going to discuss sexual harassment or sexual abuse. There will be plenty of others to do that. What I want to explore is why we sense a need to label others as “good” or “evil” and why we can’t deal with the complexity of the human condition without falling back on the moral constructs of good and evil. These are issues which are more or less to be found in Western culture, especially since the Enlightenment when thinkers such as Locke, Hume, and Kant made religion all about good and evil. Good and evil came to be identified with actions and could be reasonably calculated. In one sense, this way of thinking is convenient because no one really has to do much thinking at all or explore the depths of another human being. Matt Lauer good yesterday, evil today. Simple enough.
But can we really fool ourselves into thinking it’s that simple? What about the good that Lauer has supposedly done over his lifetime? What about the other “bad” things he has done? Do we take out a scale of justice to figure this out? That seems crazy to me.
Maybe it would be more accurate to say everyone of us is a hypocrite. We are a mixed bag of good and evil. Everyone of us. That probably makes some of you uncomfortable. The ancients didn’t have a problem with it. Take for example, King David in the Bible. He spies a beautiful woman and decides he has to have her. There’s a slight problem though. She’s married to one of David’s leading warriors. David, like most us, says the hell with it and sleeps with Bathsheba. He then sends Uriah into a battle zone where the likelihood is high he’ll be killed. That’s exactly what happened. Is David now an evil person? Do we disregard what he did prior to his adultery? Or after?
The ancients had no problem accepting the complexity of the situation. Why do we have such difficulty? Is it possible that a human being can do terrible deeds and still have the capacity for goodness? Can we even make judgements about the moral character of others when half the time we don’t fully understand ourselves? The human heart is an ocean depth of complexity and contradiction. Even the brightest and most promising among us don’t act rationally all the time in all instances. The only one capable of that is the fictional Dr. Spock but he’s not human.
Human life is not ruled by rationality. There are other elements at play. The sexual drive is a powerful one for both men and women. It can lead anyone to some pretty irrational behavior, especially if it’s fueled by alcohol and/or drugs.
Am I saying the Harvey Weinstein’s of this world or the Matt Lauer’s of this world shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions? Of course not. I am trying to point out that every one of us is complex and we shouldn’t be shocked when one of us goes off the rails. It’s part of the human condition. This is the stuff of Greek tragedy, the material shaped by Shakespeare into tragedies and comedies. It’s life as we know it. Even if we wanted to we can’t dumb it down so we feel better about ourselves and the world around us.