Extremely late-breaking thoughts on the Lewinsky scandal.

  1. Committing sexual harassment, under its legal definition, should be an impeachable offense. Conduct that falls just short of the legal definition by not being “severe” or “pervasive” enough should often be an impeachable offense, especially if there’s a pattern of it.
  2. Having an exploitative-but-consensual relationship with someone should definitely not be an impeachable offense, and I do not believe it’s possible to argue otherwise while taking consent seriously and without infantilizing forty-four-year-old Monica Lewinsky, who has been telling us a consistent story for twenty years. Sexual harassment is by definition “unwanted,” so anyone who says this was “textbook sexual harassment” is using the wrong textbook.
  3. Creating the appearance or risk of sexual harassment, by having a relationship that’s unethical and makes it difficult (at the time) for outsiders to know whether consent is genuine, should probably not be an impeachable offense; however this is a closer call, and I don’t think it’s illiberal or infantilizing to argue otherwise.
  4. The actual crime Bill Clinton was impeached for, and that no one seems to be talking about currently, was lying under oath in a sexual harassment case. That case was initially dismissed because the judge felt Clinton’s alleged behavior was not severe enough to count as sexual harassment, a decision that looks dubious in retrospect (at very least, there should have been no summary judgement.) That decision was appealed and the case was later settled. In retrospect, I think lying under oath in a sexual harassment case should be an impeachable offense, given that the behavior he was lying about – a pattern of having affairs with subordinates – was clearly relevant to the case.
  5. I don’t think most people should beat themselves too much over not realizing this at the time, because the credible allegations of sexual harassment and assault were mixed in with a deluge of blatantly false accusations and conspiracy theories about other things; it simply wasn’t possible, back then, for the average person to pull up a bunch of documents about the accusations and realize they credibly pointed to a pattern of abuse. I feel differently about journalists who covered the case, activists who made public statements, or politicians who voted on impeachment; they had a greater responsibility to weigh all the available evidence.
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Against “The Toxoplasma of Rage.”

“The Toxoplasma of Rage” is regularly cited as one of Scott Alexander’s best essays, and I think it’s fundamentally mistaken, at least about the high-profile incidents it showcases.

He calls it “toxoplasma” because – like toxoplasmosis in rats and cats – there are supposedly two stages to how a story goes viral:

  1. Activists promote dubious stories because that demonstrates their zeal to their fellow activists.
  2. Counteractivists promote the same dubious story to demonstrate how dumb the original activists are.

 

I have a different theory: Continue reading

Concentric circles of free speech, via Colin Kaepernick.

(copied from a months-old Facebook post)

1) If someone calls Colin Kaepernick unpatriotic for kneeling during the national anthem, there’s no free speech issue. It may be a violation of some other values – civil discourse, reasoned debate – but definitely not free speech. Of course, it’s a bit disingenuous of me to pick Kaepernick as an example, because this fallacy is currently far more common on the right – the Kaepernick incident is one of the few recent cases when I’ve seen columnists invoke it from the left.

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CNN did not commit blackmail but did abuse “newsworthiness.”

After some discussion on Popehat yesterday, I’m convinced that blackmail is the wrong way to look at the CNN thing. Blackmail has two elements1, a threat and a demand:

  1. It’s okay to tell my wife about the affair.
  2. It’s okay to not tell my wife about the affair.
  3. It’s okay to ask me for $50,000.
  4. But it’s not okay to condition the choice between (1) and (2) on (3); that’s blackmail.

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