Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Is Harvey Weinstein's Excuse a Sham? is so easy to assume that people who behave badly in one way or another can’t help themselves when it may only be the case that they don’t want to help themselves.” ~ Paul Appelebaum, Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University

Frank Bruni quoted the words above in his New York Times editorial, “The Sham of Harvey Weinstein’s Rehab,” yesterday. Weinstein is the Hollywood mogul who has made headlines and elicited widespread condemnation recently for reportedly using his wealth and power over several decades to sexually harass and abuse many women in or seeking to become part of the entertainment industry.

In a veritable flood of these accusations, Weinstein has been booted from his position as co-chairman of his own movie company and expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and is said to be undergoing therapy in an Arizona rehab facility for sexual addiction.

Frank Bruni seems very cynical about this. He writes of Weinstein’s “self-serving” email to agents and studio executives: “Three times he used the same three syllables — “therapy” — and thus cast himself as a patient at the mercy of an affliction. Perhaps. Or maybe he’s just a merciless tyrant and creep, and to dress him in clinical language is to let him off the hook.”

Bruni then proceeds to argue that there’s a growing trend for people like Weinstein and Anthony Weiner to blame their egregious conduct on the mental illness or disorder of sexual addiction, and for people to gullibly let them off the hook to some extent because of it. And he cites psychiatrists and a neuroscientist who decry using psychopathology as an excuse for exercising one’s free “agency” by acting inexcusably badly.

Bruni and those mental health “experts” he quotes seem to believe that when people act the way Weinstein apparently did, even if there were aspects of their psychology or biology that inclined them to mistreat women, they could have chosen not to follow through with those inclinations. As Professor Appelbaum said in the quote above, it may not be the case that they can’t help themselves but that they simply “don’t want” to help themselves. And Bruni argues that when we don’t recognize this, we end up with the false and unpalatable consequence that “Free will is removed. Responsibility is expunged. Guilt is assuaged. There are no bad characters, just bad conditions.”

Well, I don’t believe in free will. I believe that when we do bad, good, or morally neutral things, factors we don’t consciously choose cause us to make the conscious choices we do and that Weinstein reportedly did. So, I think “responsibility” for bad behavior IS “expunged.” Even if, as Professor Appelbaum suggests, people like Weinstein don’t “want” to help themselves, I think it’s because they CAN’T want to help themselves enough at the time to succeed in doing it.

I believe this so strongly that I wrote a comment to the New York times arguing this, and it got published in the growing thread of comments on Bruni’s column. Of course, the overwhelming majority of comments praise Bruni and his cited “experts” for refusing to accept Weinstein’s excuses.

And I agree with Bruni and others that some people may not feel contrite about what they’ve done or resolved to stop doing it but simply use the “sex addiction” or psychopathology excuse or psychotherapy ploy to adroitly manipulate people into letting them return to their positions of power. But if this is what Weinstein is doing, I think that too would reflect his psychopathology. And while he probably shouldn’t be readmitted to positions where he could exercise power to exploit or harass women sexually, he also shouldn’t be vilified, demonized, and condemned as a person for his psychological weakness.

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