Tag Archives: moral panic

A Moral Panic: Cui Bono

1) To recognize an incipient moral panic-as appears evident from the ten most forwarded New York Times stories displayed above- in no way denies the significance of sexual misconduct.  Nor does expressing concern about its dangers minimize the suffering of the victims. In fact, it constitutes the opposite: a climate of hysteria does nothing to advance the interests of those victimized since (by definition) it conflates victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment of varying degrees of seriousness with those whose claims are either frivolous or altogether baseless. The latter category includes those taking commercial advantage of the media publicity now accorded to those making accusations. Those denying the self-interested motives of at least a few are referred to the previous posting .

2) The widespread media spotlight on accusations of sexual assault and sexual harassment does not constitute a) a “paradigm shift” in power relations in the workplace, as some commenters on social media and elsewhere have claimed. Nor is there any basis for believing b) the familiar catechism based on the assumption that since “capitalism and patriarchy breed each other”, victories against against the latter constitutes signficant steps forward for an anti-capitalist agenda.

3) A moment’s thought will bring with it the recognition that 2) a) is wishful thinking and 2 b) in many instances simply delusional. Whatever the outcome of the charges, up to and including the perpetrators serving stiff sentences, neoliberal capitalism will continue to define the most significant aspects of most of our lived experience. It will continue to produce grotesque, and highly gendered, levels of income and wealth inequality, mass homelessness, lower life expectancy, senseless wars, possible nuclear conflict and the near certainty of major environmental catastrophe within the next generation.

4) The focus on the moral turpitude of abusers rather than the systemic economic basis of their power and authority is misplaced. While usually not intended as such, doing so necessarily takes the focus off of unspeakable tragedies resulting from the system’s normal operation when it is managed by moral, upstanding and ostensibly decent individuals. In some cases, those focusing on the moral bankruptcy of individuals are doing so because they are incapable or unwilling to face up to the apparent or real moral rectitude of those who do great evil. That removing patriarchical hegemony will undermine the system of savage exploitation at the root of the living nightmare experienced by its victims is a comfortable fiction immediately revealed as such by reciting two words: Margaret Thatcher.

5) The moral panic surrounding sexual misconduct leaves entirely unmentioned the only mechanism which could have prevented many of the abuses now being aired publicly, namely, collective organizing by workers themselves. That is, it is union representation and only union representation which allow workers to seriously combat the dictatorial power of management and the abuses of individual managers. It is no coincidence that the successful predations of numerous corporate executives has taken place in a climate in which union representation is at an all time low and that many of the worst abuses are occurring in industries in which there ls little to no union presence.

6) It is also, perhaps, no coincidence that the corporate media which is the mouthpiece for elite ranks of management has no problem circulating these accusations. As mentioned in 4), they recognize that the removal of bad apples will serve to shore up rather than undermine the moral foundations and legitimacy of major capitalist institutions. They also understand what businesses have for years, namely that moral panics are by their nature reactionary almost always either initiated or fomented by the right who recognize that a climate of fear and suspicion militates against the kind of solidarity which is a prerequisite for successful organizing in the workplace and outside of it.

That said, three points follow which to some extent mitigate the perspective advanced in 1) – 6).

7) Not every favorable social development is connected to the struggle against capitalist exploitation.

8) While they do not constitute a paradigm shift, the public shaming and likely criminal prosecution of the perpetrators will send a signal to prospective sexual predators taking advantage of their positions of social power and economic dominance. Many of those who would previously have thought nothing about engaging what was previously regarded as routine, acceptable social interactions will now understand them as unacceptable forms of sexual harassment and even sexual assault and consequently will be less inclined to act on their worst impulses.

9) The ultimate effect of these is likely to amount to a significant improvement in the working conditions of many-possibly hundreds of thousands or even millions-or women. The importance of this should not be minimized.