These past few weeks have seen a lot of creepy guys getting called out on the carpet for their crappy treatment of women. Harvey Weinstein got what he deserved, Kevin Spacey was outed, an accused child molester is running for the Senate in Alabama, even Sen. Al Franken got caught with his hands where they should not have been. El Presidente still has a reputation for grabbing women, and former president Bill Clinton is being raked over the coals again by some for his past personal affairs.
It’s getting so common that you can’t tell what to be outraged about anymore.
As it happens, I think I’ve come up with a formula that can help you decide what to be outraged over, and how much outrage to give it.
Outrage = Seriousness of Offense – Contrition
Time since Offense
Note that you should total it up for each individual offense. And that we’re making no difference between an allegation and something that’s been proven in a court of law – you simply adjust the Seriousness level for that.
Let’s take a look at all the terms in the equation.
Seriousness of Offense: There’s clearly a broad spectrum here. I’d say a wolf whistle in passing is at the low end (practically negligible) and keeping someone prisoner in your basement for use as a sex slave is at the other end (unforgiveable; lock them up for life). There really is a difference between harassment, assault, molestation, and rape. We absolutely have to keep that in mind. We also have to take into account the credibility of an accusation. Are or were there witnesses that can back up the story? Was anything said at the time? Any physical evidence? Is the accuser credible? We don’t want any repeats of the Duke Lacrosse case – right?
Time Since Offense: There’s a legal thing called “Statute of Limitations”. In general, it means that for some crimes, the plaintiff has to bring charges against the accused in a certain amount of time in order for a case to be able to be brought. It’s also a matter of practicality. After a while, evidence goes stale, witnesses forget, and people move on with their lives. Only the most heinous crimes (like murder) have no statute of limitations, but even there judges can decide a case is far too old to proceed. There’s also the matter of the Constitutionally guaranteed right to a speedy trial (it’s right there in the Sixth Amendment).
And one has to acknowledge that people change. They evolve, grow, and learn. Piling on someone for something that happened decades ago is pointless and unfair.
Contrition: How has the accused responded? Have they dodged the issue, or issued an apology? Has their life since the incident shown any sort of compensatory behavior? Have they actually paid any penalties – legal or social – for the incident? Note that “negative contrition” – which actually adds to the outrage – is possible. Say the accused blames the accuser, or says it’s a media conspiracy. That’s negative contrition.
Let’s try a few examples, shall we? Now we can all assign our own numbers to things, so for now I’ll just use terms like low, medium, and high.
Senator Al Franken’s been accused of a forced kiss and a grope ten years ago. That’s two Low incidents (on the scale of things, you do have to agree that they are rather trivial) at a rather Medium distance in the past. Low plus Low divided by Medium, and you’re close to Even. With regards to Contrition, Franken immediately apologized, then soon afterwards issued a more detailed apology, and offered to undergo an official ethics investigation. And his accuser accepted the apology. I’d say that takes care of any possible outrage you could still have, right?
Roy Moore, the senatorial candidate from Alabama, has been accused of molesting teenage girls and being so creepy that he got himself banned from a shopping mall. That’s got to be pretty high on the Seriousness scale. Last time I checked, there were six women who have come forward with serious allegations. So yeah, we’re in Very High territory here. Now the incidents happened something like 30 to 40 years ago. That’s a long time ago, so we’ll have to make the denominator in our equation pretty large. But it’s not going to be large enough to lower the total amount of outrage we should feel. How about Contrition? Well, Moore’s immediate reaction was to call it “fake news”, lies, and a liberal conspiracy. A perfect example of Negative Contrition. So you should be Outraged As F**k about Moore.
How about El Presidente, our “Groper in Chief”? Donald Trump has a long career of harassing and assaulting women. He’s never apologized for any of it. On the contrary, he’s been caught bragging about it. So he’s another one you really should be outraged over.
Bill Clinton? He’s admitted to two extramarital affairs (Monica Lewinsky and Gennifer Flowers) and was accused of rape (Juanita Broaddrick), groping (Kathleen Wiley) and harassment (Paula Jones). We can drop the affairs; one can safely assume they were consensual and therefore irrelevant. As far as the others go, there’s some trouble with the stories of the accusers, so we could trim a little bit off the Seriousness – but just a little. The rape accusation goes back to the 70s, the others are from the early 90s. So that’s a 40 year old incident, and two 20 year old ones. Very Serious a Long Time Ago, plus two Low Seriousness ones a Moderate Time Ago. Score them how you want. What about Contrition? Well, I don’t think Clinton has ever said anything that could be considered an apology. But do note that it was the fallout from these affairs that led to his Impeachment (remember how other countries couldn’t believe we were getting ready to take down our leader over his private life?). He was acquitted, but he did wind up paying civil fines and settlement payments of close to a million dollars, and his license to practice law in Arkansas was suspended for five years. And his one-sentence legacy as president will be something like “A good president, who could have been better if he’d been able to keep his pants on”. Personally, I think we can stop being outraged over him. Let’s save it for things and people that deserve it.