The Anthony Weiner sex and Twitter case is not yet a story of divorce. It is a story of humanity. Mr. Weiner’s marriage will likely suffer, but hopefully, he and his wife will overcome this terrible moment and see this, years later, as a trauma they overcame together. It will be tough, but this young family may just find their way.
Grandiosity is a Mixed Blessing:
The lights, the attention, the power, the responsibility...politics. It's an intense occupation. And, it attracts driven and sometimes, grandiose people. Anthony Weiner aside, there is a narcissistic hazard for those seeking public office. It takes an oversized sense of self to think that you are so much more special than others to be entitled to power.
Of course, there are completely normal people in office, I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush. But, politics is too gratifying not to attact an outsized proportion of narcissistically inclined souls. Compare professions. Which draws more narcissistic people, politics or, say, dentistry?
And, with the invention of the internet, these folks better watch out.
The Tale of Icarus:
The ancient Greek tale of Icarus tells it all.
Icarus was an impetuous youth who was given wings to fly by his capable father, Daedalus. The only problem: they were pasted together with wax. His father flew safely. Icarus, a willful narcissistic kind of guy, flew higher, and took more risks. Daedalus warned him, it’s dangerous to fly too high.
Icarus felt impervious - typical grandiosity. The sun melted the wax and Icarus fell to his death.
The Weiner/Icarus Lesson:
Mr. Weiner appears to be the agent of his likely downfall; not unlike Icarus.
In the twenty first century, we must understand the hazards of the internet better. It's a technology that's outrunning our social standards. It can be like flying too close to the sun.
Human beings are far from perfect, and the public eye often glaringly magnifies this fact. Look at our fascination with Mr. Schwarzenegger, Mr. Clinton or for that matter, Woody Allen.
Allegedly, Mr. Weiner sent somewhat explicit images of himself to a number of women. They were not his wife. The grandiosity may have been in the idea that he would not get caught. Icarus revisited.
Sex is a powerful driver in our psyches. It just is. Sexual longing is biological, cultural and very personal. And, what is exciting about sex carries a deep particularity to the person involved. One wonders if the same forces that have you take risks, and work people as a politician, somehow morph into a wish to take risks and work people erotically? Icarus wanted to fly higher than anyone. Maybe, Mr. Weiner also had the urge to push boundaries?
Public, private, men, women, bad, good, top, bottom, aggressive, passive, etc.., you name it, are exciting for some and a big turn off to others.
So, here enters the Internet, which can foment a toxic alchemy with sexual longing. In cyberspace all tastes are available, and too much is accessible. It is a lot for the average person.
The Internet Lowers Barriers:
In the book, Deciphering Cyberspace (edited by Shyles), Josefa Silman and I looked at what makes the Internet so dangerous and inviting for sexual acting out. We described how the Internet lowers the barrier of entry for many behaviors, both for the good and for the bad.
For the good, the Internet allows unlimited access to academic learning unheard of until the modern era. It allows for communication across continents and connects disparate cultures in a way that is truly amazing. Commerce is easier and it democratizes knowledge by allowing everyone to get their ideas out into the public space.
But, there is bad, and sometimes really bad. The Internet lowers the barrier to many deviant behaviors, whether they are criminal, interpersonal (like bullying), or sexual, like in Mr. Weiner’s case.
Prior to cyberspace, Mr. Weiner would have had trouble “meeting” many the women that he allegedly corresponded with, to his detriment. Without the ease and apparent anonymity of cyberspace, he probably would have never confronted this problem to begin with. It was an easier world.
The Danger of Access:
Pick up the paper (or go online). It is overwhelming to one’s sense of safety to hear time and again about all the pedophiles that are being caught because of the Internet. Our children are the most vulnerable among us. Now, we worry more about their safety. Do you think there are more pedophilic men fantasizing about young boys or girls, since the Internet exploded into our world?
Probably not - destructive sexual turn-ones are as ancient as mankind. Access has changed everything.
Access is our modern day equivalent to Icarus and his journey towards the sun.
Without question, Mr. Weiner’s case is infinitely more benign. He communicated with adult women, who apparently participated in some way; although, it was doubtless, an unwanted intrusion for some. No children were involved and no laws were broken. But, the draw of cyberspace that is undoing Mr. Weiner’s candidacy for Mayor of New York are the same seductive powers that get sicker men (and some women) to do sicker things.
Narcissism, Cyberspace and Sex:
Yes, it is a setup of sorts.
Narcissism, Cyberspace & Sex is a potent combination. We all have to open our eyes to the dangers of this powerful place called Cyberspace.This web of the web is our Brave New World; and we now have to deal with it. Unfortunately, Mr. and Mrs. Weiner understand this firsthand.
Perhaps, in our new culture, we will reset standards a bit for now. Marriage is too precious to give up on easily, particularly if you have little ones. Mr. Weiner and his wife have to decide if they can make it. It is not on our schedule but rather on theirs.
I am rooting for them. Cyberspace is a trap. Icarus had no second or third chance.
Mr. Weiner may just get that third chance.
I believe in redemption.