Jeffery Toobin’s Return and the State of Moral Panic

On this blog, I usually try to steer clear of clickbait scandals like Jeffery Toobin’s. The scandal he is a part of seems overblown and the reaction disproportionate. Many editorials called for his arrest and charge with public indecency. Given the popularity of online pornography, it would both seem that self-service in front of a laptop is common so I fully believe it was an accident and that most adults have seen genetalia online. There were no children and no one was seriously harmed or lost their innocence. I don’t think the book should have been thrown at him and I think his apology was about the best he could have done. While all forced apologies have an air of insincerity, it was delivered in the best possible way.

A strong civil libertarian, I certainly don’t believe in using the police or incarceration unless someone or property is or was actually in danger. Other alarmist headlines have issued the eschatological requiem that “#metoo is dead” and one of the articles I skimmed even expressed disagreement with the idea that the transgression was the camera being on rather than the masturbation, itself, which apparently should not occur. This was not a #metoo scandal since intentionality is really required for that so #metoo isn’t dead. For the most part, the cultural taboo surrounding masturbation I think is the key thing here. It may be offensive but it causes little harm other than being offensive and doesn’t violate the property or safety of anyone so it’s mostly purely cultural.

The point is not whether Jeffery Toobin should have been kept on at CNN or The New Yorker, per se. I’d prefer someone farther to the left to replace him although I seriously don’t care, almost, at all, about the scandal and that is not why I would want him replaced. The point is the moral panic over the incident and moral panic, generally. My favorite political figure of the 20th Century, Abbie Hoffman, was the cause of many of them. I come from the “Burning Man” side of the left so if someone did what he did at my workplace, I’d have slight schadenfreude over their embarassment, make a snarky remark, and stop making jokes about it after about a week which is an avenue most of my fellows on the contemporary left and most pundits regard as too coarse for their uber ethical aesthetic.

I’d quickly forgive him and I’d completely have moved on after a month. While it is certainly a saltier reaction than the average pundit, it ends with a complete forgiveness and their record being cleared with me so I consider it to be more moral. Would I rather sound cleaner and more moralistic or be slightly dirtier and more earnestly moral? Clean hate or dirty love? The latter. I often don’t get credit for my acts of kindness because they’re done with an attitude of sarcasm and chillness that doesn’t feel like the bleeding-heart that it is. In fact, the primary reason I haven’t updated the comedy page on this website is becuase in this era of constantly publicized tragedy, my satirical and sarcastic attitude has been perpetually decried as inappropriate. I don’t want to face the pitchforks.

The history of morality, including mine, has often been that dichotomy of the clean and moralistic and the superficially dirty but ultimately more moral. Like hippies versus classic Republicans. The former, under a veneer of vice, supported social programs for the poor and afflicted, peace in foreign policy, protecting the environment, and on almost every issue were and are on the right side of it, morally. While their cultural opponents were on the wrong side of those issues and their personal vices were often just as prevelant only less honest and more hypocritical. Growing up in and living in the South, I have always remarked “The first rule of Southern politics is they live like the Dukes of Hazard and pretend to be Forest Gump”. Among Southern Conservatives, moral hypocrisy is about as common as breathing.

Moral panics are always acting out what Christ said in Matthew 23:24 when he talked about straining a gnat while ignoring a camel. Is Jeffery Toobin a good man? I don’t know him nor have I studied his life or career and I won’t say if he is. Should he have kept his job? I’d be aginst him losing it over that scandal but, again, I’d prefer someone further to the left. Yet, the rage over his return to CNN is unwarranted. The moral is that morality requires us to be superficially dirty and not present ourselves as clean so we may be humble and not judge others. To react to private but accidentally exposed masturbation like it’s child molestation is so punitive that it is a sin that far outweighs the sin it judges.

To forgive Jeffery Toobin for this fairly venial trangression requires us to let the disgusting be normal and to roll with it and that usually involves stuff like minor schadenfreude and childish humor. To be dirty and let the dirt humble us. In the end, that world of sarcasm and snark that lacks a full censor and which tolerates the awkward is safer for the broken. Hating someone for years over a masturbation incident seems more moral but is so disproportioniate that it is less. Like Abbie Hoffman versus Jerry Falwell, the latter feels more moral but the former is more moral.

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