4 minute read

What Does It Mean When They Stop Pretending

The Last Psychiatrist, one of my favorite writers, is famous for banging the drum about the most narcissistic generation in history: “Narcissists don’t feel guilt– based on objective right and wrong– they feel shame– based on exposure. When they get caught, their answer is always the same: wait, that’s not really who I am…”

A healthy person feels guilt when they do something they perceive as bad because they have an internal compass. Historically, we didn’t trust the internal compass of politicians (people who publicly disclose their desire for power), but could collectively rely on shame in the absence of guilt to regulate their behavior regardless of their hidden agendas. Around the 2016 election, a brilliant meme began to spread: “They’re not even trying to hide it anymore.” The meme points out the shift of politicians under the umbrella of a certain entertainment figure and politician, who no longer make an effort to make their statements believable. Believability is only a goal for someone who feels guilt or shame, guilt for lying and shame for getting revealed to be a liar. Someone who feels neither, while still succeeding, changes how politics is done. Is that person a temporary aberration, or a new normal? When politicians no longer feel shame, the public has no mechanism to push back, they are powerless. When you lie about things that are obviously false, without a veneer of truth or plausibility, you are signaling that you have the power to create reality. In normal life, most of us are socially punished for obvious lies and inconsistencies. Spiderman taught us, “with great power comes great responsibility”, with women’s expanding sexual power it comes with…more power?

Take a minute and go read this piece: “They’re not even trying to hide it anymore.”

Let’s list the obviously false statements:

“says she released the video to expose how older men in Hollywood are ‘taking advantage’ of younger women on dating apps.”

“I feel like a lot of guys in Hollywood are talking to all these young girls and it’s something that I think a lot of people should be aware of”

“said she had matched with other celebs before, but doesn’t ‘ever talk to older guys.’”

“However, she chose to chat with Perry because she thought, “Oh, this would be funny.”

“I was not really thinking anything of it,” Haralson added

“Honestly, I never really had any intention of posting it, but then I saw that one video, and thought, ‘Oh, this would be funny,’” she said. “I didn’t expect it to blow up as fast as it did.”

“I thought it was more so innocent and harmless.”

This is one of the least believable narratives of all time. So why tell it? Page Six, not exactly known as a bastion of integrity (but known for its obsession with the tawdry narrative, and the concern troll), recounts the story as if it were true. The writer makes it “true,” or truthy, in the minds of their readers. The writer doesn’t bother pushing back on any of the obviously false statements. But, instead of asking about the truthfulness, we should ask TLP’s question: what does the author want to be true? Page Six wants this to be a gotcha moment. They’re takedown artists. A powerful older man “taking advantage” of a stunningly beautiful nineteen year old girl. If she wasn’t beautiful, would there be a story?

The narrative itself is not that important. What is important, however, is Page Six’s confidence that no one would dare to challenge an obviously false narrative, even a “powerful older man”. This shows us how much power this narrative has in our culture. The article is a public challenge for anyone dumb enough to take Perry’s side. Any male who takes the bait will be publicly flogged and thrown down the memory hole.

As we continue to relax the restrictions on female sexuality, society has to learn and communicate behavioral norms to its members. Certain types of sex will always be taboo, and cultures need a way to communicate those taboos in the form of unwritten rules. Whereas previously the burden of restricting male sexuality was placed on women and families, now it is men’s responsibility to restrict female sexuality. Rather than slut shaming women, men who pursue women now risk public shaming. The more powerful the man, the more normal the behavior he is punished for, the more important the signal of the power of the invisible hand. There is a kind of narrative war happening. You might not be interested in it, but if you’re a sexually active person, it is interested in you.

Privacy is important in a democracy not because when the government is watching, they can censor you. It’s because when people know the government is watching, they will censor themselves. There is, or maybe was, a social norm that what’s said in the context of dating is subject to a reasonable degree of privacy. On a dating app like Raya, there’s a higher, more explicit bar for discretion. Celebrities know that their private lives have value, so there’s always an incentive for those they share them with to sell them out. Kate Haralson violated that shared norm, offered no specific criticism of anything Matthew Perry did, and still Page Six was sure that no one would take his side.

Overall, women want men to make the first move. But, if the wrong man makes the wrong first move, he’ll in turn be attacked for it. That’s a price, maybe, of being a modern man. And the NYPost loves that price. The cost is all the people who don’t get together because the man fears being socially shamed by the Haralsons of the world.

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