by Robert Oscar Lopez
If you want to get away with anything, you need only one skill: distraction.
The art of distraction makes it possible to get away with murder. Will you be taken for a fool?
Today, we Americans find ourselves sinking into swamp after swamp of institutional corruption, from Washington's Russia eruptions to Hollywood's frisky lust to academia's sheer madness. A question repeats ad nauseam: How do they get away with this stuff? How did gropers and pederasts run amok in our nation's media for decades without being challenged? How did a web of state operatives, lobbyists, agents, and propagandists fool so many people with disinformation for so long without being caught?
And at last, how did colleges that were conceived as lights of reason and character formation plummet into such unreason and depravity with nobody to stop them?
It isn't the wickedness that staggers the mind, since most people understand the existence and reality of evil. It is the evasion of justice. Especially in institutions such as entertainment, politics, and law, which are constantly under the public gaze, it strains credulity that nobody would have seen something going wrong.
Kristallnacht Was Not about Vandalism
When people see evil, they have a reaction and feel the urge to combat it. So instead of trying to fight that urge in people, you just need to direct it somewhere other than at the real evil. In other words, when you see people getting ready to take aim, throw up a decoy somewhere, anywhere, and buy time so you can devise a way to escape justice.
Recently, Sharyl Attkisson formally analyzed the uses of distraction in her book, The Smear. Realistically speaking, The Smear should have been the big paradigm-shifting story of recent times, rather than the wave of coverage about rapists and sexual harassers in Hollywood. Why? Because the problem of Kristallnacht was not vandalism, and passing ever stricter laws against vandalism would not have solved the problem of Kristallnacht.
In the same way, the broader problem with Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey was not their sexual misconduct. The problem is the larger network of spying, disinformation, character assassination, blacklisting, and intimidation, which men like Harvey Weinstein belonged to and used for their purposes.
Ronan Farrow's article on Weinstein's large "army of spies," published in the New Yorker, is as chilling as it is necessarily groundbreaking. It shows that many in America, who blew the whistle on some problem and found themselves sabotaged in all parts of their lives, were not paranoid. Maybe it was someone asking Barack Obama a basic political question only to see his embarrassing tax history laid bare in the press. Maybe we are talking about children raised by gay couples who find that their dissent from the LGBT narrative brought them social ruin. Their fears were probably right. People were hacking into their emails; poisoning them with whisper campaigns; turning employers against them; and destroying their reputation through elaborate, planned online campaigns.
Sexual predation, like vandalism, is a timeless problem that rarely gets solved through regulation and punishment. On the other hand, like the police state of Nazi Germany, the larger disinformation apparatus chronicled by Attkisson's Smear is a timely problem, something specific, urgent, and crucial for a free society's capacity to remain free. And unlike sexual harassment and vandalism, the structure exposed by The Smear can be overturned if people steer clear of distraction.
Helen of Troy: The Original Mistress of Spin
It is often useful to resort to classical examples of a phenomenon so that we can examine our subject without the biases that come with proximity. Hence, let's consider Euripides's Trojan Women. It is the day after Troy's sacking. All the Trojan men are dead. Female survivors in Troy are huddled, terrified, subject to the cruel whims of the Greek men who invaded and destroyed their city and destroyed.
Menelaus states at first that he will bring Helen back to Greece, "and then hand her over to the vengeance of those whose friends have died at Ilium; they will kill her." But upon hearing this, Hecuba, the queen of the vanquished city, pleads with him to place her on public trial now and kill her quickly, thereby denying her a chance to plot some kind of contrivance against justice. Hecuba adds: "You don't want to kill her without a hearing. But allow me to handle the prosecution's case against her. You do not know the evils she did in Troy" (195). For Hecuba, this must not turn into a general lecture about chastity or a predictable squabble between the sexes. It has to be about what Helen of Troy did and whom she explicitly harmed through her evil actions.
Unlike Trojan women dressed in tatters and smeared in grime, Helen emerges gorgeously arrayed, with her hair coiffed and her gown clean (she is famous for her skill at weaving garments).
Before Menelaus can interrogate her, she chastises him, saying, "Your servants lay rude hands on me and hustle me out of these tents" (194-5). Then Helen tells a series of elaborate narratives, all of which direct the blame at others or simply buy her time. She cites witnesses who cannot be contacted because they are dead.
Helen of Troy blames Hecuba for giving birth to Paris, the prince who took her away from Sparta in the first place (195). In fact, she mentions that Hecuba was warned by an oracle to kill him in infancy, so Helen deflects her problems to Hecuba, who appears disobedient to the gods.
Then Helen slips in the charge against Menelaus that when Paris was visiting Sparta, Menelaus foolishly sailed away on business and left her alone and defenseless with a foreign prince: "you, my unworthy husband, left him in your halls and sailed off to Crete on a Spartan ship" (196).
Helen directs blame at the gods, recounting a suspicious tale of a three-way contest among Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera, over who was the most beautiful. Paris was randomly selected as the judge of this contest and was offered three bribes: had he picked Hera, Paris would receive a united Eurasia to rule over; had he picked Athena, Paris would receive "leadership of a Phrygian army that would overthrow Greece." Both Hera's and Athena's offers would have led to Sparta, Menelaus's hometown, being overrun by foreign armies with the aid of implacable goddesses. Only Aphrodite's offer was relatively benign: she "told of [Helen's] marvelous beauty and promised it to him" if only Paris would state that Aphrodite was fairer than the other two (195).
The audience knows from preceding scenes that the gods are furious with the Greeks over their conduct during Troy's last battle. Poseidon states in the opening monologue, "The sacred groves are abandoned. The shrines of the gods run with human blood" (175). His niece Athena agrees with this bleak assessment of the Greeks' behavior, saying, "Have you not heard of the insult to me and my temples?" and "The [Greeks] must learn in future to stand in proper awe of my shrines and to respect the other gods" (177). With the gods refusing to appear to men, Helen has the chance to concoct wildly implausible stories without being contradicted by them.
It is hard enough to prove something that happened; how do you disprove something that did not happen? This is the grand art of distraction, fitting for the emotional landscape of a Greek tragedy. Helen, being a Spartan in her emotional resilience and an Athenian in her gift of rhetoric, tells Menelaus: "See what a boon my nuptials [to Paris] conferred on Greece; she was not conquered by the barbarians, you had neither to meet them in battle nor submit to their empire" (195).
Helen and Paris appear to be on the side of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and pleasure (#lovewins), while everybody else was just obsessed with war, bloodlust, and vainglory. If everyone had just submitted to the ineffable will of the gods, then there would have been no Trojan War! Everyone is wrong but Helen, who is in fact a victim dressed up in a gorgeous outfit with her bags packed, ready to bust out of this dump. She says, "I was bought and sold for my beauty, and now I am reproached for what ought to have earned me a crown of honor for my head" (195).
Hecuba tries to refute Helen but looks old, haggard, bitter, and possibly mad, while Helen is a good Greek woman, completely in control of her emotions. Naturally, as we know from Homer and others, Helen is never killed, but her female accusers all end up being sold away as slaves, raped, killed, and scattered to the four winds.
So who is our Helen of Troy now?
Regardless of the eternal brutality of mankind and the incurable sinfulness of each man's heart, Helen of Troy was married to the king of Sparta and left him to marry someone else. The war was about her. The Trojan women who called for justice knew Helen as the heartless female who sat beside them during ten years of siege, now leaving them all to penury and trauma to protect herself. One might say that perhaps punishing her would be profitless, since nobody on that fateful morning could reverse the destruction of Troy or give those women their lives back.
Yet by allowing her to escape justice, human civilization learned a deeply self-destructive lesson. You can get away with anything, including murder, if you are gorgeous and people lack the attention span to figure out what you did. The aggregate of millions of people justifying themselves in these ways is a society of people wreaking destruction all around and relying, eternally, on plausible deniability. You get America 2017: a place where people finally witness the shocking immorality that has poisoned our government, Hollywood, academia, and publishing. Suddenly, it becomes undeniable that accountability matters, that a j'accuse against vague societal forces is often far less curative than a good old-fashioned whooping in the town square to show arrogant bullies they can't treat people like dirt.
The current American esprit that abounds in exposés and rude awakenings could go either way. Perhaps Americans will realize that Kristallnacht was not a crisis of rampant vandalism, but rather the sign of a totalitarian doomsday machine taking over their country; likewise, Les Affaires Hollywood are not a crisis of sexual harassment, but rather the sign of a totalitarian doomsday machine taking over our country. Maybe Americans will rise up, lead a peaceful revolution through all the institutions – Washington, academia, Hollywood, the media, and the like – ripping out all the festering corruption and demanding a new system held accountable to basic standards of human dignity. With the help of David Pickup, for instance, I organized a conference with just such hopes of pushing back against LGBT education in high schools.
Or America could fall for any number of Helen of Troy moves. Americans might get caught up in the sexual details of these crises and neglect problems of privacy and corruption in favor of fueling puritanical outrage over maiden victims of eighteenth-century rakes and libertines. They might get hysterical over crazy "snowflakes" on campus stopping Ben Shapiro from giving a speech and forget that a massive system of debt, extortion, nepotism, and fraud has turned the scholarly class of America into a legion of snickering Democrat toadies.
We know from Euripides what the likely tactics of distraction will be. We have no excuse. It's time to blow the lid off all of the corruption and make America great again, for real.
Follow Robert Oscar Lopez on Twitter at @baptist4freedom.
Robert Oscar Lopez
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