Arnold and DSK join a long line of powerful men laid low by primal urges. To be sure, distinctions must be drawn. Consensual affairs are one thing. Abuse of power with underlings — let alone criminal attacks — are quite another. But the variety of alpha-male sexual shenanigans never ceases to amaze.
Think Bill Clinton. John Edwards. Newt Gingrich. Mark Sanford. John Ensign. So much frolicking. So little time.
Even Osama bin Laden had several wives and his stash of porn. Does behavior like this just go with alpha-male territory?
From what we know thus far, the cases of Arnold and DSK are particularly disturbing because of the abuse of power they involve. But are these merely extreme examples of a beast that lurks within all men?
Unsure on this terrain — after all, I’m just one man trapped inside his own limitations — I turned to the two authorities I respect most on these questions for insight. One is Robert Wright, whose book, “The Moral Animal: Evolutionary Psychology And Everyday Life,” was so brilliant I literally read it aloud to my wife on an island vacation in 1996. The second is that selfsame wife, Jody, whose maddeningly astute insights into male shortcomings (or at least my own) have been the object of my grudging admiration for nearly two decades.
“The problem with men,” Jody says, “is that too often it looks like once they are in a position to take advantage of women, whether it’s because they’re celebrities, they’re rich, or they’re powerful — they do — and they do it in the most disturbing ways. So you begin to ask yourself, are they really bad at the core?”
In other words, are Arnold and DSK just a few bad apples — or is there something bigger, badder and fundamentally difficult to control going on inside men?
Jody has long thought that there’s at least some evidence of the latter. She cites the men across the world who pay to have sex with women they know are underage and who have been forced into sex slavery. When men can nonetheless presumably enjoy that experience — and then be viewed as “normal” as they go about the rest of their lives — what more proof do you need of the horror at the bottom of the breed?
“The idea that someone in your species could do that is upsetting,” she says. “The fact that men are capable of this is more than I can process.”
I know Jody’s not alone. Thirty years ago, while a student in London, I had a girlfriend who told me, after reading a novel (“The White Hotel” by D.M. Thomas) whose details about male behavior I’ve long forgotten, that she couldn’t be with me, or any man, again. Nothing personal, she said. It was something about men. (That feeling eventually passed.)