The Years of Living Hysterically, Part I
Reflections on Joe Biden, Tara Reade, #MeToo, and our Hysterical Culture
I planned to devote this newsletter to the thorny problem of unraveling the Euro, and the week to geopolitics in general. But when I looked at the news this morning and saw that despite everything—despite the collapse of civilization as we know it, for God’s sake!—this idiotic story about Joe Biden and Tara Reade is dominating the headlines, I decided I’d get this off my chest today and be done with it.
“This” is a 30,000-word essay. I wrote it at the time of the Kavanaugh hearings. I never found a publisher for it. You won’t be the least bit surprised by that, if you read it to the end.
I know that 30,000-word essays are not at all to taste of my readers, most of whom urge me to please, please keep this newsletters shorter. What’s more, the essay is only tangentially related to the raison d’être of this newsletter; viz., rescuing liberal democracy from the clutches of the new Caesars. This essay is not essential, nor even related, to any argument I make in my book. If you skip it, you’ll miss nothing you need to know. It’s not unrelated, to be sure—all these phenomena are of a part—but it is rather niche.
So I’m sending you the first part, below, then I’ll put the rest behind the paywall and send that only to paying subscribers. If the subject bores you, delete this email and others with this subject heading. Wait for the missive about the fate of the EU and Euro. If I manage my time well this morning, that should be in your In Box this evening.
But if this subject greatly interests you—and I know a few of you read what I write about liberal democracy only because you read The Warlock Hunt and decided you were a fan—you can keep reading. If you’re already a subscriber, the rest will show up in your In Box automatically; if you’re not, you can subscribe.
If you very much want to read all 30,000 words of this essay but can’t afford a subscription, drop me a note. I know full well times are tough. I’ll send you a free weekly pass. Likewise, if you’ve contributed to my writing elsewhere.
Otherwise, I’m publishing this now because now is the time. I’d almost forgotten I wrote this, and I’d given up finding an audience for it. I even began to think, perhaps, that the hysteria had passed. But now it is all coming back, and if I don’t publish this, I will spend the coming week screaming, “You fools! You scoundrels!” at my computer screen. I have better things to do.
The Years of Living Hysterically
YOU’RE MORE LIKELY TO BE KILLED BY A COW
In is remarkable series of experiments, Solomon Asch demonstrated, in 1951, the astonishing degree to which social pressure compels conformity. Eight college students were gathered and told they were taking a test of “visual perception.” They were shown a line, then shown three other lines. They were asked which line was the same length as the first. The answer was always obvious. But the first seven students were ringers. They had been coached to answer incorrectly. The subject of the experiment was student number eight. Seventy-five percent of them gave the wrong answer at least once—the answer all the others had given—even though, when given the test alone, they always chose the right response.
The #MeToo hysteria, now entering its fourth year, suggests we are living through some kind of Asch experiment. Consider this story. After serving during Vietnam as a lieutenant in the US Navy for six years, Hugh Heckman began his long and quite distinguished career as a journalist. He began as staff writer for the Associated Press, then moved to CBS radio, where he wrote the station’s hourly newscasts and the World of Religion program, which he also produced. He was promoted to CBS Evening News, and spent the next 43 years writing programs, special broadcasts, and the Evening News script for Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather, Bob Schieffer, Katie Couric, and a host of other CBS anchors and broadcasters. He won two Emmys and seven Writers Guild Awards and was widely considered one of the industry’s most competent, experienced, and reliable writers.
In 2015, he took a weekend job as a writer and editor for PBS NewsHour. On November 25, 2017—about six weeks after Alyssa Milano turned the #MeToo hashtag into a household word—Heckman was at work on a story about the engagement of Prince Harry and Megan Markle. While looking at a photograph of Megan Markle, Heckman said, “not bad.”
The lawsuit he filed against PBS advanced the claim that his rights under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act had been violated. Heckman, according to the filing, said “not bad” in a low tone of voice to a male co-worker. Apparently, another co-worker, Corinne Segal, who was “sitting at her desk about 20 feet away” and “could not see the picture being shown to Plaintiff,” overheard the remark. She chastised Heckman for acting “in contravention to the training that all employees had recently attended regarding sexual harassment in the workplace.” Still another co-worker, Kamala Kelkar, added, “in a disparaging tone, ‘haven’t you learned.’”
This embarrassed and upset Heckman, the complaint alleges. It offers no detail about how he responded, but one might conclude he was cross; that would be normal. He “immediately explained that he had not intended any sexually harassing remark.” Nonetheless, Corinne Segal reported the transgression to their executive producer; PBS neither conducted an investigation nor asked Heckman for his side of the story; and two days later, Heckman was fired for sexually harassing a photograph of Megan Markle.
This alone would sound strange enough to my ears—“But I’d swear that line is twice the length of the first!”—but stranger still is the language of the lawsuit.
Heckman was hired as an at-will employee, and as any lawyer will tell you, that means you’re screwed, no matter why you were fired. The state of New York does not, as some other states do, recognize a breach of an implied covenant of good faith as an exception to at-will employment. So petitioning for redress under Title VII was truly the only plausible grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit.
It makes sense, then, that he complains he was a victim of “sex stereotyping,” because his employers “assumed incorrectly that a male must be guilty of sexual harassment if a female employee complained.” What’s more, the Plaintiff notes, it makes sense that he complains of disparate standards: These same women, he reports, had genuinely harassed a photograph of Justin Trudeau, describing his likeness as “hot.” He specifies that this was clearly “intended as a reference to Mr. Trudeau’s sex appeal.”
An ambiguous sentence follows: “Defendants enforced their policies regarding sexual harassment in a manner that was discriminatory, specifically that they dismissed a male employee with no investigation within two days, but took no action when placed on notice of a similar remark by female employees in the presence of witnesses.” Now, was it Heckman who complained of these comments, while protesting his dismissal? Or might we now live in a world in which someone else was so offended by their remarks that he, or she, undertook to alert management? Things have become so lunatic that the latter is not unfathomable.
Whatever the case, the suit stresses that Heckman’s dismissal was “based on sex and gender stereotypes and bias-based beliefs about males and about sex and gender,” this in violation “the New York State Human Rights Law §296, et seq.” Strange though it is to use the language of “human rights,” and “bias-based beliefs about sex and gender” to describe being fired for saying “Not bad” to a photo, it makes legal sense: That’s probably the only language could one could use successfully to protest the termination of an at-will contract in the State of New York. He probably won’t win, all the same: The courts usually rule that at-will means what it says.
As legally required, the Federal EEOC investigated the charges—yes, you must bring in the Feds—and issued a Right to Sue letter. This means they found grounds to file a discrimination suit—that is to say, they decided it was not an utterly spurious claim—but these grounds were not strong enough, they concluded, to warrant taking up the case on Heckman’s behalf. In other words, they neither found it egregious nor a legal slam dunk.
That is not the strange part, though. The strange parts are as follows. First, the plaintiff felt it necessary to stress, “Plaintiff strongly condemns and repudiates the rampant sexual harassment that women endure,” and to deplore his dismissal because “employer action in cases like this one dilutes and diminishes the force and effect of those many legitimate cases that do constitute sexual harassment.”
Why did he say this? It is true that sometimes, women in the United States are sexually harassed. It is true indeed that frivolous and malevolent claims such as those his co-workers made will ultimately leave women who have been sexually harassed without recourse; for when this fever breaks, none of us will ever be taken seriously again, even those with serious cause for complaint.
But in describing sexual harassment as “rampant” and its victims as “many,” Heckman has implicitly conceded to lunacy, much in the manner of Increase Mather inveighing against the admission of spectral evidence:
SO Odious and Abominable is the name of a Witch, to the Civilized, much more the Religious part of Mankind, that it is apt to grow up into a Scandal for any, so much as to enter some sober cautions against the over hasty suspecting, or too precipitant Judging of Persons on this account. But certainly, the more execrable the Crime is, the more Critical care is to be used in the exposing of the Names, Liberties, and Lives of men (especially of a Godly Conversation) to the imputation of it ...
Now, sexual harassment, unlike witchcraft, is a real phenomenon, at least as it is defined in modern tort law. In a definition upheld by the Supreme Court in Bundy v. Jackson and Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, the EEOC describes the offense:
Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
On its website, the EEOC states, in plain language,
the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, [but] harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).
By law, one must file a complaint with the EEOC and in some states, local agencies, before suing an employer for sexual harassment. The EEOC has amalgamated its data with State and local Fair Employment Practices agencies in this table.
In 1997, the EEOC received 15,889 complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace. The numbers since then have steadily declined; in 2011, they received 11,364 complaints, and in 2018, they received 7,609 complaints, of which 15.9 percent were filed by men. Women filed 5,509 complaints.
This is strange, because women’s participation in the workforce has been rising. Between 1966 and 2017, for example, the share of women in the American workforce rose from 31.5 percent to 48.7 percent. One would expect the number who lodge complaints of harassment to grow proportionately. Instead, it has declined.
There are now 157 million women in America, and 57 percent of them, according to the US Department of Labor, are in the labor force. Thus, according to records we can confirm, some .006 of the female labor force experienced sexual harassment in the workplace last year, and the number is declining sharply year on year.
Of course, this does not mean .006 is the true number: Criminologists describe the real rate of crime, as opposed to the reported rate of crime, as the dark figure. It is known as dark for a reason; it is very hard to figure out what it is. I will return to this.
For now, though, this is the evidence we have. Only .006 percent of American women endure rampant sexual harassment—except—the EEOC deemed that 56.4 percent of the complaints had “no reasonable cause.” Furthermore, of the total cases reported, 8.7 were “withdrawn with benefits,” meaning a compromise acceptable to employer and employee was found without the EEOC’s help. Often this means the employers decided it would be less expensive to pay off complainant to get her to go away than to hire the legal manpower they would need to prove her case lacked merit. Another 20.9 percent were “administratively closed,” meaning, usually, that the women who filed the complaints just disappeared.
So only 1,819 of these cases ended in “merit resolutions,” that is to say, the complaint was deemed to be merited and resulted either in the EEOC’s efforts to conciliate the parties or in a notice to the applicant of a right to sue. Assuming the same proportion of these cases involved men, we are now down to 1,546 documented cases of sexual harassment among 157 million women, suggesting that as far as the EEOC can tell, a woman’s odds of being sexually harassed in an American workplace are .00173—roughly the odds that she will suffer an injury from a toilet. As for the outcome of these lawsuits? I do not know.
What, then, are we to make of lurid reports, such as this one in Vox, claiming that more than 80 percent of American women have been sexually harassed? Survey data is important. Criminologists use data like this, and Bayesian statistics, to assess the size of the dark figure of crime. This is the goal of the British National Crime Survey, for example, which compares what people tell them in crime surveys to to recorded crime statistics. For certain crimes, the survey indicates, Britons are victimized ten times more often than police reports suggest. In 1981, when the survey began, there was only one category of crime—motor vehicle thefts—where the recorded crime rate and the survey results were identical. In that year, three million crimes had been reported to the police, but criminologists estimated, based on the survey, that eleven million crimes had been committed. It is highly likely that more sexual harassment takes place, in America, than the EEOC’s figures indicate.
But Vox says that 125,600,000 American women have been sexually harassed. The EEOC says the number is 1,546. Has any serious crime survey, in any country in the world, measuring the prevalence of any given crime—from homicide to stealing paper clips from the office—ever indicated a dark figure 81,242 times higher than the recorded rate? Never. Not even close. There is no other crime where we see this pattern. What’s going on here?
The short answer is that these surveys are garbage. They’re methodologically absurd in so many ways that it would take me pages to illustrate how absurd they are. They’re not merely concessions to lunacy, but proof of it. Look for yourself.
Absurd statistics have infected the mainstream media. A fifth, a third, all American women have experienced “sexual harassment.” None of the respected fact-checkers have questioned these numbers, even though they are so absurd on the face of it that it is nothing short of extraordinary that reputable news organs keep printing them without looking at the survey methodology or picking up the phone to ask a criminologist, “How do we know this?” Or asking, perhaps, “Are we using a consistent definition of this crime?” Or, “Are the researchers asking leading questions?” Or, “Should we perhaps search the vast literature on this subject?”
Similar claims now circulate about sexual assault: one in five or one in three or even one in two or hell, all women have been sexually assaulted. These statistics fall apart under the slightest scrutiny. We just don’t know what the dark figure is, nor can we even make a confident estimate until competent criminologists do this work, properly, followed by other competent criminologists who are capable of replicating their results. This has not yet happened.
Nor have we evidence that “women never lie” about sexual assault, nor anything like evidence of that. All of these claims are garbage. The claim that men have “no reason” to fear being falsely accused is garbage, too.
It is true that they have little reason to fear. The odds of being falsely accused of sexual assault are hard to calculate, but if you’re a man who fears a false allegation of rape more than you fear being crushed or entangled in a machine, you’re no better at risk assessment than women who fear their co-workers but not their toilets.
Nonetheless, men are right to worry they will be crushed or entangled by a machine—be it one that manufactures motorcycles, jet engines or outrage—and as we continue to enlarge the definition of “sexual assault” to compass “all sexual behavior to which affirmative, verbal consent has not been awarded at each stage of seduction”—without exaggeration, to the point that even during intercourse, men who fail to ask before each thrust may be accused of rape—we are headed for hallucinatory absurdity, all the more so if we treat as rape all sexual activity, including kissing, that occurs when a woman isn’t stone-cold sober.
Fortunately for men, these dangerous manufacturing jobs will soon be done by robots. Men will at long last be able to retreat to their safety of their mothers’ basement and spend their Universal Basic Income on astonishingly realistic feel-o-ramic video games, passing their days blitzed on Oxy and ravishing virtual reality robots at the top of Mount Everest then repairing at night to a private island in St. Thomas, where legions of robot women will service their every desire and do so without a word of complaint.
This is a six-part essay. Continue here to Part II. Only paid subscribers will receive the rest of this essay. If you’d like to keep reading it, please subscribe. If you’re experiencing financial hardship, let me know. I will send you a free weekly pass.