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Friday, February 9, 2018


My preparations for Monday’s lecture are now complete, with 24” x 36” show-and-tell sheets on which – gasp – little equations are displayed.  [This is where I lose my burgeoning audience.]  I thought, therefore, that I would take a few moments to comment on the White House scandal involving Chief of Staff John Kelly’s second in command and right hand man Rob Porter.  Porter is a tall, handsome upper class guy, a graduate of Harvard, a Rhodes Scholar, a former aide to Senator Orrin Hatch, a Mormon, the current lover of White House Chief of Communications Hope Hicks and, it turns out, a serial wife beater.  [You can’t make this stuff up.]  I do not care about Porter, who has now joined the lengthening trail of White House staff who have quit or been fired.  What interests me is Kelly, and more particularly the talking head commentary on Kelly, which strikes me as exhibiting an important misunderstanding.

Kelly initially responded to the public revelation that Porter’s two former wives had both accused him of serious physical and emotional abuse by defending Porter as a man of honor and integrity.  He stuck to this praise even after a photo was released showing a really ugly black eye that Porter had given one of his wives.  Kelly only backed off a tad after the public outcry became politically embarrassing, at which point he released a statement condemning spousal abuse.
Beetling around, the TV commentariat quickly surfaced a clip in which Kelly was heard musing sadly last Fall that when he was growing up, “Women were sacred and looked upon with great honor.”  This was taken to be in conflict with his defense of Porter, and so the talking heads wondered whether working in the White House had caused Kelly to lose his way.

Such comments, I suggest, reveal a deep and actually rather important misunderstanding of the way many men think and feel about women.  There is in fact no contradiction at all between Kelly’s extolling of women as sacred and his embrace of a serial wife beater.  For reasons that I explored at length in my videotaped lectures on the thought of Sigmund Freud and will therefore not repeat here, little boys and girls handle their ambivalent erotic feelings about their mothers and fathers by a process of splitting.  They separate off the love from the hate and split the image of the parent in two, feeling the love toward the positive image of the parent and the hatred toward the negative image, thus allowing them to preserve both feelings intact and uncompromised.  If you want familiar examples of this very common psychodynamic process, look at fairy tales:  the sainted [but dead] mother whom the little girl reveres and the wicked stepmother whom the same little girl hates; the safely dead father of Jack and the hated ogre who lives at the top of the beanstalk and can be killed with impunity, enabling Jack to live happily with his mother.

Men who put women on pedestals and worship them as sacred are quite likely at the same time to view other women as whores who need to be beaten up.  The very same wife who is revered in public, sincerely so, may in private when the man gets angry become the object, also sincerely, of his hatred and violence.
I do not think for a moment that Kelly has been changed by his White House stint.  Nor do I think he is a hypocrite.  My guess is that he really thinks he reveres women as saints and equally really believes that a fine man like Rob Porter must have good reason to beat his wives.

I would suggest to Hope Hicks that she think twice about her choice of lovers.


LFC said...

Haven't been following the story closely. That said, there's another possible explanation, it seems to me. Kelly is a former Marine general, if I'm not mistaken. The military's culture encourages loyalty to subordinates (and superiors), esp. those who are perceived to have performed their duties well. Porter was apparently valuable to Kelly in Porter's role at the White House and Kelly's instinct was to circle the wagons and defend him.

This doesn't require the supposition that Kelly thinks Porter "must have a good reason" to abuse his wives, nor does it require invoking Freud. Rather the assumptions are, first, Kelly highly valued Porter's job performance, and second, Kelly doesn't fully understand how serious allegations of spousal abuse are. One can fall into this latter category and still think women should be revered, etc. It's plausible enough that "Men who put women on pedestals and worship them as sacred are quite likely at the same time to view other women as whores who need to be beaten up," but I don't think this necessarily connects to the Freudian position on 'splitting', nor is it clear that this characterizes Kelly's views accurately (the 'pedestal' part may, but not the 'beating' part).

Of course the military's culture also has had sexist elements. It's quite possible that Kelly's view of women is stuck in, say, the 1950s. But that's not the same as saying, or guessing, that Kelly "really believes that ... Rob Porter must have good reason to beat his wives." That guess or supposition puts things in a way that I'm not sure any of the available evidence supports.

LFC said...

re Marx: 15 mins. into lecture 2, I paused to track down "forms things according to the laws of beauty" and read online the surrounding passages on estranged labor in the Ec. and Phil. Manuscripts. I hadn't remembered that this reads almost like a stream of consciousness -- not that the sentences aren't connected, but it's somewhat repetitive, and fairly clear assertions are interspersed w the rather opaque (imo) refs to 'species being', etc. It's understandable, just on the basis of these passages, why Marx never intended this to be published -- which is not to say, of course, that it shouldn't have been. And there are few or no concrete examples -- just when the reader wants one, he's off on another abstract formulation. It certainly didn't want to make me revisit it at any length.

LFC said...

It certainly didn't make me want to revisit it [etc]

s. wallerstein said...

We all tend to be blind when someone we think highly of is accused of a serious crime.

About 10 years ago a priest who had been a very courageous leader in the human rights movement against the dictatorship in Chile was accused of sexually abusing teenagers, and I (and others) even signed a petition claiming that he was obviously innocent and it was all a rightwing plot to discredit a noble human rights activist.

Well, he was guilty. It's obvious that someone can be a courageous activist for human rights during a dictatorship and commit sexual abuse. But that's hard to see if you
participated along with that person in the human rights movement and looked up to him. That does not mean that those who signed the petition believe that sexual abuse is ever justified of course.

Michael Llenos said...

Can this psychology have the same impact on instructional philosophy? College professors overshadow the nefarious parts of Plato's ancient Greek cultural beliefs by focusing on Plato's rather eloquent philosophical brillance.

LFC said...

@ Michael Llenos

I'm not sure exactly which parts of Plato's "cultural beliefs" you're referring to, but, speaking as a non-philosopher (and non-professor), I'm inclined not to blame Plato for cultural beliefs that were accepted by virtually every member of his class and society. If there was no opposition to slavery in ancient Athens, then I doubt there's much point in faulting Plato for accepting the institution of slavery without question.

This changes, at least as far as I'm concerned, once one moves forward in time. It's quite reasonable to charge Jefferson, for example, with hypocrisy or inconsistency for being both a slaveholder and the author of the line "all men are created equal and are endowed ... with certain unalienable rights." The context is different -- for one thing, there was opposition to slavery in the 18th cent. while there wasn't, afaik, in ancient Athens. And Plato, afaik, never claimed that all persons are created equal.

It's fine to dislike and criticize Plato's elitism, or his views on the arts, or on justice, or the family, or the character of the ideal polity, or etc., but to hold "ancient Greek cultural beliefs" against Plato seems to me rather pointless. YMMV.

Michael Llenos said...


Plato was pro pedophilia to some extant in some of his writings. Plato was definitely a homosexual, but to be a lover of young boys was something I believe he may be guilty of. I believe in ancient Greece or modern times, children and teenagers should be protected from sexual predators at all times. To me just to mention pedophilia in any sort of tolerable terms is a sick disgrace. I may be an anachronism for those times, but pedophilia is an abomination, and people who commit pedophilia should be fed alive and bleeding to sharks.

Michael Llenos said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
s. wallerstein said...

Michael Llenos,

I agree with what LFC says above: that you cannot judge people as guilty of crimes which were not considered crimes by anyone else in their day.

For a good portrayal of how the Greeks saw sex with young boys, see the second volume of Foucault's The History of Sexuality. The title is the Use of Pleasures or something like that.

By the way, the Greeks did not generally practice pedophilia, which is generally defined as sex with children before the age of puberty. They did practice sex with adolescents who had passed the age of puberty. They had a special, rather complex code about that, which Foucault describes at length in the book I mentioned above. A courting procedure was involved and thus, there had to be consent on the part of the young man.

I'm not going to defend Greek sexuality, but I'm not going to condemn it either.

Michael Llenos said...


Pedophilia should not be ignored for the beauty of Plato's language! Pedophilia is an abomination. They should keep the Euthypro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Laws, and Republic (and the two books on Atlantis) and burn the rest. Or like Justinian did in 529 B.C., shut the whole thing down.

Michael Llenos said...

I meant 529 A.D.

Michael Llenos said...

S. Wallerstein,

The British people didn't feel selling opium to the Chinese people, for the prosperity of trading, was a bad thing either.
The British East India Co. today are looked back as monsters.

s. wallerstein said...

Michael Llenos,

I don't know anything about the British East India Co., so I'll not debate you about that.

The ancient Greeks had a lower age of sexual consent than we do. Young teenage girls married, and young teenage boys (over the age of puberty) were courted by older males.

That doesn't make them monsters or heroes in my book, just people with different sexual customs.

By the way, unlike the ancient Hebrews, they didn't stone homosexuals to death.

But, as I said, I'm not going to defend the Greeks nor will I condemn them. The statute of limitations on their "crimes" ran out many years ago.

Good night. I'm signing off.

Michael Llenos said...

S. Wallerstein,

No the ancient Greeks didn't stone homosexuals. They just cut you to pieces and ripped off your skin if you were Jewish and you didn't want to eat pork. 2 Maccabees 7:1-42 NAB Revised.

But since you said a polite good night, I wish you a polite good night too.

Andrew Lionel Blais said...

I move that we keep the Theaetetus....

LFC said...

I've read this exchange quickly. S. Wallerstein is right.

Two short additional comments. First, the correct definition of "pedophilia" is an involuntary sexual attraction to individuals who have not yet reached puberty. The word does not refer to behavior but to a disposition (some people who have the disposition act on it, thereby committing a crime, and others don't act on it). Second, like s. wallerstein I have no interest in passing judgment on ancient Greek sexual practices, but I don't think *any* of Plato's works should be "burned" (M. Llenos's word). And I don't intend to comment further on this.

s. wallerstein said...

In one of Professor Leiter's polls last year, Plato was voted to be the second greatest Western philosopher (Aristotle came first):

Michael Llenos said...

For the record. Children and teenagers should not be having sex with others. And they especially should not be having sex with adults. That's for the record.

s. wallerstein said...

But there's nothing wrong with teenagers having sex with other teenagers if they consent to it.

Matt said...

That's for the record.

Well, thank goodness we've cleared that all up.

Michael Llenos said...

By the way...

Although very late in posting this: if I've blamed the ancient Greeks for anything done to the Jewish people, during the period when the Maccabees took place, I do not blame the ancient Athenians. I do not want the Goddess, herself, angry at me for disrespecting her city, or its ancient people loyal to her.