Who Decides the Acceptable Sacrifice?

When watching Spotlight last week, a certain phrase kept coming up. A phrase repeated over and over, not just in the movie, but in more recent news too – the Franken situation and the President’s Club dinner horrorshow.

But they do so much good [in the community/at their job/for the children] said not as a denial that the accusations could be true, but as a dismissal, as an excuse, or even a warning to look the other way, say nothing, do nothing, don’t rock the boat. The implication is that the good these people/organisations do offsets the pain, distress and damage they cause. That the lives and souls they help outweigh the lives injured, destroyed or lost to the evils they commit.

Of course, it’s not the victims making this choice. Those uttering the phrase, those rallying around the offenders are not only not the victims, they’re never likely to be the victims. It may be white people pleading that someone be spared from the loss of their job because of “a few racist remarks”, because that person gives a lot to charity. The men and women who cajoled, bullied and kept people quiet about the Church hiding those who preyed on children – safe themselves by being well out of childhood. The men who come out of the woodwork when a prominent man is accused of sexual harassment or even rape. It’s never their sacrifice, though they’ll play the martyr, claiming that the burden of knowing but keeping it quiet for the greater good is somehow equivalent to what the true victims suffer.

When does the “greater good” outweigh the costs? Does it ever? When do we get to say “it doesn’t matter what happened to you, X is too good, too important. You must suffer for us all.”? It’s easy to say that the answer should be “never”, but we say it all the time. The more embedded the perpetrators are in our infrastructure and the more different the victims are from us, the easier it seems to be to say.

It’s not even safe to say “well, the victim should decide”, because it’s almost never a free choice. Victims aren’t the ones with power. Hurt does not breed strength. They may not fight back, not because they want to protect the good that X does, but because they are too tired, too hurt, too scared.

So where is the line? What balances the scales, and who gets to set them up in the first place? The only certainty is that the way we do it now isn’t near to good enough.


Let me put it this way, while everyone’s life has value in this world, this world is big enough that no one is indispensible.


There’s always a lot of talk about the perps being “ruined”. Well, Jian Ghomeshi was an open secret for decades before it finally caught up with him – although not in the court of law.

I think that’s am important point – most of these incidents will never get tried using today’s laws. Cosby is still free. Ghomeshi is still free. Weinstein is still free.

So these things are going to face social consequences. That’s difficult, because it means getting a critical mass of people on-side without going for mob rule. We only need to look at the McCarthy era to see how dangerous that is.

Punishment, to be honest, doesn’t interest me that much. Prevention does. If the perps can be stopped from hurting anyone else, that’s a good start. Education to ensure potential perps don’t start is good as well.

It’s definitely not going to be easy.


I think this has always been the tradeoff of liberalism. Putting some people in power over others, ostensibly for protection, while yet knowing that there will be exploitation. When you are a radical, people confront you with this sort of thing all the time. On the one hand they may cry for molesters to be brought to justice, but they often express alarm about directly confronting institutional injustice, such as police, military, banking, etc precisely because they feel they need to rely upon these for the middle-class “stability” they are accustomed to, and feel entitled to. So a social contract with a vast government many don’t trust that cannot hope to truly represent many people is deemed an acceptable sacrifice.

But if you are aware that you are not represented, and cannot expect to be, then what is your incentive to play along? To “take one for the team” of entitleds who can’t rationally parse that even 50% of their current standard of living is vastly better than most of the world enjoys? It’s a perennial question that many are uncomfortable entertaining, never mind answering.

That line for me is that social life means participation, and that means directly creating and managing the institutions we need to get things done. Otherwise I am only a captive audience, a resource to be exploited (usually unimaginatively and inefficiently) by others.

Many times I have starved, been raped, been nearly murdered. But even those horrors affect my daily life less than the oppression of a single state and single marketplace. So my life is an acceptable sacrifice in breaking the monopoly on government. Because otherwise, most of us are not fully alive as social beings.

I think that this very much ties into how people are socialized. So I see it very much as an educational and child-rearing issue. That means not only setting good examples, but exposing asymmetrical power dynamics as well as being willing to confront them. Being willing to accept inconvenience if that’s what it takes to take your employer, municipality, etc. to task.

tl;dr - People are deeply conditioned to give others power and authority over them, and this is reflected in the biopolitics of every aspect of society. We break the cycle by breaking that conditioning.


I’d say I feel about the same for this as I do for doping in sports.

That is: You smack down the ones you can catch. Even though there are going to be others you miss who are just as bad. Because leaving them in place isn’t fair to the clean candidate who can’t make the pros because this cheater is in their spot. Because people aren’t deterred by harsh punishment, but by the risk of getting caught and punished at all, so you want to show the other competitors as many instances of people getting caught and punished as you can. And for the good of the dirty people themselves, who will never get clean again while surrounded by temptation.

If you can’t hold people to standards, then what’s the point of having them?


A lot of people still think manhood, power, and wealth are signs of divine favor. I guess they’ll ask the wealthy, powerful, men to decide who to sacrifice.


This is a really tough question.

I, for one, will not listen to Michael Jackson’s music if there is any choice in the matter. Even though he was a brilliant performer, no denying that, the damage he did to children negates any joy he sent into the world.

But then on the other hand, Rosemary’s Baby is one of my favorite movies.

I don’t really know where I draw the line with these things.

Was just watching a documentary on Led Zeppelin which heavily featured Lori Maddox. It was stomach churning how Page went after her based on her teen modeling pics. So, I dunno, I’m probably going to have to opt out of most of the music in the 70’s.


Great thread. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, because it’s something that has been said to me. That a guy hurting me was OK, because he’s had a lot of women mentees (uh…!) or because he says feminist stuff on twitter or whatever. I don’t know what the answer is. The answer for me, in my life, is to not accept minimization as a solution. I am not going to shut up or shut up on behalf of my employees or mentees. A quid pro quo on people’s lives can’t be the answer, but what the answer is is probably going to depend on the exact context.


Yeah that doesn’t fly.

I am more scared and weirded out by these guys than by those who don’t pretend to be progressive. The fauxminists ought to know better, because they pretend like they do, but they’re really just saying empty words.


It shouldn’t fly. But it does.

I sort of am, too, but I welcome the discussion around these individuals. We need to grapple with two issues, in addition to the acceptable sacrifice question:

  1. What does it mean to make and atone for a mistake, and how do we (whoever “we” refers to") know that someone made one, rather than that this is who they are?
  2. How do we understand misbehavior when we like the person, or they seem sympathetic? When they play to our biases of who a “good” and “credible” person is?

It adds a new dimension to the term “necessary evil”.

This problem of course exists almost anywhere where there is a power imbalance:

  • you’re nice to your offensive or bigoted superior because to do otherwise shifts the effort and stress on to yourself, vs the occasional unpleasant quick interaction.
  • you’re nice at your local vehicle licensing office because the crabby worker can either fix any errors at the desk or choose to send you back to the start of the line to fix them
  • you bite your tongue about shitty treatment at the airport/border/whatever because complaining could result in you being personally delayed (or detained!)

Of course it could be argued that with the possible exception of being detained, this behaviour towards women-as-objects is markedly worse, especially if it escalates.

I think for a long time, such acts were all lumped together. Perhaps now, finally, this will no longer be the case.


Have you read “The ones who walk away from Omelas” by Ursula Le Guin?


They’re phonies, plain and simple. They’re even worse than phonies, they’re predators, because they say all the right pretty words and then go and do the exact opposite, because that’s their nature. Discussion over, time for action.

For starters, stop using the word “mistake”. A mistake is when I dial the wrong phone number, or confuse one person for a completely different person. Stuff I can laugh off, no harm no foul. These are errors in judgment brought about by a flawed sense of morality. If they understand that there was something in their worldview that led them to believe that something that is definitely not okay might be OK under certain circumstances, and if they show that they actually came to a realization and have taken steps to change, then I can forgive them. If they keep using words like “mistake” and refuse to own their actions like a grown-ass adult, then they can piss up a rope.

Acknowledging the victims is at least a baby step in the right direction, but how many of the accused have even done that?

I don’t “like” any of these people so far, because I’ve never met them. I don’t know who they really are, and I only know the mask that they wear for their public.

If it was someone I knew, I find it hard to believe that I wouldn’t also know they’re creepy. Hell, I knew most of these famous people were scumbags before the allegations dropped, because the rumor mill is just that powerful. If it was someone I knew, and there was a whisper network around that person, I doubt I would want that person in my life. At least, so far when there has been a whisper network around a friend or acquaintance, I dropped them like a bad habit and never looked back.



I’ve reported many sex-bias incidents over the years. The one that cost me the most, I do believe was a mistake on the part of the person who made it.

Considering that you’re telling me what words I get to use to describe my own traumas, are you really a good arbiter of who is creepy?

If only us victims were as smart and well-equipped as you.


That’s why I liked this CNN piece:

It points out that the way the judge handled things is new and different – putting the emphasis on supporting the victims rather than shining the limelight on the perpetrator – and is an excellent example to follow in future. Plus, they’re looking squarely at the organizations that protected the perp instead of his victims.

This is how we move forward.


Great article!

One of the things this reminded me of is that this is happening with people who have space in the “gymternet”. Gymnastics is hardly acknowledged in regular sports news coverage unless the Olympics is on. Because of this, people involved in the sport have taken to shooting, editing, and uploading their own videos to YouTube – otherwise you wouldn’t get to see a competition unless you were there when it happened. Related Web sites and discussion forums have also been created.

So anyone used to the ESPN et al version of sports is going to think gymnastics is a fragmented, marginalised area of athletics. Anyone who knows about the gymternet will appreciate what a strong, enthusiastic international community is out there.


I don’t understand.

If you want to PM about this, that’s fine. Otherwise, I completely understand. I’m confused now, and I didn’t mean to cause offense.

If there’s a whisper network around that person, then hell yeah I’m saying they’re creepy. For example, a high school teacher I knew way back when whom “everybody knew” got a little friendly with his students. I cut this guy out of my life like he was nothing. I didn’t have physical proof of anything, and I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers, so I didn’t do what I wanted to do, which was report that motherfucker and end his career outright.

I seriously regret not going to the authorities. Whether that’s a mistake or an error in judgment, I can’t tell, but I can promise that I’m taking a zero tolerance approach to that bullshit from here on out.

You not knowing that I have been sexually assaulted many times in my life was a mistake. I’ve mentioned it here, but it’s not your responsibility to keep track of that. Saying that line to me like it’s supposed to mean something is an error in judgment.


No, no, now, we don’t have to take it to PMs. I’m sorry for blowing up. I read your comment
about the whisper network differently than you obviously meant them. I’ve had the misfortune of
being the only woman in the room for a long, long time, and its made me a de facto start of the
whisper network in a lot of different communities. And there’s a lot of line-walking in that:
can I warn someone without giving too much info, and causing shit to rain down on someone else who has been mistreated? And then there’s the pressure of working on that while having to maintain the front of beatific victimhood, and the right language, and the right way of reporting, and the right way of talking to men about it.

Anyway, I’m sorry.


You can love the art, even if the artist is repulsive to you. Give yourself that. I don’t keep up with celebrity gossip, but I happen to know that I love the works of some fairly despicable people. Their actions or thoughts otherwise don’t really affect the fact that their writing/music was incredibly good. The fact that I like this book or that song doesn’t necessarily mean that I admire the person who created it.

They are errors in judgment, but I wouldn’t say blanket statement they were due to a flawed sense of morality. Sometimes people screw up and act against their own sense of morality. I’ve certainly done it, and yes, I would say it was a mistake. It was a mistake because it went against my own morality.

That’s not to excuse it like “oh ok, that’s ok then, we all make mistakes”, it was still wrong.