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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Shadow Knows: The Ethics of 'Outing' the Powerful

“Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow”

–TS Eliot, ‘The Hollow Men’


Ashly Madison-esque affairs...

Brothels and escorts...

Walkers and Beards...

Being in the closet...

Whatever shiny myth characterizes the dominant cultural force in a society will always have a dark side. And so it is with dominant hetero-normative sexuality.

Carl Jung said that in the course of trimming our identity to fit our prevailing social norms, we fashion a kind of shiny shop-front-window identity he called a ‘persona’, which we use to ‘fit in’ and get on in society. Think of the ‘you’ on Facebook. Or your latest CV.

But this comes at a cost. In fashioning that identity, we ‘enshadow’ those compulsions and behaviours which our social norms have deemed unacceptable. And so a shadow self is formed, and grows under the weight of its own unexpressed inertia. The shadow’s very suppression makes it gather strength, and it finds ways (usually indirect) of asserting itself.

For example—and NOT naming any names here—let’s say you are in public life and have decided that the best way to ‘get on’ and have a successful career is to go the whole hetero-normative happy-family route. However, there will be desires and compulsions that you have that do not fit this picture, like, say, a powerful, innate, sexual orientation toward your own sex. So you closet it; you ‘enshadow’ it. But it doesn’t go away; it can’t. In fact, it makes you disengaged from the kids, abusive (verbally or otherwise) toward you partner, and aggressively power-seeking in your field.

Worse, you only feel truly yourself a few times a month when you can discharge this energy in highly secretive little sexual binges among others with just as much to lose as you. Which is fun.…for a while, but ultimately merely serves to drive home the lie you’ve made yourself live. You feel…hollow much of the time. Lying becomes second-nature, so you become more disconnected from any metric that would discern Truth. Your whole raison d’etre becomes control, which is to say, power.

The first casualty of this inner war, as with all wars, is truth. Not capital-T truth—the truth of your actual experience—what you know to be truly what you think and feel.

They say we don’t trust our public leaders anymore. I wonder why. You know who I trust? Senator Penny Wong. And I trust her precisely because she’s not been prepared to play this game. It means she’ll never be PM, but who cares? She’s very obviously happy in the life she lives. The Australian media has decided (in some sort of gentleman’s agreement) not to talk about leaders who are firmly closeted, many of whom are notoriously, egregiously, lying to our faces, and overall, that discretion is a good thing for many reasons . But we should question the trustworthiness of people who vaunt themselves into positions of power over us, especially when they can’t be straight with us (forgive the pun) even about who they are.

Like many people, I’m torn about the ethics of enforced ‘outing’. People should be free to choose the life they want, even if it’s a fiction. The problem comes when power is involved, because in a democracy, power needs to be accountable. And how can it be, if the truth of the identity of the powerful skulks in its own shadow?

Answers on a postcard please? Or twitter @saunitarians

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