Vancouver Sun

Paikin af­fair of­fers four lessons in hypocrisy

- Com­ment Harvey Weinstein · Bill Clinton · Emmanuel Goldstein

Crit­ics of the #MeToo move­ment have warned that the pub­lic now is li­able to be­lieve any claim of sex­ual abuse or ha­rass­ment against a pow­er­ful man, no ques­tions asked. But the ex­am­ple of On­tario pub­lic tele­vi­sion host Steve Paikin sug­gests that to be un­true.

This week, Paikin was ac­cused of de­liv­er­ing an in­de­cent pro­posal to Sarah Thom­son, a one-time Toronto may­oral can­di­date with a colour­ful pedi­gree and me­dia pro­file. Thom­son claimed that dur­ing a restau­rant meal years back, Paikin had of­fered her an ap­pear­ance on his TVO show in ex­change for sex.

For those who don’t know Paikin, but have been fol­low­ing the arc of the #MeToo move­ment through such grotesque fig­ures as Har­vey We­in­stein, this may seem plau­si­ble. But for those who do know Paikin, it seems like a tale that could only be true in one of those weird dreams where your cousin has three heads and your car is made of dead cats.

Paikin (whom I count as a friend) is so con­ser­va­tive in his per­sonal habits and man­ner of con­ver­sa­tion as to be al­most self-par­o­dic. More­over, be­cause of his hy­per­ac­tive life­style and per­son­al­ity, he lives in a sort of panop­ti­con. I have run into him at base­ball games, par­ties and awards cer­e­monies. At all of these places, he is a mag­net for glad­hand­ing, usu­ally with other glad hands hov­er­ing about. He mon­i­tors ev­ery syl­la­ble closely, know­ing that any false note could get him in trou­ble with his risk-averse em­ployer, or serve to dis­qual­ify him from his role as peren­nial elec­tion-de­bate host.

In­deed, the restau­rant where this lurid con­ver­sa­tion is sup­posed to have taken place is steps away from TVO head­quar­ters. Bar­ring some tem­po­rary brush with food-in­duced in­san­ity, the al­le­ga­tion seems im­plau­si­ble. I ex­pect this will be the con­clu­sion of TVO’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion and ap­plaud the net­work’s de­ci­sion to keep Paikin on the air in the mean­while.

That said, the Paikin Af­fair serves up at least four lessons in hypocrisy — not just in re­gard to the #MeToo move­ment, but about our treat­ment of oth­ers more gen­er­ally.

Hypocrisy, the first: The com­mon claim that we are open-minded about mat­ters of crime and pun­ish­ment, that we re­spect due process, and will fol­low the ev­i­dence where it leads. In fact, many of us make up our minds early, and are re­sis­tant to new ev­i­dence. I, my­self, am Ex­hibit A. I know few peo­ple who changed their minds about Bill Clin­ton when the Starr re­port came out. And how many of the poets and au­thors of CanLit changed their tune about for­mer UBC cre­ative writ­ing chair Steven Gal­loway af­ter he was cleared of sex­ual as­sault?

Hypocrisy, the sec­ond: For pub­lic con­sump­tion, many of us will de­scribe Thom­son’s al­le­ga­tions as “du­bi­ous” and “im­plau­si­ble.” And we will de­scribe Thom­son her­self (as I did) as “colour­ful” or “con­tro­ver­sial.” In pri­vate, how­ever, peo­ple say “crazy” and ”bonkers." Hav­ing only met Thom­son once or twice, I have no fixed ideas about her men­tal state. But oth­ers do, and have been shar­ing them en­thu­si­as­ti­cally this week, in the ser­vice of de­fend­ing Paikin.

And what if — hy­po­thet­i­cally — it were the case that Thom­son ac­tu­ally does have psy­chi­atric is­sues? What if this were more #Let­sTalk than #MeToo?

Well, this gets us to Hypocrisy, the third. We talk about speak­ing openly and sym­pa­thet­i­cally about men­tal health. But when we ac­tu­ally are con­fronted with an episode in which a pos­si­bly un­bal­anced in­di­vid­ual hurts some­one we like, we throw all that hash­tag em­pa­thy out the win­dow. Why is it not OK to mock a cousin who has schizoid-in­duced psy­chosis, but some­how ac­cept­able — at least in small groups and pri­vate chat — to de­scribe Thom­son as a cuckoo bird?

But lo, there are ex­cep­tions. Which gets us to Hypocrisy, the fourth. For there are times when a spirit of em­pa­thy in­forms our re­sponse to these in­ci­dents. But the ap­pli­ca­tion is se­lec­tive. When Gal­loway stood falsely ac­cused, he was un­der­stand­ably driven to near-sui­ci­dal de­spair. This earned him lit­tle sym­pa­thy among the small group of so­cial-me­dia diehards who have turned him into their own Em­manuel Gold­stein. Yet when those same in­di­vid­u­als are cen­sured in any way, we hear much of their own emo­tional tra­vails.

We are all hyp­ocrites about this is­sue, even if we ex­hibit dif­fer­ent strains.

In all cases, how­ever, there is one con­stant — which is the ten­dency to or­ga­nize hu­man be­ings into the bi­nary cat­e­gories of good or evil. It is the er­ror from which all of the above-listed patholo­gies of thought emerge.

If you have de­cided some­one is good in root and branch, you will ei­ther dis­miss the ev­i­dence against him, or else con­jure con­spir­a­to­rial ex­pla­na­tions for in­con­ve­nient facts. Like­wise, if you are con­vinced an in­no­cent man is guilty, you will find ar­gu­ments to jus­tify the elim­i­na­tion of his civil lib­er­ties, and per­haps even launch pro­pa­ganda cam­paigns against those who de­fend him.

If you have de­cided that some­one is pure of spirit, you will view their men­tal fragility as a kind of al­ibi, or a mit­i­gat­ing fac­tor. On the other hand, if you al­ready have de­cided to paint that same per­son in sin­is­ter hues, then their in­fir­mi­ties be­come ex­ac­er­bat­ing fac­tors.

Here’s a sug­ges­tion, the next time you hear of some­one who is ac­cused of some­thing bad, try to imag­ine him as an an­noy­ing ac­quain­tance whom you’ve known since child­hood; a flesh-sack of in­con­ve­nient im­pulses and habits held in check by learned rules of moral­ity, and per­haps even med­i­ca­tion.

Be­cause the per­son I just de­scribed is all of us: ca­pa­ble of do­ing bad stuff, or of think­ing of do­ing bad stuff, and then stop­ping him­self. And if he doesn’t stop him­self, there may or may not be a rea­son. And that rea­son may or may not be one that elic­its your sym­pa­thy.

The peo­ple who work at TVO and run in elec­tions aren’t an­gels, demons or mad hat­ters. They’re a mix of all three, #LikeAl­lOfUs.

 ??  ?? Jonathan Kay
Jonathan Kay

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