Further Ethics Observations On The Kevin Spacey Scandal [Part 1 of 2]

The comments regarding yesterday’s ethics quiz have been varied and vigorous. As to the quiz question itself,

Is [Anthony] Rapp’s public accusation [against actor Kevin Spacey alleging that Spacey sexually assaulted him 30 years ago when Rapp was only 14] fair, responsible, and ethical?

I have arrived at my answer, and am abashed that I didn’t see it immediately.

No, the accusation was not fair, and it was unethical. It fails all ethical systems. It is a Golden Rule breach: What Rapp did to Spacey is not how he, or anyone would want to be treated. The fair and decent thing would have been to confront Spacey privately.  Maybe Rapp has distorted the incident over time; maybe Spacey is as remorseful and embarrassed by the incident as Rapp has been traumatized by it. All of us would want at least a chance to explain or make amends before being exposed…in Buzzfeed(!?).

Other observations, as Spacey is being metaphorically disemboweled by an angry mob…

  • Rapp also stomped on Kantian ethics, which forbids using human beings as a means to an end. Rapp says his goal was “to try to shine another light on the decades of behavior that have been allowed to continue because many people, including myself, being silent.” Wait: is there a shred of evidence that Spacey engaged in such conduct over “decades”? Is there any indication that Rapp is protecting future teens from his assaults? No, he’s just jumping on a train, joining a virtue-signalling mob engaged on what appears to be a scalp-hunting expedition. His late hit on Spacey didn’t stop a predator (as with Weinstein), didn’t report a crime to authorities (the statute of limitations is long past), didn’t accomplish anything postive and productive involing Spacey at all. I was just symbolic, and Kant, correctly, holds that it is unethical to destroy real human beings to make a political, social or culotural point, in this case the point being, “Don’t stay silent for 30 years if you have been abused, harassed or molested!”

This also fails any Millsian or Benthamist test of utilitarianism. The ends accomplished by Rapp’s accusation consist almost entirely of destroying Kevin Spacey. What else? I suppose its a warning too: anything you did that society will regard as worthy of making you a pariah can be revealed by an angry, vindictive or politically motivated alleged victim at any time, and you will have no recourse. Call it the Anita Hill Principle. That’s not enough of a “benefit” to society to destroy someone’s life. We have the Weinstein example, and the Bill Cosby saga. They were–are?—both serial offenders. Taking out Kevin Spacey based on one very old incident is not a means justified by any end.

  • Upon examination, Spacey’s response was a mistake and an ethics botch on multiple levels. Here it is again:

First, here we have another example of why Twitter is dangerous. Spacey is a smart guy, yet he foolishly, in his rush to deal with this crisis, authored his own rapid response on social media. In the old days, as my late friend Bob McElwaine, Hollywood publicist for Danny Kaye, Dean Martin, Robert Mitchum and many other stars, told me, he job was to make sure nothing attributed to his Hollywood clients was authored by them.

Second, the whateveritis is incoherent. It’s a conditional apology, which isn’t an apology at all: IF I did this, and I’m not saying I did, then I owe him an apology, though this isn’t it.

Third, calling a grown man sexual assaulting a child “inappropriate” is equivocation of the worst sort. It’s not inappropriate; it’s a crime.

Fourth, Spacey says he’s sorry for his alleged victim’s feelings, which is like saying he’s sorry Rapp has a nosebleed. Unless he accepts responsibility for Rapp having those feelings, “I’m sorry” is just a brush-off.

  • Then Spacey chooses this, of all times, to finally stop denying that he is gay, which he has been doing in interviews and statements for many years. I understand why he did this; he figured that now he was in the position of having to lie in public about two things: whether he assaulted Rapp, and whether he is gay. If he said, “I would never do that. I’m not gay!” then when, as he had to know would happen sooner or later, his sexual orientation came out to the general public, the natural progression would be, “Ah! So is gay! That means he did molest that kid!” Instead, he opted for “coming out” while condemning conduct—that he never admits—that is consistent with being attracted to males though not with his own values…or so he wants us to believe.

Well, I’m sure it seemed like a good strategy at the time. However, what it seemed to be to some audiences was an opportunistic playing of the gay card to gain support in the same LGTB community that he had, in its eyes, rejected and insulted by insisting that he was not a member. Not only that, however:

  • One gay issues blog called Spacey’s statement “so tone-deaf and self-serving that it made us physically ill,” writing in part,

“Coming out is a painful, exhilarating moment of truth for every LGBT person and many if not most of us have approached it with incredible fear and even reverence. It’s about stating the truth of yourself in front of a world that seeks to oppose that truth. It’s the entire reason why we have PRIDE parades; not because we’re gay or bi or trans or queer, but because we had the strength to come out and say so. To state the truth of your orientation and desires is a beautiful moment that, quite frankly, most heterosexual or cisgender people simply cannot understand fully. It’s the moment you give birth to yourself.

And it’s a moment Kevin Spacey has spent decades avoiding and denying, even after the allegations and insinuations piled up to the point where it became undeniable. Spacey never once stated the truth of himself, preferring to obfuscate, if not outright lie; and when that became untenable, he switched over to making winking jokes on the matter, all while never once stating the truth.

And all of that? His choice. Truly. We don’t respect a man of his age and standing refusing to be open about who he is, but we respect his right to make that choice. But we vehemently reject the use of the standard celebrity coming-out announcement to distract from the fact that serious allegations have been made against him. Worse, the statement made it sound like feeling up 14-year-olds is just a thing that happens when gay men – pardon us, men who “choose to live as a gay man” –  get drunk.

In case there’s any confusion on this matter, please allow these two longstanding gay men to clear it up for you: Alcohol does not make gay men fondle teenage boys.

That one’s all on you, Kev. And fuck you for hiding behind the rainbow flag – the very one you ran screaming from for two decades – when your shit went public. You’re revolting. We have never once seen ourselves as people who speak on behalf of the LGBT community, but just this once, we’re gonna grab the mic and say, “Sit the fuck down, Kevin Spacey. We want no part of you.”

Well, nobody ever accused the gay community of not being vicious when provoked.

  • The lack of compassion and empathy displayed in this post by “Fabulous and Opinionated Tom & Lorenzo”is stunning. I’m thrilled that for these men coming out as gay in a society where a large segment of the public still regards that as a confession of immorality, deviancy and second-class citizenship as a “beautiful moment,” especially since for centuries it was considered a virtual death sentence. I cannot comprehend the callousness and historical amnesia of gays who now sneer at someone like Kevin Spacey, who obviously is conflicted about being gay, and did not want to confront reality head-on himself for undisclosed reasons. Contrary to these self-righteous critics, no gay man or woman owes anyone the duty of making their sex life public. Spacey should never have been asked the question, which unethically puts him in the impossible dilemma of either lying, allowing his privacy to be breached, or being evasive in a manner that would confirm everyone’s suspicions.

I have known and still know gay men who are not comfortable with their own sexual orientation, and are conflicted with shame, fear and denial. Handling their own privacy is their choice, should be respected, and they should be respected.

11 thoughts on “Further Ethics Observations On The Kevin Spacey Scandal [Part 1 of 2]

  1. Jack,
    Really good evaluation!

    One specific point; you wrote, “I have arrived at my answer, and am abashed that I didn’t see it immediately.”

    Sometimes for no good reason the brain needs a little outside stimulus to achieve a desired goal, no reason to be “abashed”, we ALL do this at one time or another.

      • As you say : “The ends accomplished by Rapp’s accusation consist almost entirely of destroying Kevin Spacey”. Whether achieved or not, his aim was malicious, and you agree unfair. All who picked up and published the accusation, whether critically or not, intentionally or not, spread the damage. As I say, the accusation relating to a relatively trivial event over 30 years ago, would have been better left ignored.

        • The event, if it happened as Rapp described, was not trivial. It was a sexual assault.

          As Jack has demonstrated, you can believe Rapp’s actions now were unethical without trivializing sexual assault.

  2. I agree this isn’t in the same league as with Weinstein who purposely was using how power to take advantage of women, using their fears against them.

    I have a curious ethics question though. If Rapp had gone to Spacey privately and Spacey apologized and it was blown over between, but then 10 years from now it comes out that Spacey secretly and periodically abused teenage boys, including after this incident, would we still have the same opinion of it? Would we then think that Rapp keeping publicly silent on it enabled Spacey to continue doing so (much like all those remained silent for Weinstein). Presumably Rapp doesn’t know what Spacey does privately, he only knows what happened to him.

    He could be trying to be “the first” speaking out if he believes Spacey may have done this to others. Much like their is the first accuser of Weinstein and Cosby and others, who then opened up the door for others to feel they were able to open up about it.

    • Good question. The thing is, though, “everyone” knew that Weinstein and Cosby were serial abusers, including the women paid off. There are no similar stories about Spacey. Yes: the second Rapp, having privately met with Spacey, learned of other victims or the likihood of them, he had an obligation to blow the whistle at the earliest possible time.

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