It's Not About Sex


The avalanche of accusations of sexual assault and harassment by well-known people belies a more pernicious pathology at the heart of human culture - Money & Power.

Sexual harassment became a common legal issue in the 1980s. It started when we finally admitted that "flirtation" in the workplace belied much more sinister and damaging social habits surrounding sexual predation. 

Cultures are always changing whether one perceives it or not.  Cultures also seem to evolve, but that is an illusion. The vicissitudes of cultural norms, fashions, fads, and habits are programmed by a vast, frenetic cacophony of random, cascading interactions that are transiently formed into something coherent by the human brain's need to make sense of social experience; what is often called today - the narrative. 

In America, in the twenties and sixties, when norms surrounding sexual behavior seemed looser, one might not have spoken about unwanted advances simply because it wasn't "hip" to do so. The desire to fit in superseded one's need for justice when one felt threatened by unwanted sexual advances or when one indeed had been sexually assaulted. (This is, of course, a gross simplification and only concerns itself with one facet of a violent and humiliating crime.)

Everyone, regardless of what era they may have grown up in understands that there are lines that when crossed constitute an attack that causes terrible injury to the victim. And like pornography, some lines can be somewhat subjective, as in, you know it when you see it. 

There is one aspect of all of this that is utterly clear to me and should be utterly clear to everyone: money and power are at the heart of the issue. 

People don't speak out against, don't report about, don't prosecute these particular, well-known individuals simply because they don't want to get on the wrong side of money and power. They are so afraid of curtailing their chance to make money and access power that they are willing to look the other way and endure the trauma, pain, and guilt of a crime whose victims may even be their friends.

I'm talking less here of the direct victims of violence than the bystanders who know it's happening and say nothing. Believe it or not, they are victims too. Anyone who doesn't report such behavior or ignores these criminal acts is complicit in assuring that there will be new victims. It may be subjective but we know guilt and suffering when we feel it. 

So this is the real question I'd like us to focus on for a moment. Is the system screwing all of us? I'd say it is and has been for a very long time. We simply can't find a way to live together without the inequities of money and power at the center of our culture. If we really want things to get better we're going to have to redesign and re-engineer our socioeconomic system and we're going to have to heal our culture. We have to be willing and able to blow the whistle and know that in doing so we're not going to damage our reputation or our ability to pursue happiness. 

It's simply not right to use your power to coerce another person to do something they don't want to do. And yet it happens all the time and not just when an asshole wants to get off. We are all slaves to circumstances to one degree or another. 

Human sexuality becomes diseased and violent when it's mixed with money and power. Various cultures are more or less restrained. I'm not talking about cultural relativism. Just ask a cultural anthropologist about sexual norms across cultures. 

You see, there is an imbalance of information and resources that is causing almost all of the damage here. All of the criminal perversions in our culture sprout from these inequities. 

So do you want to change things for the better? #metoo 


Steven Pinker, FFRF's honorary president, is a cognitive scientist, experimental psychologist, linguist and popular science author. He is a Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. Pinker is one of the world's foremost writers on language, mind, and human nature.

Steven Cleghorn

Steven is an autodidact, skeptic, raconteur and film producer from America who has been traveling since he was a zygote. He's a producer at The Muse Films Ltd. in Hong Kong and a constantly improving (hopefully) Globe Hacker. He's seeks the company of interesting minds.