One needs to view the stunning denouement
of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn matter through the lens by which we draw conclusions in today's raw, blunt, and pre-determinative social (and media) context.
Our brains have been programmed.
Our neural networks locked and loaded.
The minute we hear a narrative that involves the rich and entitled, versus the poor and disenfranchised, the characters are fully drawn, the conclusory structures erected, the judgments calcified.
On one hand, you've got DSK's history of sexual hopscotching, and our inherent distrust of those in positions of power (especially when they work for a global NGO as luxe and mysterious as the IMF.)
On the other, we've got the virtuous, hard-working immigrant who's the putative victim of a sexual attack. It's a tabloid delight, it's an occasion for grandiose pontificating about feminism in France, about double standards, about infidelity, about French-American relations, everything that feeds the insatiable media maw.
In this case, it appears that the story was concocted. While sexual relations did indeed occur, the hotel maid is an unreliable witness, and there are all sorts of revelations that are tumbling out. Revelations about her conversations with a man in jail who was in possession of 400 pounds of marijuana (doesn't that rise to the level of an entrepreneur?), bank deposits, multiple cell phones, an inaccurate visa application. You've got the seamy picture.
I'm sure there will be all manner of investigation and hand-wringing about the way DSK was whisked off the plane like unidentified baggage, as well the entire circus atmosphere which amounted to a presumption of guilt, and the rush to judgment by Cyrus Vance, Manhattan's new District Attorney who has morphed from son of a distinguished American to global embarrassment in just a few news cycles.
But to me the most compelling and cautionary aspect of this debacle has been the way it demonstrates how deep and abiding our belief systems -- and hence our prejudices -- are. Our readiness to believe the worst about the wealthy and influential Dominique Strauss-Kahn is no different than our parallel instinct to believe the worst about anyone who too easily inhabits our pre-constructed cabinet of clichés: The misbehaving athlete, the industrious Chinese, the lazy, unemployed black youth, the narcissistic blogger. (Actually, the latter is largely accurate.) We live in a snap and app culture of the instant, so if anything our time for consideration -- let alone pondering -- is diminishing rapidly.
It's unlikely that this will change. Implicit associations run deep, there's a whole discipline within behavioral psychology that studies (and measures) the depth and immediacy of the automatic associations we make.
Given the way we're wired for quickness, it requires an extra effort to overcome that urge. But that extra effort is nowhere in sight, which is a big social problem. (Instead of the government running campaigns to introduce a new food pyramid -- which is actually a plate, not a geometric structure -- why not have them encourage us to actually think about stuff?) Because whether the unexpected is that a rich and sexually voracious guy may not be a rapist, or whether it's one of Nassim Nicholas Taleb's "black swans," we are unprepared for the things that matter most -- those that fall outside our existing patterns that dictate our reactions.
We all have tabloid brains today, and while that flood of dopamine is highly entertaining, it doesn't allow for contemplation of the unexpected. Which is exactly what we should be thinking about.
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