Whatever your politics, you might have been horrified, pruriently entertained, or perhaps intrigued and inspired to "follow" Congressman Anthony Weiner's junk as it began to appear in public last week. Maybe you are one of the many who thinks he ought to resign as more photos and contact with an underage twitter follower emerge. Most leadership is against the embattled congressman. Without a doubt loosing one's junk in public, as Rep. Weiner has, can sink a career. It depends on the junk and ills it causes. Underage contacts and use of Congressional spaces are damning.
By "junk" I mean both Rep. Weiner's behavior and anatomy, see definitions 2. and 3. in the Urban Dictionary. Everybody's seen that shaved chest, the cringe-worthy "me" face shot, the underwhelming grey undies bulge. Many others have heard Bill Maher and guest Jane Lynch's "dramatic reading" of the sexual messages Congressman Weiner exchanged with a Las Vegas blackjack dealer. Some have even seen his congressional gym pics and Andrew Breibart's "insurance pics" that supposedly will keep the politically adrift congressman from exacting Jihad on him, not that he knows anything about Islamic holy war.
The latest report is that Weiner will not resign but seek treatment for his sexting problem, which is great news for him personally but what about for us, the public? What is the treatment for excessive junk exposure? What can repair a politician's career or the public confidence in him?
It is easier to assess the wayward Congressman's woes: He has a sexting habit and it has gotten the best of him, whatever that may be. The content of his illicit messages proves so banal, as amply demonstrated in the Maher/Lynch dramatic reading, one could point to a variety of character flaws from his wholesale adoption of porn industry clap-trap to stereotypes about Jewish women and their supposed predisposition against giving oral sex to his fundamental inability to keep his embarrassing banality to himself. Do we really want such a reckless politician, who imagines his own lack of good luck in attaining oral sex or anything else, is the fault of others? Or one who feels compelled to proclaim the largeness his manhood when his junked up behavior betrays the contrary? Or wait, simply the obvious: one who fails to recognize his luck in having married one of the most desirable women in the Democratic Party, Huma Mahmood Abedin, and to have been elected by his constituents?
It may well be that erotic exchanges tend to sound trivial apart from their private context, but please don't tell me sexting is just a generational "gray area," a new kind of masturbation that is after all very safe and that people will simply have to readjust their morals to a new generation and a new experience.
Surely Weiner is not solely guilty of enjoying a new form of masturbation. The latter is a perfectly normal quotidian habit, one that only prudes like conservative moral philosopher Roger Scruton fear will turn "the harmless wanker" into a danger to society (I'm serious, if you doubt this claim please check out his Sexual Desire: A Philosophical Investigation 2006). But unlike Weiner, Scruton is not so thoughtless. He means rather that reality and fantasy are very hard to separate for humans in general -- it could be even more difficult in the instantaneous world of new social media -- and that it is all too easy to conflate the two if one has a "dirty habit" one practices regularly. One may disagree with Scruton on "dirtiness" and whether people can enjoy enough mental strength not to confuse private and public habits. In any case, clearly Weiner is one individual who proves Scruton right.
Rep. Weiner would have not accidentally twittered his junk had he not become slave to his habit, so much so that he would have a mental lapse while sexting.
Scruton also has a piece "Sextants and sexting," which nostalgically bemoans the loss of worldly relations in the former and condemns the latter to "cheapening" sex.
I have no bone with cheap sex nor do I fear the "harmless wanker," but Rep. Weiner embodies neither of these. He's a highly paid public figure who seems to have enough time on his hands to use the congressional gym as a backdrop for his online sex surfing.
What if some political enemy had leaked the erotic exchanges and photos taken at a home gym, and obtained these through hacking or invading Mr. Weiner's privacy? It would be profoundly un-American to complain about what Mr. Weiner does in private if it were consensual and harmed no one. We Americans are all about protecting the private sphere. But this congressman has failed to protect our public sphere from his private junk.
Let's say Ms. Abedin really did know about her husband's activities. Apparently she knew he had had this habit before they married. What if she approved and participated at some level? That's her business. But now his habit is our business too.
Vanity Fair offers all sorts of conciliatory advice for Huma Abedin, like staying home, focusing on the baby and getting her husband to shut-up. But I have somewhat different advice as a person who teaches both ethics and politics. No doubt, John Stuart Mill is with you, Huma: he knows you are free to love and feel and do, as you like. But you deserve no harm. Unfortunately for everyone it's not that easy to delete the mental image of someone's bad junk.