Monday, March 10, 2008

Client 9

Or, as is likely to be said in the coming media Schadenfreude, Emperor's Club R. I. P.

The question will be asked repeatedly: How could someone of such seeming moral rectitude, who seemed not only to base his career on such rectitude but to be driven to it, commit such an act?

In such a question, people make a simple but understandable error--they look at the fact that someone has embraced the mantle of morality--rather than the reasons for it.

There are many reasons why people adopt a particularly moral stance. For some, morality is method of controlling an otherwise fearful world, allowing one to keep a sense of predictability and control over what would otherwise be a rush of panic in the face of life's unpredictability and chaos. For others, morality serves a kind of tribal purpose, a tie to family and origins, maintaining a sense of stability and permanence through clansmanship. For others, it is a weapon of sheer opportunism, a way, among the human weapons seen across millenia, to evince power and dominion over others.

None of these are, of course, mutually exclusive, and people will often display several of these forms and bases for morality.

For Spitzer, however, morality appears to have had a particular been powerfully yoked to twin and inextricably tied purposes: competition and ambition.

Driven from an early age, morality seems to have been inextricably yoked to Spritzers remarkable drive to indicate that he was stronger, better than his competitors. Spitzer went after morality with a relish--and a tendency, which he struggled to fight down over the years, to rub victories in the face of those he had vanquished --that suggests a drive to morality as a form of competitive victory and evidence of personal superiority--the relish of a perfect score against those who would do lesser--of winning.

This is not to say that Spitzer did not see his targets as morally wrong--indeed, their moral flaws provided the spark and impetus for battle-- nor that he did not wish to correct moral wrongs. However, it is to say that the most powerful and persistent motivation driving this each day, was Spizter's drive to compete, to emerge perfectly victorious over those who were thus proven as lesser, and the division of people into rather simplistic and binary forms of good and evil to serve the sense ones own victorious perfection.

Such a moral stance--of victory and defeat, of good (Spitzer) and bad (his vanquished enemies)-- can lead to a particular (and likely rapid) form of inner moral accounting and comparison: One can feel that they are so far "ahead" in moral victories as compared to the vastly less moral and vanquished others, that they are allowed a structured, narrow, and quiet deviation. After all--they are still far ahead in the moral contest, with so many victories, as compared to those that they have turned out as far less moral. Given such a margin, one can be allowed a flaw--and still be winning. It is no wonder that many of Spitzer's enemies viewed him as, at times, embracing a double standard.

Regardless of how one may view such a standard, it is different than a morality that views moral failure as human flaw; where one recognizes that there are not good people who win (Spitzer) and bad people (others) who, in a rush of competitive self-enhancement, must be defeated, but that all people must fight against human flaw. In such a moral scheme, one includes themselves. As a reformer embracing this moral approach, one would work to expose immorality for its social harms, rather than as a route to personal and professional competition and victory--and would also recognize the tendency to such flaw within themselves.

This will burn like a brushfire. Spitzer, despite the desire to fight to the last, will, in the crush of revelations, and in the unending march of human hubris, irony, and folly, likely have to resign.

-Dr. Alan J. Lipman