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Learning That It's Not About You


The story shining the spotlight of shame on San Diego over the past several news cycles has constantly left my jaw on the floor.
Six months after taking office, Mayor Bob Filner’s communications director interrupted a staff meeting, alleging Filner had made unwanted sexual advances toward her. His deputy chief of staff was next to exit, stage ruh-roh.
Over the next month, at least 18 women brought forth claims ranging from flirtation to groping. Calls for Filner to resign flooded in and a hotline for new allegations was set in place. Whenever a hotline is required to facilitate the volume of sexual harassment claims, someone’s job security is waning.
Mayor Filner resigned on Friday.
I wish it was his flagrant abuse of office for personal gains that surprised me. But politicians and sex scandals today have become sadly ubiquitous. That’s just where our politics are.
A flurry of complaints stacked up against Filner. He checked himself into an outpatient therapy program (which many took as at least a partial admission that he was guilty of doing something necessitating therapy), but left after two weeks with a hard line denial of any wrongdoing on his part.
In spite of this, pockets of vocal support for the mayor began to percolate. A facebook group (an important read for liberals who don’t understand why anyone dislikes liberals) emerged to take up his public defense. On August 19, Filner’s supporters hosted a rally outside city hall. The song chosen to accompany their calls for the embattled Democrat to stay? “We Shall Overcome.
What. The. Fraggle.
A woman, speaking at the rally, actually said the following. In public. In front of people. With cameras pointed at her:
“I have not been the recipient of sloppy kisses. And I have met Mr. Filner on many occasions. There are others who are, but I have never had that opportunity.”
The crowd found it all hilarious.
The next shot in the video, put out by Buzzfeed, shows the crowd immersed in chants of “What do we want? Due process! When do we want it? Now!” and “Si se puede!”
By this time of processing the circus in San Diego, I’m in the fetal position under the best fortified blanket fort I can put together. Feel free to join me.
With the media unable to notice anything outside the impenetrable tractor beam of another politically-charged sex scandal, nobody seems to have taken stock of the incredible cognitive dissonance surrounding those who think Mayor Filner remains a good idea for public office.
We’ve taken to thinking that any perspectives outside of our own don’t matter and shouldn’t be a factor when used in decision making. Our own opinions serve as the sole source for our decisions.
Human beings see the world through the lens of their own life and experiences. That’s a innately rational starting place. When digesting a policy proposal or a judgment or an every day occurrence, our first step in processing what we take in is: “How does this relate to me.”
The problem is that we’ve confused the take off with the landing. That’s not a good strategy for a pilot, and it’s equally a bad process of deliberation for us.
Filner illustrated the sole-source-perspective problem in how he viewed his own culpability. At no point during the series of events did he take responsibility, aside from rhetorically. He went to rehab to try and deflect pressure to resign. Friday, he excused his actions as “trying to establish personal relationships.” One second of reflection and looking beyond his own, egregious perspective would probably have informed him that groping wasn’t an appropriate course to take towards achieving this intended goal.
He maintained his innocence and blamed a “lynch mob,” because I don’t think he has, for a moment, posed the question of his innocence to himself.
The woman who conceded that some women had been sexually harassed prioritized her own apparent disappointment that Filner never navigated those advances in her direction. And the crowd demanded due process – but only for the mayor. Don’t the women he abused from a position of power count too?
The spectacle is reminiscent of the rape apologia witnessed during this March’s Steubenville trial. Those poor rapists had such promising lives ahead of them.
And the sole-source perspective problem plagues Alaska too.
We’ve seen it in permeate the debate over how to curb our homeless and chronic inebriate problem. Commentary often starts and stops with “personal responsibility” and unilaterally ignores conditions that prevent alcoholics, people with mental disabilities, and forgotten veterans from casually deciding not to be homeless anymore. Because the people dismissing the problem tend to have jobs, not be alcoholics (or at least have a safe place to imbibe), and generally are not exposed to the institutional obstacles at the heart of poverty.
We saw it when Forbes put out a list of dangerous cities for women to live in. Both Fairbanks and Anchorage landed in the top three. The list was compiled after exhaustive research and analysis of the FBI Uniform Crime Report, looking at numbers for violent crimes in metro areas. Yet, much of the responses shrugged off the data and decided it was wrong. One white supremacist blogger in Anchorage felt the lack of “hard core minority racial ghettoes which are specific breeding grounds for violent crime” delivered the bottom line, that “It is still relatively easy to avoid being a crime victim in Anchorage without becoming a hermit and hiding in your house.”
The notion that it is “relatively easy” to avoid violent crime might sound good when bounced exclusively around the walls of one white male’s own head. But the owner of this opinion-decided-fact isn’t one of the 813 victims of violent crime per 100,000 Anchorage residents. He isn’t one of the 30 out of 100 adult women who said they had experienced sexual violence.
There’s no corner where an unblinking reliance on sole-source perspectives doesn’t impede our ability to address problems adequately. Each of us is welcome to have an opinion. But we need to recognize that, when we try to solve very real problems with very real policy prescriptions, our own opinion is nothing more than step one.
The real deficit in personal responsibility is the refusal to admit that the world doesn’t start and stop at our own narrow – and often self-serving – conclusions. The feedback loop of incuriosity we’ve instituted to navigate us through life isn’t working.
We can’t solve economic problems by saying “growth” a hundred times. Sexual violence does not end by wagging a finger at people and reminding them to “choose respect.” Chanting “Si se puede” doesn’t actually do anything. And trying to justify sexual misconduct by reminding us of someone’s record on civil rights is a joke. We need to embrace life beyond “Me,” because that’s where solutions live.


  1. Well put. Right on par with the working stiffs who are pro-development just, and only just, because it means they will have a job. Selfism is the new patriotism.