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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Four Star Rating -- The General David Petraeus Affair

The Patriot and Espionage acts have caused many people to suffer needlessly in respect to privacy. I understand why Congress enforced legislation to strengthen security controls and to limit imminent lawless action in the face of terrorism. However, the loss of privacy and its effects need to be reviewed and carefully amended. I am thinking about the actions of General David Petraeus.
I am certain the American public will learn much more about the Petraeus story. The fact that the CIA and the FBI are worried about Petraeus sleeping with his biographer and the possible security breech ramifications of this affair are completely warranted, but as Naomi Wolf, special reporter to CNN, notes, "But we don't need to buy into this theater. If there is a national security breach -- which would be a real issue if one took place -- that can be investigated and addressed without spectacle or bullying."
Wolf believes a new understanding of the dangers of these acts should show us why it is more important than ever for couples to be permitted to experience the pain and betrayal of a possible infidelity in private, without the power of the state breathing down the necks of all involved. She makes three strong points in defense of her argument.
(1) Anything we do in our personal lives could be exposed because it is interpreted as threatening or even merely "annoying" to powerful interests.
"Because of the Patriot Act, any of us, if we annoy or threaten powerful interests, can have our e-mails read without our knowledge. Any of us can be subject to a search that could lead from one e-mail correspondent to another until the National Security Agency or the FBI, which have both confirmed that they have invested heavily in domestic surveillance of social networks, find something -- anything -- that could be seen as compromising.
"We live at a time in which our government is vastly over-classifying subjects in the name of public interest or that might embarrass the state.
"In working with these two appalling laws, we need to understand what loss of privacy means: Any of us can be brought down, intimidated, silenced, threatened, by exposure of our personal lives, for any reason.
"We all have secrets we do not wish made public. Any of us can be threatened with exposure of infidelity, or sex addiction, or flirtatious communications, or addiction to embarrassing pornographic images, or alcoholism or bipolar disorder, or even our discussions with our doctors, psychiatrists or accountants -- about our most personal information."
(Naomi Wolf, "Sexual Privacy Under Threat in a Surveillance Society," CNN Opinion, November 9 2012)

(2) The loss of sexual privacy can cause irreparable damage to a person's private life and severely limit any benefits to the human condition.
"Sexual privacy is absolutely necessary for human beings to have basic dignity, and that includes the space to make mistakes or do things one may regret. A third of couples, husbands and wives, report that they have committed infidelity. What if all of those marriages were subject to surveillance and exposure?
"What if the power regarding who tells you that your spouse has betrayed you, becomes not a private struggle in private life, but a matter for the state to decide? And how many people in marriages that might have survived an infidelity, might have their lives and relationships further shattered by the state, as it can do now, from knowing the details of every single e-mail or credit card record or gift?"
(Naomi Wolf, "Sexual Privacy Under Threat in a Surveillance Society," CNN Opinion, November 9 2012)
(3) A person accused of infidelity is generally assumed to be guilty and to be totally immoral and irresponsible. 
"Finally, add to this toxic mess American Puritanism and prurience. It is easy to look at what seems to be a man, a mistress and a furious wife, and to assume that one knows all about what has gone on.
"But often such situations are complex. Women commit adultery as often as men do, though the media are full of stories asking: Why do men cheat? Indeed, women initiate divorce more often than men do. Female unhappiness in intimate relationships is rife in America, because of some basic misunderstandings of female desire that I have detailed in my new book.
"Of course, there is no way ever to justify an infidelity -- betrayal is always wrong. One cannot know from the outside what kind of sexual or emotional loneliness may have been part of any given marriage, what kinds of demons any one of us might struggle with.
"Understanding the toxic sexual culture in which American marriages try to thrive should lead us, at least, to see such breakdowns without snap judgments. And understanding the role of a surveillance society in the state's choosing which adulterers to go after should give us pause about joining into to any theatrics of public condemnation."
(Naomi Wolf, "Sexual Privacy Under Threat in a Surveillance Society," CNN Opinion, November 9 2012)
My Take
Human beings, especially under extreme pressure, often make mistakes. I would like to believe that General Petraeus is guilty of making the mistake of having an intimate affair, not, for whatever reason, guilty of sharing top secret information. This decision about the extent of Petraeus's wrongdoings will be made by the proper officials.
I feel sorry for a man whose distinguished career and outstanding reputation have been marred by making the mistake of seeking sexual gratification and committing infidelity. I know the married man should not have had an affair with anyone, and especially with someone like his biographer, Paula Broadwell. However, the assumptions being made in the press and the wide coverage of lurid details -- the Jill Kelly harassing e-mails, etc. -- represent terrible invasions of privacy.

Making a three-ring circus out of the entire affair before thorough investigation is cheap grandstanding that feeds the twisted, insatiable desire of the public for soundbites of anything remotely scandalous and sordid.

Who, other than Petraeus and Broadwell, actually knows the reasons for and the nature of the affair? Whatever is not relevant to breach of duty or security should remain private for the sake of the parties involved and the sake of their families.

How should we react to the knowledge that a person has cheated? Enacting judgments on the parties can be, and often is, unfair. Marriages are such complicated unions that little can be assumed to be standard behavior. Marriages are constantly broken and repaired -- they are as unpredictable as the reasons for getting together in the first place. I am sure the reasons for committing adultery are just as complex. I, for one, don't have time to meddle into the sex life of someone, and I see no benefit in delving into a person's private sexual affairs. 

And, remember, many people do have affairs.
Given the secretive nature of infidelity, exact figures about cheating and extra-marital affairs are nearly impossible to establish. After all, if you cheated on your spouse, would you admit it to a researcher? But, listed below are some of the most well-supported facts about cheating:
The most consistent data on infidelity come from the General Social Survey, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and based at the University of Chicago, which has used a national representative sample to track the opinions and social behaviors of Americans since 1972.
The survey data show that in any given year, about 10 percent of married people — 12 percent of men and 7 percent of women — say they have had sex outside their marriage.

But detailed analysis of the data from 1991 to 2006 by Dr. Atkins at the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies conference in Orlando, show some surprising shifts.

Atkins says that University of Washington researchers have found that the lifetime rate of infidelity for men over 60 increased to 28 percent in 2006, up from 20 percent in 1991. For women over 60, the increase is more striking: to 15 percent, up from 5 percent in 1991.
The researchers also see big changes in relatively new marriages. About 20 percent of men and 15 percent of women under 35 say they have ever been unfaithful, up from about 15 and 12 percent respectively.

Here are some theories about why more people appear to be cheating:
(1) Among older people, a host of newer drugs and treatments are making it easier to be sexual, and in some cases unfaithful — Viagra and other remedies for erectile dysfunction, estrogen and testosterone supplements to maintain women’s sex drive and vaginal health, even advances like better hip replacements.
(2) In younger couples, the increasing availability of pornography on the Internet, which has been shown to affect sexual attitudes and perceptions of “normal” behavior, may be playing a role in rising infidelity.
(3) Today, married women are more likely to spend late hours at the office and travel on business. Historically, women have been isolated on farms or at home with children, giving them fewer opportunities to be unfaithful.  
(4) And even for women who stay home, cellphones, e-mail and instant messaging appear to be allowing them to form more intimate relationships, marriage therapists say. Dr. Frank Pittman, an Atlanta psychiatrist who specializes in family crisis and couples therapy, says he has noticed more women talking about affairs centered on “electronic” contact.
“I see a changing landscape in which the emphasis is less on the sex than it is on the openness and intimacy and the revelation of secrets,” said Dr. Pittman, the author of “Private Lies: Infidelity and the Betrayal of Intimacy” (Norton, 1990). “Everybody talks by cellphone and the relationship evolves because you become increasingly distant from whomever you lie to, and you become increasingly close to whomever you tell the truth to."

(Tara Parker-Pope, "Love, Sex and the Changing Landscape of Infidelity, The New York Times, October 27 2008)
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