Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Punish them

Ashley Madison, the world's foremost dating site for people having illicit affairs, was very publicly hacked.  The names and information of many of the people who created accounts on the site have been published and there is a great deal of angst and terror, sadness and heartbreak among those who have been exposed.  There is also a significant chunk of the population who are extolling the virtues of the hackers and condemning anyone caught in the expose.  The schadenfreude is palpable as people leap to accuse those being outed and claim that they deserved it.

There are two problems with this.  The first is that many people who were outed were doing nothing wrong.  There are closeted gay people, for example, that have had their lives upended.  More than that, as Dan Savage points out, those people might even be executed if they live in the wrong place.  There are also a lot of people whose names have been slammed onto the internet, tainted with imagined sin, when they did nothing wrong.  Like this guy, who was just single and curious. 

Or say, me.  Because when I was starting out in polyamory I thought "Hey, maybe I can find relationships with other people in open relationships on Ashley Madison."  I wasn't interested in cheaters (nor was I cheating, as this was on the up and up on my end) but there were in fact some people there who might have been interested.  I left very quickly because Ashley Madison is basically the pit of despair but my name might well be out there.  I haven't checked because it doesn't really matter but there are plenty of people in my situation who desperately do not want to have their sexual desires, lifestyles, orientations, or other secrets exposed to the world.

There are also people who are in loveless and/or sexless marriages who are desperate.  People for whom leaving their spouse is unthinkable and who cannot face the remainder of their lives being devoid of romance, sex, or intimacy.  Cheating in such cases is bad but it is sometimes going to be the least bad thing and people in such difficult circumstances don't deserve to have their lives blown up.  In the Dan Savage column above there was a person who had cheated, been caught, repented, and rebuilt their marriage and now they had to face the worry that both families, friends, or work colleagues would find evidence of an old and forgiven infidelity.  Nothing can be gained from this.

Certainly there are scumbags who will be outed.  Some people are really just being slimeballs when they cheat and while I can't scrape up a lot of sympathy for them I still don't like vigilante justice nor blackmail.  There are jerks who are going to get what could reasonably be called their comeuppance, but how do you separate them from all the innocents caught in the crossfire?

If I sprayed bullets into a crowd on the assumption that I would probably hit some bad people everyone would be horrified.  Even if they agreed that those bad people should die I would hope that everyone would agree that the cost was far too high, and the technique inexcusable.  What these hackers are doing is the same thing, albeit on a much larger scale, but quite possibly with the same body count.

I don't like Ashley Madison.  What they represent is ugly and sad, and I held my nose when I made an account there.  But this exposure of their clients will not stop cheating.  That ugliness will continue, albeit with a spate of anger, bitterness, and divorce over the next few weeks and months.  I don't know what a good solution might be to try to 'fix' the problem of infidelity, (though I have plenty of suggestions, largely to do with abandoning monogamy as the required social standard) but I know for sure that this isn't it.

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