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Carnal Knowledge and Misguided Empathy
July 26, 2000

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

Influence comes in many shapes and sizes. As part of our sense of shared humanity, we instinctively attempt to motivate one another. Recipients of such persuasion may be blessed or cursed through the experience.

Some people have an innate ability to lift our spirits, elevate our thoughts, instill in us a desire to reach new heights, or inspire us to be better individuals. This is what we call leadership.

Other people seem to have the opposite capacity. They induce within us thoughts of the profane and the vulgar. They appeal to our lesser qualities and our petty, self-absorbed characteristics. Unfortunately, such persons may still rise to positions of authority within society.

Much like the charming swindler or the sophisticated white-collar outlaw, our culture has a twisted attraction for the amiable scoundrel who is able to evade authorities or avoid being caught. It is this strange kind of anti-hero popularity that has kept some of our otherwise noble and conscientious citizens from deserting our beleaguered president.

Still, the ignominious aura that surrounds the current White House resident seems to find new and distinctive ways in which to manifest itself. The inordinately high priority that President Clinton places upon activities designed to satisfy his temporal urges have led to yet another unseemly drama.

Clinton's latest adversary is a former nun, turned prosecutor, with a compelling reputation. Armed with the knowledge that he has already been found to be in contempt of court by a sitting federal judge for giving intentionally false testimony, this woman is determined to see that justice ultimately results in the president's disbarment.

How is it that President Clinton finds himself in another highly uncomfortable and troublesome situation? The answer may lie in lessons that many before him have learned and, undoubtedly, all too many have yet to discover - there are deleterious consequences to an unrestrained pursuit of self­gratification.

Human beings derive pleasure from many sources, including food, leisure and intimacy. This, in fact, is what the carnal portion of our being desires. Our flesh is forever seeking satisfaction without cost, but delight pursued without limit inevitably leads to destruction.

The childish, self-centered aspect of our nature is quite defensive when free access to indulgence is threatened either explicitly or implicitly. If we interfere with another's fun, or allow others to do so, our own potential amusement may be hindered. This message is infinitely appealing to the egotistic nature, which resides within every person.

And it follows that deception is often the unavoidable by-product of an unrestrained appetite. Lies are frequently the vehicles that advance the pursuit of pleasure that our latent child craves. The effect upon an individual, and yes, even a country, is corrosive.

A leader who presents a self-indulgent standard to a nation offers a pathological path toward a cultural breakdown. At a time when self-control is needed more than ever, this is nothing short of a tragedy. Premarital sex, teen pregnancy, underachievement, and drug abuse severely harm our youth. The display of adults capriciously yielding to appetites or impulses is the antithesis of what is required today.

An assortment of media and entertainment figures has been quick to provide a rationale for immoral and licentious behavior, so much so that it seems we have become an object lesson in societal degradation.

The public is slow to react. Some attempt to justify bad behavior, and others seek to resolve feelings of anger and disappointment. No one is immune to the effects.

We make choices every day of our lives. The process in which we must engage may not always feel good. Many of our decisions will have profound consequences, and oftentimes they will impact the lives of others. But if we strive to do what is good and what is right, we will inevitably reach the highest and best outcome. This is what we call maturity.

The next opportunity that we have to choose a leader for our nation, no doubt the impact of the past seven years will be in the forefront of our minds. As a catharsis, we will search for someone who demonstrates decency, honor, sound judgment and self-control. And, hopefully, this is what we will recognize to be the best part of ourselves.

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James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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