As you have probably heard, the sleazy-cheat-on–your-significant-other website AshleyMadison.com was hacked recently and the personal data of thirty-seven million cheaters and would-be cheaters (more than the population of Canada!) was leaked online.
Please pause for a moment as we allow Mr. Krabs to share his thoughts.
Mr. Krabs may not be very sympathetic, but Avid Life Media, the owners of the website, were predictably outraged. They denounced the hack as “an act of criminality.”
“It is an illegal action against the individual members of AshleyMadison.com, as well as any freethinking people who choose to engage in fully lawful online activities. The criminal, or criminals, involved in this act have appointed themselves as the moral judge, juror, and executioner, seeing fit to impose a personal notion of virtue on all of society.”
“We will not sit idly by and allow these thieves to force their personal ideology on citizens around the world.”
Well said! Now thump the pulpit a couple times in righteous indignation to drive the point home!
It is true, of course, that the act was criminal. But which is worse? An illegal act or an immoral one?
Close to forty million users. And how many homes destroyed? How many children face years of clinical depression, self-loathing, anguish because of the behaviors of their parents which were facilitated by AshleyMadison.com?
But nobody made the parents cheat, right? True enough. AshleyMadison.com doesn’t hold moral culpability for cheating. But they do hold culpability for, as I said, facilitating and encouraging the act. Moreover, they facilitate and encourage the act for filthy lucre.
(In scenario 1 Dave encourages his buddy Reggie to cheat so that Reggie can enjoy the pleasures thereof. In scenario 2 Dave encourages Reggie to cheat so that Dave can get some money. In both cases Dave is a scoundrel, but he’s certainly worse in scenario 2.)
It is important that we get a sense of how grotesque the website is. So imagine that instead of lingering thoughts of adultery, Mr. Jones is having lingering thoughts of suicide. So he goes to Hereishowtokillyourself.com which promotes itself with the slogan “Life is short. Make it even shorter!” In a moment of weakness, he goes through with the suicide based on the directions and encouragement of the website. Do you think the website has some moral culpability, irrespective of any legal questions?
AshleyMadison.com isn’t encouraging people to kill themselves. But it is encouraging them to kill the covenant of fidelity to which they’ve committed themselves. And it encourages them to act in a wanton, callous, fashion that will damage untold lives.
Some commentators have observed that cheaters will still cheat and this hack won’t change anything. That’s a stupid comment. You remember the isolated, high profile prosecution of a handful of people a decade ago for illegally downloading music at sites like Napster? I know of many people who decided not ever to download any music illegally due simply to the remote possibility of being caught and ending up like those poor saps. Granted, countless people still download all manner of things illegally. But at least some people decided not to do so out of fear and self-interest. In that case, fear and self-interest provided a fitting surrogate for virtue.
What if one person — just one person — decides not to cheat on their spouse because of this hack? In that moment lowly fear and cowardice functioned as a surrogate for covenantal fidelity. And what if this decision in turns brings them back step-by-step to love of and recommitment to that spouse (perhaps in a manner reminiscent of Rupert Holmes’ “Escape: The Pina Colada Song”)?
What an amazing outcome that would be! And the only financial cost is that which is borne by Avid Life Media? Sounds like a bargain to me!