Men who don't practice what they preach

Louis CK made the news again due to surprising a bunch of people with an unplanned show.

[cue canned laughter]

I used to like Louis CK. There was a point at which he was the first name to come to mind when asked for favorite comedians. There’s been a lot of talk about what destructive, toxic men should do in order to be afforded redemption. Hasn’t he suffered enough?

No, clearly, or we wouldn’t be asking these questions.

I think, if Louis CK had offered a more sincere apology, had made restitutions with his victims, both privately and (if they wished) publicly, and had intentionally backed out of the public space with an eye toward maybe setting up a fund or a production company for up-and-coming marginalized talents, we might be able to talk a bit about ‘redemption,’ about him having earned the right to at least show his
face in public.

He didn’t do any of that, which is bad enough. What’s worse, though, is that he is exactly the kind of writer and thinker who knows what he needs to do. He has a thorough consciousness of what’s necessary for him to be taken seriously again, and the only reason he’s not doing it is because he’s chosen not to.

That’s kind of a big step, right? But how do I know that? Well, there’s a quote (this edition is all about quotes, I guess?) from his show, Louie:

“When someone tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.”

That’s it. That’s the entire thought. He’s got it, he knows it, he put it in his show and he made it the center of a dramatic moment. But he’s failing to live his own lesson, and he’s the kind of guy whose self-loathing and internal guilt would beat on the inside of his skull every day with his own words. He can probably snap right back to that episode of the show on command.

It reminds me of my core gripe with Sam Harris, actually. For those who don’t know, Sam Harris used to be one of my favorite writers, in the early “New Atheist” days. I can look back and see, dimly, what was to become of him, but at the time I liked his approach to things. More importantly, he wrote a book called The Moral Landscape, which was extremely formative for me and remains so precisely because of the problem I’m outlining here.

We have this rash of men who contribute thoughts and ideas to the public space, who put a great deal of work into them, who write or produce them in a way that is meant to be understood as, This is true, and we should act like it is true, but then utterly fail to adhere to them. They don’t learn their own lesson.

The Moral Landscape is about how there may be many ways for humankind to flourish and prosper, and that no one particular way is “correct” for all humans so much as that they are all seeking different expressions of a universal ideal. Sam Harris, you may know, has gone on to become something of a cryptofascist, an enabler of white supremacist thinking, an apologist for American imperialism, and is generally making his name by living extremely at odds with the thesis of his own book.

Louis CK is making money doing the exact thing he knows he should not do with his power and notoriety. He is consciously attempting to fight his way back to relevance after hurting others and not repairing the damage he’s done. At this point, redemption probably isn’t even on the table anymore. His best bet is to get up in front of his next audience and burble apologies into the mic until they force him
offstage, followed by donating his riches to shelters for abuse survivors and disappearing from the public eye for good.

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