Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Saturday, March 27, 2021

Power and sex make uneasy bedfellows

Saturday March 21, 2021

Canada’s two top military officers, General Jonathan Vance and Admiral Art McDonald, are under investigation for charges of sexual misconduct. 

            One of the highest-ranking female officers in the Canadian Armed Forces, Lt.-Col. Eleanor Taylor (no relation) sent a scathing letter of resignation, saying she was “sickened” but “not surprised” by the culture of sexual harassment in the military.

            “Harassment” and “misconduct” are marshmallow words. Squishy. Distortable. They could cover everything from light flirtation – is there anybody who never flirted with a colleague or co-worker? – to groping, intimidation, assault, and rape. 

            Just 11 years ago, the commander of the Trenton Air Force base was convicted of two murders, two forcible confinements, several sexual assaults, and 82 charges of sex-related breaking and entering.

            It’s not limited to the military.

            New York Governor Mario Cuomo is resisting pressure to resign over allegations of sexual misconduct. 

            Donald Trump spent his presidency in the glare of pussy-grabbing revelations.

            Prince Andrew – nicknamed Randy Andy – failed miserably defending himself against claims that he had taken part in Jeffrey Epstein’s orgies. Epstein hanged himself in a jail cell, rather than face criminal trial for his use and abuse of underage girls in those orgies. 

            Jean Vanier apparently had sexual relationships with six women who came to him as a mentor, a spiritual guide. 


Disturbing patterns

            I hasten to add that none of those named above have been proven guilty. The charges are, as yet, only allegations. 

            Even unproven, though, they form a depressing pattern. 

            First, the accused are all male. 

            Second, they are all in positions of power. The power of wealth. Of authority. Of politics. Of popularity.

            One summer, I worked as a temporary customs and immigration officer. The permanent staff consisted, as I recall, of a dozen male and two female officers. The men joked about being on night shift with a female officer. About reaching up under her uniform skirt and slapping the inside of her thigh as she sat on her stool behind the counter.

            Why didn’t she protest? 

            I never asked the women how they felt about this treatment. Perhaps I should have. But I expect they’d respond that if they wanted to rise above secretary or stenographer, they had to put up with the harassment. 

            You take the lumps with the gravy. 


Gender imbalance

            Traditionally, men have had power. They’re generally bigger, stronger, and louder than women. Those who have power, or think they have power, rarely realize they’re imposing it on others.

            And as Henry Kissinger said, “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.”

            The New York Times published a list of 201 prominent men who lost their jobs over charges of sexual misconduct – managers, executives, actors, coaches, media personalities. Glamour magazine published its own list of 100. Vox stretched the list to 262.

            The responses of the accused cover a predictable range. From “I deny everything; it never happened.” To “I apologize; I had no idea I was causing any offence.”

            Only the New York Times list included any women – just three of them.

            I doubt if men are 67 times more sexually aggressive than women. I suspect that the figures say more about the raw realities of power – women are 67 times less likely to be in positions of power.

            That’s the key factor here. The imbalance of power. 


Power over others

            A friend has a saying, whenever he hears reports of corporate crime: “Follow the money.”

            In these cases, I suggest, his mantra should be amended: “Follow the power.”

            It’s entirely possible that the senior military officers accused of misconduct genuinely loved the junior officers with whom they were having an affair. Or they believed the affair itself was fully consensual. 

            But the imbalance of power makes it suspect. If one member of a relationship has more power than the other, there is at least a possibility of abuse or exploitation. An imbalance of power doesn’t prove anything. But to my mind, it lends credence to the complaints. 

            Lord Acton’s famous epigram states, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

            Many of the men accused of sexual misconduct had, in effect, absolute power over their victims. 

            Run screaming from Harvey Weinstein’s hotel room, and kiss your dreams of a Hollywood career goodbye. 

            Lodge an official complaint against your chief of staff, and kiss your military career goodbye. 

            Expose a saintly figure in a church, and have the entire church turn against you. 

            There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with either love or sex. What’s wrong is the abuse of power to get it. 


Copyright © 2021 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

            To send comments, to subscribe, or to unsubscribe, write jimt@quixotic.ca





The theme of last week’s column, I think, was summed up in my closing sentences: "History is not a text written by professors and professional researchers. History is happening every day. You are history. I am history. We are history. We are living history." 

            Ruth Buzzard commented, “Yes, you have lived through a lot of turbulent history and I’m sure most of your readers have too.  I bet you get a lot of comments on this column.”


Doug Giles recalled the Doukhobors and the CF-105 Avro Arrow: “I have never forgiven Dief. for the shutdown of the Arrow project.  It wasn't just the project he closed but he also had the existing aircraft cut to pieces along with the assembly line, tooling, plans, existing airframes, and engines were all ordered to be destroyed.  He destroyed everything!  

            “The Arrow was the first non-experimental aircraft that was designed and flown (in 1958) with a fly-by-wire flight control system.  It was a feat not repeated with a production aircraft until the Concorde ten years later, which became the first fly-by-wire airliner. This system also included solid-state components and system redundancy.  It was designed to be integrated with a computerised navigation and automatic search and track radar, was flyable from ground control with data uplink and downlink, and provided artificial feel (feedback) to the pilot.

            “The first Arrow Mk. 1, RL-201, was rolled out to the public on 4 October 1957, the same day as the launch of Sputnik I.

            “You also mention the Doukhobors, the refugees from Russia.  Arson and nudity -- what a combination!  They were welcomed from Russia to Canada in 1928.  They had a little reformation of their own resulting in a denomination called The Sons of Freedom. 

            “Wikipedia points out ‘In less than a half a century, acts of violence and arson by the Sons of Freedom rose to 1,112 separate events costing over $20 million in damages that included public school bombings and burnings, bombings of Canadian railroad bridges and tracks, the bombing of the Nelson courthouse, and a huge power transmission tower servicing the East Kootenay district, resulting in the loss of 1200 jobs. Many of the independent and community Doukhobors believed that the Freedomites violated the central Doukhobor principle of non-violence (with arson and bombing) and therefore did not deserve to be called Doukhobors.’" 


Frank Martens didn’t find anything extraordinary in his own history, but he came up with a few slogans, which included

·      You create your own history.

·      Life doesn’t owe you anything

·      Sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.

·      Anything is possible until your heart stops beating.


Tom Watson recalled “two important pieces of living history I have been a part of are electricity and the telephone. I grew up on a southern Ontario farm. We got the telephone in 1944, ‘the hydro’ in 1945. Just think of the advancements since then. 

            “By the way, we didn't have running water in our home until I was 19 years old.”


Isabel Gibson: “WWII -- which seems like ancient history to me -- was a current event for my parents, as WWI was for my grandparents.

            “Maybe if we think of history in terms of our family members who lived through it we'll better appreciate that it isn't really that long ago. And maybe we'll better appreciate its complexity and challenges (to look back at last week's article on Revisionism).”


I’m still getting mail about that article on Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, and Revisionism. George Bayliss wrote about prooftexting on King David. And Doug Martindale wrote about a justice incident when he was minister at Etonia, in Manitoba: “In retrospect, I can see that I made mistakes, and I've often thought I should go back to Eatonia and tell the good folks there that my approach was wrong and I could have done things quite differently. Perhaps it is revisionist history but in this case, I'm doing the revising. 

            “Although, I can't change what actually happened, I can change and have changed my viewpoint and my attitudes, and can apologize.”

            For me, Doug nails the point. He has had the opportunity to apologize; revisionism denies that opportunity, even the possibility of it, to those who are already dead. 






If you want to comment on something, write me at jimt@quixotic.ca. Or just hit the ‘Reply’ button.

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            You can now access current columns and seven years of archives at http://quixotic.ca

            I write a second column each Wednesday, called Soft Edges, which deals somewhat more gently with issues of life and faith. To sign up for Soft Edges, write to me directly at the address above, or send a blank e-mail to softedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think some of these links are spam.)

            Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.

            I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures. Her Thanksgiving presentation on the old hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth, Is, well, beautiful -- https://www.traditionaliconoclast.com/2019/10/13/for/

            Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)



            The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns



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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Sharp Edges

Tags: sex, power, military, misconduct



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