Joe Biden and a brave, impersonal, new world
His touching problem reveals a solipsistic and impersonal era
I have always admired people like Joe Biden — people who are not only capable of genuine, physical expressions of affection for perfect strangers, but who also seem to relish in it. Sure, I consider myself a compassionate person and I can physically express love and affection without hesitation with my wife and kids. But I have something of a mental-block for it when it comes to strangers and even for people in my church and my friends, and I recoil with horror at the thought of bringing that sort of feeling into the workplace.
With people like the former Vice President Biden, though, it all seems effortless and idyllic. His sort of world view appears to me as one of the only ways to float atop the chaos and to dodge the slings and arrows of day-in-and-day-out life, especially for what I imagine characterizes a life in politics.
And so it was with sorrow that I read and watched this most recent news cycle related to Biden’s unusual social behaviors with respect to women. Please do not mistake this sorrowfulness as a political opinion. It has nothing to do with Biden’s politics, trust me. And I do not wish to cast aspersions on the #MeToo movement at all. I know that I do not understand the female experience, and I want everyone to be able to live their lives comfortably and free from fear, threats, harassment, or worse. If, at the end of the day, we must squelch behavior like that exhibited by Biden to produce a fair and just society, then squelch it we shall. I only wanted to write about, and express sorrow for, the price. There is no such thing as a free lunch after all.
I have heard commentators argue and wonder aloud about why it seems, on a gut level, that Biden’s actions are different not only in degree, but also in kind, from those of, say, Harvey Weinstein. It seems to me that the clear answer is love. Weinstein did what he did for power and for himself. But unless I am a bad judge of character, Biden did what he did for love — that rare type of love that can physically express itself even to strangers and that Biden continued in despite the ridicule he has received for it over the years. And no, I am not saying that unwanted sexual advances can be justified by “love.” The consensus seems to be that Biden’s actions should not be interpreted as sexual, but as violations of the personal space of women like Lucy Flores and Amy Lappos.
As previously mentioned, I am a personal space kind of person, and I am certain that women have an even greater interest than me in maintaining theirs. But I think we have to admit that it starts to feel cold sometimes. Many of us work in offices, in front of computers all day. And unless you are a massage therapist, I would guess you do not even touch more than one or two people outside your family on a given day, and even then, it’s probably a handshake or an accidental jostle on a bumpy bus ride. Plus it is getting worse; each year seems more solipsistic and impersonal than the last.
Can’t we agree that living life with an ecstatic and caring spirit, with affection bursting from one’s very seams, is better?
I think it would be. It is no accident that Christ, for example, physically touched almost everyone he healed. The problem today is that people like Weinstein have spoiled it for all of us. We probably need to go through a time of repression in order to reset the system, and allow our sisters and daughters and mothers to trust and become comfortable again. But I hope that afterwards we can free ourselves from the bonds of personal space and feel comfortable with, next to, and yes even touching, one another.
John Cordani lives in Prospect.
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