I turned sixty-five years old this summer (planned a birthday in which I woke up that morning in a lean to on the Appalachian Trail, and it worked out very well, thank you). I thought I had achieved some end-game stable pessimism based on knowledge of humanity, but it appear I can still be shocked.
For seven years, I have been working on a project I call the Mad Manuscript, which today is 7,407 pages long. It is entitled "In Search of Free Speech", and breaks out into four unequal parts: i. "Free" Speech? ii. Dispute-Speech iii. Meta-Speech iv. American Speech.
Part One, which is about 1200 pages long, asks what we are really talking about when we talk of the freedom of speech. It attempts to source free speech in a newborn baby's protesting cry, the chattering of children, in bird song, and in the evolution of language. In the course of that section, I cite--you can say that I found my theory on--works by Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Oliver Sacks, Stephen Hawking, Robert Trivers, Stephen Jay Gould and Daniel Dennett.
All of these men associated with Jeffrey Epstein. I don't know which of them in particular visited him in the Virgin Islands, or stayed overnight in the Manhattan apartment that reportedly had a massage table in every room. I don't know which of them experienced a knock on the door and opened it for a fourteen year old girl. I don't know which if any sent her away.
What I do know is that everyone associated with Epstein knew exactly what he was. He usually went into meetings flanked by two young women, and caressed them while he spoke to people. He was able to live a life of pedophilia and exploitation in plain sight before and after he was arrested in 2008. It is barely possible that anyone meeting him the first time did not know within minutes what they were dealing with (if they had not previously heard of him). Anyone who accepted a second invitation was complicit.
In Part Four of the Mad Manuscript, I find the following: "After Lotus Development claimed a copyright in the user interface of its product, a group of computer scientists, led by Marvin Minsky and Richard Stallman, picketed the company's Cambridge offices, chanting, 'Put your lawyers in their place; no one owns the interface'". Epstein victim Virginia Giuffre says she slept with Minsky, who is dead, at Epstein's orders. Stallman resigned from MIT last week after numerous statements of his in email came to light. Defending Minsky, he said: "[T]he most plausible scenario is that she presented herself to him as entirely willing" and ""I think it is morally absurd to define 'rape' in a way that depends on minor details such as which country it was in or whether the victim was 18 years old or 17".
Pinker, who wrote a book about free will which was somewhat above my pay grade, but which I relied on in the Mad Manuscript, provided Epstein with an affidavit during the 2008 proceedings analyzing the statute under which he was charged. This was done at Alan Dershowitz's request, someone else Giuffre said she had sex with. The difference is that I always knew Dershowitz, who was my criminal law professor at Harvard, to be sleazy. I never knew Pinker et al. were. I also always knew the true nature of Bill Clinton, who may have flown on Epstein's private plane more than 20 times.
In the Mad Manuscript, I am continually suggesting what I call Almost-Books, works I will never write, but hope someone will:Sophistry and Family; Economics and the Meta-Imaginary; Jimmy Carter, Aerialist; Orwell's Boot; Rich With Meaning. This essay is a very brief sketch for an Almost-Book, Hermeneutics of Jeffrey Epstein.
In my twenties (Bragging Alert) I several times declined when a woman my own age invited me upstairs at the end of a first date. I didn't completely understand my issues, but think I do now: in impulsive sexual encounters in our world of supposed freedom, there is rarely perfect equality. I never wanted to hurt anyone, nor did I relish of course being the person who felt sad or ashamed. I never had a one night stand. A woman I dated for a few weeks, and was friends with for years after, told me much later that all she wanted was a night, but didn't want to hurt my feelings.
In the Brooklyn middle class Jewish world in which I grew up in the 1960's and 1970's, prostitutes were not visible; we didn't know any, or know where to look for them. Once, on a visit to Cambridge, I checked into a motel whose owner was behind the desk. He engaged me in conversation, then offered to send a girl to my room. I said no. At some point, I had settled down to an idea, that I never wanted to have sex with anyone who found me disgusting and was doing it only for money. Anyone who slept with one of Epstein's teenagers did not care about that.
While it disturbs me that our world is run or heavily influenced by people like Clinton or Dershowitz, there is a different level of injury and surprise with regard to the scientists I have now dubbed the Epstein-Shamed. My Mad Manuscript defends Enlightenment values. I thought Pinker, Dennett, Gould, Hawking, Sacks and Dawkins did too. A core value, really a cornerstone, is that of equality. I believe and say in my work that there are two kinds of people, those who believe they are a higher life form than someone else, and those who don't. (The joke variation is: There are two kinds of people, those who believe there are two kinds of people, and those who don't.) By definition, anyone who ever had sex with a fourteen year old sent to his room by Jeffrey Epstein thought he was a higher life form than her.
My problem is that if any of these thinkers lied to me about equality, what else can I believe? The author of the Epstein Almost-Book I envision can track back through their writings, looking for specific statements called into severe question by their association with Epstein. I will not bother. What Epstein teaches us is that our "civilization" is much more depraved than I thought.
I have written elsewhere that Late Capitalism treats people like krill, the tiny shrimp-like organisms baleen whales catch in their mouths. In Jeffrey Epstein's Late Capitalistic world, teenage girls were krill. They were also currency, used to pay people for associating with Epstein.
I really thought nothing could surprise me any more, but I was shocked by the depravity exhibited by MIT, a place I always greatly admired, and by Harvard, my alma mater. The rot seems to extend everywhere, to the presidency and the legislature, to Hollywood of course. I just didn't know it had infected the people I regarded as the guiding moral intelligences of the American Enlightenment (a formulation which now seems an oxymoron). And it hasn't stopped spreading, as I continue to find out that other people I respected were implicated. In the early days of the Internet, when I thought and wrote about the new freedoms I sincerely believed it harbingered, another guiding presence was Nicholas Negroponte of MIT, whom I also name-checked in the Mad Manuscript. Earlier this month, Negroponte said of Epstein's money: "If you wind back the clock, I would still say, 'Take it.'"
Robert Hughes once said with bitter sarcasm: "Good censorship....is therapeutic and redounds to the advantage of women and minorities. Bad censorship is what the pale penis people do to you. Here endeth the lesson". But what exactly have the Epstein-Shamed turned out to be, if not "pale penis people"?
Incidentally, Stallman's words give me a further insight into Libertarianism, that as a paean to equality largely uttered by the wealthy and privileged (and some wannabes, of course), it is a cover story for the treatment of people as krill.
How, someone asks, can you say it is Jeffrey Epstein's world? He died in jail. Yes, but I think of Balzac's gaudy Paris. A repetitive theme in his novels was that everyone was an adulterer, but that once in a while, a couple would be singled out, outed for adultery, and destroyed, so that everyone else could carry on as usual. I derive another truism in the Mad Manuscript: "All human enterprises--religions, polities, clubs, universities, companies--require a Human Sacrifice from time to time". Rather than institute change, we execute someone so the official narrative can merely claim the change occurred.