In teaching or discussing ethics, a branch of philosophy, there is nothing wrong with asking provocative questions or posing outrageous hypotheses. It gets students to think, it challenges them. Philosophy, after all, is not about accepting what is generally thought and accepted as being some kind of eternal truth. Asking difficult questions is part and parcel of philosophical inquiry.
But Nxivm wasn’t about inquiry or discussion. Rainiere was the guru, the holy man, the expert on all subjects, and what he said was not to be questioned. Good teachers do not act that way, at least not when they’re teaching adults. A good college professor, in a seminar, will challenge his students with questions, get them involved. A good professor enjoys being disagreed with, having his statements challenged by his students. That is, after all, how they are to learn. Every impression I’ve gotten of Nxivm is the exact opposite. Raniere’s word was law. So these questions he posed weren’t questions at all. He wasn’t inviting debate.
What he was doing was raising doubt. His followers were intended to doubt their own minds. Their moral standards, their principles.
I remember back when Allison Mack posed a question on her blog as to what people thought of the idea of “human construct”. Seemed odd to me, and I suspected Keith Raniere her “friend and mentor” had put this idea in her head. The concept of human construct is central to Postmodern theory. Postmodernists are big on the idea that nearly everything is a social construct. It’s an interesting concept, that things we take as “natural” are in fact the products of culture, and could be, or maybe should be different. I mean, not that long ago, it was considered “natural” that women stayed at home and took care of the cooking and the kids while men were the breadwinners. A lot of gender roles are pretty clearly social constructs.
It’s an interesting idea that can be dangerous when misused. Raniere was of course misusing it, transparently for his own purposes. He was instilling the idea in his followers that social constructs are somehow illegitimate. In fact socially constructed rules, even arbitrary ones, can be very useful and even essential. The idea that a drivers license expires, say, four years from the date of issue is a social construct and pretty arbitrary. Why is the license in my pocket that was valid yesterday no good today, and why am I in trouble with the law? Why is it legal to have sex with the girl the day after her eighteenth birthday, and a felony the day before her birthday? Because these arbitrary socially constructed rules are useful.
Raniere’s dumbass followers were too stupid, or too cowardly, to question his idiotic teachings. His transparent sophistries. They chose to believe every thing the self serving jackass said, and some of them are going to prison on account of it. Serves them right.
They are all going away for a time — some longer than others.