What Harvey Weinstein Can Teach Us About the Limits of Empathy

It Doesn't Extend to Scum.

I have a soft spot for men who are composed of nothing but soft spots.

The pathetic slobs of the world are my people. I'm perpetually one divorce and six months of bachelor-life away from joining them completely, so anytime I see a slob looking especially pathetic—as Harvey Weinstein did on Wednesday night in the Lower East Side club where he was confronted by multiple women—my immediate impulse is empathy.

Can you imagine being a lowly slob, pathetically trying to mind your own business and scope out some young talent, when strangers start shouting at you about some bad stuff you did years ago? Can you imagine how bad that would make you feel? I can… but only if I skip the first step of imagining being an "alleged" horrifying sexual predator. It's really important not to skip that first step.

The impulse itself is not a bad thing. Empathy in our society is sorely lacking, and making a habit out of it can open your eyes to whole swaths of marginalized experiences that you would otherwise overlook. But Harvey Weinstein has never been marginalized. He cultivated his slob-form not in a state of desperation—stuffing cheap junk food into a depressive void—but as part of his ethos of greed, excess, and uncritical domination.

He's a man who's used to wielding power over everyone around him, so he probably does experience his diminished status as suffering. But a correct perspective on that suffering would zoom out to take in the vast universe of suffering he has forced upon others, next to which a thousand strangers spitting in his face would hardly register.

'Freddy Krueger in the Room' - Comedian Confronts Harvey Weinstein From Stage in New York

Our society leaves far too much room for empathizing with powerful men. Judges and cops and media figures—the people (mostly men…) in the best position to hold power to account—generally have an easier time relating to the perpetrators of sexual predation than they do to the victims. Or how about the men who actually booed when Kelly Bachman called him out as a cartoonish monster? There's a chronic tendency to reach for excuses why this woman might be lying, or why might have just misunderstood him. And what about the signals she was sending? Or maybe she has him confused with someone else...

Empathizing with the pathetic slob I see in that picture is a fine impulse, as long as it's closely followed by the impulse to redirect every drop of that energy—and a hell of a lot more—toward the people who actually deserve it. In other words, the scores of survivors who are dealing with the very real trauma that Weinstein "allegedly" caused them and the millions of women whose own experiences with predators are dredged up when people like Weinstein and C.K. and Kavanaugh, and Donald f*cking Trump force themselves into the public conversation. This is the message of the #Metoo movement that took off when Ronan Farrow exposed Weinstein's "alleged" crimes.

So from now until the end of time—I don't care if he's minding his own business, buying groceries, saving cats from a burning building—Weinstein should be ashamed to show his face in public, and he should expect to be yelled at and spit on and just generally reviled. And the women who sent that message on Wednesday night—before the (hopefully soon-to-be-out-of-business) club kicked them out—deserve far more praise than they've gotten.