Eliot Spitzer Breaks Bad[1]


            I strayed from the law recently to review a restaurant.[2] I now do so again to comment on the conduct of former Governor Eliot Spitzer of New York.


            My college education in Human Development convinces me that humans should learn more about themselves from ethology.[3] In Governor Spitzer’s case, I believe that genetic forces exert subtle influence upon our behavior, sometimes in contradictory ways. One force at work among us as in other species is the social taboo against adultery; the other is the hard-wired male urge to propagate and aggrandize.


            Because humans are so complex, the male libido is – as Freud would say – sublimated. Possible recent examples include the alleged killer of Eve Carson, the North Carolina student body president, photographed attempting to use her ATM card from the driver’s seat of her SUV; Richard F. “Dickie” Scruggs, one of the most successful trial lawyers in America (known as “Zeus” in law school) conspiring to bribe a judge and Dr. Stephen Scher, convicted of murdering his best friend (an attorney) by shooting him in the heart so he could marry his best friend’s wife. Well, okay, Dr. Scher was not exactly subtle about his libido.


            We all push the envelope at some level in ways too numerous to mention. It might be as (relatively) innocuous as dodging income withholding on a domestic servant; or pirating music or software. I do not condone such conduct. I simply suggest that aberrant behavior by otherwise normal people who think they will not or should not be punished may, in an ethological sense, be part of human nature.


            The fateful question for the human race seems to be whether, and to what extent, the development of civilization will manage to overcome the disturbance of communal life caused by the human drive for aggression and self-destruction.”


Sigmund Freud, “Civilization and Its Discontents”. Cited in “At the Forest’s Edge” by Anthony Daniels, in The New Criterion, Volume 26, Number 7, March 2008, p. 16.


            Governor Spitzer, as a “PEP” (Politically Exposed Person) was probably more susceptible to feelings of arrogance and infallibility than ordinary people. Even so, for him to cuckold his wife destroying his career, threatening his marriage, and possibly costing him his law license was highly illogical behavior. Observing other species like the tree swallow cheat on their partners may not bring us closer to understanding the Governor, but it does offer what lawyers call “precedent.”    

[1] “Breaking bad” is “… slang for what happens when someone’s actions take surprisingly uncharacteristic, often law-breaking turns.” “Bad Chemistry” by Nancy Franklin, New Yorker Magazine, March 3, 2008, p. 86.

[2] A blog post on March 8, 2008 reviews the new McLean, Virginia restaurant, Monterey Bay Fish Grotto.

[3] Ethology is the study of animal behavior among other species.