The news story is that an anonymous group of hackers calling themselves The Impact Team got into the [Ashley Madison] site, stole ten gigabytes of data, and made it public. They say they did it because the site is a fraud, drawing advertising revenue from gullible males, who — according to the hackers — are 90 to 95 percent of the site's users, the females registered being mostly fake names. They want Ashley Madison users to prosecute the website's proprietors and claim damages.
It all seems a bit odd to me. Why does A care that B is being taken for a dummy? Whatever: The dump of Ashley Madison data has caused worldwide panic among married people — and yes, it seems to be mostly men — who registered hoping to end up in an adulterous affair.
I'm sure this tells us something about the times we live in, but I can't quite figure out what.
I had better unmask myself here as a hopelessly married guy who has no interest in adultery. To be perfectly frank, I don't know how people find the time.
If you ask me for an overall moral judgment on adultery, I guess I'd offer the conventional answer that since family life is the foundation of civilization, and since adultery is disruptive of family life, I'm against it in a general way.
That said, I've seen enough of the world to know that there is a spectrum of attitudes couples can have towards each other's adulteries. Dr Johnson said that marriage is a league at last of friendship, not of love. I think that's as true as any general statement about life ever is. It implies that the varieties of marriage are as wide as the varieties of friendship, which is pretty wide.
I know couples whose marriage would be utterly and fatally destroyed by a partner's adultery. I know other couples who'd greet news about their partner's adultery with a shrug and a smile. I don't think I know any totally open marriages, but I've read enough literary biographies to know that they happen, and can be stable and enduring. In cases where one partner loses interest in sex but the other doesn't, adultery is probably a better alternative than divorce.
Even the element of deceit, which is where I think most of us would say the real moral turpitude lies, even that can be taken different ways by different people. I recall a female acquaintance of mine, sensible, well-educated, and attractive, married twenty years, whose husband's work takes him away from home a lot, saying: "I don't care what he does, so long as I don't find out."
As I said, a spectrum of attitudes, with the possibility, at least, of lasting, stable marriages at every point on the spectrum — along with, at most points, the other possibility of rancorous separation.
Read the entire transcript at my website.