The psychological phenomenon of overcompensation is well understood in the realm of psychiatry. Humans often attempt to negate what they perceive as unwanted personal traits by exaggerating their opposite. Talk a guy into feeling emasculated, and he’ll likely respond with hyperbolic fits of macho behavior. He might effuse hostility that wasn’t there before, show symptoms of homophobia, start using excessive profanity, or maybe stand up straighter—a pathetic exhibit, and only to prove to himself and the world that he is, indeed, a manly man.
Rarely, however, do humans adopt such a critical eye towards the personages who serve as sociopolitical leaders in our world today. This blind spot cripples the citizens of our democracy and the international community, preventing them from making informed judgments about those in political office and those who serve as beacons of religious faith.
The recent exposure of former Rep. Mark A. Foley (R-Fla.) sending sexually explicit correspondence to young Congressional pages immediately comes to mind. Foley wasn’t just any politician; he was a member of the anti-child pornography vanguard in the House, serving as former co-chair of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children. He also introduced a bill in 2002 to protect children from exploitive child modeling, wrote letters to officials in Florida in 2003 asking for review of teenager programs at a nudist resort, and made sex offender laws more severe this year by helping to pass the Adams Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. Now he could face prosecution under the same laws he helped enact.
Sadly, his species is hardly one of a kind. Recall former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, at the forefront of the GOP’s fanatical call for the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. At the same time, of course, he was consorting with Callista Bisek, a Congressional aide 23 years his junior. And what of all the members of the Catholic clergy who have been exposed as child molesters since 2002? Their behavior surely jived spectacularly with their public espousal of the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s list of moral offenses, which includes "any sexual abuse perpetrated by adults on children or adolescents entrusted to their care." Not to mention that they voluntarily took a vow of celibacy, becoming esteemed champions of moral and sexual virtue as ecclesiastical leaders in their communities.
Then there are the countries which cover up their women in veils ostensibly to protect their decency and chastity. So much for decency, when a woman is raped every two hours in Pakistan, according to the country’s independent Human Rights Commission, and numerous others become victims of honor killings, domestic violence, and murder every year. And so much for peaceful chastity, when Google Trends reveals the quite shocking data that, internationally, the most search queries for "sex" originate from countries such as Pakistan, Egypt, and Iran. These are the same countries with cultures of aggressive sexual suppression that repeatedly make blistering attacks on the moral tribulations of "sexual liberation" in the U.S. Yet somehow, the U.S. doesn’t come in the top ten of that Google list, even as we are being "corrupted" every day by bikinis and accidentally-exposed breasts on television.
The probability that a party is guilty of a certain defect seems directly proportional to its desire to attack that defect—and the most compelling explanation is overcompensation. Often, those most vehement about a problem are those closest to it.
Yifei Chen ’09, a Crimson editorial editor, is an economics and government joint concentrator in Cabot House.