Tiger and the Iso-Scum Curve

Every serious blog should have regular Tiger Woods postings, so here is my second reference in the same week.

As the story of Tiger’s various liaisons became public, many people were shocked at the sheer number of women involved (not to mention the many similarities between these women).  I’ve been wondering why this is the case.   Say, for the sake of argument, that we agree that his behavior is revolting.  Why?  Once marital fidelity has been abandoned, is the nature of the offense important?

As an aside, I wonder what is the trade-off—in terms of scumminess—between the number of lovers and number of encounters?  In other words, what does the scum production function look like when it comes to adulterous behavior?

Perhaps, for some, there is a strict lexicographic ordering with respect to number of lovers, meaning the degree of scum depends solely on the number of lovers.  Others might place a heavy weight on the frequency of encounters with the number of women involved a minor issue.  I bet that for many people both margins are important and the iso-scum curve looks somewhat like an ordinary isoquant (the combination of inputs that leads to a constant level of output—in this case scumminess) .

Early in my marriage (19 years and counting, thank you!), I discovered that my spouse and I had very different perspective on what makes infidelity bad.  She commented that so-and-so’s adulterous behavior was particularly wretched because he didn’t seem to even care about the woman he was cheating with.  My reaction was that caring about the other woman would be even worse because it implied not only a sexual infidelity, but an emotional infidelity as well.  I bet this gender difference is broader than just my experience.

I bring this up not because we should care about Tiger Woods’ private activities, no matter how scandalous.  My concern is that fidelity, in general, and marital fidelity, in particular, are bedrock values in any successful society.    In a sense, I feel some comfort that people are outraged by Woods.  But are they outraged for the right reasons?  Does the interest in the story come only because it is a famous celebrity? Is it because he had a beautiful wife and children and, therefore, no “reason” to cheat (suggesting that husbands of less beautiful wives are more justified), or is it just entertainment value with no moral reflection going on.

I’d like to think it is because people see his behavior as a complete lack of respect for marital commitments and that he, as a role model, is helping undermine the moral bedrock of our society, and they are appropriately outraged.   Any chance at all that my hope is justified?

5 thoughts on “Tiger and the Iso-Scum Curve

  1. “My concern is that fidelity, in general, and marital fidelity, in particular, are bedrock values in any successful society.”

    Evidence, please?

    Much more likely that all societies have rather high levels of sexual infidelity … some are just more hidden about it than others. (E.g., back when there was no divorce in Italy or Ireland, do you suppose there was no infidelity?)

  2. > She commented that so-and-so’s adulterous behavior was
    > particularly wretched because he didn’t seem to even care
    > about the woman he was cheating with.

    Not sure that this is a man/woman distinction, since some women see it exactly the opposite way. At one point, after I had changed jobs, my wife asked me (now that it no longer mattered) whether I’d had an affair with the administrative assistant at my old job. I said no, and she commented “Well, it would have been OK because she was ATTRACTIVE.”

    Months or years later, we were in a pub and I asked her whether the waitress (a friend of mine) was sufficiently attractive for me to have an affair with. She responded, “She’s attractive enough, but she’d never keep her mouth shut.”

    Later I asked the waitress about why attractiveness might be important to the wife, and she responded that if you have an affair with an attractive girl, that is only natural. But if you have an affair with one who is NOT obviously attractive, the wife would suspect a deeper connection that would be more hurtful.

    1. Interesting perspective, though I bet your wife’s “Its OK if she’s attractive” view is a bit of an outlier. Don’t you think?

  3. Oh, I don’t think she actually thinks it’s fine for me to sleep with anybody who is attractive – just that it would be more forgivable.

    The question with regard to my friend was said teasingly on my part (haven’t actually had sexual intercourse with anybody else in the almost 23 years we’ve been married + a couple of years before).

    The point was that the woman’s concern as my wife and my friend saw it was that an EMOTIONAL commitment was more threatening than a sexual dalliance.

  4. What never ceases to amaze me is the almost exclusive focus on Tiger Woods’s infidelity, as opposed to Elin’s violent reaction to it. I thought there was never any excuse for domestic violence. At least that’s what they told us when Chris Brown beat up Rhianna….

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