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Saturday, December 19, 2009


Those who cannot understand why Tiger Woods, a man with so much to lose, would risk it all by committing risky sexual behavior are ignorant of Borenstein’s Law.

But after all, the head scratchers say, Woods is one athlete whose reputation for good character was squeaky clean. His trademark as a golfer is his intelligent approach to the sport. He is the most physically fit and the smartest golfer on the course, whose preparation and discipline are unparalleled.

So what? Bill Clinton was the smartest guy in any room. He was the freakin’ president of the U.S., dude.

Borenstein’s Law holds that decisions and conduct which are against an individual’s best interests and therefore by common sense would seem to be unlikely, are actually within the normal range of human behavior, no matter the stature of the individual in society. This kind of apparently irrational risky behavior accounts for most of the annoying things teens do, most crimes of impulse, and most philandering in the upper crust.

More interesting is that the Woods case seems to illustrate a corollary to Borenstein’s Law: Goodness (i.e., high moral character) and Greatness (i.e., exceptional achievement) are often mutually exclusive, that is to say people of great accomplishments in their chosen field usually would not qualify for sainthood if the standard is morality in their private lives.

The examples proving this point are too numerous to mention, but I will mention one prominent example. Albert Einstein, perhaps the greatest thinker of the 20th Century and one of the greatest of all time, was a self acknowledged failure as husband and father.

He was a selfish man, discarded his first wife (herself a trained physicist whose ideas may have contributed to his early work) and their three children without a second thought after years of surreptitious affairs, including one with his cousin, who became his second wife. He then proceeded to be unfaithful to her as often as the opportunities arose. He admitted his personal failings, attributing them to his nature, and his need for concentration on his work.

One other point worth mentioning. When the subject arises, the conclusion is often criticized as chauvinistic, seen as a weak argument justifying male prerogatives relating to monogamy. I don’t believe the propensity for risky behavior is limited to one sex.

I.e.: Catherine THE GREAT. Q.E.D.


  1. Mort, I don't agree with you about the exclusive status on morals (or lack thereof, when it comes to matters of the heart) with respect to goodness and greatness. Find me an "ordinary mortal" (and Joseph Campbell would argue that there is no such person) who is a saint, or approaches moral standards assumed and imposed by others when it comes to love and relationships. I agree with you on the subject of all the statistics and gossip, and documentary evidence relating to the rich, famous, powerful, and most intelligent ones (yes, Einstein is the prime example). Find me someone who is a boy or a girl next door (whatever that means) who hasn't done what Bill and Tiger did - save for the fact that they are visible, while the media and its audience don't give a hoot about what the so called boys and girls next door do in their private lives.
    And another thing that I have always preached: love is not a moral issue. It's tempting and common to see it that way, but we all know it isn't true.

  2. I was also going to make an observation that you contradict yourself:) I'll quote you: "Borenstein’s Law holds that decisions and conduct which are against an individual’s best interests and therefore by common sense would seem to be unlikely, are actually within the normal range of human behavior, no matter the stature of the individual in society." I completely agree with it! It's just that earlier you mention that the individuals who have achieved the highest status rarely behave like saints (while you appear to state in the above paragraph that ANY individual can behave very foolishly, regardless of his/her status). So, I guess my question is as follows: "Do you believe that individuals who do NOT hold a high position in society behave more saintly when it comes to intimate relationships?"

  3. Thanks, Rina. Actually, I think it is possible that "great" people, people used to wielding power and getting away with outrageous conduct, are even more likely to make foolish choices when it comes to sexual risk. This probably comes from their sense of omnipotence, imperviousness to loss. Or maybe a Freudian or Christian sense of guilt, wish to be punished. The folks next door care more about what neighbors think, so are somewhat more restrained, probably, though they, like my clients, can do self destructive things. But we don't know about it.

  4. Mort, I don't want to let this subject go:) I think people of all ranks/any station in life are equally liable to commit sins and transgressions (and I don't believe in the notion of sin as it is presented and understood in the traditional sense). I don't believe that people who are high up there have emotional experiences that are significantly different from those so called "ordinary mortals." If, indeed, there is such a thing - an ordinary mortal. In short: I believe that life (on the primary, deep human level) is experienced by the President of the United States very similarly to the way it is experienced by the proverbial girl or boy next door (whatever that notion implies). There are some "ordinary" citizens who feel that they are immune to the consequences of their unsavory deeds. Of course, I don't have statistical evidence, so that we could compare the respective acts of the elite versus the "ordinary" and juxtapose them, and quantify the respective integrity quotients of the two groups. It appears to me that we agree, by and large, but you insist on the quantitative prevalence of the lack of integrity among the powerful ones. And I would say to that what my mom used to say to me when I was a kid, "From those to whom it is given a lot, a lot is also expected." That's the best I could do, as far as translating it close to the original saying:) And it may be so that those who are in a position of power can never fulfill our expectations of them. Hence it appears that they are worse, by the sole virtue of their being "anointed." And the latter is a whole different subject altogether:)