News of the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn convinced me that when I woke up on Sunday morning, I was in fact still dreaming.
News of the arrest of IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn on charges of sexually assaulting a maid convinced me that when I woke up on Sunday morning, I was in fact still dreaming. You know those dreams where you wake up but you're just waking up in the dream? That.
The news was surreal, like someone had played make-the-headlines with magnetic fridge poetry. 'DSK arrested for alleged attempted rape' may as well have been 'George Bernard Shaw hung outside by his dungarees' for all the sense it made.
Instantly, of course, people started bringing up tales of former misconduct, including his reprimand for having an affair with a subordinate, as well as other alleged incidents. The problem – from a PR perspective – with an event like this is that the hoarded secrets start to pour forth. This has implications for justice too: contempt of court rules exist to prevent prejudicial information emerging.
But the real question today is not whether DSK will survive at the IMF (seems unlikely) or why he was staying at a $3,000-a-night hotel (he is the head of the IMF, after all) or even what his chances in next year's French presidential election are (kiss goodbye to the Elysee Palace).
No, what is interesting is the psychology: what could (allegedly) drive a man of such status to (allegedly) act inappropriately to a hotel maid? If we discount French libidinism as a reason, is there a certain level of power at which people think their actions will go unpunished? Is there a certain amount of the different timezone, different rules mentality? A frolic (or indeed alleged sexual assault) abroad stands much less chance of being discovered at home.
When men are given significant power – and no doubt DSK has been wielding it in post-crisis Keynesian measures and his arrangements of European bail-outs – does conventional morality recede? It is the sort of charge Tacitus laid at the feet of the emperors, and it has stuck ever since. We hear of the beastly antics of hedgies, and of course the Bullingdon Club is a shaming example of emperors-in-training. An additional problem is that cover-ups are easy in the favour-exchange of the political-legal-media complex.
Our new emperors ought to keep in mind that in our atomised yet hooked-up world, it just takes one cameraphone snap, one tweet, to light a fire that will burn and burn – and DSK is being singed.