There are two types of cheating as I see it. On one hand, there’s the type in which someone is knowingly harmed in a real, concrete way. This happens when the elderly get bilked out of their savings, or when spouses sleep around, or when companies cook their books. That’s BIG cheating — you can draw a fat line from action to consequence. Then there’s the other 99 percent, which starts with driving over the speed limit and ends somewhere past the Patriots deflating their game balls by two pounds per square inch. Now, I’m a Patriots guy — don’t mistake me — but I’m not going to argue whether they cheated. They certainly did; the evidence is clear. Rather, this whole thing has me wondering if any of it matters.
A few months ago, when The Fappening happened, I kept considering I was morally wrong to masturbate to the private photos of celebrities. I talked about the idea of anonymous moral responsibility with anyone who’d listen (my mom and I don’t make eye contact anymore). I kept coming back to this one example from college: every month or two, we would all be shit-wasted at our fraternity house, desperate for food. We would find that someone had broken the padlock to the freezer, fired up the fryer, and started cooking a feast of fries, chicken tenders, and — if the stars aligned — jalapeño poppers. Now, this caused a lot of problems. The padlocks cost money, the cooks were inconvenienced with another grocery trip, the kitchen was destroyed, and ultimately, this came out of our food budget, which had ghastly consequences on Sunday nights toward the end of the semester. The person who did this was always an asshole. This person knew the consequences and acted anyway, but there wasn’t anyone who was above getting in on the fun once the initial deed was done. The food was too available and too delicious. Those memories of sitting around our contraband feast, dipping into a Frank’s Red Hot and mayo concoction, are some of the best of my life — almost as great as right this minute (I’m typing this article with one hand and masturbating to a naked Jennifer Lawrence with the other). Now, as then, I feel no pangs of remorse, because I am removed from the initial crime. I am complicit, yet there is no question of morality for me. Jalapeño poppers and Jennifer Lawrence: who am I to resist? Humanity gets in the way.
The bigger, meatier question is how do we react when we are on the outside of all this: the car getting passed, the football team getting gamed, our buddies having access to Adderall before the big test, the celebrity photos getting hacked? Are you the type to complain about your fortunes, about the notion of what’s “fair”? Or do you accept that the world is full of shortcuts and workarounds? I’d guess we all pay lip service to the latter, but I think in truth, we find ourselves frustrated occasionally by the world dealing us short. I know I’ve complained about comedians getting work based on their look rather than their talent. Friends of mine deal with the disappointment of getting passed up for promotions for reasons they can’t understand. People get dumped for assholes, and kids lose games of Monopoly to other kids who hide fake money. That’s the world. Society puts safeguards in place for the big stuff — cops, courts, referees — but nothing can stop the millions of tiny “cheats” that happen all the time, because humanity gets in the way. So, we have two options: complain or adapt. If someone gets that job, or grade, or girl over you, you can’t just sit there and thrash your arms against the rushing tidal wave of reality. The only sane action is to turn inward and ask, not the least bit rhetorically, “How am I responsible for my own failure?”
Eventually, the cooks at our fraternity learned not just to padlock the freezer, but to deadbolt the kitchen. I’m pretty sure Jennifer Lawrence will never take a nude selfie again. And I’m certain NFL referees will start weighing balls at halftime, too. The Patriots cheated, sure, but it doesn’t matter. They’re going to the Super Bowl. Success has already delivered her judgement.