By now, most of us are aware of the data breach that rocked the notorious philandering hookup site, AshleyMadison.com. A group of hackers calling themselves The Impact Team crept in unnoticed and harvested a comprehensive collection of user data including names, addresses, credit card information, and other intimate details from nearly 40 million members worldwide, and in a single data dump, released nearly all of it on the deep web for public viewing.
Idealistic hackers, or hacktivists, targeting a controversial site is nothing new, but bringing Ashley Madison into the media spotlight also illuminates an underlying element of our culture which I think needs to be addressed.
A dating site promoting infidelity. A business profiting off the breaking of marriage vows. How did we end up here? Obviously there is a demand for their service otherwise the site would have fizzled out long ago, therefore, we have to resist the urge to place total blame on Ashley Madison, and instead look deeper at the principals that make the business model relevant in the first place.
So, I’ll just ask it. Is cheating wrong?
Ashley Madison founder and CEO, Noel Birdman doesn’t think so. This is how he answers the question in an interview with CNBC:
Undiscovered cheating is good. I have come to accept that. When people hide behind breaking trust, they didn’t succeed with monogamy. If my wife cheated, I wouldn’t blame an inanimate object. I would say, “What need did I fail to meet that made her go down that path?” Cheating is like the secret glue that keeps millions of marriages together. I would cheat before I would leave.
Interesting. Based on this answer we have a classic ends-justify-the-means argument. Cheating is only bad if you get caught. However outlandish this statement may seem, based on the success of the site, we are faced with the truth that a lot of people actually feel this way, maybe not enough to defend their actions, but enough to act.
So, let’s go deeper.
People cheat on their spouses. Why? Because there’s emptiness in their marriage.
But if you have a giant hole in your kitchen ceiling, you don’t just resign yourself to eating take-out every day. You make a plan, set goals, and get to work making your home whole again.
This is my point, in today’s modern, enlightened society have we lost sight of the truth that all things are unfinished? Everything is in various stages of growth, development, or evolution. That gut-wrenching feeling that your marriage is not fulfilling means…some part of it probably isn’t. But that negative emotion we try so hard to avoid is actually a positive guide showing us where the work must be done to make our marriages whole, to make ourselves whole.
When we fall prey to the belief that everything is supposed to be a finished product or else it’s wrong, bad, or broken, how then are we supposed to view ourselves or our marriages. When we look at life that way, is it any surprise that clinical depression and anxiety are at an all-time high? You build a house one brick at a time, and you build a home one moment at a time, together with the people you share it with.
Ask yourself, is there anything in this life more fulfilling than giving all your sweat, blood, and tears to something and then see it prosper? Personally, I would argue no there isn’t.
Noel Birdman can preach that cheating is “the secret glue” that holds a marriage together, but honestly if there is an underdeveloped piece of a marriage, all the effort that went into carrying out a successful tryst could have gone into addressing the issue. And when a couple finally does decide to confront their differences, cheating will have given them a great deal more to overcome.
Here’s something you already know: AshleyMadison.com is selling band-aids for bone breaks. They are profiting off a demographic of people who are unhappy, people whose difficulties most of us can relate to. But the site’s real offense is not that they help drag people’s integrity through the mud, it’s that they are advertising happiness from their services. They’re not helping solve marital problems. They are making them so much worse while pocketing their client’s money.
Let me just clarify, I’m not condemning divorce. Not at all. I believe divorce is the natural option for couples who have addressed their issues openly and still can’t move forward. But at that point they can part ways with their integrity intact, knowing that they gave it their all.
You have to appreciate the irony though. Noel Birdman tells the public that lying is okay if you don’t get caught and tens of millions of people sign up for his site trusting that he will keep his word and protect their information. Well, surprise, surprise—he lied and got caught. The Impact Team discovered that the site’s administrators have been storing information that user’s paid extra to have deleted. The hacker’s specifically address this in their manifesto.
Ashley Madison advertises “Full Delete” to “remove all traces of your usage for only $19.00.” It specifically promises “Removal of site usage history and personally identifiable information from the site.” Full Delete netted ALM $1.7mm in revenue in 2014. It’s also a complete lie. Users almost always pay with credit card; their purchase details are not removed as promised, and include real name and address, which is of course the most important information the users want removed. Other very embarrassing personal information also remains, including sexual fantasies and more.
As a victim of identity theft, the idea of all that information being dumped into the public domain makes me cringe. But on the other hand, it’s kind of hard to feel bad for someone who took the word of a business that specializes in dishonesty.
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