This Olympic ring fail T-shirt created by Michael Miller, a designer at a New York advertising agency, went on sale hours after the opening ceremony. #sochiproblems

We start our weekly call with a look at the Woody Allen child abuse scandal which has been revived by the attention generated a few weeks ago when he received a Golden Globe Lifetime Achievement Award for his distinguished movie career. It started with a post on the New York Times website by his daughter, Dylan Farrow, in which she accuses Allen of sexually abusing her starting at age 7. Her post was subsequently featured in an op-ed column by Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who criticized the cultural lionization of a man who, guilty or not, has such a stain on his record.

Allen denies the abuse accusations and in turn wrote a column published in the Times that charges that his ex-girlfriend, Mia Farrow, had implanted false memories in her daughter to injure him during their acrimonious breakup. He points to expert investigators who at the time concluded that Dylan had not been molested.

What to make of it?

It’s a challenging conundrum because the sexual abuse of children is a despicable act and it exists in every strata of society. There are plenty of reasons to think that Woody Allen did indeed molest his daughter, not the least being the verisimilitude of Dylan’s heartfelt account. It’s 100% clear that Dylan Farrow believes what she is saying is true. That counts.

And there are also plenty of reasons to think that Woody Allen did not molest his daughter. His defense is also quite believable and the phenomena of implanting memories in peoples’ minds – especially the minds of children — is all too real. This is the plot of an affecting new movie from Denmark, The Hunt, which has been nominated for an Academy award for best foreign film. It is the reality of many infamous criminal cases, which are now seen as part of a wave of child abuse hysteria in America, particularly in the 80’s and 90’s.

I myself worked with a psychotherapist in the 80’s who was dedicated to the premise that my father had abused me as a child. I knew it did not happen and gave her no reason to think that it did. But uncovering repressed memories was her specialty, and we spent many months on the issue. To the degree that I denied it I was “in denial” — a perfect closed loop from which there is no escape, except to reject the therapist. I’ve often wondered what success she had with her other clients.

So whom do we believe: Dylan or Woody?

In the face of such a vexing conundrum there is fortunately a third option: the Buddhist teaching of “don’t know mind.”  In this practice we move from finding an answer, to watching our mind as it tries to find an answer.

It is deeply unsettling to the human mind to not be able to resolve an important question. But sometimes we just don’t know, and holding an open, spacious mind in the face of such a reality allows us to have compassion for all the players, as well as the countless people in all times and places who have found themselves in the role of victim, predator and the falsely accused.

It is worth noting as we ponder this ugly topic that there is fundamentally good news regarding the sexual abuse of children: the incidence of child abuse decreases as humanity evolves up the developmental altitudes. I wrote a blog post on this topic a couple years ago during the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal at Penn State University, in which I critiqued New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s inane conclusion that the scandal was evidence of our cultural descent into a “moral dystopia”, when in fact it is the exact opposite. Here’s an excerpt of my response:

… an adult having sex with a child is not new. It has been going on since time immemorial, almost certainly at far higher rates than today and with much less social approbation. What is new is that it is news — and this week it’s news 24/7, a fact that is painfully apparent to anyone with cable TV. This is not moral decay, this is moral progress! Child sexual abuse (in fact abuse and violence in general) diminishes with cultural development. The truth of this trajectory is not particularly hard to ascertain. It is well known that in pre-modern, warrior cultures, even advanced ones like ancient Greece and Rome, adult/child sex was often not only accepted, but glorified. In today’s world, according to an aggregate analysis of 65 studies over 22 countries, published in Clinical Psychology Review, the highest rates of child sexual abuse occur in Africa (34.4%) and the lowest occur in Europe (9.2%) with North America and Asia falling in between. Again, this correlates with cultural development. Interestingly, some of the highest rates reported (in other research) are in South Africa and India, probably because these cultures have both substantial pre-modern populations that accommodate such behavior, and modern populations that notice, report and prosecute it.

You can read my entire post here.


In the second half of the call we turn our attention to the Olympic games in Sochi, Russia, taking the opportunity to do what the Olympics always invites us to do: explore the current state of the host country’s society and culture. Earlier in the day I had an extensive interview with Russian integralist Victor Shiryaev, one of the lead organizers of the integral community in Moscow. His account of the state of contemporary Russia is sobering, and an illuminating counterpoint to the boosterism of the Olympic media juggernaut.

Victor’s broad thesis is that historically Russia was evolving through the 18th and 19th century more or less concurrently with its European neighbors. The country went off the rails, however, with the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, in which the Communists sought to remake the society by essentially replacing the traditional values of the time with the values and goals of the “bright communist future.”

Russia, then the keystone of the Soviet Union, did indeed modernize in many ways, but on the weakened shoulders of a hollowed out traditionalism.

Without a sturdy traditional base on which to build a healthy modern (orange altitude) society, Russia to this day tends to ratchet back all the way to the pre-traditional red altitude of development, with its characteristic exploitation, lawlessness and lack of cultural cohesion.

As Victor says, “what the Russian people really want is a healthy amber traditionalism, a society where the rules are clear and everyone follows them.”

I will be posting the full interview with Victor Shiryaev next week as the Olympics come to an end. Victor is a brilliant integral thinker, and provides powerful insights into one of the world’s most consequential countries as it seeks to raise its profile in our ever-evolving world.

Listen to an excerpt here. The full audio is on Integral Life.