Behaving Badly

The New Morality in Politics, Sex and Business

What is the relevance of morality today?

Addressing this question with self-effacing wit and unremitting resourcefulness, Eden Collinsworth enlists the famous, the infamous, and the heretofore unheard-of to unravel how we make moral choices in an increasingly complex—and ethically flexible—age.

To call these unsettling times is an understatement: our political leaders are less and less respectable; in the realm of business, cheating, lying, and stealing are hazily defined; and in daily life, rapidly changing technology offers permission to act in ways inconceivable without it. Yet somehow, this hasn’t quite led to a complete free-for-all—people still draw lines around what is acceptable and what is not. Collinsworth sets out to understand how and why. In her intrepid quest, she seeks out, among others, a prime minister, the editor of the Financial Times, a holocaust survivor, a pop star, and a former commander of the U.S. Air Force and grapples with the impracticality of applying morals to foreign policy; precisely when morality gets lost in the making of money; what happens to morality without free will; whether “immoral” women are just those having a better time; why celebrities have become the new moral standard-bearers; and if testosterone is morality’s enemy or its hero.

To Purchase

Amazon • Barnes & Noble • Indiebound • Books-a-Million • Powell’s

Amazon • Barnes & Noble • Indiebound • Books-a-Million • Powell’s

Kindle • B&N Nook • iBooks • Google Play • • Kobo


No single generation can claim a peerless contribution to ethical behavior, but in my mother’s time morality was a rule book: some parts enshrined as decent behavior; others, implicit. Sins were laid bare and bad behavior had far-reaching and lasting consequences.

That is no longer the case. What were clearly designated ethics have been blurred: in politics, with our leaders, for whom we have less and less respect but are willing, more and more, to accept that their bad deeds have mitigating factors; with the Wall-Street-take-all mentality in business, where it has become difficult to de ne cheating, lying, and stealing; in popular entertainment, with morally prismatic antiheroes operating in a stylish gray zone; and in our daily lives, whose churning tech- nology grants permission to act in ways we would not neces- sarily act without it.

ARE THESE CHANGES pointing us in the right moral direction? I’m not sure. I asked others. It turns out that most of them aren’t sure either, and I decided that the question was worthy of more investigation. I thought that, if I spent a year trying to discover where and how morality is changing, I might be able to chart where it’s going.

Perhaps you are already of one mind or the other about what constitutes moral behavior or—like me—in possession of an inward sense of what is fundamentally good or bad but not sure how either applies anymore. For the purpose of this endeavor, we might think of ourselves as flaneurs, strolling down the broad avenues of history, pausing to ask the ethical standard-bearers how they judged good behavior. We have begun this journey with a question, and there’s no guarantee that we won’t end with one, but along the way it seems only fair that we give bad behavior an opportunity to explain itself.

Table of Contents


Confronting the Unreliable Provenance of Morals

1: Wherein I Begin with the Definition of the Word.
2: According to a Convicted Murderer, It Has to Do with Character
3: A Neuroscientist Explains the Evolutionary Origins of Morality
4: A Brief History of Mankind’s Attempts to Rein in Bad Behavior

Morality’s Score Card

5: The Editor of the Financial Times Provides a Cost-Benefit Analysis of Principles
6: Instructions on How Not to Cheat
7: Pros and Cons of Doing the Right Thing
8: The Law: Tools of Control, or Instruments of Enlightenment?
9: The Political Function of Ethics

Sex as Moral Provocateur

10: Monogamy (Not So Much Anymore)
11: The Screen as a Siren
12: Testosterone: Morality’s Enemy, as Well as Its Hero
13: Immoral Women: Or Just Those Having a Better Time?

Taking the Bother out of Morality

14: Celebrities as Standard-Bearers
15: Reality Redefined
16: The Web Wonders What’s So Great About the Truth
17: Ethically Sanitized Warfare
18: Immorality’s Black Sun

The Future, or Something Like It

19: The Moral Vagaries of Making Babies
20: Mapping a Post-gay Culture
21: Is It Progress if We Barter with Ethics?
22: Programming Morality in Robots (They’ll Show Us How)
23: So Who, Exactly, Gets to Set the New Rules?
24: Wherein I Conclude by Looking Forward


Notes and Additional Reading


“Very rarely does a voice cut through all the noise and deliver a brand new take on the world as we know it, but Eden Collinsworth does just that, exploring all the in-between areas that exist in society in an extraordinarily unique way.”
— Newsweek

“There seems little doubt that tech has changed the way morality operates in the modern world. Few people have paid as close attention to this subject as the social critic and publishing maven Eden Collinsworth. Collinsworth spent years observing morality in a close, pragmatic way here, in Europe, and in Asia, and has written a brilliant book about it: Behaving Badly.”
— The Octavian Report

“In a world nearly numbed by asynchronous talking heads, think pieces, counterfactuals, crony capitalism, ideological crisis, and climate catastrophe, a new brand of moral ambiguity emerges. Or is it an old brand, repackaged for contemporary conspicuous consumption? Regardless of the era, vice is a tale as old as time, and author Eden Collinsworth works wonders to produce a fresh spin on one of the humanity’s oldest dichotomous positions, morality.

Far beyond cliché, the author mines an array of interviews and case studies toward a collective interpretation of if and when society has progressed, regressed, or maybe just remains fixated on how to transgress. The author’s experienced background in high-level international business provides a potent context that suggests influence for this work’s central thesis. Collinsworth has functioned as corporate consultant, contributor to think tanks, BUZZ magazine CEO, served in multiple modes of print publishing from traditional outlets from Doubleday and Arbor House to corporate conglomerates like Hearst Media. It’s an interesting change of pace for a vastly accomplished and well-connected professional to pivot in search of enlightenment ethics . . . Collinsworth knows how to garner mass appeal with a seemingly broad approach to her investigative pursuit.”
— PopMatters

“Using various perspectives, [Collinsworth] examines how morals have evolved in various spheres and what that means. Thanks to the examples she pulls in from pop culture and current events, her analysis is surprisingly light and fun.”
— Bustle

“Collinsworth’s goal is to make readers think, and she not only succeeds in doing that, but does so in an entertaining manner.”
— Booklist

“A wide-ranging, breezy journey through a series of ethical minefields . . . Collinsworth is always a genial guide through the moral thicket, and her companions underscore the provocative spirit of her quest.”
— Kirkus

“Entertaining . . . a study of ethical quagmires and moral gray areas in modern-day business, interpersonal, and military practices.”
— Publishers Weekly

“This book by former media executive and business consultant Collinsworth (I Stand Corrected) is surprisingly entertaining in spite of the inherent weight of its subject matter. Discussions on integrity, behavior, and even murder are brought forth with whimsy and often humor, which makes the work much more palatable than those written for a scholarly audience. While more approachable than many other works discussing modern morality, this offering is no less impactful. The discussion on murder, highlighted with a recounted interview with a convicted killer, is especially insightful and contemplative. Along with many other chapters, this prompts self-reflection without aspiring to a specific moralistic framework. VERDICT: A compelling read for a wide audience.”
— Library Journal

“Warm, wry, and witty, Collinsworth weaves together her own research–from ancient history to contemporary philosophy–with numerous interviews of people from all walks of life. And throughout is her unique brand of probing thought and reflection, tackling the Kardashians, contemporary American politics, and her personal experience raising a child largely on her own. Conversational, intelligent, and always entertaining, Behaving Badly is brimming with evidence of how little we really know about the moral principles that underlie our daily actions and decision making.”
— Goodreads

“Written with brio and great charm . . . this is an implausibly entertaining romp through the ethical questions of our time, a kind of romantic engagement with morals that is never moralistic.”
— Andrew Solomon, Author of Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity

“Everyday we see and hear stories of bad behavior in sports, business, politics, in which people with no moral compass seem to succeed and are rewarded by power or wealth. This extraordinary, thought-provoking book by Eden Collinsworth makes us stop and think who we are and who we want to be.”
— Ed Rollins, Former U.S Presidential Advisor and Fox TV News political contributor

“Eden Collinsworth doesn’t pull her punches as she explores the shifting moral landscape of our times. Behaving Badly is as insightful as it is hilarious.”
— Amanda Foreman, 2016 Man Booker Prize Chair and author of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

“There is a case to be made that a serious subject needs to be approached both with sensitivity and a strong dose of humour if it is to hold our attention and make us think. This Collinsworth has done magnificently on the complex issues of morality.”
— Christine Loh, Under Secretary, Legislative Council of Hong Kong

“Eden Collinsworth has tackled the complex and puzzling subject of morality with clarity and finesse in a book that successfully sheds light on multiple facets of the subject. As an executive who encounters varying moral values in conducting business around the world, I found Behaving Badly to be incredibly thought provoking and insightful.”
— Andrea Wong, President, International Production, Sony Pictures Television; President, International, Sony Pictures Entertainment

“Every single moment spent with Behaving Badly is pure joy.  Eden Collinsworth has channeled her inner Margaret Mead, Charles Darwin and Edith Wharton to research, ponder and write to the heart of why we do the things we do and how, in the great, wide and ever-shifting world, we are to continually right ourselves.”
— Marion Roach Smith, author, The Memoir Project, A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life

“Eden Collinsworth’s aim of disconcerting and provoking the reader has been successfully realized in this elegant, intelligent and insightful book on modern morality.”
— Robert John Baptist Noel, Lancaster Herald of Arms

“Behaving Badly is an entertaining journey through a minefield: what does moral behaviour mean in the modern world – or in any world for that matter? That there is no conclusive answer is not surprising but the journey itself is a joy, full of surprises, and insights.”
— George Carey, Documentary film-maker, television journalist and former director, BBC News

“In her meticulously researched, historically grounded report, Collinsworth is narrator, confessor, commentator and tour guide, walking us, clear-eyed, through this brave (or not) terrain of newly-hued Do’s and Don’ts, ever curious, always bemused. Morality and wit are a rare marriage; yet in telling their stories — and hers, by far the most intriguing — they are marshaled into often hilarious lockstep. As the author tests her own traditional values against those of her colorful subjects, it invariably leads to a freshly-considered, reevaluation of your own.”
— Nancy Collins, Author, Print and TV Journalist

“By bringing together wildly improbable characters—and adding her own lively perspective—Eden Collinsworth has written a fascinating and entertaining book on mortality.”
— Vincent Giroud, Author of Nicolas Nabokov: A Life in Freedom and Music

“Eden Collinsworth has taken on a seemingly impossible task – assessing morality – and pulls it off with aplomb, verve, hilarity and elegance.”
— Ann Louise Bardach, Author of Without Fidel: A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana and Washington