Subsidiarity illustrated: An inescapable network of mutuality

Subsidiarity illustrated: An inescapable network of mutuality April 11, 2013

This is a pretty terrific PSA from New Zealand dealing with sexual assault (so please be warned that it may be triggering for some).

I came across this via Tobias Rodriguez at Feministing, who provides a good discussion of “bystander intervention as another means to end sexual violence.”

And it is that, as the video powerfully shows. But this idea applies far more generally.

In a sense, “bystander intervention” is an oxymoron. Once you intervene, you are no longer a bystander. The truth of the matter is that there is no such thing as a “bystander” — that’s just a euphemism for a neighbor pretending they’re not a neighbor. For a neighbor failing to be a neighbor. As the scripture says, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

The PSA is titled “Who are you?” — which is close to the title of a post here on the subject of subsidiarity, titled “Who is you?” In that post I wrote:

Consider the following all-too-real hypothetical: You see an old man sleeping in the doorway of a church. His blanket is thin and the night is cold.

What do you do?

The answer depends on who “you” are. You may be a local beat cop. You may be the pastor or a parishioner of that church. You may be a professional social worker. You may be a volunteer at the local homeless shelter. You may be a member of the city council. You may be the old man’s daughter or niece or his long-ago college roommate or Army buddy. You may be a stranger who lives across the street from the church. You may be a despised Samaritan just passing through. …

Regardless of who “you” are, you are responsible. But the nature of your responsibility — particularly in the longer term — differs according to the differentiated responsibilities of the various examples above. These differing responsibilities are complementary. They are not — despite the popular American confusion — exclusive.

The Kiwi PSA illustrates exactly this point. It introduces us to a set of characters with different roles in the story — “The Best Friend,” “The Employee,” “The Flatmate,” “The Stranger.” Their roles are different and thus their responsibilities are different, but they are all responsible. They are all caught up in the same inescapable network of mutuality.

In the first half of the video, we see each in turn evade that responsibility. “Who is my neighbor?” they ask. “Am I my sister’s keeper?” And as always when we ask those weasel-questions, the story in that version does not end well.

But then the story rewinds and we get to see them each, in turn, getting it right — embracing the truth that we are all neighbor to all, and that there can never be such a thing as a “bystander” outside the bounds and the bonds of what that entails, each to each and all to all.

So, who are you?

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  • MaryKaye

    I can tell you what happens when women follow that advice.

    They don’t walk down dark alleys. But they still get raped. They don’t wear provocative clothing. But they still get raped. They don’t drink. But they still get raped. They don’t go out alone. But they still get raped–and their lives are circumscribed by all these rules that men don’t have to follow, and the rules are pretty much useless. As AnonymousSam says, most rapes are not stranger-rapes in dark alleys. They are rapes by people known to the victim whom the victim ought, reasonably, to have been able to trust. One of my friends was raped at gunpoint by her ex-husband. Another was raped by a boyfriend in the back of a car. I was molested (not raped, thankfully) by a church-group member in the sanctuary of the church.

    I think it is a lot fairer and more productive to tackle the question of why so many men rape. You compare it to murder, but it is NOT the case than one man in twenty is a murderer. As felonies go, this one is abnormally common.

  • I’ve experimented with this. As with most comment-thread-hygiene techniques, it’s very hard to measure the effectiveness of an inconsistently applied technique, so I have no real data. That said, I ultimately concluded that I personally prefer either engaging with someone genuinely or not engaging with them at all. (The latter does not preclude engaging with others whom they are abusing, to provide or demonstrate support.)

  • OK, concrete example from the video:
    In the scenario where her friend intervenes, she asks “Do you want to go home?” and the woman agrees. I like her approach, I thik it was very good.
    Now- What if she had said “No, I’m fine, you go, I want to stay with this cute guy”, should the friend have let her or should she have said: “No, you’re drunk, we’re going home NOW!”? If you’re the friend, how do you decide when to do the former and when to do the latter?

  • Okay, concrete scenario.
    Your friend just broke up with her ex. You go to a club together; she has a few drinks and she picks up a guy. She intends to leave with him; you walk up to her, you ask her if she is OK and if she wants you to take her home: she insists that she is fine and she wants to go with the guy. You’ve seen her drinking quite some; as far as you know, she may be mildly tipsy or she may be quite drunk; as far as you can tell from her reactions, she does not appear to be very drunk (she knows where she is, who she is with, she’s steady on her feet, understands your questions and replies coherently) but she’s obviously more dis-inhibited then when she is stone cold sober; so she might be doing things she wouldn’t do if she is. She hints to you that she would like to have sex with the guy; but you don’t know whether she would still want to if she was completely sober, or if she hadn’t just broken up with her ex. What would you do?

  • Carstonio

    I’m not sure how the question of consent would lead one to be paralyzed by existential doubt. One could make a respectful attempt to determine whether consent exists while assuming lack of consent without an affirmative answer.

  • Carstonio

    My argument was really targeted at the guy being picked up and what he should do, not what the friend should do. I honestly don’t have an answer for your scenario, partly because an intervention by the friend might seem paternalistic. Or more precisely, an argument for intervening would likely be based on the friend presuming to know what’s best for the woman.

  • Check the file under “I’m Batman. And I can breathe in space.”

  • I’m not sure how the question of consent would lead one to be paralyzed by existential doubt.

    Fair enough. I’m reluctant to make a second attempt at clarifying this without understanding better what caused my first attempt to fail so completely, so I’m content to either leave the subject here or try to answer more specific questions, whichever you prefer.

  • What would you do?

    Depends on the friend, but for a close friend (of either gender) I’d ask myself whether I think it likely they’ll regret having left with this guy later on.

    If I’m pretty sure they won’t, I say “go you!”.

    If I’m pretty sure they will, but within a range of regret that I’m OK with my friends experiencing from time to time, I ask to speak to them privately for a moment and say “I’m pretty sure that tomorrow you’ll regret having left with this guy.” as many different ways as I have to until I’m confident that they have understood that I’m pretty sure that tomorrow they’ll regret having left with this guy. If, once they understand that, they still choose to leave with the guy, I step out of the way disapprovingly.

    If I’m pretty sure they will, beyond that range (e.g., I’m pretty sure the guy is going to rape or kill them) I’m not sure what I do, but what I endorse doing is preventing them as best I can from leaving with the guy, with the understanding that I may very well be terminating our friendship in the process.

    If I’m not at least pretty sure one way or the other, I’m not sure what I do, and I’m not sure what I endorse doing.

  • Touchdown_al

    Beer goggles are definitely a thing. They won’t make a person who’s not attractive to you at all suddenly attractive, but everyone gets shifted up a couple of notches. It’s actually pretty tied into suspension of inhibitions.

  • Aaron D

    As a New Zealander in New Zealand, the guy who went into the Alley was a bouncer. Seeing a Bouncer forcibly move someone before there’s even a chance for them to be angry, let alone violent, is not surprising to me in that situation. In NZ there is a slim to none chance that the other person would would have some form of weapon.

    As to person’s of colour, the stranger seemed to be Asian with a Polynesian friend, the bouncer seemed Polynesian and the rapist also seemed Polynesian. However, I’m only thinking of those because people mentioned it, they all simply seemed like “People out in town” to me, we have a very mixed population here.

  • Oh I see, it makes more sense now. :)

  • I’m a bit tempted to go back to the example I gave before. So, you just met a girl; you’ve had a few drinks. She told you she just broke up with her ex. You’re considering having sex with her and she gives the non-verbal signals that she wants it too.

    You’ll surely agree with me that the right thing to do, then, is to clearly and explicitly ask her. If she says no, there’s no ambiguity there, she does not consent. If she says maybe, again, it’s “no until she’ll say yes”. But what if she says yes, but you still have that ” whisper of doubt”- what if she hadn’t been in the fragile emotional state she is in? What if she hadn’t had a few drinks? Would she still say yes? As far as I can tell, that’s around what David meant

  • I didn’t notice that, but I did notice that she seemed reluctant to walk with the guy, and in the kitchen she seemed to be making weak attempts to push him away.

  • I’ve been viewed through beer goggles at least once; it can be a rather disconcerting experience. A female staff research assistant in the lab where I was then hoping to do my Masters research project, who I’m virtually certain would have had absolutely no romantic or sexual interest in me while sober, came onto me rather aggressively while drunk at a party. She didn’t directly proposition me, but she invaded my personal space, straddling my lap and placing her cleavage, entirely visible in the tank-top she wore, about six inches in front of my nose, while teasing me about my lack of rapport with the professor in charge of the lab in question (she had a point about that, actually, and I ended up switching to a different lab soon after that). I disengaged, and she turned her attentions to one of my fellow grads, who, I heard later, made out with her some and then also concluded that she was too drunk to take to bed and got one of the other women at the party to drive her home.

    As Raluca’s comments suggest, “Yes means yes” doesn’t entirely solve the problem of enthusiastic but inebriated consent. If I or my colleague had taken the woman home and had sex with her, it’s extremely unlikely that anyone else at the party would have perceived it as rape — she initiated the interactions, and she clearly still knew who she was, where she was, who we were, and what was going on. I doubt she would have considered it rape, either, but it seems likely she would have been embarrassed and regretted the decision she’d made while drunk; knowing that was likely and taking her to bed anyway would seem like predatory behavior to me, even if it couldn’t be considered criminal behavior.

  • From what I’ve seen of him, Eric the [p]Red[ator] is a despicable person, and revels in it; he’s a devotee of Roissy in DC, who may well be the vilest PUA blogger on the internet.

  • Carstonio

    I’d probably be scared in that situation, because either decision would carry risk. And because in my experience, intoxicated people have short tempers and can become violent.