Collective Responsibility and Our Moral Compass

Imprimer

It’s not easy to be further shocked these days when we are confronted with newspaper reports on: How up to 17 Christian missionaries, including five children, were kidnapped in the capital of Haiti while visiting an orphanage; the contents of a report estimating that 300,000 children in France were sexually abused within France’s Catholic church over the past 70 years; the ceremonies held in France commemorating the one year anniversary of the October 16, 2020, death of Samuel Paty, a teacher who was beheaded by an Islamist fanatic because he had allegedly shown his students Charlie Hebdo's 2012 cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad in an unflattering manner. I assume that each of these stories shocks. Each story is well outside legal limits and a traditional moral compass. 

While there is no scale of being shocked (outraged? appalled? offended? dismayed?) or a measurement of how out of alignment the traditional moral compass has become, what is one to think about people in a train who did nothing while witnessing a woman being sexually assaulted in the same railroad car? Eduardo Medina, in the New York Times, recently reported that: “As a woman was being raped while on a train near Philadelphia on Wednesday night, riders watched, failed to intervene and did not call 911, the authorities said.” 
The head of the local police department, Timothy Bernhardt, was not sure of how many people were in the car at the time, but he was quoted as saying: “Collectively, they could have gotten together and done something. Anybody that was on that train,” he warned, “has to look in the mirror and ask why they didn’t interfere or why they didn’t do something.”
More than look in the mirror? Bernhardt would not speculate on what kind of punishment the bystanders could face. It would be “very difficult to bring charges” he said.
If criminal charges cannot be brought, what about moral charges? What will the bystanders see when and if they look in the moral mirror? Where was their individual and group moral compass?  
The political philosopher Virginia Held wrote a fascinating article on this very subject. She asked: “Can a random collection of individuals be morally responsible?” Held’s major points are that because a group is random, people have no familial or ethnic allegiance to each other; they only share time and place. The randomness also means they have no decision-making capacity. In the first random definition, an attack on one person would not elicit a specific, emotional reaction from the others. In the second, because they have no decision-making power, bystanders would not quickly organize to overpower an attacker because of their greater number.   
A somewhat similar incident took place in New York City years ago. New Yorkers of a certain age will remember the 1964 story of Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old, who was stabbed outside her Queens apartment building late at night while over thirty people watched her struggle and heard her screams. They did nothing. Not one of them called the police or came to her aid.
Unlike the Genovese case, people in this latest incident were in the same train car when the victim was assaulted. They were not watching from an apartment window. Although the people in the train car were random, in Held’s sense, they were direct witnesses when the victim’s clothes were torn off and she was violated. Unlike the Genovese case, the train’s bystanders were in a face-to-face proximity with the victim. Although the exact number of passengers has not yet been established, there were not “dozens of people.” 
As for the use of telephones by the passengers, a train official confirmed: “I can tell you people were holding their phone up in the direction of this woman being attacked.” There are conflicting reports if any of the passengers telephoned the police. The official did say there were “very few notifications” during the incident. What is clear is that not one of the passengers tried to act individually or to form a coalition to overcome the assailant. 
Using Held’s general arguments, the train passengers can be held morally responsible for not acting because: 1) The woman was in obvious need of help; 2) The passengers could have helped her individually, either physically and/or by calling the police, or they could have helped her collectively by overcoming or stopping the assailant; 3) The passengers were in no obvious danger if they chose to help – no weapons in sight on the assailant - and their actions would have been clearly helpful; 4) No one among the group would have objected to anyone else’s helping.  
In arguing that a random collection of individuals can be held morally responsible for non-action, Held says that: “when the action called for in a given situation is obvious to the reasonable person and when the expected outcome of the action is clearly favorable, a random collection of individuals may be held responsible for not taking collective action.” 
“Obvious to the reasonable person” implies that reasonable people have the same sense of morality, the same moral compass. Held does not equate reasonable with rational. Reasonable, for her, has “an essential moral component.” 
But what happens when what is reasonable is not shared? What happens when the moral compass does not function? A simple explanation for why a physical compass malfunctions is that the compass has become demagnetized. To fix it, instructions say, remove the needle and remagnetize it with a permanent magnet.
How to fix a moral compass? What to remove? And, most importantly, how to remagnetize people such as those in the railroad car? Where and what is our permanent magnet? If you say the church, mosque or synagogue, statistics show that fewer and fewer people attend services; there are fewer and fewer believers. And even so, the church, synagogue and mosque have their own moral resets to do.  A universally accepted institutional moral magnet no longer exists. 
What happened in the railroad car is more than shocking. As Virginia Held argues; “a random collection of individuals may be held responsible for not taking collective action.” The recent train incident more than proves her point. 

 

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  • "A simple explanation for why a physical compass malfunctions is that the compass has become demagnetized."
    Et la boussole est démagnétisée parce que nous sommes trop nombreux. Il n'y a plus de solidarité possible face à la foule...
    Dans le cas de ce viol dans un train, il a manqué une initiative personnelle. Si quelqu'un s'était levé pour réagir, il aurait entraîné les autres.
    Automne 1986, retour de Tombouctou, mission pour l'UNICEF. Rentrant de chez des amis de Lausanne, je m'arrête à la Soute à Villeneuve. Je tombe sur un type qui donne des coups de tête énormes à une fille en l'injuriant. Ses deux amis regardent. Je m'approche du type et lui dit qu'il est en train d'assassiner cette fille. Le type tourne sa rage vers moi : "Espèce d'intellectuel, je vais te casser tes lunettes sur le nez..." Il me pousse et je vois bien que cela se passer très mal pour moi. Je n'ai pas le choix. Il me pousse, je recule et je le calcule. Où et comment vais-je le frapper ? J'y mets une énergie totale. Je le vois comme on voit une cible dans un collimateur. Et à ce moment, ses deux accompagnants se précipitent sur le type, un à chaque bras et le stoppent. "Il a raison, arrête !" Le type n'insiste pas, je me replie et vais téléphoner aux flics depuis un bistrot à côté. Je ne les ai pas attendus, je ne connais pas la suite de l'histoire...
    L'énergie que j'avais accumulée pour abattre ce type m'a coûté cher. J'en suis resté frustré pendant longtemps. Petit effet secondaire...
    Moralité : il faut intervenir, vous serez suivi...

  • Don't forget Bill Gates and Bill Clinton, famous client of "paradise Island" !

  • Sitôt après avoir écrit mon commentaire, je me suis demandé si face aux attaques constantes contre la virilité, les hommes ne finissent pas par se demander à quoi bon risquer quoi que ce soit pour défendre une femme ? Si vous entendez à longueur de journée, sur tous les médias, que tout le monde répudie l'attitude masculine protectrice, vous en arrivez peut-être à douter de l'intérêt qu'il y a de mettre en cause votre intégrité physique pour quelqu'un qui, cinq minutes avant, envoyait peut-être un méchant tweet sur ces salauds d'hommes en général...

  • "Si quelqu'un s'était levé pour réagir,"

    Where is the banana ?


    Si quelqu'un s'était levé, il se serait fait tabassé par les autres voyageurs pour qui LUI/ELLE/CA est un danger pour le déroulement paisible de leur transportation.

    5 monkeys, a ladder and bananas on top:

    https://i1.wp.com/i.snag.gy/kdu77.jpg


    Vous ne vous rendez pas compte à quel point c'est délicat le travail de désassemblage et de réassemblage moléculaire.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transporter_(Star_Trek)

    https://virtualpsychcentre.com/the-monkey-banana-and-ladder-experiment-obeying-absurd-rules/

    Ou la preuve par la télé-lâcheté.

    Le courage, ça s'apprend.

    La témérité par contre, ... ça se découvre et ça se ressent ... après, ... après que ça ait fait mal, ... ou coûté plus cher que ça n'a rapporté.

  • "Si quelqu'un s'était levé, il se serait fait tabassé par les autres" Il existe un truc qui s'appelle "rapport de force". Si le violeur était accompagné d'une dizaine de comparses ou tout seul, cela change beaucoup.

  • Perhaps a consequence of the "Contrat Social" which removes the responsibility of the individual. According to Jean-Jacques Rousseau: «Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will and we receive each member as a body, as an indivisible part of the whole». To this, Albert Camus adds: «We are witnessing the birth of a mystic, the general will being postulated as God himself». Where Nietzsche diagnosed, still according to Camus, the inability to believe in life.

  • Bon, ... juste pour le plaisir ... de dénoncer cet acte odieusement raciste et absolument antisémite,

    https://www.foxnews.com/us/marine-corps-veteran-disarms-suspect-robbery-arizona-video


    Vraiment, c'est un ancien militaire, fils de militaire qui vous le dit ...

    ... la capture de la banane, ça ne s'improvise pas !

  • The recent case of rape on the Philadelphia train and the Genovese case suggest that one do research before conferring judgment. What actually happened has frequently proved to differ considerably from initial reports. And so it is in the 2 cases cited. Studies of the bystander effect/intervention shows that people intervene 90% of the time. A case on the transit in Portland Or, involving a man yelling insults at 3 women, resulted in the 3 men who intervened being stabbed - 2 of which were fatal. There cannot be a flat rule re to intervention beyond instant seeking of help. Police fatally shot a man here who was intervening trying to stop a fight. We all need to weigh carefully whether/how/if to intervene.
    The media, moreover, seek sensational stories and selects details that contribute.

  • "Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc" -
    a minor digression as no-one has touched on the Haitian Kidnapping - a Haitian (who is English-not French speaking) is in charge of the personnel at my place of work, in charge of some 17 people variously members and staff - including 1 Canadian (me) - in Florida this sort of arrangement is still possible - off the books. He keeps us from pursuing our various selfish ends - though it feels like a kidnapping at the beginning of the day, by four o'clock we've all pulled ourselves together, taking time for one another. This is an apparently unsung success story of the Clubhouse International "movement" - to those who says nothing good ever comes out of Florida. Just to say that its possible to study these situations more closely, in order to polish a rough stone although I see its largely beside the point.

    Did anyone take note of the recent funeral for the head of the world Scouting Federation at cimetière St. Georges? As a lay preacher he had quite a 'reach' and his favourite sermon and mine was on, what else, using your moral compass.

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