On The Cult Of Accountability and the Burden of Sympathy

“I don’t have any sympathy for a woman who lets a man hit her twice.” The assemble men of various ages nodded in agreement with the young woman who said this one day at the pub. I just listened to a debate about Rape on college campuses and one woman’s argument reminded me of this. Her line of reasoning was that if a woman really doesn’t want to get raped she won’t. By not drinking, not going to party’s with men, not dressing scandalously, etc. That all those behaviors increase the chance of getting raped so duh of course you get raped when you stack them all together. This is what we call an Outrun The Bear mentality. The idea that bad things are going to happen to someone and the person who puts the least effort into prevention loses. And because they’ve lost or in some way not measured up in a survival-of-the-fittest competition the accountability lies with them. It taps back into the Self-help bootstrap fascism I mentioned in another post. As a culture we want to believe that poor people are poor because they don’t work hard enough, people are robbed because they weren’t careful enough, and violence is consented to by both parties because one did not run away.

Here’s the thing, I no longer get mad at people who think this way because I was given some insight by a survivor of domestic abuse. She said “People need to believe that abuse only happens to dumb woman or willing victims because that way they can believe it won’t happen to them or someone they love.” Since I heard that I’ve seen it time and time again when someone is victimized in anyway bystanders get quiet, withdraw and get a bit sheepish, then turn to someone and say “well if so-and-so hadn’t done this-or-that, they wouldn’t be in this mess.” And they don’t feel good about saying it, it’s not meant to pile on somebody, it’s just a mental defense mechanism against the existential fear of the bad-shit-lottery that is life.

That’s why I say sympathy is a burden now. We are all aware instantly of millions of more terrible things, no one can have sympathy for all the bad we’re exposed to now. The entire world seems to be suffering and to empathize, to take all that in, would kill any of us. So we pick and choose, we disregard things as First World Problems, as Survival of the Fittest, and as She Let Him Hit Her Twice, because sympathy or empathy or any feeling where you want to help but you can’t is awful it’s a powerless feeling. So we’d rather put the power on someone else. Put the accountability on the victim so that we don’t feel bad about not having the strength or enough of a desire to help them. And that’s not bad or villainous it’s just part of the human condition we’re all scared to admit.


Singer/songwriter, jerk.

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Posted in Pragmatism

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