I just finished reading Henry Rollins’ blog entry regarding the Steubenville rape trial (http://henryrollins.com/dispatch/detail/dispatch_03-17-12_los_angeles/). In the comment section, someone asked what could be done about the segment of society who engages in rape and violence simply because they don’t care about the consequences of their actions on others. Without splitting hairs on the definition of “sociopath”, my response is below.
It is the kernel of a thought that I’ve been mulling over for a few months in the context of the well-publicized gang rape and murder of a young woman in India and grad school research I was working on regarding the challenges for women and minorities in gaining promotion to executive level positions in the business world and higher education. In the midst of that I was also exploring with a counselor some of the ways my own abuse as a teenager is still affecting my life and relationships.
There is much more to be written on this subject, but it’s time I at least got started. My central thesis is that the various expressions of violence that we see in our society share a common spring from which they flow. That spring is the exercise of power. Power dominates our lives. Relationships are constantly illustrated as contests of power between individuals. Our ability to use power effectively has almost everything to do with our career success. The use of power is used as an excuse for the abuse of power, as though dominance is so glorious a state that acheiving it at any cost is forgiven.
As a result, the abuse of power is a constant reality for nearly everyone, either as a power-wielder or as a victim. The result of this permeating atmosphere of power-wielding has desensitized most of us to violence against our selves, our minds, and our spirits, leaving us feeling powerless when the violence becomes physical. When we become desensitized to the violence inflicted on ourselves, it is to be expected that many people will also lose their sensitivity to the effect of any sort of violence against others.
(What follows are my original comments on the blog. You can read them in context here: http://www.underthegunreview.net/2013/03/18/henry-rollins-comments-on-steubenville-rape-verdict/)
I think that section of the population can be split into two: those who feel powerless in their daily lives and therefore resort to violence as a means of asserting their identity and those who feel superior in their daily lives and engage in violence because they do not consider the effect on the victim as notable.
Responding to those in the first instance requires us to consider why so many people feel powerless in so many areas of their lives. How can we better disperse power in our communities, flatten our social structures, and generally stop feeding the oligarchic wealth eating machine that is our current economic and finance system. When you live as someone dominated, the idea of freedom becomes linked to domination.
The war in Iraq is a testimony to the prevalence of this behavior in our culture. We were dominated, so we found someone else to dominate. We took back the Alpha position. Our society glorifies the Alpha and despises the Beta and the Omega. As long as we do, those who cannot get to the top, for whatever reason, are going to find someone weaker to assert dominance upon.
For those who have achieved Alpha status, such as the Revered Athlete, the message our culture broadcasts to them is quite simple: you matter more than everyone else. We back this up by creating terms such as “too big too fail”. All mistakes will be paid for by the masses, as long as you are big enough. All morally bankrupt behavior is excused for those who have an Alpha position.
Until we reject the use of power as the basis of our society, we’re going to have to deal with these kinds of actions. At some point we have to stop giving obeisance to the Alpha and realize that we have evolved over the past 10,000 years. The ownership of shiny things should no longer impress us, yet we continue to buy into the lie that a diamond is the basis of a lasting marriage. Physical strength should not automatically warrant a position of leadership, yet we grant massive amounts of social capital to professional or world-class athletes.
Until we reject a caveman social structure, we will have to accept the actions of cavemen.