If you are ever desperately in trouble and need help, and there are other people there, don’t make a generic appeal. Look at one person. Make eye-contact. Direct your appeal to that person.
Why? Because when responsibility is distributed, we all feel less accountable.
This is the bystander effect. The more people who are present as witnesses, the less likely it is that any one person will intervene. At all.
But we are also swayed heavily by the actions of others. If that one person you appeal to for help does, in fact, come to your aid, everyone else may too.
I’ve experienced that personally. Years ago, a fight broke out in my class. I went immediately to intervene. So did nearly everyone else. Two kids fighting, 15 trying to break it up.
It’s not the only fight that has ever broken out in my class. It’s not the only time I acted to intervene. And they didn’t all work out in exactly that way, so having one person act isn’t the only factor in how the rest of a group of people behave. But it is an important factor.
I mention this not in hopes of saving you from street violence, but because I am thinking about distributed responsibility and other ways in which we can be dissuaded from feeling responsible for wrongdoing.
And I’m thinking about that because of Carol Ann, and probably Candy, and most certainly my mother.
Unlike Karla Hormolka and unlike my father, these women were not psychopaths. They may not have had their heads on entirely straight. They may have been mentally ill, in fact. But they had a conscience. They had some degree of empathy.
What my dad needed to do, since they were part of his arsenal of loaded guns, was get them to shut if off. Distributing responsibility is one way of doing that.
The bystander effect is one form. Get a crowd of people together, all of whom will not speak up for one reason or another–guilt, fear, shame, whatever, doesn’t matter. And commit a crime in front of them, get one of them among them to commit it also, and you are home free. No one will say anything. Most of them will join in.
That is how gang rapes work. It starts with silence.
Oh, and one way of gaining silence is to get your confederates to do something wrong. Evil is a slippery slope. You need people to take that first step.
Yellow stars first, then…genocide.
There are others ways of relieving people of their natural inclination towards taking responsibility for their own actions. One of them is to give orders. That makes it easier on everyone. It makes it easier on the person giving the order–“Who me? I never touched her…”
It makes it easier on the person who acted to commit the crime. “But it wasn’t my idea. He told me to…. I had to….” No, sweetheart. You didn’t have to do anything. You made a choice. But it makes it easier.
A lot of sociopaths work alone. My dad didn’t. He liked other human beings to be his loaded guns. He needed to know these things.