#bystanderculture: Fragments of An Understanding

I have been working on a draft of yet another think piece. Another think piece that we most likely do not need.

let me tell you about all the think pieces in my head.

they are circulating and bubbling, surfacing then submerging.

They are the last thing you and I need:

I deigned to write and think about #bystanderculture as it exists and functions for wealthy and powerful white men who stand at the top of the economic and political food chain in the United States. With #bystanderculture I mean specifically the political and legal structures, social arrangements, media tendencies, and popular opinion trends which show us time and time again whose reprehensible behaviors will be tolerated, excused, dismissed in the midst of public scrutiny.

But there are plenty of others who are on the case. Try Ryan Cooper writing here about exactly who and what enabled (and continues to enable) Harvey Weinstein and other sexual predators of his particular ilk.

Fraternal tragedies to start.

This whole idea of #bystanderculture came up for me in a different context — reading about a tragic fraternity hazing death. Certainly, the story is a sad one but also painfully illustrative of affluent Greek life traditions on US college campuses. Here we have a number of young wealthy white males engaging in obscenely alcohol enhanced cruelty towards one of their own. The pledge dies and we can anticipate that these “kids” who mistreated him will recover and eventually go on to live lives more or less according to the script of their upper middle class upbringing.

Safety nets and bridges.

I was oddly compelled to dig more deeply into the phenomenon of predominately white Greek life and the national structures which hold it in place on campuses across the country in spite of various egregious offenses over the years including hazing deaths, cases of rape and aggravated assault. One article details reasons why fraternity reform is so difficult. Tl;dr: Because wealthy white alumni (including several lawmakers, business and industry leaders) are vested in keeping these organizations alive and invest millions, among other things into an insurance pool of cash to cover legal and other costs that arise in worst case scenarios.

Ties that bind.

The connection to the current political elite stands ripe for highlighting. We are witnessing and suffering the consequences of toxic and power-greedy #bystanders who enable, abet and even encourage the current US President to act on his most grotesque ideas of racism, sexism, islamophobia, classism — you name it. Whether the president’s advisors and collaborators are previous frat members or not, we have a large contingent of lawmakers at the state and federal levels who are, if not thrilled by, clearly not opposed to the series of harmful policy decisions emerging from the current administration.

I went there.

Although I doubt that I will have the heart to read the whole account, Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains chronicles the rise of the radical right and its moneyed sponsors who are coming for pretty much all of us. The frat party is over. The end game is to sideline and hemorrhage democracy in order to secure a formalized oligarchy. It is grim reading — and all about wealthy, powerful white men. Imagine that!

I’m tired.

In the wake of a mass shooting carried out by a caucasian domestic terrorist I had occasion to consider all of these factors in the wider context of American culture which prizes the lives of white men above all others. Rebecca Traister points out:

It’s not that white men themselves are always the ones placing higher value on the white-male experience. It’s that all of us — women and people of color and every sort of non-white-male variant — work and read and think and talk within a system that measures worth on a white-male scale.

And therein lies the rub. I wanted to avoid writing another think piece. I was unsuccessful. I would prefer one thousand times over to be writing about anyone other than wealthy and powerful white men. But I am already at 570 words. This is the water I’m swimming in. The irony is too great. We are all products of and implicated in #bystanderculture, its creation and sustenance, over time and in ways we fail to register.

You are here. And so are we.

This tweet captures my sense of the trouble we may be having distinguishing where we are in the chaos (NB: the original tweet was from Nov. 6th 2016):

We’re on the train and it is hurtling forward.

What do you see from where you sit?

images CC0 via Pixabay.com

Leadership Coach, Educator, Workshop presenter & facilitator, avid reader & writer @ home on the edge of the alps. Publisher of "Identity, Education and Power"

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