June 8, 2005
Zimbabwe and the Kitty Genovese Incident
In The Shield of Achilles [link in sidebar], Phillip Bobbitt's epic tome on the future of the state, he entitles one chapter, "The Kitty Genovese Incident and the War in Bosnia."
In 1964, Kitty Genovese was repeatedly attacked and stabbed early one morning outside her apartment building in Queens as she got home from work. Despite her screams for help, and despite watching the attacks, her neighbors did nothing until she was dead.
Indeed, it was not until almost 4am that a call was finally made to the police. Throughout the assault, not one person telephoned the police or any of the emergency services. The man who ultimately did call explained that he had only done so after much deliberation; in fact he had asked a friend on Long Island for advice and that person had persuaded him to call the police.Bobbitt notes that many psychological explanations were attempted for this failure of collective action:
One psychiatrist attributed the tragedy to a constant feeling in New York that society was unjust . . .Bobbitt is doubtful:
Another psychiatrist proposed that it was the confusion of fantasy with reality, fed by the continual watching of television, that was responsible . . .
A psychiatrist suggested that the murderer vicariously gratified the sadistic impulses of those who witnessed the murder . . .
Dr. Karl Menninger, the director of the Menninger Clinic, attributed the tragedy to "public apathy that is a manifestation of aggressiveness." And one theologian suggested that "de-personalizing in New York had gone further than we realized," to which he added, "Don't quote me."
One is inclined to be skeptical about such explanations. They seem to provide, if they provide anything, a commentary on the world of the speaker more than the world of the event . . .A new emergency is brewing in Zimbabwe, as Wretchard has reported today and yesterday.
. . . Some of the most fruitful psychological research into the subject of intervention was undertaken as a consequence of the Genovese murder. Two psychologists, John Darley at Princeton University, and Bibb Latane of Ohio State University, spent four years in a program of research into what determines bystander intervention in emergencies. In a remarkable series of experiments, staging "emergencies" in stores, offices, and laundromats, ranging from epileptic seizures to thefts and disorderly conduct, they managed to discredit virtually all the usual explanations. Darley and Latane hypothesized that the paralysis that seemed to grip bystanders resulted from what they called a "diffusion of responsibility" that occurred in situations as diverse as when a woman falls and sprains an ankle, smoke pours into a room through a ventilating system, or a cash register is robbed . . .
In fact, it is hard to imagine The Zimbabwean Pundit being more explicit:
We need your help! Speak out to your representative, contact one of the organizations at http://www.kubatana.net; or if you know anyone in Zimbabwe spread the message, we are going to stand up for what's rightfully ours.What is planned is called "stay away" and is meant to be a two-day peaceful protest wherein folks simply stay home and off the streets. Zimbabwean Pundit also notes
The last succesful stayaway which started on November 11, 1998 paralyzed the country as youths and rowdy crowds fought running battles with anti-riot police and the army. This last strike led ultimately to the formation of the MDC [Movement for Democratic Change].Indeed, The Herald - Zimbabwe News Online reports thus:
POLICE yesterday warned that they will deal ruthlessly with people who will engage in an illegal protest being planned by a coalition of the opposition forces bent on disrupting peace in the country and assured law abiding citizens of protection as they carry on with their daily activities . . .Returning to Bobbitt: he concludes his examination of the psychology of emergency response:
To summarize, we can say that there are five distinct stages through which the bystander must successively pass before effective action can be taken: (1) Notice: he must become aware that some unusual occurrence is taking place; (2) Recognition: he must be able to assess the event and define it as an emergency; (3) Decision: he must then decide that something must be done, that is, he must find a convincing reason for action to be taken; (4) Assignment: the bystander must then assign some person, himself or another, or some institution to be responsible for action; he must answer the question, "who should act in these circumstances?" (5) Implementation: having decided what action should be taken, he must then see that it is actually done. If at any stage in this sequence, a crucial ambiguity is introduced, then the whole process must begin again. The presence of ambiguity in urban life, not the callousness of urban dwellers, is precisely what makes emergency intervention in cities so problematic . . .Bobbitt then takes us to the first stop on our journey:
So it was with the horrifying events of the three years 1991-1994 in the former state of Yugoslavia: fascinated, frightened, appalled, the civilized world was anything but apathetic. And yet, like Kitty Genovese's murderer, the killers in Bosnia returned again and again, once the threat of outside intervention dissipated, leaving the rest of us as anguished bystanders.Another quote is perhaps relevant should things in Zimbabwe go downhill fast, and the world begins to move through the five stages, perhaps to "Decision" or even "Assignment:"
MiraclesFrom Infantry In Battle, prepared in 1934 by the Military History and Publications Section of The Infantry School under the direction of [then] Colonel George C. Marshall.
Time and again, numbers have been overcome by courage and resolution. Sudden changes in a situation, so startling as to appear miraculous, have frequently been brought about by the action of small parties. There is an excellent reason for this.
The trials of battle are severe; troops are strained to the breaking point. At the crisis, any small incident may prove enough to turn the tide one way or the other. The enemy invariably has difficulties of which we are ignorant; to us, his situation may appear favorable while to him it may seem desperate. Only a slight extra effort on our part may be decisive . . .
It is not the physical loss inflicted by the smaller force, although this may be appreciable, but the moral effect, which is decisive.
A good thing for bloggers to remember indeed.
UPDATE: Remember, "intervention" can take many, many forms.
UPDATE2: A tangent: There are of course similarities between the five conditions of emergency response and Boyd's OODA Loop. But I think there are key differences. Boyd meant mainly for his OODA concept to be applied in situations involving actors who were clearly arrayed vis a vis each other and where the outcome was likely to be a zero-sum. With emergency response, there are multiple actors, they could be hostile, they could be friendly, the outcomes may be zero-sum or not. Feel free to discuss these differences in the comments.
UPDATE3: Welcome Instapundit readers! If anyone would like to be on my email list just send an email with "Subscribe" in the subject line to "terrier_manchester at yahoo.com." You'll get 1-3 emails a week with nothing more than a hyperlink to something I've posted. You can opt-out anytime. I never share my list with anyone. Well, enough of that. Keep reading. There're good comments.
Posted by Chester at June 8, 2005 11:28 PM
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