Diffusion of Responsibility

Now there’s a hefty phrase for ya. Picked it up, along with “bystander non-intervention,” listening to NPR, something I do now and again in an effort to keep the old mind from slamming permanently shut. It also frequently provides a  low-level test of my anger management skills.  I’m paying for this? And the White House is bitchin’ at Fox?

Anyway, I have to admit that while –like everybody else– I’d pondered the general phenomena in question, I wasn’t familiar with those specific labels. I gather they’ve been around quite a while, dating basically from the 60’s and the studies done in the wake of the Kitty Genovese murder. Google Darley and Latane (the sociologists who did the seminal study) if you’re interested.  

Anyway, the circumstances of the horrific gang rape in Richmond, California have everyone asking the same old questions. How could this happen? What’s wrong with people? Who is to blame? What is responsible for this?

These last two questions raise the issue of diffused responsibility in a wider context, don’t they? In fact, don’t many of our current political arguments divide roughly along a line that runs between the diffusion and concentration of responsibility. Health care, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, education, you name it. Are we inclined to center responsibility for the solution to these problems in some  individual or spread it around in a collective?

If you honestly find yourself generally inclined to the second of these solutions when issues are writ large, wouldn’t it be a good idea to ponder how things work out when diffused responsibility is applied in a smaller arena?

 A dark courtyard after a high school dance, for instance.

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One response to “Diffusion of Responsibility

  1. Personally I don’t give a flyin’ whit about any psychological catch phrases to describe this so-called phenomenon. I think anyone who watched the crime and did nothing to stop it should be charged with rape. I understand the legal system probably isn’t set up that way right now. We need to make sure that happens for the next time. People need to know that if they do nothing they’ll be held just as responsible as the scum committing the act. Period.

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