Defending System-Mates

Richard Ghia-Wilberforce, 2008

Our group used to work under the misconception that it was inappropriate for members of a plural group to defend each other, whether we were involved in ideological debates or situations in which others were being attacked. We believed this because it was implied that it was more acceptable for us to behave in such a manner, and because we feared that defending our group-mates would also make our plurality appear ‘invalid’. We also did not want to foist ‘strange’ fronters on people who wanted to engage with their ‘old friend’, whether those people had engaged with more people under that ‘old friend’s’ guise or not. In addition to those considerations, we also had the unfortunate experience of coming across a few groups who seemed to have vocal ‘main fronters’ who seemed to prevent other group members’ assuming responsibility for their own words and deeds. Because of these ideas, we decided that our best policy would be to refrain from sticking our noses into others’ affairs, even when we thought that it would be in our best interests to interfere on our colleagues’ behalf. If we did defend each other, it would feel ‘irresponsible’ and ‘inappropriate’ of us to do so, regardless of our own emotional involvement with each other.

Is this really right?
Many of us have realized that this is a rather misguided way of handling such situations. In the society in which we live, it is considered inappropriate to stand by silently when a separate-bodied friend or colleague’s character is attacked. Considerate parents would never dream of allowing their separate-bodied children’s persons to be attacked with impunity. No true friend would allow someone to be treated badly without trying to put a stop to it. In fact, it is considered downright cruel to do such a thing. Why, then, should it be different when one’s colleagues within a plural group are attacked? Are one’s system-mates not due the same consideration simply because they happen to share the same physical space? It is hardly an abdication of responsibility to defend others when they are being maligned viciously; rather, it is a perfect example of collective responsibility when one defends them properly. I am not calling for glib excuses for others’ behaviour, but simple acts of solidarity when others are being attacked.

Apart from the ethical considerations of not defending one another, there are also logistical considerations that must also be addressed. There are times in which someone may need help in a debate, simply because he is poor at constructing arguments, or because he is not intelligent or informed enough to understand the argument presented to him. A child within the group may need to be protected from those who mean to hurt her. It is also possible that someone within the group may simply find dealing with others difficult, and may need someone else to continue the argument on her behalf. Most of these situations are ones that we are familiar with, and our old policy was practised to our detriment. We have left less verbally adept frontrunners with social anxiety to contend with taxing arguments, simply because the shyer fronters were the ones initially addressed, or were the designated ‘old friend’ in whom the other party was interested. People who were not particularly well-versed in making their opinions clear had to involve themselves in such debates for the same reason. Because of this, we have found ourselves in situations that we should not be involved with at all. I actually have difficulty imagining that we once behaved in that manner to each other.

I suppose that this entry must also serve as an apology, both for myself, and for the rest of the Plures. We were wrong, and we apologize. We apologize to each other, and to groups who may have considered our behaviour an example. We can no longer condone this behaviour, either from ourselves or from others.