Reimagining Intercourse between the Righteous Unrightly Challenged


Anthony Judge | Laetus in Praesens – TRANSCEND Media Service

Attraction and Harassment in Psychodynamic Terms beyond the Binary Blame-Game


Considerable attention is now focused on sexual harassment by men, whether systemically or in the light of cases involving prominent celebrities. The question here is whether this focus is in danger of obscuring other forms of harassment which also merit a degree of attention. The more general perspective may offer greater understanding of the issue as well as more viable possibilities for remedial action. As a currently dramatic example of the unquestionably righteous engaging with those who have long considered themselves to be unquestionably righteous, rethinking their relationship may also offer insight into other situations in the global arena characterized by that same mindset.

It is curious to note that “harassment” is not studied in systemic terms — using the extensive insights of system dynamics for example — although there are many references to the phenomenon being “systemic”. As noted by Colleen Sheppard (Inclusive Equality: the relational dimensions of systemic discrimination in Canada., 2010):

While our understanding of discrimination has been revolutionized by the recognition of adverse effect and systemic discrimination, the problem of sexual harassment has in many respects failed to incorporate the full implications of a systemic analysis and continues to focus on the moral blameworthiness of the individual perpetrator. Sexual harassment does not fit comfortably into the paradigm of systemic discrimination: we tend to view sexual harassment as a problem of aberrant individual wrongdoing rather than a systemic problem. As Margaret Thornton notes, the “privileging of the sexual in sexual harassment means that the focus is on the aberrant behaviour of individuals rather than the structural or systemic manifestations of discrimination.” Although sexual harassment has resisted a systemic analysis, it is essential to examine the broader structural and institutional factors that heighten vulnerability to harassment. (p. 80)

Any discussion of more than simplistic form quickly acknowledges that both the phenomenon and dialogue about it are complex (Rachel Kaser, Facebook video series details the complexity of sexual harassment, 2017). Yet almost no attempt is made to draw upon the extensive insights of complex system dynamics, nonlinear systems or catastrophe theory. In the light of the latter, for example, what might be the seven “elementary” catastrophes to be distinguished in any relationship — variously understandable in terms of harassment? With an increasingly obvious need to engage with ambiguity and its cultivation, is it somwhat naive to assume that the challenge can be fruitfully addressed through the conventional modalities of “linear thinking“? I Am Right and You Are Wrong (Edward de Bono, 1992)? Every nation has to either be with us, or against us (Hillary Clinton, 13 September 2001)?

The concern here is to recognize that “harassment”, although currently framed as primarily sexual, takes a number of forms of which the gender-based variety is but one. Arguably there is a tendency with any highly charged issue — whether based on gender, ideology, religion, race, cultural norms, or status — to distort the meaning of terms through dubiously restrictive definitions. This serves the purpose of excluding interpretations which are believed to dilute the primary strategic concern and the opportunity of particular groups of victims. A higher degree of focus on one form may however successfully distract from focus on another. Furthermore, does the tendency to engage in one indicate the probability of engaging in another?

Harassment can indeed also be understood as male-on-male, most notably in segregated institutions (prisons, the military, many workplaces), just as it can include female-on-female in similar contexts, or adult-on-minor (as recently widely publicised with respect to the clergy). Rather than being primarily sexual it can also be recognized in terms of the variety of forms of coercion and bullying, most obviously in the workplace, educational environments and in those provided by dominant groups for the variously challenged (the elderly, the physically or mentally disabled, the chronically ill, and the like). Even more problematic is the institutionalization of coercion through the continuing incidence of slavery and bondage — with its particular sexual implications.

The terror potentially associated with harassment can be recognized in the exposure to bullying. However, given the prevailing concern with terrorism, it is clear that great care is effectively taken to distinguish the terror experienced by some — the bullied, the sexually harassed, and those exposed to racketeering or to “shootings” — from that undertaken to promote ideological agendas. However it remains unclear whether an underlying motivation in bullying or sexual harassment could be usefully seen as “ideological” in the light of the manner in which it may be partially excused and legitimated by cultural norms and religious dogma.

The surreptitious pattern typical of sexual harassment is shared by intimidation more generally in its subtler forms, even structural violence, and especially with the variety of forms of “cheating” using transactions “under the table”. However dubious, are the distinctions so carefully made between tax avoidance and tax evasion indicative of distinctions which might apply to sexual harassment — especially given the existence of tax havens?

In extending the focus on harassment to the complexity of the dynamic system of which it is one process, the further concern here is with the controversial issue of how harassment is encouraged and enabled by the discriminatory cultivation of attraction and the quest for attentive recognition. Through its role in cultivating images, this is most notably a focus of the advertising industry — with the complicity of consumers — as with other forms of propaganda.

Is there a case for recognizing the extent to which many are effectively harassed, if not coerced and bullied, by unrelenting exposure to advertising extolling the singular appeal of those with attributes that are systematicallt enhanced by marketing and image building? Understood more generally, promoting attraction in whatever form, evokes a response — whatever the form — as it is designed to do. Wanted or not, both the attraction and the response can be expressed by various means — sight, sound, odours, touch, and subtle invasion of space.

The systemic cultivation of relative attraction necessarily engenders a tension with those consequently attracted, whether far from endowed to that degree — or seeking to possess it in some way. Any perceived relative advantage of this nature can be variously exploited in a complex process in which both parties are complicit — with responsibility for any problematic consequences excused by the dubious legalities of plausible deniability and willful blindnesss. These may well be framed by cultural norms and preferences — variously evolving over time — and righteously defended from within their respective frameworks.

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