catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Should I have worn a white ribbon today?

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Andrew Leigh wore a white ribbon today, as part of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. In commenting on his chest statement, he took at swipe at a CIS-sponsored attack on ‘conspicuous compassion’ and said that

a white ribbon is an easy symbol to be proud of, and for the small chance that my wearing it today might spark an interesting conversation, I’ll have it on my lapel.

I had my own doubts about the conspicuous compassion book, flowing from my view that in a free society non-coercive means need to be found to foster pro-social behaviour, and that therefore people who do the right thing by others should receive social rewards. I also think symbols like the sprig of rosemary on ANZAC Day have their place as gestures of support or respect.

The white ribbons, however, I think came close to the point being made in the original ‘conspicuous compassion’ play on words. Given the very small likelihood that wearing the ribbon could make any difference to domestic violence – particularly as Andrew points out in a university (the research shows that domestic violence is much more likely when SES is low, in rural areas, and is particularly appalling in remote Indigenous communities) – wearing one does seem to say ‘I am a good person’ more than anything else, just as ‘conspicuous consumption’ makes a social statement rather than meeting any practical need. In Andrew’s case, and I suspect in the cases of just about everyone else who wore the ribbon today, that statement is entirely correct. He is a good person. But does he, and they, need to say so this way? (And why should we be proud of opposing violence against women? It is shameful to support it or do it, but not a source of pride to achieve such a minimal standard of moral conduct as non-violence.)

I have no objection to more practical measures against domestic violence, such as help lines and improved policing. I thought the TV ad campaign on sexual assault was quite good too for clarifying what was not acceptable – and reaching via commercial TV the men most likely to be confused about appropriate behaviour. But in the sprit of laconic, self-deprecating – and of course non-violent – Australian maleness I will skip wearing the white ribbon.


Written by Admin

November 25, 2005 at 9:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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