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Kitty Genovese and the Alternate Universe, Part 2

Posted Apr 01 2011 12:00am

The eyes of Kitty Genovese2
 
By Adriana Gamondes

We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

What I mostly learned from advocacy for domestic violence survivors which applied to my children’s injuries was a partial answer to the haunting question: why us? I thought my husband and I had been good people and we’d even tried to help others. I didn’t drink or take drugs during pregnancy; I followed doctors’ orders, ate mostly organic, used only nontoxic household products, even “thought good thoughts”. Our children are everything to us. They weren’t born prematurely. They developed normally for a year. Then, moreover, why was virtually no one outside our family or outside the “movement” willing to effectively help our kids once they did become ill? They’re innocent; why them? Why anyone? 

Explanations of industrial greed, regulatory capture, government corruption, gene/environment interplay and toxic mechanisms aside, the general answer is A) because sometimes bad things happen to good people and, though there is often a reason for this, it’s mostly not a good reason and never a justification; and B) often few will help in the right way, in the way that is being asked for because many inactive or negative bystanders don’t believe that “A” is true. Not really, not in their heart of hearts. Instead they believe, mostly unconsciously, that bad things happen to bad people.

And that brings up the question: why Kitty Genovese? Why did her family and her girlfriend have to suffer loss?  In moving interviews, Kitty’s brother Vincent described decades of flashbacks and her partner, Mary Ann Zielonko, said, “I still have a lot of anger towards people because they could have saved her life…That’s the lesson to be learned from this: to really love each other— we have to— on this planet.”(  HERE ). Kitty Genovese was, by all accounts, a vibrant and loving person.

The prevailing negative attitudes about rape victims and victims of domestic violence were similar at the time of Kitty Genovese’s murder, though if openly used as rationales for inaction, ignoring a stranger rape in progress would have been deemed more shameful, whereas refusing to “butt in on” a “lover’s quarrel” could be seen as a somewhat less shameful—even acceptable-- position. Never mind that parsing up varying degrees of “innocence” between categories of victims is a giveaway that dangerous discrimination is afoot, the fact that Genovese’s attacker was unknown to her might have mattered just enough to bystanders to have driven—if just barely— one more call to police. As I already mentioned, I tend to think that bystanders were being frank when they described the judgment call they made in place of calls to the police--- that many assumed the screams were from a domestic violence assault, a crime which is hundreds of times more common than stranger rape. Aside from the fact that police, again, are statistically most likely to be killed while interrupting a domestic violence incident and it’s a crime which is particularly unsafe for bystanders to intervene in, there are specific social assumptions about “inherent” traits that battered women supposedly possess which make them viewed as more or less dispensable if not “bad”.  

I believe the first part of the attack occurred because Kitty Genovese was a woman in the wrong place at the wrong time and evil exists. I believe the second, deadly part of the assault occurred because killer Winton Mosely—when he returned and saw that no help for his prey was at hand—  had been trained since birth to understand the dynamics of the situation and knew precisely how much screaming and pleas bystanders would “stand by for” before being moved to action. Kitty Genovese literally died of “second injuries”—those induced by a typically inadequate or punitive social response to certain types of crimes.

 It may not be happenstance that, just three years ago, Mosely explained to a parole board that his murderous compulsions resulted from growing up with domestic violence ( HERE ). Sometimes an excuse and a reason are the same thing (i.e., “thimerosal is cheap”). From seeing his mother repeatedly battered and stalked by his father from infancy until the day Mosely went to jail for murder, Mosely would have known that, no matter how victims screamed, help was rarely or never forthcoming: he understood the nature of bystanders. Mosely did not get leniency by this admission and should not have. Another individual with the same background could have made the reverse choice. But the information might still provide insight into the dynamics of the event; that it was, in the final analysis, a “relationship crime”, defined by a psychological interaction between killer and bystanders which was far more complex than the interaction between killer and victim. Predicting what the victim would do was easy in comparison: when stabbed, she would fall and she would die.

  Kitty G
Kitty Genovese could not have known that self-defense instructors in the future would invoke her name when they urged women to scream “fire”, never “help” in response to attack. Why “fire” and not “help” to overcome bystander apathy? Why must vaccine injury claimants file for “Seizures and Encephalitis” or “mitochondrial disease” instead of “autism”?

It’s not actually the science or the independent scientists that are the problem in viewing autism as a possible result of vaccine injuries. 74% of studies on thimerosal and autism support a link. The Lancet paper has been replicated in five countries and Brian Deer was paid by industry. “Transfer factor” was not a rival vaccine but akin to goat’s milk— and the patent for it never belonged to Andrew Wakefield. Dr. Wakefield never kept a dime of “lawyer money” but donated it to the Royal Free. There’s documented proof Lancet researchers could not have altered patient records. The O’Leary lab has been cleared and Poul Thorsen has not been ( HERE ).

 In the case of domestic violence, negative attitudes towards victims backed up by clinical victim blaming also persist in the face of all evidence to the contrary and in the face of clear biases of clinical “blame purveyors”. Things are not getting better in that arena: an entry in the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) has outdone even the past diagnostic “blame-laying” under the heading of “relational disorders”. Relational disorders are those which are said, quite controversially, to arise from the dynamics of a relationship while both parties may not necessarily suffer from disordered personalities. This is supposedly an improvement over former marginal entries into the DSM, such as “psychological deficiency disorder”, as if the panel had said, “Now we’re not saying victims have anything wrong with them. We’re just saying that they have as much or as little wrong with them as perpetrators.” The new proposals are “Marital Abuse Disorder” or, alternately, “Marital Conflict Disorder With Violence”—the idea being that it was the relationship’s dynamics which “caused” the violence, effectively splitting/removing blame equally between two parties, “takes two to tango” style. It’s minimizing at best (to equivocate chronic, injurious battering to the one time an average couple, say, got drunk and shoved each other)— and a lethal call for noninterventionism at worst. The diagnosis could easily be used to justify the removal of children from the custody of evident victims. Though supposedly “no fault”, if this thinking is extrapolated to other crimes, the “borrowing from Peter (laying partial responsibility on victims or “borrowing some of their innocence”) to pay Paul (to remove an equivalent degree of responsibility from perpetrators and bequeath them with a degree of innocence) would appear grossly unjust. Did Kitty Genovese emit negative astrowaves as she walked to her apartment that Mosely couldn’t help being swept up in? Did captured slaves just have dysfunctional relationships with traders and plantation owners?

The idea is profound clinical enablement, possibly on par with the DSM pronouncing the “heritability” of a disorder despite the lack of evidence ( HERE ) and despite evidence to the contrary (  HERE ). Specious quarantining of cause or the application of “equal blame” to victims are key factors of systematized abuse.  But as usual, we have to consider the source: the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual is an industry tool forged by the industry-conflicted ( HERE ).

Domestic violence researchers Anne Flitcraft and Evan Stark ( HERE ) describe being at first “seduced” into entertaining the idea that victims of domestic violence have something wrong with them “to begin with” which attracts them to violent perpetrators.  The problem, as they discovered, was that the concept of a common denominator making certain women more likely to be battered than others is statistically unfounded.  They found no common denominator—of background, upbringing, religion, education, socioeconomic status, mindset, race (or genetics)—to exist among victims of domestic violence. Victims did not differ in significant ways from the general population. What is not statistically different about the majority or even a fraction of victims cannot be identified as a cause of an overall phenomenon.

 Though there’s some argument that lower economic status increases risk, it’s also been argued that this perception may inhibit reports by victims in higher income brackets, since the “low class” aura of the crime is shed on both perpetrator and victim equally; and police may be less likely to arrest and charge perpetrators of higher status, who may also have more means to coerce their victims out of reporting assaults (the means to hire private detectives for the purpose of coercion or to track victims down, etc.)

It’s important to mention that domestic violence (like vaccine injuries) is vastly underreported in general. The fact that authorities are more likely to charge minorities and the economically challenged with the crime is often evened out by the fact that police are also far less likely to protect minority or socioeconomically challenged victims. It’s true, for instance, that what attention was brought to the case of Kitty Genovese may have hinged greatly on the fact she was white and her perpetrator African American—while the nearby rape and murder of a young black girl the same week received no press at all. But screams in the night don’t have a color and bystanders passed a verdict on Genovese anyway. More general assumptions were likely at play in that moment, those which underlie every form of subjugation: the idea of the unworthy victim.  

In actuality, only a few predictors exist to determine who will most likely be victimized by domestic violence: gender and whether the victim in question lives in a society which aggressively prosecutes offenders or not. Domestic violence rates were far higher in the US when it was virtually legal and are currently far higher in countries which have few or weak sanctions against it—and far lower in countries with harsher sanctions.

What’s more, contrary to the idea of the passive, violence-prone victim, Stark and Flitcraft discovered a slight statistical skew towards higher pre-crime self-esteem among victims than in the general population, hinting that simple lack of previous scarring experience—i.e., having a background in which domestic violence and abuse were implicitly not part of someone’s upbringing—was a more determinate factor in becoming a victim of relationship violence as an adult than anything else. Punished for being…okay.

This fits also with a theory in criminal psychology that abusers operate on a pragmatic “beat by need” basis in order to gain control: why beat someone down who’s already lying on the ground? Not that fragile prey is safe from predators in the end— and not to say that low self-esteem is a punishable offense: so much the reverse is true. But in the best of all possible worlds, high self-esteem would be a good thing and inexperience with social evil would be preferable state of existence for most people. In this world, unfortunately, these traits can be potentially lethal. 

There’s a possible parallel here in what David Kirby reported a few years ago regarding a correlation between high IQ and mitochondrial “fragility” in some individuals—a “fragility” that could be relatively benign if not for toxic assault— which may potentially represent susceptibility to adverse vaccine reactions ( HERE ). More than twenty years earlier, Camilla Benbow directed a famous study at Johns Hopkins (  HERE ) which found a doubled incidence of asthma and allergies (along with doubled incidence of left-handedness and quadrupled myopia) among verbally and mathematically gifted children. The connection between immune and brain function is not new, though—as far as I know— mitochondrial function was not investigated in this study nor in other studies which found a correlation between left handedness and cognitive disability. Many of these studies arose from the late Harvard neurologist Norman Geschwind’s findings that left handedness is linked to higher incidence of migraine, learning disabilities and immune dysfunction. Geschwind surmised that this occurred because in utero testosterone levels caused the area of the brain responsible for spatial reasoning to win a kind of real estate war with the area of the brain responsible for verbal acuity. This, according to Geschwind, somehow results in left handedness, though I’m not sure anyone knew how, including Norman Geschwind.

Aside from other inconsistencies, Geschwind’s approach also relies on a suspiciously classic assumption that something “unfeminine” about mom (overly testosterone-laden uterine environment) leads to disability in offspring, a notion which was being too heavily applied to almost everything women did in that era. In fact, some of the very same companies presently launching the backlash against vaccine safety advocates were, curiously enough, entrenched in the backlash against working women in the 1980’s—the targets being women who put off having children for careers to the chagrin and economic losses of diaper and baby product makers. The central charge of the past backlash was that higher education and putting off children was “unfeminine”, unhealthy, unnatural and would leave women miserable ( HERE ). Hearing the same spin—that “old moms” caused the epidemic (when in fact only an estimated 4% of “autism mothers” were over age 35 at delivery) and the “unfeminine uterus” theories—is a sort of backlash flashback.  

It’s probably incidental that the expansion of the vaccine schedule and tripling of vaccine mercury starting in 1987 came at the very height of an aggressive general campaign to herd women back to home and hearth in order to meet housewares and baby product market profit projections; simply part of a general trend among related, board-member-sharing industries and facilitated, of course, by the tort-protective Vaccine Injury Compensation Act. But it’s funny how things work out— now that generations of once working women have been relegated to ten or twenty years or more of diaper duty by the epidemic, forced to quit jobs in order to be on constant call in case of frequent school crises, present for home therapy, available to give seizure medication, etc. Not incidentally, has anyone checked the rise in sales of diapers (and rash ointment, etc.)—now that scores of even “normal” children remain in them for years past the former norm?

 Incidental or not, the epidemic has been profitable for many industries and disastrous for many families—and it isn’t just women suffering the fallout. Autism fathers are also subjected to pathologizing smears, such as “old dads” who carry “shadow” forms of autism (never mind that, again, only a small fraction of current autism fathers were over age 35 at conception; that there was no autism epidemic in the days of super-sized families when couples would bear children until they could no longer do so— or mom dropped dead after too many pregnancies and dad remarried and continued). And we hear more and more stories of fathers losing their health or their lives as they’re forced to bear the brunt of making a living in an economic climate where one salary is scarcely enough for most families. The plights of single parents caring for one or more disabled children are that much more tragic. 

Regardless of whether there’s any relationship between yesterday’s backlash manifesto and the current fallout, the oddly similar backlash science still serves the important dual function of quarantining blame and obfuscating conflicting evidence. Simon Baron-Cohen ran with the in utero testosterone/male brain concept of autism and others have had a field day with the “feast or famine” (high IQ/disability) theory of left-handedness, but most ignore the most compelling common finding— immune system impairment— which can relate to mitochondrial function and high testosterone, which in their turn relate to impaired recovery from oxidative stress. Could this explain the high rates of common factors in children with both high IQ and learning disabilities and the high testosterone levels reported in some effected children?  In the best of all possible worlds, this mitochondrial or immune system fragility could be quite benign or even necessary to certain types of brain development. Naturally occurring high testosterone could create go-getter girls and particularly masculine males—certainly not a reason to court the possible extinction of individuals with these genetic differences. In this toxic world, the same traits may raise the danger of vaccine injuries.

The indirect parallel between crime and epidemic continues in the sense that too much can be made of these concepts of “preexisting susceptibilities”. Whether individual susceptibility to injury existed before an injurious event (assault or vaccination) or resulted from an event which occurred as a process (earlier vaccines induced susceptibility to subsequent vaccination; victim of protracted aggression broke down in stages), this doesn’t reduce the onus on the final blow that tipped an individual over the edge.  For instance, as Rachel Carson predicted nearly fifty years ago, pollution, pesticides and any number of toxic facilitators can cause mitochondrial impairment and mitochondrial disease may currently be on the rise. In the event that mitochondrial impairment is one day widely accepted as a “susceptibility” to regression, does this take excessive vaccination off the hook as a cause of autism—particularly when it’s been shown that certain vaccine ingredients can induce, among other things, mitochondrial impairment?

The same controversies exist in intimate violence. As an advocate, I knew of judges who instructed juries to ignore a perpetrator’s self-exculpatory arguments that, say, a victim’s previous ski accident made her arm “too easy to break”—and I knew of judges who failed to give the same type of instruction.  There’s also the phenomenon of the domestic violence victim who is rendered passive and “bonded” to an abuser but did not necessarily start out as passive or seemingly pathological, which can only be explained by environmental factors tied solely to the abuse in question: the approaches and methods of abusers, social context, and captor bonding or “Stockholm syndrome”— a specific (and often successful) survival mechanism which can be triggered in anyone under sustained duress or threat. This is so true that professionals in espionage are often not given whole parcels of sensitive intelligence information because, in the case of capture, it would take only a few days for experienced interrogators to collapse the captive’s ego and extract the intelligence. The methods of battering have been compared to that of professional torture and interrogative coercion and little difference could be found between these things.

 To put it simply, with enough specifically applied stress to the organism, anyone can crack like a piñata. Just like with toxic assault, as it happens— preexisting susceptibility or not.

But the idea that certain prevalent, negative phenomena can happen to anyone—not just the sick, the weak, the weird, the bad--  is the last thing that most bystanders want to hear, which may explain some of the public’s disinterest in knowing more. What people want to hear is that there’s something special about themselves—something over which they have control or at least total assurance—that exempts them and theirs.  Unfortunately, certain crimes remain social problems which can claim nearly anyone as a victim for this precise reason.

The inert or even punitive response by bystanders and an equivalent non-reaction and punishment by corresponding helping professions happen for complex reasons, but could be partly explained by something called the “safe world effect”. The safe world effect falls somewhere under the category of “intolerance of cognitive dissonance”, or “cognitive dissonance” for short. I think some of the various ankle-biting media personalities who are currently busy “deconstructing” the “victim mentality” of vaccine injury families have attempted to boomerang the charge of “intolerance of cognitive dissonance” against consumer safety advocates, but it’s a poor fit. We held our kids down for their shots; that shows a pretty sky-high tolerance for dissonant cognitions, as in “I love my children/ yet I participated in their doom”. The mutually exclusive—aka, “cognitively dissonant”—thoughts in the case of bystanderism are “I am a good person/ yet I will do nothing to help a person in crisis/under attack”. Since most human beings won’t reconcile the contradiction by concluding that they’re a “bad person”, something else in the chain of thought has to give way and the character of the victim might be chosen as the most “elastic” piece of the logic puzzle. This also moves the bystander into a kind of intimate, psychic proximity with the perpetrator—akin to an unconscious boxer’s hug—by echoing the ways in which perpetrators typically alter the characters of victims as a rationale (“the victim is bad/provocative/a masochist/genetically deficient”, etc.).  This can apply to any kind of negative bystanderism involving crime, but some circumstances seem to inspire it more than others. The safe world thinking goes something like this: 

In this world, bad things don’t happen to good people. I am a good person and this means that bad things can’t happen to me. I am safe from random misfortune because I am good and there is no random misfortune. If bad things did happen to good people, I would be at risk and that makes me uncomfortable. So if something bad happens to someone, something which I fear could happen to me, I must believe that they did something to cause it and, preferably, to deserve it. They must be in some way responsible for their own misfortune, whether it’s something inherent in them, something about their background or something they did wrong. If no evidence of this is made apparent, I will invent what they did wrong and what is wrong about them based on whatever I arbitrarily perceive that I would not do or am not, all  in order to distance myself from their fate,  prove my separateness from them, my goodness, rightness and impunity

To parents of environmentally injured children, this might explain a lot. The person who went out of their way to dish on the prenatal alcohol exposure/TV/old parents/whatnot/alternate rubbish autism theories to your face? The sometimes smug/triumphant/moralizing/angry tone detected beneath a rejection or bit of clinical cruelty? The diagnosing doctor who looked you or your spouse up and down to figure out which of you weirdoes had passed on the bum genes they presumed were responsible for your children’s conditions? The press which shook their pom-poms after the Cedillo, Snyder and Hazlehurst decisions and the Wakefield verdict—maybe even the Special Masters and panel members who passed them?

There are many ways of saying “see ya wouldn’t want to be ya”. Some bystanders are convinced that God (or genetics—interchangeable concepts in this scenario) loves them more than you. Some might just be evil. 

Then again, it’s sometimes fellow victims, either within or cooperating with the pharmaceutical industry, who deny the source of injury and use discrediting language on those who don’t. We all know the terms these types have used to disqualify testimony and cast the accounts as mere “anecdote”, argue that these sources are “clouded by trauma”, “in a fervor” to find someone to blame, out for “money”, “playing victim”, etc. 

Several years ago, there was a group of sex workers who came out in the media to protest and deny the findings of a particular study in which researchers found statistically high rates of child abuse in the backgrounds of women in the sex industry. Some who denied the findings may have been honest, assuming that because they weren’t raped or abused as kids that no one else must have been. Furthermore, as the gender discrimination class action suit currently mounting against Walmart might demonstrate, women still face economic disparities and there’s something a bit unfair about aiming the microscope at the childhoods of sex workers—some of whom might have simply been trying to support children or eke out a living— rather than, for example, their clients: some in the trade who denied the study’s findings might have been throwing a proverbial monkey wrench at the “microscope” itself. At the same time, others who protested the study could have felt exposed, humiliated and, in the end, unhelped by the study’s conclusions, even though the findings may have been true for them. It’s understandable: no one was there to rescue them when it might have mattered and now the ways in which they’d adapted to the trauma, the manner in which they’d become accustomed to living were under perceived attack in terms of being pathologized. Still, it’s not a stretch to understand how quite a few in the trade felt about the loss of mystique the study might cost the profession, and that source of income/identity might influence denial of victimization. For the sake of the analogy, I shouldn’t have to point out the difference between an adult choosing to go into the sex trade (as opposed to being forced into it) and an adult believing they’re getting involved in a nurturing relationship only to be betrayed (or a parent taking their child to a pediatrician to protect the child from disease, only to have their child plunged into lifelong disability).

There is, of course, respect and self-esteem to be found in recognition of victimization and survivor status and the actions of individuals to draw attention to their plight can have enormous positive impact on society. After Agent Orange was officially recognized as a cause of disability and birth defects in Vietnam, “Peace Villages” were created whereby towns and villages would agree to care for and nurture survivors for the rest of their lives. Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown’s admissions in his autobiography that he was sexually abused as a child have brought out further testimony and investigations of the summer camp where he was victimized. It’s not surprising, though, that Brown waited until after the election to release his book: whereas revelation of certain types of victimization may be personally empowering and may help others, the status is not particularly “marketable” if that is someone’s aim. It clearly wasn’t Brown’s: child sexual abuse also remains a bystander-ridden crime—often perpetrated by those in positions of authority— which makes the public exceedingly uncomfortable.  

It’s impossible to imagine that bystanders to the epidemic—or even those denying victimization— aren’t somehow influenced by the fact that the perpetrators in the case of vaccine-injured children may be part of the mightiest conglomerate that’s ever existed. You know-- conflicted members of our own government, heads of regulatory agencies and what are currently the most powerful industry and lobby on the planet. This brings up the issue of who it’s safer for bystanders to turn against—victim or potentially powerful, dangerous perpetrator?

Bystanders would subconsciously factor everything related to personal cost into assessments of safety in their “safe world” universe. The more powerful or simply dangerous a perpetrator is perceived to be—and people with the perpetrator mentality are often both—it follows that the more “bystandery” bystanders will be and bystanders’ unconscious ideological foundations will naturally adjust to finding greater fault with (self-identified or not self-identified) victims. Could this be why so many insist that there are no perpetrators in the vaccine injury argument and seem to really need to believe the theories—no matter how shoddy—which return the source of the problem to the victim or their families? Whether it’s genetic epidemics or refrigerator parents, TV or geek love theories, it all smacks of safe world.

The “safe world effect” can’t be Googled. There are few subfields which are even aware of variations on this theory and one of them is jury psychology. Jury psychologists employed by prosecutors once knew better, for example, than to put certain types of women on the jury of a rape trial who have statistical similarities to the victim and who may, for societal, geographical (police in their neighborhoods don’t respond) or personal reasons feel particularly unprotected from the same type of crime. Jury specialists found that this category of jurist would too often find for the defendant in order to distance themselves from the victim.

 In service to the rigors required of bystanders by this particularly gymnastic strain on cognitive dissonance, justifications not to support victims become extremely stretched, arbitrary, contradictory and so nonsensical that they require the voice of authority to compensate for lack of cohesion. Not just any legitimizing authority will do: for this purpose, only science fiction will meet the requirements. We’ve all heard the results: the violence prone victim, a genetic epidemic, genes that mutate in a vacuum, the endless industry funded thimerosal defense studies, the Danish vaccine studies, Verstraetton’s later drafts—just a sample of six things which should never be believed before breakfast or any other time of day.

The false theories are nothing more than an elaborate, clinical version of the safe-world mentality, which have the double benefit of splitting blame with perpetrators—or removing blame entirely—and thereby shielding them in real ways. Corporate scientists, corporate defense front groups and embedded media personalities are paid good money by exploitative entities to fill the bystander justification feed-troughs for that purpose alone.

Perpetrators like the morally relativistic nonsense in any case—the false theories, the unreconciled victims defending potential victimizers, the noise. They wouldn’t like the analogizing of one crime to another though. Watch how often corporate defense bloggers try to boomerang every analogy or comparison consumer advocates use to try to illustrate the plight of injured children, no matter how awkward or ill-fitting the coopted analogies are in reverse (industry is but a wee boy with a slingshot and consumer advocates are…Goliath?). It’s obvious why the comparisons are threatening. Unveil the “sun” of one subcategory of systematized abuse and its light would shine too brightly on the methods and patterns of how others are undertaken and gotten away with, which those with blood on their hands or in their wallets wouldn’t find particularly flattering. Some bystanders might notice the similarities.

Think of particular corporate defense pundits playing victim to the victims of their own media attacks, or their favorite alternative theories to deny the epidemic or that vaccines can sometimes cause harm. Then think of Scott Peterson’s “satanic brown van” alibi for the disappearance of his wife Laci and their unborn child.  Or OJ Simpson’s alternate killer hypotheses and depictions of his ex-wife as a sketchy character consorting with drug dealers. Again, vaccine promoters do not have to get their hands directly dirty in inducing immediately palpable injuries: most vaccine injuries are delayed and not table injuries. But simply in the sense of rationalizations, the different categories of apologists are like two starlets showing up at an awards ceremony in the same dress. I’m not sure who wins the beauty contest. 

Public awareness can change the “safe world bystanderism” dynamic somewhat, both because it makes it more unconscionable to stereotype victims for the purposes of safe-worlding and more unconscionable to choose inaction in the face of crisis. The fact that the circumstances surrounding Kitty Genovese’s murder were studied, for instance, affected this kind of change. When I moved back to New York for college, I discovered that Heisenberg’s “Uncertainty” principle was at work. Most New Yorkers knew about the studies on bystander effect and, consequently, many could be self-consciously helpful (hopefully the bystander-dial wasn’t set all the way back to Kew Gardens again when Ground Zero volunteers were denied health compensation).

 An information campaign is also a show of power, a cue which bystanders tend to be very sensitive to. It shows official awareness; official awareness shows that power is behind an effort to reduce the rates of misfortune. The awareness interferes with “pluralistic ignorance” by speaking to mob mentality; it says “The mob leans this way now and so can you”. It reduces fear for standing up for what’s right. Furthermore, a truly thorough information campaign can undercut some of the safe world rationales which corrupt systems depend on to feed bysteranderism.

Clearly not all information campaigns are created equal. As Vaccine Injury Awareness month (October, also Domestic Violence Awareness month as it happens) has passed and we await Autism Awareness month (April, also Sexual Assault Awareness month), we might all be a little tense about what the public is going to be made aware of this time. It’s fine if bystanders are informed that parents of effected children struggle. It’s okay if they’re made to understand some of the behaviors associated with autism so as not to mistake it for “brattiness” or to urge police not to taze individuals with autism for not responding immediately to commands. It’s really not okay if bystanders are deputized as armchair experts while being filled with false information of the usual variety—the epidemic denials; the endless, unreplicable gene studies; the flimsy alternate theories quarantining cause to family of origin and to children themselves. Any truly worthy information campaign would designate the epidemic a crisis and would open up the public’s eyes to the need for independent vaccine safety and environmental research. These things alone would go a long way to divest would-be bystanders of many possible permutations of safe world justification until all anyone was left with were reasons—not excuses—for lousy behavior and attitudes. Reasons like:

 I don’t care. I hate kids anyway. I believe in planned extinction. I’m a Sanofi stockholder. I made 8 to 15 million dollars from a vaccine patent. I’m an asshole actor. My parent company won’t like me if I report anything different. 

Or, in the case of intimate or sexual violence, there’s always the unvarnished mentality displayed by Yale’s Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity in front of the campus women’s center last October: HERE There’s a lot to be said for youthful indiscretions. Life would be much easier to navigate in a world where everything was so openly stated. Seriously— imagine pediatricians simply admitting the shots had never been tested in combination, thimerosal had been grandfathered in and wasn’t safe in any dose, that  your local coal-fired power plant upped your child’s risk of vaccine injury by a landslide and, ultimately, this doctor didn’t particularly care if your child regressed or died because you couldn’t sue.

But here on planet earth, when vaccine injuries occur, the offers of actionless, denialist pity after the fact are as nauseating as the altruistic pretense at the start.  The official plaster issued for Autism Awareness month reminds me of the joke about “compassionate conservatives”—“We care…but we just can’t help.” There are plenty of “compassionate pseudo-progressives” these days as well, which is starting to make the political aisle look like a giant ass crack with equal shares of assholes on both sides. People can stick their sympathy if they can’t lift a finger to stop the crime.

The combined rejections, expulsions, misidentification, disparagement, censorship, injurious forms of “help” which children with autism are subjected to and the sheer bewilderment over deadly inaction that families face all add to the pull of gravity on the vaccine injury side of the looking glass. Understanding from whence bystanders come isn’t a set of wings, but lessening the confusion can be one less stone in our pockets. 

The most generous interpretation I can grant bystanders is that at least some suffer from the basic assumption that other people are taking care of the “problem” of our children and they assure themselves that our children aren’t deprived. It’s as if many believe there’s some parallel reality where our kids won’t be rejected or denied care, where we and our children have an endless array of options in an alt-realm we can whisk away to whenever we want. You know, like the other safe, low-cost, excellent quality childcare centers, schools and medical recovery centers which provide understanding and requested (but never unwanted) services. Or that other, alternate fairy-forest Federal Claims court with a jury, complainant discovery and consistent justice. 

I think about that alternate universe, that actually safe world, and how nice it would be. Back when I regularly listened to NPR, there was an entertaining segment on a theory in physics rooted in Einstein’s theory of the time-space continuum. The idea was that matter may contain subatomic black holes, or “molecular foam”, through which data from the past and present “leak”. The physicist introducing the idea mused that the theory might explain intuition, “déjà vu” or prescience.

Fun stuff. Two years ago, astrophysicists identified the smallest black hole every discovered, J1650, the size of a small city. I would like to fall into it and find myself in this wonderful alternate plane that some seem to believe exists. Because, in that alternate universe, our kids were never denied care or mistreated. In this alternative universe, insurance would pay for all the treatments our children needed and, instead of “evidence-based medicine”, we could choose reality-based medicine drawn from the reality in which injured individuals actually exist in their earthly forms.

Kitty child So much could be better if only we could afford to believe six or more impossible things before breakfast. Such as alternate pediatricians who warned us about the risks and could identify the susceptible subset according to guidelines set by the alternate CDC, which had never been captured by industry and had long before ordered safety research for the entire schedule in combination and vaccinated/never vaccinated studies.  In this alternate universe, independent scientists were never unjustly brought to trial; the epidemic of injuries and deaths never happened; bystanders never turned away. And Kitty Genovese is still alive.

Hello Kitty. We’re dialing as fast as we can.

Adriana Gamondes is a Contributor to Age of Autism and manages the FB page.



Posted by Age of Autism at April 07, 2011 at 5:46 AM in Nightmares Permalink

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