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The Provocation of Fragility


In small things, if one pays close enough attention to them, can often be seen wider trends.

SubwayIn small things, if one pays close enough attention to them, can often be seen wider trends.  One such small thing is a notice that has been posted recently in London's Underground stations, by order, apparently, of the Mayor of London, the Metropolitan Police, and public transport authorities.

The word "Staring" is printed on a blood red ground in large bold black letters.  A legend in smaller, but capitalized, black lettering says:


Then follows the legend, in yet smaller black and white lettering:

See it or experience it on public transport?  Text what, where, and when to 61016.  In an emergency always call 999.

Aware of someone who is doing this and want to remain anonymous?  Call the sexual harassment line on 0800 783 0137.

The last line is supposed to be encouraging:

Together we can stop sexual harassment.

It would take a long disquisition to dissect (or in the modern parlance, deconstruct) this notice, and I will attempt in a short space only to point to some of its more sinister features.

No one can doubt that being stared at is an unpleasant experience, and few of us can claim never to have stared.  For example, I'm inclined to fix my eyes on someone whom I believe I have met before, but have forgotten his or her name, or where and in what circumstances I met him or her.  I catch myself doing this and then lower my eyes.

But what's the objective correlative of being stared at in a sexual manner?  Are you necessarily being stared at in this way if you think you are?  Is staring in the eye of the beholder or in that of the beheld?  Is it possible to be oversensitive in the matter of being stared at?  (A friend of mine pointed out something that I had not thought of about piercings through the nose and other features of the face: They're so disconcerting that they're done to avert the gaze of strangers.)

Is it possible to appear to be staring without actually doing so, for example, if one is very short-sighted or even partially blind?  And how many seconds of regard constitute staring?  Must a leer accompany the staring, and is a leer in the eye of the beholder?

Is it not possible that a notice such as this will call forth the very psychological fragility that it's supposed ostensibly to assuage?  Will not staring — after all, a pretty normal phenomenon — come to be yet another cause for anxiety, as if we lived in the most dangerous of possible worlds?  How many stares proceed to sexual assault, let alone sexual murder?

Is it not possible that a notice such as this will call forth the very psychological fragility that it's supposed ostensibly to assuage?

The purpose, or at any rate the effect, of involving authorities in such a swamp of ambiguity, from which endless argumentation is certain to emerge, is to absolve them from their real and genuine duty to protect the public from unambiguous crime, which takes determination, intelligence, and courage, sometimes physical but always moral.  If you're engaged upon the suppression of staring, you will have neither the time nor the energy enough to tackle real malefactors.

The provocation of fragility requires a bureaucracy of defenders to alleviate its consequences.  The more fragile people become, the more they will run to the authorities for protection, as children run to their parents when they imagine witches at the window.  A fragile population requires protectors, for the fragile by definition are incapable of protecting themselves, for example by confronting or moving away from a starer, but the would-be protectors themselves are cowards who prefer imaginary enemies to real and dangerous ones: thus is the dialectic between fragility and public employment on futile tasks created and maintained.

Perhaps the most sinister aspect of the whole notice is its appeal to anonymous denunciation, again whose main purpose is to create an atmosphere of fear, vulnerability, and mistrust in the public, the very atmosphere that totalitarian regimes love and create.  What the authorities want, consciously or subconsciously, is a population whose individual members fear to look at one another and therefore fear to converse, for such a population can't oppose whatever is imposed upon it.  Complete atomization, though without individuality, is what's being aimed for.



epochtimesTheodore Dalrymple. "The Provocation of Fragility." The Epoch Times (April 29, 2022).

Reprinted with permission of The Epoch Times. Image credit: Photo by Hello Lightbulb on Unsplash.

The Author

Dalrymple5Dalrymple3Theodore Dalrymple is a former psychiatrist and prison doctor. He lives in France and is the author of, The Terror of Existence: From Ecclesiastes to Theatre of the Absurd, The Proper Procedure and Other Stories, Out Into The Beautiful World, Admirable Evasions: How Psychology Undermines Morality, Spoilt Rotten: The Toxic Cult of Sentimentality, Farewell Fear, Our Culture, What's Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses, Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass, and So Little Done.

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