Feb 8, 2016
My friend Jimmy Bob and I have a disagreement, and I wonder if you can give your opinion, and maybe settle the issue. It all started when Jimmy Bob invited me to the Ku Klux Klan rally in Harrison, Arkansas. It was to be a grand event, he said, with a big election for Grand Dragon of the Ozarks - that’s the head honcho bull goose Klansman around here.
“Well, I don’t reckon I’ll go. I like diversity and pluralism and tolerance. I’m not into the tribal thing,” I told him. So he went to the concert-rally-election, mainly on some farm near Harrison. It was held on a long weekend, and definitely made the papers and news feeds. “17 Lynched in Arkansas” the headlines blared. I couldn’t wait to get a first-hand story from Jimmy Bob.
“I was against it,” he said. “I voted for Bobby Ray. He would have been a great Grand Dragon. He’s against the ‘lynch the intruders’ policy. Bubba Jones, the newly elected Grand Dragon and his supporters are responsible for the lynchings. Hoowie! Those niggas came to the wrong campground!”
“Jimmy, Jimmy! How can you be so blasé about the murder of over a dozen people?”
“It’s not my fault! I told you: I voted for Bobby Ray.”
“Yes, but your organization did it. After an election that you participated in, and implicitly agreed to the result. Don’t you feel it’s partly your fault, those killings, since your group did it?”
“No, not at all. No way. I clearly stated my non-lynching position by voting for Bobby Ray. I did something about it. You, however, failed to vote against Bubba Jones. You, who as a white person of the Ozarks could have had your say, chose not to vote. It is your fault, not mine. I was activist against the lynching policy; you were apathetic. You have no right to complain.”
This didn’t sit right with me. There’s something about morality, about moral culpability, that says participation in a bad act accrues culpability, blame, or guilt. Conversely, it seems to me that non-participation cannot accrue culpability. So I ask you: Should I have gone to the rally and voted? More generally: Does participation in a group or process give participants (e.g. voters) some culpability for bad or criminal consequences? What about non-participants?