Topic: Society

Spectator Accountability: Of Cock Fights and Drag Races
(2/18/2008)

When an old photo surfaced showing Mets pitching ace Pedro Martinez at a cockfight in his native Dominican Republic, Martinez released a statement emphasizing that he was just an onlooker, not a "participant" (we know you aren't a rooster, Pedro…). When a car traveling on a country road in Maryland recently plowed into spectators who had gathered to watch an illegal drag race, killing eight of them, the local news was full of tearful family members of the victims bemoaning how unjust it was that "innocent people" could die so horribly. But neither Pedro Martinez nor the spectators at the drag race were "innocent." The audience for an unethical or illegal event shares culpability and accountability for the event itself. Spectators don't deserve to die horrible deaths as a consequence of their conduct, but neither do the participants and organizers. They are still responsible and accountable.

Popularity breeds and sustains unethical conduct. Whether a spectator pays for the privilege of watching a wrongful act or does it for free matters little. The duty of an ethical citizen is to oppose events that violate ethical values, and the most basic level of opposition is to withhold support and attention. In many instances this won't halt the conduct, but it will usually curtail it significantly. Look at the Maryland drag race. A crowd of an estimated 300 people gathered at 3 AM to watch the race, which was prohibited under Maryland law. Drag racing is illegal because it often ends in death, sometimes of the racers, sometimes the spectators, and often drivers who unluckily are driving on a back road, unaware that it has been transformed into an impromptu dragstrip. Every one of the spectators (except for the children; yes, some brought their kids) was encouraging a dangerous and illegal activity by lending it their presence and cheers. And everyone of them share responsibility for the deaths that resulted.

The ascending ethics scale of obligation for individuals who become aware that an unethical activity is occurring is this:

5. Refuse to participate in it, actively support it, watch it or listen to it

4. Condemn the activity.

3. Convince others to reject it.

2. Support efforts to end the activity.

1. Stop it.

Ethical conduct begins at #5; anything less is wrong. It is true that #1 may be impractical, impossible or even unconstitutional. But whether you are watching child porn or a snuff tape; drag racing or gang rape; a cock-fight, a bull fight or a dog fight; a cross-burning or an anti-Semitic rant; a cruel reality show on cable or listening to a racist shock-jock on radio, if you are part of the audience, you are not innocent, you are not uninvolved, and you are not ethical.

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