By Olivia Libowitz
Elm Staff Writer
An open secret: everyone in a society knowing and agreeing upon a truth, but refusing to acknowledge it on a public scale. This is a societal issue that is incredibly common, but that has been pulled into light recently with the downfall of Hollywood players such as Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey.
If you missed it, both men have been accused of sexual assault by members of Hollywood, with Spacey most recently being accused by actor Anthony Rapp of assaulting him when Rapp was 14 and Spacey was 26. Silence is deadly, but breaking the silence can be deadly too, and it’s what so often stops people who are in vulnerable positions from coming forward. Even worse, it prevents bystanders from assisting.
In his book, “The Forest and the Trees,” sociologist Allan G. Johnson explains the concept of the path of least resistance. This is the concept that anything with a brain and instincts, when presented with literally any decision, will choose whichever path causes them the least trouble. This response is based on a social system. Writer Jonathan McIntosh explains how social systems are anything from a job industry, to an educational setting, to the most famous example, a board game, like Monopoly.
Within these social systems are unspoken rules, and when we are faced with the opportunity to go against those rules, we usually don’t, seeing as we’d like to “win.” This is what causes open secrets.
The thing about social systems is that we play into them to win, but not because it’s who we are as people. If removed from the system, we might act differently. As McIntosh said, “We can describe the game of monopoly, and its inevitable outcome, without describing the individual players.”
People are not all money hungry just because they won Monopoly. But when they’re in these systems, they play to win. Imagine you are an actress in Hollywood, and a powerful man is sexually aggressive with you. You can’t come forward due to the same reasons most women who are harassed and assaulted can’t—layers of societal rules saying the path of least resistance is silence.
Now, imagine you’re an actor or an actress, and you’ve heard of powerful men being aggressive toward someone—a minor, an actress—what do you do? The path of least resistance is keep quiet and keep your job. However, you’re still disgusted and want to help. So you wait until the next opportunity to warn someone about this man before it’s too late.
You become Courtney Love, saying not to go to a party at Harvey Weinstein’s place, or Seth McFarlane’s “Family Guy” joke of a naked baby Stewie shouting, “Help me; I’ve escaped from Kevin Spacey’s basement.” Bit by bit, due to the fact that the nature of most people is to help when someone is at risk, open secrets form, despite our desire to help those in trouble. It seems so appalling to realize how many people knew about these men, and did nothing. But it’s easy to step back and realize how they could be quiet. Don’t we do the same thing?
Imagine you’re at a party off-campus. Your friend tells you a freshman girl is about to get into Safe Ride with a guy, who you happen to know acts inappropriately toward women in Safe Ride. You go over and warn her to avoid him, he’s a creep. At Team Tuesday, you and your friends sit around and wonder how that guy who you’ve heard all those awful stories about keeps getting dates. That’s an open secret. That’s something we’re all guilty of. As I write this, I know I’ve participated in this. Because our campus is a social structure, and the social structure says stay quiet, or you’ll be in more trouble than you want. That’s what often stops us from ever coming forward. We fear we’ll be attacked for having stayed quiet in the first place. We’re not bad people, though, because we’re greedy in Monopoly, and we’re not bad people for being silent when faced with danger.
What matters now is observing what happens when people stand up as one voice. They become impossible to ignore, to silence, and to shut down. A thousand people keeping a dirty secret won’t change a single thing. Ten people speaking a hard truth can make all the change in the world.