I was having a conversation with a friend earlier today, when discussion turned to the ways in which anger and frustration could transmit themselves through individuals within an institutional context – discussing examples of situations in which someone high up in an institutional structure could direct anger downward to someone who would then re-direct it to their subordinates, and so on – until the transmitted anger either reaches someone who refuses to perpetuate the pattern or, as my friend suggested, is finally grounded in someone who lacks the ability to retransmit to anyone else…
As interesting as all this might be, I found myself far more captivated by the… sociological implications of the metaphor my friend used to describe the final person in such an institutional chain. It opened my eyes to some dimensions of rural Australia that, I’ll admit, I have never previously encountered:
My friend: “It’s like, you know, when you get in a line, and someone touches the electrified fence…”
Me: blank stare
My friend: “You know: when you get in a line, and you all hold hands, and then someone grabs the electrified fence – and all of you get shocked, but the person on the end – well they really cop it!”
My friend (realising that this might not be a practice with which I have personal experience): “oh… maybe ’cause it’s a farm thing – you probably weren’t doing this in Chicago…”
Me: “So… you get together with friends, hold hands, and… shock yourselves on an electrified fence?”
My friend: “Yeah.”
Me: “Not much to do in your hometown?”
My friend: *looking sheepish* “Well, you know… we didn’t do it at the bull paddock or anything. I mean, you’d want it to be somewhere else…”
Me: “How did you get the person to agree to be on the end?!”
My friend: “Oh, you’d swap it ’round – you don’t always cop the end…”
So we have a group of friends, united around a practice that causes pain for all of them, because it doesn’t cause most of them as much pain as it does the poor bastard on the end – and because, even though they sometimes are the poor bastard on the end, most of the time, this role is filled by someone else… Honestly, this is such a perfect metaphor for so many things – I don’t know whether to laugh or cry…
You’ve never done this?!
We did this on scout camps whenever we found one. Some fences only activate when two lines are connected, so you can touch it and feel the pulse through the chain – kind of like a muscle spasm – without the jolt.
But still, it isn’t any fun unless someone gets hurt. We’d spend at least an hour or so jumping it, grabbing it, pushing people into it, daring people to piss on it, and so on and so forth…
…it might be a ‘boy thing’.
The reality is, I probably did stupider things – one of the places I lived briefly, a major form of entertainment involved riding a wheelbarrow down a road with a steep hill – not much automobile traffic – but not no automobile traffic either – and your chances of steering to avoid an accident or, even, of being visible to a car heading your way, were somewhat slim…
What got me about this, I think, was the element of enjoying how the person at the end of the chain got hurt more than you did – it’s not so much the danger, or even the pain, as the collective dimension of the whole thing that made it seem weirdly metaphoric…
…it might be a ‘critical theory thing’. ;-P
It may be a boy thing as Russ suggested… 😀
But in terms of reactions from people within institutions ‘muscle spasms from an electric jolt’ is a fun metaphor! Next time you see a reaction, or perhaps over-reaction, you can think about how a person flexes or feels a muscle spasm(metaphorically speaking) and the chain of reaction.
Just pray you are not the one on the end… CRACK