In her article for The Nation, Sarah Seltzer discusses an incident in one Occupy movement in Cleveland where a woman claimed to have been raped by someone with whom she shared a tent in accordance with the leaders’ living arrangements. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the leadership of the movement as well as other members distanced themselves from the incident and expressed that they had no role in it and thus were not required to take responsibility for the incident. Seltzer claims that this contributes to an “unaccountable environment” wherein sexual assaults and other misogynistic behavior can occur, and that such an environment greatly inhibits the full and active involvement of women. This situation demonstrates that it is insufficient to consider rights and justice as self-sufficient in ensuring overall well-being and that to remain entrenched in a model that requires only noninterference is to ignore many causes of injustice. In fact, noninterference in this case is harmful and contributes to the neglect and alienation of individuals. It drastically limits accountability and depletes a community of good will and cohesion.
Annette Baier, in the “The Need for More than Justice” alludes to Gilligan and argues that noninterference, particularly for those who are at the disadvantaged end of a power differential, ultimately culminates in neglect and harm of the vulnerable (Baier 246) and in the case of this rape incident, adherence to a system that postulates moral responsibility as basically noninterference had the unfortunate result of mitigating an individual’s access to justice.
This incident might be specific, but Baier would argue that there are omnipresent power differentials, and that the Kantian moral system, in ignoring this, does not acknowledge the suffering that results from these differentials. Baier argues that possessing full rights is not incompatible with suffering and thus they do not provide sufficient safeguards against such suffering. Furthermore, suffering is not always from acute causes such as in the case of the rape incident, but rather such suffering derives from “misery whose causes are not just individual misfortune and psychic sickness but social and moral impoverishment” (245). One example of a delocalized power differential that appeared on the Occupy Wall Street radar was that power differential experienced in instances of racism, colonial power, and sustained oppression. In discussing a prospective mission statement, one proposal was to describe the protesters as members of a singular unified human race that had previously been delineated along ethnic lines. While the sentiment of unity was well-intentioned, some women of South Asian descent rejected this mission statement proposal, because, they believed, unifying the membership in such a way was harmfully artificial. It was harmful in that it dismissed the very real presence of historical racism and colonial oppression that these women felt characterized their experience in an important way. Though the movement was committed to justice, it failed to take note of these relationships and of historical contexts because it was only committed to justice and not to the ethics of care and relationships. Furthermore, there was debate within the movement regarding whether such concerns need even be included in the discourse. Many people felt that focusing on these things divided the movement and impeded the overall solidarity, but many of these women and members of minority groups felt that focusing on these issues was necessary to overall solidarity. Instead of dividing the membership, they felt that they were, in asserting their concerns, merely making the movement equally viable for the diverse membership (Seltzer).
Baier argues that prevailing liberal morality ignores these power differentials and thus places a great disadvantage on some groups. In this case, the pretense of equality veils real inequality and hinders the ability of the group to address these inequalities (Baier 249). The objections of the minority members illustrated that they experienced inequality and that to erase their experiences would be to mitigate their access to equality.