In the wee hours last Saturday morning the Liberal Ironist took a near-graveyard shift trip back on the Metro. It wasn’t quite the graveyard shift; I boarded the train a little after 1:00 am while the system runs until 3:00 am on weekends for those at the bar longer than they should be, whether drinking or serving those who were drinking. In any case, notwithstanding that the system had about 2 hours of train runs left to make, I joined a motley crew for the ride out of the city.
All of us looked fried (excepting of course those who were baked), and the mood on the train was subdued, even sleep-inducing with its dull orange interior color scheme. I did, however, immediately find the conversation between a young man and young woman sitting across the aisle from me rather grating.
At first they appeared to be together. But then he introduced himself to her as Raymond, and shortly after that she introduced herself as Sarah. While she was well-dressed, she definitely looked like she’d been drinking; he was dressed as though he had been at work earlier that night. Even from my angle across the aisle and a few seats behind, I noticed a vacuous grin on his face that I found revolting.
At first I was committed to tuning-out their conversation, mostly because there was some quality in this Raymond’s voice that I absolutely couldn’t stand. So, I continued re-reading Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. (A Liberal Ironist has his scriptures too, of course.) I was on roughly this segment of Part One, Section 12:
“…(O)ne must also, first of all, give the finishing stroke to that other and more calamitous atomism which Christianity has taught best and longest, the soul atomism. Let it be permitted to designate by this expression the belief which regards the soul as something indestructible, eternal, indivisible, as a monad, as an atomon: this belief ought to be expelled from science! Between ourselves, it is not at all necessary to get rid of ‘the soul’ at the same time, and thus to renounce one of the most ancient and venerable hypotheses–as happens frequently to clumsy naturalists who can hardly touch on ‘the soul’ without immediately losing it. But the way is open for new versions and refinements of the soul-hypothesis; and such conceptions as ‘mortal soul,’ and ‘soul as subjective multiplicity,’ and ‘sould as social structure of the drives and affects,’ want henceforth to have citizens’ rights in science…(E)ventually, however, (the new psychologist) finds that precisely thereby he also condemns himself to invention–and–who knows? perhaps to discovery.”
With this some statement or tone of voice I can’t now recall snapped me back to the conversation across the aisle from me. The next thing I noticed was Raymond saying, “Now, I’ve told you all these things about me, and you haven’t told me anything about yourself!”
“I’ve told you my name and my age; that’s enough.”
“28. I’m 28.”
This fellow then began speaking too softly for me to hear much–he was, after all, facing away from me–and leaning towards the young woman very closely. At this point I was staring at them, so scandalized was I by this man’s crude behavior. It occurred to me I was looking for some indication of just what his relationship to her could be. They hadn’t known each other for long, that much was obvious. The 1 feeling that was completely-unshakable was that I didn’t like this man. I have experienced several versions of this feeling in the past and believe fervently in its validity. I wanted some sense of the woman’s mood.
I was trying to figure-out if she was in trouble.
“Hey, can you back off a bit?” Uh oh. He backed away a little; now she had entire inches of free space. “You and me, we’re OK,” he said. He started leaning in again. “Hey, c’mon, back off a little,” she said. He leaned away, further this time. I had an idea: At the next station I walked a few seats forward, so that the 2 of them were facing me though I remained on the opposite side of the aisle. From there I turned rather obviously in their direction. She was sitting in the window seat on the far side; she could easily turn to see me from her seat but he would have to turn around. Having accomplished this maneuver, I believed it would now be easier to gauge the woman’s thoughts and intentions regarding this aggressor.
In mere moments this supposedly-chivalrous gesture appeared silly. The first thing I noticed was the puffy, heavy look of her eyes; she was certainly drunk. The next thing I noticed was that the 2 of them were kissing–and not exactly on the cheek.
I smiled visibly at this point and turned away, dropping the slightest pretense to espionage. Back to Nietzsche for me–specifically, Beyond Good and Evil, Part One, Section 13:
“Physiologists should think before putting down the instinct of self-preservation as the cardinal instinct of an organic being. A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength–life itself is will to power; self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent results.
“In short, here as everywhere else, let us beware of superfluous teleological principles…”
What had I been doing? I had no way of knowing what intersubjectivity was ongoing between these 2. Men and women get drunk, meet the wrong person and do stupid things all the time; how could I possibly know what I was looking at after a few miles traveled on the Metro, 10 feet of distance between us and a lifetime’s absence? I now actually felt a recessive resentment towards this woman for engaging my sympathy and concern when she apparently didn’t know what she wanted. But still, such vanity on my part; what means were even available to me to insert myself into their sad conversation that wouldn’t make things worse? It would certainly have been uncomfortable for all involved. But now this wouldn’t be a problem.
Actually, it just wouldn’t be my problem. The remainder of the incident proceeded quickly-enough that I sat in stupefied passivity. As the engineer announced the next station, the woman aroused herself from this embrace and said, “Ah, this is my stop!” She tried to get up, but the man wouldn’t leave his aisle seat or even shift his legs so she could get up. After a moment she brushed past him and darted to the middle exit door; he got up and quietly and calmly walked after her, still grinning. His face had had that same vacant smile for as long as I had seen it. As she made it out the door he still walked after her. At this point she just turned around and looked at him, as if she couldn’t believe he had followed her off the train. “No, don’t follow me,” she said, trying weakly to push him back on the train. He easily overcame this.
The train doors closed. I was now a passive actor as a matter of brute physical fact rather than as an effect of that weakness we call “polite behavior.” She had started off at a fast walk down the platform in the direction the train was moving. He walked after her, still grinning that strangely-expressionless grin. “Don’t follow me!” she shouted, as if in warning. A few moments later the train, still gaining speed, quickly passed her walking the other way. I didn’t see the man at all this time. There were other people on the platform; would they be as passive as the sparse crowd on this train? I looked around at my fellow passengers: A black teenage couple still sat a few rows behind me, some white college-age girls sat a few rows in front of me, facing us, and there was that peculiar weekend late-shift mix of those who go out late drinking and those who likely served them in some way. All seemed tired; none seemed to take much notice of the very ugly scene that had spilled out onto the platform not a minute before. I checked my phone: 1:15 am. There was a station attendant at that as at any Metro station; did she have the good sense in her current state to ask for help? The odds of violence at the station were low, if only because other people were present. But what if she actually tried to walk out of there alone?
I wouldn’t even think of calling the police until I was halfway home from my Metro stop about 10 minutes later. Even then I had no idea if it would have been a good idea at the time. What would I have said, “Quick, send a patrol car over to Brookland, a woman is being sexually harassed by a man and they might still be there when the situation escalates!” What I could have done considering the late train service–and what I didn’t remotely consider doing–was get off at that station myself and watch the situation, phone at the ready for any contingency.
So, there we were, a motley crew on a graveyard-shift train indeed. In the end I flattered myself when I thought I was looking out for a woman in trouble. I was really like everyone else on this train–all of us Nietzsche’s “souls of subjective multiplicity” or “souls as social structure of the drives and affects,” though in all of us the risk-averse and selfish qualities won-out, and we all just shifted in our seats while some thug proceeded to have his way with a woman traveling alone. We probably all imagined the situation was a mundane one, or that it wasn’t our place to tell the young woman what company she should keep, or maybe some of us told ourselves that we were traveling with others and that it would be wrong to bring this on them, too. 1 young man was spared even this level of indecision: He was listening to his iPod, which was playing loud but remarkably-agreeable pop music. Worst, perhaps, we imagined that someone else would take care of it. After all, there were a lot of people around…
After passing over many obtuse expressions at many obtuse angles, I looked out the window of the train. Between stations it was pitch-black–not a soul in sight.
I saw this coming and succumbed to the same apathy as anyone. I humbly ask that when you get a bad feeling, you shake yourself out of your somnambulism and look out for someone else. It’s dark out there–not a soul in sight.