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The 500
Into the Fold

Brett Walsh

11.01.19

Photograph by Brett Walsh

Being complicit and not knowing it is a danger. If you are part of a problem, but you don’t know it, then you can’t solve it. Being complicit and knowing it is also a danger. Knowing you’re involved doesn’t make the problem easier to solve, plus you have to deal with your responsibility. Being in denial about your complicity exacerbates the problem because you relish in showing others that they are complicit too.

Being complicit, whether you know it or not, leads to inaction, because complicity is a reaction to unwieldy complexity. Left unchecked complexity becomes conservative. When a problem gets too complicated it ceases to be a problem and becomes a brute fact, part of the prevailing cynicism, shared by those responsible but in denial. We need simplicity to progress in general: ‘life is complex enough, therefore, destiny should be simple.’ We need simple directions or we get lost and come to a standstill. If alternatives are overwhelmingly complex, then we prefer things as they are.

Complicity can keep things simple. In a complex situation, complicity is preferable to guilt. Guilt is binary: you’re in or you’re out, whereas complicity deals in degrees and graduations. It is always a question of how complicit. For the cynic, this is a minor question, an over-scrupulous thing to ask. We may be guilty of one thing or innocent of another ad nauseam. Ultimately, we are all complicit so things are simple. The system endures.

The word complicity comes from the latin 'Complicitās', meaning ‘to fold together.’ So complicity is a kind of communion, but not a permanent state, because a fold is also a hinge. To fold is to make two halves and bring previously separate sides face to face. It is splitting and joining at once. Complicity is bringing distinct things closer but their distinctness can remain, they are related, near, corroborating. Complicity is a partnership but, in contrast to responsibility, the more it is shared the more it increases.

For the court to determine guilt it must establish artificial conditions, excluding and regulating. Guilt has a corresponding punishment and comes with the potential of redemption. Complicity is more worldly, persisting and less categorical than guilt or innocence, which makes it slippery and unlikely to prompt reparations. The complicit one can always move closer to guilt, but proximity doesn’t equal judgement. Those close to guilt are not guilty, those far from guilt are not innocent, both are complicit.

Everyone in the system is complicit, even if only slightly, unintentionally or unavoidably. Rather than drawing up league tables of complicity we should seek measures of guilt. Complicity is a danger because it allows us to be close to guilt without feeling guilty, to be so close yet remain distinct. It conserves the status quo and dissipates criticism. Complicity perpetuates itself and guilt grows in the bargain. Guilt may be an unpleasant category but accepting it opens the potential to make amends and solve the problem. Making amends disrupts the growth of guilt.

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