Tag: groupthink

500 Words on Blamethrowers

“A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” – Winston Churchill

I don’t know for sure if I’ve coined this term myself, or if it’s existed for a while, but I’ve been using “blamethrower” quite a bit lately. As in: “so-and-so made a mistake or became aware of a mistake someone else made, and they broke out the blamethrower.” It’s far too common a practice to pawn off responsibility for a mistake, no matter how large or small, onto another person.

Let’s be clear right from the off: we are responsible for our own actions.

Courtesy Netflix

When we make a mistake, we want to find some explanation. Ideally, an external source — a diagnosed (or undiagnosed) mental condition of ours, a flaw in another person, extenuating circumstances. If we can seize upon one, out comes the blamethrower. We set alight the explanation quickly, setting it alight so that it draws attention, ours and that of others, away from the bad decision we made and towards whatever we’ve chosen to bear the brunt of the blame.

The insidious part is, it’s very easy for others to break out their blamethrowers as well. Fire is fascinating, and it attracts onlookers. All too often, they jump on the bandwagon, contributing fuel to the fire. In these days of social media and infectious groupthink, this can happen at an alarming rate.

Even worse, this can happen when the party getting set on fire has done nothing wrong.

Victims of assault and abuse are set alight with blamethrowers all the time. In those cases, it is often referred to as ‘gaslighting’. The more fuel is added to the fire, the more the person in question is dehumanized and perceived to be something or someone they’re not. As the rumor mill spins up to dizzying speed, throwing off flames like a Catherine wheel, it gets harder and harder for the person in question to cope with the situation, determine their true role in things, and assert their inherent personhood.

Worst of all, blamethrowing is a tool that can be used to further political agendas.

Those in positions of power, be it the potentate of a nation or the vanguard of a social group, can mobilize their key supporters to bring someone forward as a strawman to set alight. The nature of the person or the particulars of the circumstances matter little; what matters is burning down someone so that the “ruler” looks better by the light of the flames. When you exist in a social group, if you make a mistake that offends, or suffer abuse at the hands of, a person or people in power, it’s all too easy for you to come under fire; the bandwagon rolls on, and you are crushed underneath.

The only thing we can do in the face of blamethrowing is assert our sovereignty, own our portion of responsibility (if any, in the case of victims of abuse), and strive to be the best versions of ourselves we can be in light of everything. It’s never easy. But it’s all we can do.

On Fridays I write 500 words.

Holding Together

The challenges that we as independent thinkers and non-normative humans are facing are going to be increasing in pervasiveness and difficulty as the next few years unfold. We’ve already had to work hard to maintain that this new status quo that most people are settling into is not normal, nor will it ever be. We’ve voiced our stance of standing up for those who are, now more than ever, targets of an emboldened, vocal, and violent minority. We’ve resolved to hold together.

I want to add to all of that — with which I agree completely and will shout from mountaintops as I light every beacon I can find — a warning. The big thing fueling the new boldness of the willfully ignorant and gleefully hateful is utter and thoughtless submission to groupthink. While we as individuals draw a lot of strength from solidarity, and should never be expected to handle challenges like this on our own, the trick is to not fall into the sort of non-thought that makes people jump to conclusions, ignore facts, and pour more fuel and add more weaponry to any number of bandwagons. We must never lose our grip on individual thought, never stop questioning sources, never stop investigating accusations with care and thorough consideration for all, even the accused. After all, at least on some level, the accused are human beings, too.

I use the turn of phrase “imagine each other complexly” on a pretty regular basis. I picked it up from John Green and the greater community called ‘the Nerdfighters’. While personal experiences have soured me against greater participation in medium or large groups, as I said above, sometimes we must fall back into communities that can and wish to support us. The problems arise when elements of those communities cease fostering the independent thought of its constituents, and instead issue clarion calls that demand affirmation while denying or even expelling counter-arguments. I’ve seen people raise contrary points of view to sweeping statements that have little basis in facts only to be silenced, ridiculed, and even accused of themselves being coerced, blinded, or ‘traitorous’. That is not imagining each other complexly. That’s groupthink. That’s toxicity.

When we imagine each other complexly, we take into consideration our backgrounds, our experiences, our points of view, our motivations. While intent does not free one from the consequences of action, the source of our motivations can be revealed as ultimately faulty, due to one of those factors. If we can come to terms with such things, we can work to correct our mistakes, seek reconciliation from those affected, foster better communication within our communities and, as a result, become even stronger and more positive. When instead we make grandiose declarations that seek to divide, expel, and generally cast community members as ‘other’, we reduce the authenticity of said community. It becomes less a gathering of like minds and, for those employing these divisive tactics, tools for personal advancement.

To hold together is to avoid this at all costs. To hold together is to challenge those who’d fall into such patterns of behavior. To hold together is to foster one another as individuals, to imagine each other complexly, to practice and share love, a dedication to facts and forgiveness, and the ultimately mutually beneficial goal of holding space for those who can make our communities better, stronger, and more resilient.

Make no mistake. The groupthinkers, the willfully ignorant, the knee-jerk reactionaries, the insidious demagogues and oligarchs on scales large and small — they will not do this. They will place themselves in the way of progress. They will seek to silence all dissent, rally supporters with incendiary invective, prey on fear and foster negative influences that deny the facts. They will shun more complex and comprehensive responses, and expect you to do the same. They will pat you on the back when you succumb to anger and trauma, and foster that into feelings of hate and personal admonition. They will weaken you to make themselves stronger. They will divide and destroy. And they will laugh and celebrate their victories the entire way.

Personally, I do not know how or why this has become the baseline for discourse in the past year. I’ve seen it in so many aspects, from small communities that I thought were above it to the larger political machine of the United States. And while I want to find the root causes, understand the motivations and goals of those who seek to rob us of our freedom, I know that, in the end, those are not the people who think I matter, who care about me (if they ever really did), who’d hold space for me and imagine me complexly.

We must fight this sort of toxicity. We must foster healthier discourse between us as individuals. We must imagine each other complexly, stand in solidarity against ignorance and hatred, and lovingly but firmly demand of one another the denial of groupthink and the exaltation of each individual being an individual and still making whatever community we choose to support better, stronger, and more exemplary of the best that this species has to offer.

We must hold together.

Wednesdays I wonder at the world in which we live.

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