Post No.: 0475
Pains, in particular, generally drive us to seek to belong to social groups for support, which makes being ignored, ostracised, isolated, solitarily confined, socially deprived or excluded one of the most doubly hurtful things that a human being can be subjected to by another. People can end up trying to conjure up social relations with whatever stimulus they can (just like Wilson the volleyball for Chuck in the film Cast Away).
Ostracism can lead to mental health problems, and people with pre-existing mental or physical health problems can be subjected to ostracism too. In modern times at least, when we all should be better educated, it’s ethically a double injustice for someone who does have a mental or physical health problem to be shunned from a group. Ostracism can be overt or covert, aggressive or passive-aggressive, and being ignored is sometimes worse than being shouted at – constantly sociopathically ignoring someone who is physically around you is one of the most heartless things you can do to a fellow human being. In jail, prolonged solitary confinement is like having no food, and prolonged sensory deprivation is like having no water. If forced upon a person, solitary confinement and sensory deprivation are both psychologically brutal.
For all social animals, we’re stronger, safer and more productive within groups. But while relations are great for people within their ingroups, we empathise less with those from any outgroups; whether these separate groupings are based on political stances, wealth, class, religious beliefs, ethnicity, supported sports teams, hobbies or whatever (and for any ingroup we belong to that doesn’t include ‘all life’, there’ll always be at least one outgroup). We can essentially behave like uncaring psychopaths towards outgroup members. This is why it’s more difficult for born-rich politicians to empathise with mostly relatively poor electorates. Even atheists tend to care more about atheists being stabbed than members of (other) religious groups.
Therefore one doesn’t pathologically need to be a psychopath in order to behave as if psychopathic towards, or to mentally avoid empathising with, members of outgroups – and that therefore means we’re all vulnerable to committing atrocities given a certain perfect storm of circumstances. Divisive propaganda can be deliberately employed to dehumanise outgroup members too, thus making it even harder to empathise with them (e.g. calling them vermin or infidels – a single word label is enough to do the trick of triggering preconceptions and stereotypes).
With propaganda and a like-minded ingroup, dehumanisation of an outgroup can spread like a contagion and mass atrocities can be committed by large numbers of normal people. The ‘brown eyes, blue eyes’ A Class Divided experiment showed us how totally arbitrary it is to state that one ethnicity, trait like eye colour, or similar, is better than any other, and how it feels to think that one is part of a ‘superior’ group, how this increases one’s sense of self-righteousness, and subsequently behaving with discrimination and prejudice towards an ‘inferior’ group for thinking that one is better than them… and then how it feels to suddenly be told that one is actually part of an ‘inferior’ group, how this knocks one’s self-esteem, and the subsequent prejudice we’ll receive from the new ‘superior’ group.
So feelings of self-superiority are dangerous, and alternative perspective-taking is a skill we must always employ towards other people/life. It also demonstrates how impressionable young minds are and how adults are responsible for the growing minds and attitudes of children and the adults they’ll become.
Humans (like some other animals) have a tendency to try to bully and shun those individuals who appear weak – even if this is because the targets are going through hardships or a rough patch and they therefore actually most need empathy, compassion, help and support. Some animals ditch their predicted ‘runts’ of the pack, and some other animals even ostracise those who’ve tragically lost a mate – but predictions are prone to error and furry ‘runts’ will often end up being strong if given enough resources. (Indeed, limited resources are why some animals ditch their predicted ‘runts’, but humans collectively have enough resources for every human to be well nourished, if only resources were distributed in a more efficient and perhaps moral manner.) And with compassion and support, widowers can find new mates or can still contribute productively to a group.
It’s not nice that children often bully and ostracise their peers for simply coming from a poor family by virtue of the clothes they’re wearing or the brands of trainers they have. When we grow older, we tend to feel more empathy for poorer families as we try to raise our own children. The instinct to shun, bully or belittle in this way should no longer be necessary with modern medicine, progressive social structures, technologies, education and attitudes. Woof!
Yet in today’s world, when some people witness someone else who seems different from the currently accepted ‘social norm’ – even someone who’s vulnerable – they’ll still often (at least privately and/or implicitly) treat them with fear and discrimination rather than interest and compassion. We could argue that this instinct to shun the ‘weak’ or ‘different’ evolved for a good reason – but such instincts tend to be crude, plus something that apparently worked for one (ancestral) environment doesn’t necessarily make it optimal for a very different (modern) environment. We should adapt.
This instinct may have worked to banish ‘potentially dangerous people’ or ‘potentially disadvantaged genetic stock who’ll just drain a group’s resources for nothing’ in the past but there are technically enough resources to go around now if it weren’t for the excessive levels of selfishness and greed of some individuals. It’s also not all about people’s inferred genetic health but about how people treat each other too – thus this ostracism and discrimination itself will be creating or exacerbating the corrosive social problem of environmental inequality in the first place i.e. those who appear weak may not be ‘of poor genetic stock’ at all but simply disadvantaged due to their socio-economic circumstances. People who are routinely prejudiced in society may be pushed to behave with hostility in return too, which may give the impression that they are hostile and thus ostracism seems like the right strategy to treat their (stereotyped) group – when in fact they are only hostile to us because we, perhaps as a continuance of historical injustices, were initially explicitly or implicitly hostile towards them.
In ancestral times in particular, ostracism or being excluded from a group was essentially a death sentence because one wasn’t likely to physically survive alone, regardless of one’s initial health status, hence why it’s mentally and emotionally aversive to feel ostracised in itself. This is why most people are instinctively driven to follow the herd and to fit in with the crowd of their own groups, even without critically thinking about what they’re following sometimes. The facts can become psychologically subordinate to making sure one doesn’t face ostracism from one’s group.
One can understand the high risks in trusting an ‘outsider’ one shouldn’t have trusted, but the more overall worse social ill in the long-term and bigger-picture is treating people as ‘guilty unless proven innocent’ – which can often never be achieved and is unfair because of needing to somehow prove a negative i.e. how can one prove once and for all that one won’t ever do something? And for every piece of evidence one presents suggesting one’s innocence or peace, others may perpetually never think it’s sufficient as the goalposts keep moving further and further away i.e. they’ll keep on thinking ‘well you might do something bad tomorrow even if you did nothing bad today’. That’s why we should instead treat others as ‘innocent unless proven guilty’. Many believe in such a principle yet seldom behave according to it, as they prejudge and discriminate others based on stereotypes and even mere rumours. We’re generally risk-averse because we’ll likely still survive and reproduce for forgoing an opportunity whereas we could get killed for not heeding a threat, but this cognitive bias is too crude.
It’s socially corrosive overall because ‘guilty unless proven innocent’ attitudes and behaviours create and perpetuate the very fear, over-simplistic stereotypes, negatively-biased perceptions and interpretations, disharmony and all of one’s own actual pains down the line itself i.e. if one didn’t treat others with such attitudes and behaviours, one might not be treated with such attitudes and behaviours in return. This kind of society creates and reinforces its own misery through self-fulfilling prophecies (how should we expect marginalised people to react against being marginalised?!) and can escalate and be counter-escalated and so on, simply because people over-generalised their fears in the first place.
Note that it’s the fearful, under-educated person who wants a harmless spider killed when it’s just minding its own business; and it’s the stronger, more knowledgeable person who knows that the spider is harmless (and might even be useful in getting rid of the other, more unclean and harmful-to-humans insects) who treats such spiders with calm. The wiser person knows that not all spiders are harmful to humans hence doesn’t stereotype all spiders as being the same. So you need to be the bigger and smarter person to not let instinctive fear rule you, to not crudely over-generalise outgroups, to be brave, to forgive, to ask for forgiveness, to love and to be more inclusive.
So if someone is essentially crying out for help, directly or indirectly, loudly or silently, seems a bit different to other people you know, and is wanting to be heard, but you laugh at them, ostracise them, ignore or push them away – then you are potentially creating your own problems down the line. It’s the responsibility of all of us in society to never push desperate people further into the peripheries. When people are truly skilled at being social creatures then they’ll have the social intelligence to recognise and empathise with those few in society who seem lost and only wish to be heard, and give them just one small moment of their time to include them. Consequently, individual acts of violence, terror, self-harm and/or suicide (including mass shootings) will never feel necessary to be resorted to in order to capture our attentions or be considered as a solution.
Mocking someone momentarily because of some silly thing they had just done is fine in most cases – it’s a bit of fun. But laughing or jeering at someone as if they were fundamentally crazy is not. If a person isn’t mentally ill then there’s no reason to jeer at them, or if that person is mentally ill then there’s still no good reason to jeer at them, and instead we should be educated, socially empathic and understanding of their condition. So it’s okay to laugh at a stupid act or event but not at a ‘stupid person’. We need true self-confidence to not feel the need to put others down in order to push ourselves comparatively up to make ourselves feel good. Likewise, ignoring undesirable behaviours doesn’t mean ignoring people altogether.
In summary, ostracism (e.g. silent treatments, averted eyes, avoiding, excluding or constantly ignoring someone) is a terrible form of emotional abuse. It can lead a victim to self-destructive and self-defeating behaviours such as neglecting their health, or they may contagiously bully others, behave antisocially or act aggressively to insults, which would further reinforce the victim’s ostracism. It can even hurt to be ignored by people one would or might never meet (e.g. an unanswered email that wasn’t spam or constantly unanswered job applications). Social pains are more painful and more easily recalled than physical pains. Sometimes it can feel stressful if we simply cannot get in touch with someone for a day, even if the reason isn’t because of some argument or being forgotten. Self-isolation, loneliness and social distancing have been tough for a lot of people during the pandemic.
Woof. Like ice pick lobotomies – ostracism is an outmoded way of handling things.