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Making the Movement Look Bad

The refrain that some behavior makes your group look bad is entirely common, but is it worth worrying about?

A very common internal criticism in any movement is that some behavior makes the movement look bad. Often rattled off at the innocent group members for lack of a way to engage in targeted criticism, the behavior is part of the overall support-group mentality among a cause’s adherents.

That support-group mentality is that the outsiders don’t get it, and the insiders do, and when insiders get peeved, the insiders will contribute a chorus of agreement. That agreement resolves the insiders, prepares them for the next onslaught from the big, bad world of infidels.

Do bad actions from insiders really reflect on the group? Sure, some outsiders undoubtedly do use this as fodder for a bait-and-switch argument against the group. In religion, particularly critiques of Islam, but also in feminism, gender, and sexuality contexts. And in just about anything else you can think of as a group.

But let’s look at business as an example. While a few will lump all businesses together for bad actions by a few or by one industry, for the average person the crimes belong to the particular industry, or even to the particular actors in that industry. We don’t blame food industry businesses for harm from carbon extraction and pollution, for example.

Thus, if you have a group that is being criticized due to what are mostly outsider actions, considering a split or delineation is wise. In the vaping community, such a distinction should probably be drawn between vapers and cloud chasers, for example. In veganism, a line might be brightened between the holistic types that believe in fairies, the ethical vegans, the dietary vegans, the environmental vegans, etc.

Wait, veganism? For the most part the problems in veganism aren’t bad actors in the sense of people offending outsiders, per se. It is more of the way the literature or communities treat veganism. Most vegans are so for ethical reasons, and thus most vegan communities overemphasize the ethical side of things. Some vegans believe in the magical properties of some obscure food, and so you get quack advertising and pseudo-advertising for miracle foods.

Of course, splitting a group weakens the group a bit. If the ethical vegans are the true believers, they may be gluing together the other subsets.

But while fracturing to allow outsiders to point blame where it belongs may reduce some criticism, how concerned should the overall group be by criticism in the first place? Opponents to a movement tend to be less aware of the movement’s issues than insiders, even when the issues are out in the open, often surfaced by insiders in public fora. The opponent’s ignorance is often startling to see by insiders, waiting for the shoe to drop only to realize their critics are barefoot and blind.

In most cases, better than shaming others for making a movement look bad, the fix is to seek out alternative behaviors that both accomplish the goals of a bad behavior and avoid the criticisms. And that includes finding ways to make internal criticism more targeted to the offenders, rather than rubbing the entire group’s nose in the dog dirt.

Scare Tactics and Mortality

A brief look at the use of scare tactics to try to influence behaviors.

Graphic warnings on cigarette and tobacco products, mere warning labels, skull and crossbones on cleaning products, and transvaginal ultrasounds all have the common theme of being emotional appeals meant to shape behavior.

When you don’t buckle your seat belt in the car, it merely chimes and lights a “buckle-up” icon. Why not change that into screams or an icon of roadkill? Which reminds me of the cigarette lighters in India that chant Raam Naam Satya Hai (a funeral chant) (YouTube: Chanting Lighter).

And how long until the gun control advocates propose that gun buyers have to review graphic photographs of gunshot wounds before buying guns and ammunition?

The question is how far should we take these sorts of emotional appeals meant to remind people of inherent dangers? Should military enlistees be required to view statistics regarding casualties and mental illness risks associated with service? Should law school students be warned of the difficulties of finding jobs with their degrees?

Currently the use of scare tactics is rather arbitrary. People buying a home with a pool or having one built may pay higher insurance premiums, but they aren’t faced with the risks in graphic form. With Thanksgiving coming, we are reminded that every year people harm themselves in deep fryer accidents or undercooked stuffing causes food borne illnesses.

Parents of newborns often retrofit their homes in a religious ritual known as childproofing. This involves such feats as putting the kitchen knives behind electric fencing and turning all food into mush to prevent babies from wanting to eat it. They buy sophisticated surveillance equipment to spy on the babies at night, in case the babies are plotting anything. They even clothe the proto-humans in special garments to avoid granting them access to sensitive household equipment such as the toilet.

The question remains, how much does this all save in injuries and loss of life?

The fifth leading cause of death is accidents. But the top causes include heart disease, cancer, pulmonary diseases, and stroke. A decent amount (say 30%) of these others are estimated to be from tobacco use.

But that’s simplistic. Most of the deaths per year are of people over 64. The leading cause for people below 45 is accidents. 45-64 is cancer.

So smoking and other carcinogenic sources have long-term negative effects. Same with poor eating habits and lack of exercise. Does it make sense to use the same sort of scare tactic (skull-and-crossbones poison labeling) on something that kills you today and something that kills you in the distant future?

Same question for the ultrasound crowd. Will a scare tactic prevent abortions, when it is closer to the chronic condition (being a parent) category than the you will die if you eat a poison category?

Indeed, sans seatbelt seems more like a poison (a fixed risk of imminent death or injury) than tobacco or overeating do.

Ages 1-44 all have homicide in the top five leading causes of death. 10-44 has suicide in the top four. Where are the warnings there? Most homicides are in poor areas, and telling people they shouldn’t go home doesn’t help them unless they have an alternative. For suicide, mental health care would be required, so a scare tactic doesn’t really do.

But accidents (also known as unintentional injuries), they bear another look. Cars come in the top two for everyone at least one year of age. Unintentional poisoning is up there for ages 25-64. Gravity (the force, not the film)(AKA “unintentional fall”) leads among the over-64 group.

I’m just not sure how you would warn people about gravity. Parachute signs down from the sky? Plumb bobs?

But I do think that scare tactics need revisiting, because those old driver’s education videos didn’t make a big dent. There are still too many smokers. Diets need improving. More exercise is needed. And the overall quality of the environment needs work to protect our bodies from other (non-tobacco) man-made carcinogens.

Intragroup Competition

Discussion of how one-upmanship pervades many aspects of biological life, particularly in human society.

There is a tendency of man to try to outdo his peers, to play off his peers’ moves. It’s part competition, part group loyalty or cheering for the group.

We see it in bullying when done as a group. We see it in hazing rituals. We see it in some behaviors surrounding drinking. But we also see it on Wall Street and we see it in the Republican party. We see it in lobbying firms.

It crops up among teenagers playing the so-called “penis game” in which they successively try to say the word “penis” louder than the previous player.

This is one-upmanship. Each participant sees the previous act, and tries to go just farther.

Emboldening the Group

One factor for this behavior is that it gives the whole group an increased confidence (at least in the repeated behavior). The members of the group see how far they went together, and recognize they played a role in that. They have power.

Similarly, if Bob goes to ten, Alice wants to take it to 11. Alice wants to show that she’s just as fearless as Bob, that she’s as vital to the group, that she belongs. Then, Charlie wants to go for 12. Charlie doesn’t want to be the weak link.

Safety in Numbers

Another factor is testing group integrity. If Charlie goes to 12 and the group loses its nerve, Charlie may be left in danger. This informs both Charlie and the group of the tensile strength of their alliance.

If the group rescues the one that went too far, they are again emboldened. They find themselves invincible once more.

A Root in Sibling Competition

We see bear cubs wander away from the mother’s safety, each testing how far they may stray before mom will react. Which of the litter is the bravest? How harsh will the reaction be? What is safe and what is not?

What Happens Without Limits

And here we run into the wall. What happens when these group antics are left unchecked? When they can continue because the mother is absent, or because the authority is timid or dependent upon the actors?

There we are reliant upon greater, more fundamental forces. We await the erosion of the foundations upon which these monsters, born of silly kids games, stand.

Eventually the extremism of the modern Republican party must collapse. The public will recognize they have gone too far. But going too far in these games means someone gets hurt. Either the cub is lost to predators or gets swept away by the river. Or in the case of bully groups, the victim is hurt too severely, or fights back and the bully is maimed.

Awareness of this behavioral dynamic is essential to a modern government. Impunitas continuum affectum tribuit delinquendi (“Impunity confirms the disposition to commit crime,” 4 Coke’s English King’s Bench Reports, 45). Impunities semper ad deteriora invitat (“Impunity always invites to greater crimes,” 5 Coke’s English King’s Bench Reports, 109).