Friday, October 16, 2009

How collectivists handle blame

You know, I've been observing a pattern of behavior over the past few years, particularly in news reports but I've also seen it come out in the rationalization of some of my friends and relatives. Let me explain the meme using two figures often used to explain encryption algorithms, Bob and Alice.

Suppose Bob is a personality who is perceived as mainstream, affluent, majority, conservative, male, Republican, or having some other right-of-center attributions. It does not matter what the particular mix happens to be: Bob could be a blue-dog Democrat or a liberal-but-conscientious dissenter (like the senator from Connecticut, Joe Lieberman). Bob just needs to be seen as having some non-Liberal attribute upon which to focus. Bob is not a team-player.

Now suppose Alice is a personality who is perceived as marginalized, poor, minority, liberal or radical, female, Democrat, or having some other left-of-center attributions. Again, the particular mix does not matter: Alice could be a documented mass-murderer or an antisocial philanderer (like the senator from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy). Alice just needs to be seen as posessing some attribute valued by a Liberal group. Alice is a team-player.

Now, when I speak to people about the Bobs and Alices in our political arena, here is the meme I see emerging from the conversations: Bob is personally vilified at the slightest allegation, but Alice could be caught red-handed and it will be claimed that both Bob and Alice are guilty of similar actions.

Alice could be caught with bodies at her feet and a smoking gun in her hand yet in conversation Alices personal responsibility will still be dismissed out of hand and to some extent transferred to belong to "everyone" or "both political parties". The language brought up almost always assumes an orientation of hyper-empathy with Alice, at Bob's expense -- even when Bob is more than an arms length away from having anything to do with the subject of discussion.

I think I started seeing this meme when Bill Clinton's penchant for raping women came out during his campaign. Does that language sound shocking? Re-read the definition of rape, and re-examine his record. The point is, it was his opponents that were eventually sullied with the stain of Clinton's guilt. But that was campaign rhetoric and political mud-slinging. Today, the meme has shifted into ordinary street language, and it is my thought that this shift was deliberate, fostered by news agencies following Democrat Party talking points and strategies for dealing with opposition.

Now, mind you, I'm not saying that if a Bob is guilty, he shouldn't be considered guilty. But if an Alice is accused, she should be investigated personally and we should not be so quick to allow her supporters to diminish her culpability or cast the aspersions of her guilt upon those who brought the charges.

I reject the meme.

No comments: