July 27, 2011

Blaming victims, individuals or social structures?

Holy HouseBlaming victims, individuals or social structures? - I pick apart some of the issues of in-group-out-group bias linked to the recent massacre in Norway and attempts by xenophobe politicians to distance themselves from them.

Breivik's actions are a pretty nasty demonstration of how far in-group-out-group biases can be taken. They are illustrative because his manifesto gives a somewhat clear image of how he ended up where he did. Being socially isolated (perhaps by a personality disorder) made nearly any social group his out-group. He could enhance his self-esteem by identifying with groups that he did not need to join in any social sense, such as being Norwegian, or by inventing even higher status groups where he automatically would be a member, like his "templars". (Obligatory Umberto Eco templar quote). Since practically anybody viewing this system from the outside threatened this fragile self-esteem, they became threatening. And since out-groups are seen as homogenous and their members driven by ideology rather than individual autonomy, their members become fair targets.

Of course, most people running this kind of mental program never go very far. Most end up as bitter Internet trolls, at most. There are other factors needed to turn someone into a killer. But as I argue in my ethics essay, the real threat does not come from individual killers but institutionalized bias against out-groups. This is where the enhanced power of a group (thanks to economies of scale and power over formal social structures) allows the bias to do real damage on a far larger scale, and the diffusion of responsibility makes individually not dangerous members into killers.

I do not fear individual terrorists, I fear biased and hateful institutions. Their members are diverse and autonomous, but they become correlated in a harmful way.

Posted by Anders3 at July 27, 2011 01:23 PM