Tag: social justice

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.

Assassination

Courtesy NPR

Assassination is a selfish, cowardly act.

Case in point: last night, a rhino was assassinated.

The term is usually applied to an individual of prominence, for fame or a political end, but I feel that doesn’t encompass the full depravity of the act. Assassination is murder for profit. Plain and simple. And Vince’s assassination is a prime example. It was for the ivory in his horn. Nothing more.

The rhino didn’t do anything wrong. It was just, you know, being a rhino.

And that’s why it was killed.

The assassins plan to profit from this murder. Ivory sells well on the black market. The nature of our capitalist society motivated these people to murder an innocent, unaware creature. Vince died confused and scared and bleeding out.

Does that seem right to you?

Imagine if the rhino were a person. They were going about their business. Maybe worrying about bills, or looking forward to a date, or making plans to find some way to a better future. Gunshot. Snap. Nothing more in this world. The corpse will feed the worms, the murder will feed someone’s financial or political greed.

Does that seem right to you?

Now imagine the person’s character being assassinated. Their body lives, but they are assaulted on a social and emotional and mental level. They are called all sorts of names, made out to be someone they’re not. The things said and done to them make them question their sanity. Their way forward is suddenly illuminated solely by gaslight. Without help, support, and love, they may go mad. Collapse in on themselves. They might even take their own life just to end the pain and confusion. And all the while, the people who did it to them profit from it. They look better, even righteous, by comparison. They get whatever they want from that person’s agony. Some of them might even laugh about it.

Does that seem right to you?

Superpowers are engaging in assassination on a regular basis. And worse, they’re getting more bold and blatant about it. Speak out against the state, get shot in the street. Express a contrary opinion, get reduced to a joke and rendered impotent and metaphorically disemboweled. Try to be the change you want to see in the world, die physically by way of bullet or blade, or die in the eyes of the public by slander and lies.

Worse, the systems in place to protect us from this are failing. Like the walls and fences of the zoo in France, the agencies that police malicious activity and are sworn to our safety turn a blind eye to the misery and death that plague the innocent. We’re left in the cold while those in power count their coffers and laugh at our pain.

To paraphrase Rachel Maddow, it’s becoming apparent that we have to take care of ourselves.

We have to be loud. We have to stand up for ourselves, and for one another. We have to fight back against the forces that would slay and disempower and belittle and rape us. We have to say “NOT THIS TIME” as clearly as possible. We have to insist on facts, not hearsay, not gossip, not slander, facts. And we have to do it every day, every hour if we have to.

The media has tried to romanticize assassins. Games, movies, other media; they like to portray and exemplify the righteous killer. But the truly righteous thing is not to fire the bullet. It is to take that bullet for someone who’d otherwise die.

Because if we do not put ourselves in the line of fire, nobody will be left to do the same for us.

I, for one, would rather choose to work hard and even suffer in order to secure a better future for the good of all the people around me, than be made to suffer for the selfish benefit of one short-sighted person.

I’m tired of living in fear. I’m tired of jumping at my own shadow. I’m tired of seeing wounds nobody else can see.

But I’m not done fighting.

And I won’t be for as long as I’m still alive.

Wednesdays I wonder at the world in which we live.

Retaliation vs. Retribution

Ghandi

I have hackles. I have more hackles than I’d like to admit. And when they get raised, it isn’t a pretty sight. I’m someone that believes that people in general should be treated with respect and understanding, And when they aren’t, be it in meatspace or on the Internet, I get angry about it. I cannot grok why patience and comprehension are so anathema to another human being. I get frustrated when someone cannot or will not imagine the other complexly. It makes me downright mad.

But how do I channel that emotion into effective change, and not just rage at the offense in impotence?

There is a difference, I feel, between retaliation and retribution. It’s the difference between revenge and justice. Societal standards of what constitutes justice can vary wildly in different parts of the world. Even in an internally demarcated entity like the United States, laws differ in wording, intent, or even existence from polity to polity, despite the presence of a unified overarching government.

I don’t think that changes the fact that people should expect a baseline level of respect, understanding, and compassion from other people.

Leaving aside arguments of semantics and specific polity laws, things like harassment and assault of all kinds, from verbal and emotional to physical and psychological, are revolting acts undertaken by petty or callous people. With selfish myopia and a twisted sense of what qualifies as ‘humor’, the perpetrators of such impersonal and belittling acts are not interested in promoting human well-being or making the world a better place; they are only in it for themselves, their advancement or amusement, no matter what the cost is on their victims. While I have seen examples of this in my personal experience, the most prevalent and extant environment in which these acts occur is the Internet. This is the realm of anonymous inhuman verbal assault. It is the realm of the ‘troll’.

Getting trolled or bullied online is something that’s existed since some person saw some other person do something they didn’t agree with, for whatever reason, and decided to use their anonymity to lash out. More recently, death and bomb threats against people based on their gender and opinions and SWAT teams being called down on opponents in a video game have become prominent examples of this endemic problem. But how does one go about addressing or correcting the issue without making it a simple and ultimately pointless act of personal vengeance?

Some people would say that the problem is non-existent or not that problematic. Others say that people – the victims, mostly – need to “grow a thicker skin” or “get over it”. This attitude, itself, is part of the problem, as it demonstrates a callousness towards the very real anguish people go through when they are personally attacked, belittled, harassed, objectified, or threatened. Just because one have never been a victim, or cannot imagine what it is like to be victimized, does not mean that a standard of justice is inconceivable or unobtainable.

The difference between retaliation and retribution is that retaliation is as personal and selfish an act as the assault itself. Retribution is calling upon a greater authority to visit justice upon the offender. In other words, if one party calls another a racial slur in the workplace, and the second party responds in kind or with violence, that is retaliation. If the second party, instead, brings the matter before their supervisor or a higher authority, that is retribution. In a similar vein, a police officer using extreme force on someone (say, someone stopped for a moving violation being arrested, detained, and murdered) getting shot down in the street is retaliation. That officer getting publicly reprimanded and, one hopes, stripped of their authority is retribution.

We need more avenues for retribution when someone is harassed, bullied, or singled out due to their race, gender, orientation, or outlook. We do not have the capacity to completely comprehend the circumstances of the others around us. We do, however, have the capacity to desire an amount of respect for ourselves, and to expect and demand the same for those around us in our lives. When the fear that overtakes a victim keeps them from seeking justice, it falls to us around them, in our communities and society, to counteract their fear (and, in some cases, overcome our own) in the pursuit of justice. And when that respect is undermined, ignored, or outright demolished, we have a duty to act as vectors of retribution upon the offenders. It is the only way we will progress as a species. It is the only way we prove we’re better than mere animals. It is the only way the better world so many dream of and strive for will survive.

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