The concept of “collective guilt”, and blaming the victim

(This makes me so mad!)

The detracting posts have started rolling in on Facebook about Brussels.

They can be divided into two types:

  1. The ones who belittle what happened by saying “it happens all the time in the third world but is underreported”
  2. The other ones that blame the victims by means of collective guilt.

To 1:  We are equally outraged and upset when these things happen in the third world.  But: It happened in Brussels NOW. For heavens’ sakes allow the world a moment to grieve!  You heartless monsters!

What upsets me more than anything is that it is preventable – both in Europe and in the third world, if people would just be able to catch the real perpetrators – the politicians and evil religious leaders behind the movement – and deal with them as they deserve.

To 2:  I have no words to describe my anger at this one.

No!  Civilians have never “deserved” attacks by violent criminals.  Not ever, not in any way.

Collective guilt was used by anti-Semites through the ages to victimize the Jewish.  You want to walk that path?  Are you justifying Hitler?  A baby born is not born guilty.  A young child or even young adult who has never personally harmed anyone, regardless which strata of society they were born into, is not guilty!  The UN at some point declared the doctrine of collective guilt as not only invalid but an offense against humanity.  (Original reference needed – I can only link to where I read this.)

Yes, the mainstream media prefer reporting some things more than others.  (Example:  The endless, almost daily murders of farming families happening here are practically unreported.)  But that does not make what happened in Brussels any less horrible.

So!  Enough.  A bit of respect for the victims’ families please, Facebook monsters!



5 thoughts on “The concept of “collective guilt”, and blaming the victim

  1. To 1. I think ‘heartless monsters’ is laying it on too thick. Crass maybe, too soon maybe, but monstrous no. Comparable things DO happen in the Third World, and worse, and go unreported elsewhere. We should make efforts to keep up our awareness of that, and we should ask ourselves why our news media select the stories they do. Acknowledging that does not necessarily imply ignoring the horror and grief of the moment.

    To 2. Yes, I agree, the notion of ‘collective guilt’ is an insidious one. But I would offer one caveat, and that is that it is often fostered by a mis-apprehending of a common grammatical construction. Consider the following statements and the senses in which they may be construed and misconstrued. In each case a singular collective term is used to express a specific aspect, e.g. ‘South Africa’ might be used to mean that country’s government, or its Rugby team, or its judiciary, or its army, or…

    “The British have no business being in Ireland.”

    “It was actually the French who burned Joan of Arc, not the English.”

    “Sweden would extradite Assange if America asked them to.”

    “America is gun-crazy.”

    “When you think how The Germans persecuted the Jews, you wonder why on earth the Israelis persecute the Arabs.”

    “The Muslims want to take over the world.”

    [and here’s perhaps the most difficult to unpick]

    “We brought it on ourselves.”

    Now, we all recognise – even if we have to stop and think about it – that, for example, something approaching 60 million British people have never set foot in Ireland, and that first sentence above neither means nor implies that they have. But it takes watchful self-consciousness not to fall into the collective trap. I still have a trace of my English accent. In 1995 when ‘Braveheart’ came out, I was standing in a queue for I-forget-what; I opened my mouth to say something to a companion, and a bystander scowled, jabbed a finger at me, and said “You killed William Wallace!” Leaving aside that not even any of my ancestors have anything to do with it as far as I know – they’re Scottish with a little bit of French, not English, even though I was born down there – I had to work out whether that bystander was really accusing me of ‘collective guilt’, or had only recently found out about a piece of medieval injustice, was still exercised by it, and was getting it out of his system. But the point is that it’s an easy pitfall to tumble into.

    If you’re wondering what my reaction to the possible accusation that I was somehow personally responsible for William Wallace being hanged, drawn, and quartered, I seem to recall having replied “I think you’re confusing me with someone else,” before returning to the conversation with my companion. Or maybe that’s what I wish I had said.

    • Hey M. Wow, that bystander demonstrated unbelievable stupidity. You, personally, weren’t even alive at the time of Wallace, let alone the bystander! I also hope that was your answer, if so, kudos for self-control and fast thinking. I would probably have stood there “happing bubbles” (making like a fish).

      Yes, a lot of things go under- or unreported by the Western Establishment press. I feel it’s up to us bloggers to bring them to people’s attention; we’re the “inofficial” press. But one doesn’t need to take the opportunity to say them by riding rough-shod over another nation’s grieving, as happens so often on Facebook. It’s like those people posting don’t give two hoots about the horrors happening in the Third World until they see an opportunity to lay an egg because something horrible happened in Europe. Personally? I think they just want to grab an opportunity to sound PC and self-important. Why don’t they report these 3rd world attacks on Facebook as they happen? Why wait for something like Brussels, or France? Clearly they know about them, they post tables with all the attacks and the dates etc.

      Thanks, M. You have just provided me with the right answer for such people.

      Where I do feel the collective is appropriate, concerns responsibility. We have a collective responsibility as members of the human species, towards the planet and humanity as a whole. That means, each one of us is born with a little part of that responsibility which grows as we get older and gain influence. The most influential have the largest responsibility. Each to their own capacity. If all you can do to help save Earth is use long-life bulbs and turn off the geyser when you leave for work, then you have done something. Multiplied by 7 billion it does make a difference.

      Unfortunately with that grammatical little language quirk (which I completely agree exists and causes a lot of unnecessary confusion and hate), all South African whites are accused of having oppressed all Blacks. It’s exactly this loophole that is being exploited ruthlessly by our politicians for their own agendas. An intelligent thinking person might consider the call-to-action “kill the boer” as a figurative, representing the killing of the Apartheid system (per se 22 years behind times); but lesser intelligent souls with a slight criminal bent and no compassion take it literally and go brutally murdering a white farming family, right down to the granny and the baby. There is no misunderstanding the call “kill all whites” (commonly used by Malema and his minions). There is nothing figurative about that at all.

      It’s how wars are started, and we who see through the strategies (black and white alike) are crying into our hands.

  2. You know what, it’s actually intriguing. Where does this idea of collective guilt even come from? It strikes me as a very primal “us vs them” situation that has escalated and is trying to turn itself into a religion. Anyone know more about this phenomenon?

    • Well it’s easy to see where it comes from in the West – a particular interpretation of Matthew 27:25. It was a terrible curse to lay upon the innocent, and many Christian commentaries cite it as the reason why the Jewish race has suffered terribly down the centuries. But according to the Words of Christ, it is unthinkable that an innocent generation should suffer for someone else’s sins (Luke 17:2 ‘It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.’) and thus such commentaries are dangerous because, apart from anything else, they themselves be interpreted as making the Jews ‘fair game’ for persecution. God himself limits retribution; Exodus 21:24 ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, wrongly interpreted (again!) as being a prescription for reciprocal punishment, it in fact explicitly forbids a punishment in excess. Therefore the suffering of the Jews is not a result of the dreadful curse uttered on that day, as God would not break his own principle. OK, enough already with the theology lesson – I’m just showing I have bothered to read the Bible.

      Overall the nonsense of ‘collective guilt’ has just been a kind of habit. I believe, however, that one of the jurists connected with the Nuremberg Trials ruled it unacceptable in the case of Germany. Good for him.

      Regarding news, yes we have the unofficial sphere on the internet. I try to keep abreast of what is going on. The difficulty is that obliges me to read, more often than I would like, the opinions of people whose views and outlook I do not share or even find repugnant. It obliges me because sometimes they’re in the know about something.

    • Hmm, I’m with you about having to be a (unpaid) news service and the time and nerve sacrifices we make, and then harvesting what we’d call here “stank vir dank” (stink for thanks). It’s not a very rewarding thing to do.

      Re the bible, I’m very glad you’re bringing these, because in fact I haven’t read all that much of the bible and it’s good to get the information from someone who is clued up. It’s interesting that there was actually a curse like that. I do remember something about seven generations or similar. But it goes beyond that because the collective guilt doctrine seems to be a religion of politics.

      At the risk of incurring everyone’s wrath, I feel the opposite. We really should only be held responsible for our own misdeeds – how on earth otherwise can humans ever develop a decent idea of what is right and what is wrong (if you’re wrong no matter what you do)? See next post… 🙂 It just very much surprised me to stumble across that doctrine, and see it defended so vehemently (especially on FB, you know).

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