See also: • Cascading Oppression • Uncle Adolf Syndrome • Cracking Culture
13 May 2011
Intergalactic Nucleus: art by Toxic Drums
This image has nothing whatsoever to do with the article on Ostracism.

I was listening to the radio in the car and heard a part of a program discussing the problems of being ostracised.  This program was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 9:00PM on Tuesday 10 May 2011 and is apparently available to listen to on the BBC 4 iPlayer until January 2099.

What is ostracism?  Basically it is the act of ignoring someone but goes a little further in that it is a group consensus to ignore someone and to exclude them from the group.  When I was young people were "sent to Coventry" or "given the silent treatment".  This results in everyone ignoring them.  A painful experience.  It doesn't take a particularly sensitive person to realise this.

What was interesting about this program was how Professor Kip Williams made a scientific study of the effects of ostracism.  It included playing ball on a computer and hot chilli sauce.  Kip Williams had been walking across a park when a Frisbee hit him in the back.  He stopped, picked up the Frisbee and threw it back.  For a few throws he was included in the game and then they never threw him the Frisbee again.  What surprised him was how dejected he felt.  So he set about studying the effects of being excluded.  He got subjects to play ball on a computer believing it was about computer control.  But in one group the other players stopped throwing the ball to the subject.  The consistent results were distress.  He measures this distress by inviting the subject to take part in another experiment involving food tasting where they allocated the food.  The subject had a list of the food tasters and their likes and dislikes and could allocate different amounts of different foods to each.  The subject was told that the recipient of the food had to eat the full portion allocated to them.  There was always one who liked sweet things but hated chilli sauce.  The ostracised subjects consistently allocated the largest portion of chilli sauce to the person who disliked it.  This was in contrast to the control group.

It was Kip's assessment that being social animals it is a very deep and primitive instinct to need to belong.  When people are excluded they first start to try to ingratiate themselves and are more willing to put themselves out to please other members of the group.  With no satisfactory consequence this soon changes to looking around for other groups to join and eventually to isolation, depression and inactivity.  Then it leads to the individual trying to involve themselves in the group by force.  They typically become pushy and even provocative and aggressive in an attempt to become recognised.

What Kip then did was to relate this to "shooters", people who seem to arbitrarily shoot a number of innocent victims.  This was a very significant point for me because "scientists" are often reluctant to make extrapolations of this extreme.  He did qualify his statement by saying that ostracism won't affect everyone to this extent but that it was a factor in all the cases of shooters that he had studied.

What bothers me is that we seem as a culture to regard small abuse as insignificant but like the grains of sand in the desert it all adds up to something far bigger than us.  We seem to dismiss abuse of all kinds not only by regarding it as insignificant but by equally disregarding the feelings of the abused.  That would be bad enough but we habitually turn on the victim accusing them of being pathetic or making a mountain out of a mole hill.  We seem to heap small insult on top of small injury and then act all surprised when the tumultuous consequences occur.  What seems to make matters worse is we then "blame" the perpetrators of the consequences as if that is going to solve the problem.  It won't and we have to stop.

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