After reading this blog by Rory Miller, a friend of mine had a bit of a revelation. To date, it’s the only logical explanation I’ve heard for a phenomenon that seems ubiquitous and on the rise.
Rory’s blog explains why some people who are very vocal about what they would do in certain circumstances not only fail to act when the shit hits the fan, but do their best to deny that they’re standing there covered in doo-doo:
People are stupid and talk a lot of shit. But only in the abstract. They are loud-mouthed in their machismo and silent in their cowardice. So the person who has watched innumerable news reports about child molesters and always said, “If anyone did that to my kid, I’d kill ’em.” Well, that person now has to put up or shut up. Faced with the actual prospect of doing what they said they would do and the sure and certain knowledge that they’d go to prison for actually doing it, they become silent cowards.
The really depressing thing is that this kind of behaviour is not rare. I don’t have any statistics about this, but based on experience it’s more common than not. It hurts the survivors, it protects the perpetrators, and it doesn’t do a damn thing to improve matters, but heeeey it makes some people feel better about themselves, and that’s the important thing, isn’t it?
The same kind of dynamic is often in play when groups have a creeper in their midst (and here’s another blog from Rory about creepers). Groups can be so invested in protecting their image that they cannot admit that they have a problem. Interestingly, it seems that the more creep-averse the group is, the more likely it is to deny the creepitude. The obvious example here would be religious institutions, but any tribe or organisation whose collective ego is wrapped up in “not being like that” can be affected.
[Yes, self-defence clubs are not immune. Yes, this is a huge, ongoing problem. No, I don’t think it’s being adequately addressed. Yes, many of those instructors who moan about women not getting involved should consider the possibility that they have a creeping problem.]
My friend posed that the same dynamic could be in play when dealing with certain societal ills. There are plenty of people who are adamant that sexism is not a thing, that racism is a problem of the past, that the LGBTQ community has nothing to fear from, and so on and so forth. Any volume and type of information related to these issues will not sway them: statistics are doctored, anecdotal evidence can never ever count, the news are all fake, and so on and so forth. Sometimes the denial of the problem is complete (e.g. “Men don’t ever talk down to women. Women can’t parse technical speech registers and get their panties in a bunch as a result”). Sometimes it’s masked as a request for more and more evidence, with no amount of evidence every being enough (e.g. “Just because he had a swastika tattooed on his neck and was screaming ‘Sieg Heil’ and beating up a person of foreign descent, it doesn’t prove that he was a Nazi”).
It’s not inconceivable that this denial can be a symptom of the same kind of dynamic. A lot of people are fond of saying that ‘if they’d been alive then’ they would have stood up to totalitarian regimes or dictators; that they wouldn’t ever tolerate injustice or oppression like their ancestors did; that, if only they had the opportunity, they would do <insert glorious deeds here>.
But they weren’t alive then; they’re alive now. And according to statistics and anecdotes and the news, all kind of nasty stuff is happening, and their hero genes have somehow failed to activate. So, instead of admitting that they’re lesser people than they thought themselves to be, they deny that anything is wrong in the world.