Social media and Purity Spirals


A “complete unraveling of the social fabric of society” is one of the primary dangers that led to the founding of The Center for Humane Technology by Tristan Harris et al. Social media platforms and their business models are uniquely primed to reinforce and even weaponise negative vicious cycles that speed up this unraveling. As we witness all around us.

Today I bumped into several Hacker News discussions on controversial topics that had turned into flamewars, people from opposite sides upvoting and downvoting others in quick succession, and a stream of insensitive comments being fired at the thread.

What struck me first of all, was - regardless of who posted them - how incredibly un-nuanced and even cruel many of these comments were. Posted by people who truly believed in the narrow viewpoints they expressed: black vs. white, good vs. evil, with me or against me. There was no place for the reasonable voice anymore. And this discussion would only lead to people getting further apart, digging in deeper, and more divided than before.

(Luckily on HN - being the best moderated social media platform I know of - such threads are rapidly demoted and disappear from the front-page real quick).

This way every participant, unless they were deliberate trolls, was not achieving anything from the discussion. Only validating they belonged to the tribe and engaged in a pointless fight. Wasting their time, and making society nastier.

Purity Spiral

Note: The article is only attributed for how it defines Purity Spiral as a concept, not because of its particular quality and contents.

But what stood out even more was the fact that most of these people didn’t see it that way. Their belief is that their involvement is right and proper, and comes from having the ‘moral high ground’. This is a phenomenon I witness very often, where people who feel they represent ‘the good cause’ may not only be counter-productive in their engagement to others, but also are they driving their own community apart.

Just now I found an article by journalist Gavin Haynes that addresses this in more detail:

A very interesting read. Some quotes from the article:

A purity spiral occurs when a community becomes fixated on implementing a single value that has no upper limit, and no single agreed interpretation. The result is a moral feeding frenzy.

But while a purity spiral often concerns morality, it is not about morality. It’s about purity — a very different concept. Morality doesn’t need to exist with reference to anything other than itself. Purity, on the other hand, is an inherently relative value — the game is always one of purer-than-thou. […]

It is a social dynamic that plays out across that community — a process of moral outbidding, unchecked, which corrodes the group from within, rewarding those who put themselves at the extremes, and punishing nuance and divergence relentlessly. […]

A purity spiral propagates itself through the tipping points of preference falsification: through self-censorship, and through loyalty tests that weed out its detractors long before they can band together. In that sense, once one takes hold, its momentum can be very difficult to halt.

The author comes to the conclusion that:

The phenomenon isn’t going anywhere. These are deep psychological truths about humanity, carved into the cliff-face of how we construct our societies. The cudgels of morality will always be a convenient lever for hidden competition — you can pretend to be socialising the private realm, when in effect you’re privatising the social realm for your own status gain.

The problem is that we tend to see the dynamic for what it is only in its aftermath. In the moment, the mesmerism of ideology fills the screen entirely.

In order to stop the spiral:

Takes a much larger critical mass, hundreds, recognising the purity spiral’s signs and saying so.

The simplest solution is to notice earlier, to notice better, and to call it out as something that has nothing to do with morality, and everything to do with purity — and to say why that’s different.

If you call its name, it flinches. After all, the best defence against witch-finders is a population that doesn’t believe in witches.

Photo credits Pexels by Pixabay

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As far as purity for the sake of purity then yeah, it causes social problems because the nature of life is that things which cause the most concern as are almost always in the realm of nuance. Ethical considerations are never a question of a binary; they are about balance and often fall into choosing the lesser of two evils - no mean feat.

But some truth does not protect this piece from the logical fallacies it relies on. It’s just another tired piece of projection from my POV because these disputes aren’t naturally occurring. More often than not they are engineered.

I’d urge you to note the comments - do they look inclusive to you? Does this article grow the things it claims to want to grow or is it, in fact, achieving the opposite?

I cannot think of a single person who is not a white male; that is a self-declared raving fan of Jordan Pietersen and that tells me something. Likewise the comments indicate this article is motivated by ideology/; it’s doing the very thing it’s pointing fingers at other people for.

Nice to see you on the forum again, @Birdie! You are quite right in stating your reservations above. The specifics of the article are not all-that-important. They are (or easily can be in current climate) divisive in themself and hence be part of a spiral that way.

But I wanted to highlight the concept of Purity Spirals, so people are more aware of them and the effects they have on public discourse.

When it comes to polarisation it’s often through disingenuous acts but the majority of the time it is probably more accurately described as default binaries ie a kind of social simplification shorthand which is mostly benign but can quickly metastasise into something aggressive. Some people are simply in thinking habits of interpreting debate or discussion as a personal attack and that suggests emotional responses which have bypassed logic - a ‘straight to the amygdala’ thing.

I wish the author had exercised some self-analysis before publishing but the article serves as a good example really. Hyperbole and an emotional morality can be seen in the following snippets:
It isn’t a robust debate it’s an ‘ethical gazumping war’
It isn’t that some people use moral posturing to access the privileges of power it’s a “bidding war for morality turned into a proxy war for power”
All the violent language serves to create an emotional sense of extreme aggression where there may actually have been very little or even none - that affects our perception of the validity of the arguments because how we label things matters. If a discussion about respectful language gets framed as some kind of violence then how do we recognise the extremely aggressive language? If we exaggerate for effect we turn a valuable ratio scale into a much less meaningful ordinal scale, or worse the binary ‘violence/not violence’ even though we all know that poking someone in the ribs is not the same as punching them in the ribs, is not the same of punching them repeatedly in the ribs, is not the same as stabbing them in the chest… hopefully you get the drift that scale is important.

That really is, for me the meat and bones of what is important here; nuance matters. The shades of grey matter. If we are to organise for social benefit then we really do need to actively put careful consideration into when we use binaries and why because it’s crucial that we know an ordinal scale from a ratio scale and use appropriate statistical tests when we try to find meaning in them.
For the record, Likert scales are not true ratio scales because their measures are subjective…

In the context of flame wars it is, as you say, a matter of group culture but there is a volume dynamic. If you look at social housing you’ll find that communal areas are a fairly good measure of how much community spirit exists in the lives of the tenants who share that space. In a small building where only a handful of households have to share a stairwell and a laundry things remain civil and mutually supportive in spite of a tenant or two with profound mental health or social problems. When that number becomes bigger the spirit of community can quickly fall victim to the coalescing of bullies. If 25 households use a shared stairwell suddenly you find that the lives of everyone is impacted by the behaviour of the worst. To be honest this is also true of private housing but to a lesser degree because if tenants in private housing experience the pressures if extreme poverty they just become homeless…

in social media terms the magnitude is different but similar rules apply. I would guess the numbers to be group size < 2000 = manageable. group size > 2000 = problematic. Whether problematic becomes catastrophic or not is the core problem. My guess is that the really important decision making is around exposure risk. A focus on personal data collection is entirely unethical if this focus exists next to a void where duty of care exposure risk mitigation should be occurring, This has been a problem on fb for a long time and is now a risk on LI. In open source contexts this dynamic seems to be understood. Nicknames are welcomed and they do serve to strengthen community in my view. In spite of this assumption that it’s all about hiding one’s identity to do devious things it’s actually much more about compartmentalising. It is human to play different roles in different contexts and that’s a part of why us humans value privacy, it’s not about deceiving, it’s about different modes of operating.
Oh my wandering mind… time for sleep.

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Ps I just had a look at some of the comments in your link… these related to Ivermectin. In medical/scientific circles it’s well known that the reason posts about Ivermectin are considered as fake news isn’t that it’s deemed there is no efficacy; it’s that while it may be helpful there are other pharmaceutical treatments which are found to be much more effective. There was an amazing collaborative effort last year. The Solidarity Clinical Trial really was ground breaking and did a phenomenal job of collecting and analysing treatment data. Those who promulgate conspiracy theories give no credit to the enormous amount of work done for entirely ethical reasons by people who just wanted to do what they could to help.

This crystallises the frustrations of the polarisation. If you have one group that is actively politicising and deceiving (have a read through the chat thread on the Barrington delusion page and you’ll see there is no effort to correct fallacious comments or to vet whomever signs the thing); and the polar opposite is people who are aware of the seriousness of this virus and are actively trying to dilute misinformation because they know that every person sharing fallacious claims is amplifying the workload and risk of nurses then it isn’t fair to call that a polarisation because there are some fundamental social standards that can be measured in relation to each group… classifying them as polarised is like watching someone get beaten up by a partner and then talking about ‘the fight’ they had. That is mischaracterisation. I will be honest with you, it was seeing pandemic denying comments which made me wary of this space. I know too many people whose lives are deeply affected by this. I have no doubts that the politicisation has always been the minimisation of the threat and the undermining of the public health effort.

An accurate and eloquent analysis, much better than I could do.

There are other ways that the author might have explained the concept of Purity Spirals. Ways that wouldn’t be controversial in and of themselves. And more self-analysis would’ve been better indeed. But I’ve read through all that to focus on the gist article explaining the concept itself.

Your quoted texts reminded me to mention something else. Namely that Purety Spirals are now among the many kinds of ‘guided weapon systems’ that can be applied by those seeking to set and manipulate the narrative in public discourse by weaponisation of social media.

And here we have another weapon that is wielded all over the place in online media.

1,000% agree, and nuance is a very delicate flower, easily crushed, and that is exactly the objective of those seeking to divide use for their own gain.

I have extracted these snippets from you text, because I too strongly believe that we are entering ‘solution space’ when we start to think about how to achieve that in social media. Solution-orientation related to humane technology innovation is the primary focus of this forum, and I would like to leave very specific examples from ‘problem-space’ for what they are, unless they are directly technology-related.

I strongly believe that the concept of Community and the Relationships between communities are crucial for social media to work at scale. You mention a group size of about 2,000 people as still manageable, and that may well be. It all depends on the kinds of moderation and (self)governance tools that are in place. Dunbar’s number is often used to indicate the number of relationships with others that a person can manage themself.

As it happens online we can build communities in better ways, that are more representative of how they exist in real life. I am investigating this in the context of the Fediverse in a paradigm I call “Community has no Boundary”. The full monty should combine group dynamics and ‘social-at-scale’.

I digressed a bit from the topic, but communities can help avoid purity spirals, because in a community after a time there is a common understanding between people and a shared culture. What is particularly interesting is that it has a decentralized infrastructure where you have informal communities (based on server instances), and it becomes easier to both study and manage the Purity Spiral phenomenon.

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Social media should be avoided. Hn is the same thing as reddit. It’s just a sounding board for these people in their filter bubbles and the moderators side with the woke each time. It should be called anti social media. Not everything needs comments. Not everyone’s opinion has value. The op assumes moral equivalence which isn’t something that I think exists. There are moral high grounds and low grounds. The problem comes from censorship, so these points can’t flush out naturally. The fact that people can’t be civil, it seems to be how social media is designed, it’s on purpose.

Like when Facebook finds out depressed teen girls look for makeup online, so they are pitched make up ads. It’s not designed to foster good dialog about anything serious (sex, religion, politics, things that make people upset).

I took a big step back in 2016 and I don’t try to understand the mentality of people who call names or are steeped in identity politics or social justice warriors.

Life is to precious to waste on this. I agree with the speech Sacha Baron Cohen made about social media, I don’t have a link but it’s spot on everyone should hear it / him.

Fascinating. I read a little quickly through the knitters article. First, it was badly written, too much hyperbole and pretentiousness in the tone of the article author. Instead of what I wanted (a run-down of what happened in a community I know nothing about), I got an article giving me all the conclusions along the way, telling me what to think about what happened (and before I really got the basic facts of what happened).

I’m not saying the author is wrong (but he might be somewhat, I dunno), but I was forced to grapple with his assertions before he presented evidence, which was itself sparse. I imagine he wrote it in order to preach-to-the-choir for an audience he imagined was already on board with a pretty complete rejection of anything that looks like “virtue signaling” and so on.

From what I can tell of the facts, the concerns are real. I mean, I know of and don’t deny the problems with simplistic over-the-top misguided forms of well-intended (at least by many) social justice online discussions. But I didn’t quite follow the narrative in this case.

There’s something about “selling patterns” in knitting, and IMO, this is already a pitfall that the community is liable to. This is like proprietary software and copyright in other ways. Selling access to artificially-restricted concepts like a knitting pattern is itself already introducing power dynamics. There’s going to be all these tensions around whether a pattern is truly “original” (none of them are, of course).

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Hi @Broodwich, thank you for your feedback. I agree that most social media - as it is currently designed - should probably be best avoided. On the other hand if we’d like to learn from people from all corners in the world and discuss in groups, then the internet is best-suited and social networking is what we do.

I have to disagree with you about Hacker News. This maybe shows you are slightly mis-informed, or somewhat biased. In any case it is very different than Reddit. I know you have some strong anti-HN feelings, but maybe they stem from the early days of the network, when its members mostly reflected Silicon Valley mindset and culture. That is no longer the case, and HN has a broad and world-wide audience of techies now.

  • HN as you know is a link aggregator. The topic is basically anything that may interest the audience of technologists.
  • HN knows no sensorship. Downvoting & flagging might make things invisible, but with “showdead” setting you can see it again, and you can vouch to bring things back.
  • HN has a very simple and comprehensive set of guidelines, that forms the basis upon which moderation takes place.
    • It says for instance “Please don’t use Hacker News for political or ideological battle. It tramples curiosity.”
  • HN has a single active moderator, the user dang, who is the most humble, balanced and reasonable guy.
  • HN’s member base is quite diverse, with people from all opposite ends of the spectrum, and different backgrounds.
    • Is the audience dominantly male? Yes. This is unfortunately still the reality in tech, but things are rapidly improving.
  • HN discussion is based on providing reasonable arguments. Insubstantial reactions are either mostly ignored or downvoted.
    • Moderation algorithms detect flamewars and many other dark patterns (e.g. voting rings) and quickly downranks these threads.

No social networking app is without its flaws, and there are always people unhappy with them no matter how they are set up. I don’t agree with many comments I encounter, while others are greatly appealing to me. I find things relatively well-balanced, and for me most importantly, HN surfaces both most interesting and/or important topics that play out in the tech world. It does this better than any other source I am aware of.

Last but not least… what is funny is that many ‘old’ members of HN complain about the ‘anti-tech’ stance getting too dominant. There is a lot of criticism on Big Tech, for instance. I think this reflects the broader sentiment in society with people getting truly aware of the harms of technology. Participating on HN is a means to add substantive feedback, from a humane technology perspective, and bring it to the attention to many of the SV ‘hot shots’ that are also still member of the network. In other words: If you are an activist for humane technology, then membership of HN is a good way to act on that.

The reason I included the article was purely to highlight the concept of Purity Spirals. It was where I first heard the term, but the phenomenon was familiar to me. I see it all around me. As for the specific details and the way it was written I agree with you, but I couldn’t discuss the concept without attributing the source.

I have very deliberately quoted from the article to just distill the concept definition, how it manifests, what it usually results in, and how it may be stopped.


I have one example of purity spirals I see that relate to humane technology proponents. On the Fediverse most people are very aware of harms of Big Tech, and actively involved with activism, opposition and building better alternatives (mostly as free software). It is a David vs. Goliath fight, but with a common cause and “united we are stronger” credo, there’s a good basis for collective efforts and strong community, right?

But there are Purity Spiralists, factions that only serve to corrode the unity. They are the holier-than-thou ethics crusaders. So you may be a free software developer that worked tirelessly and investing your own savings to create some software for the common good. Then out of the blue a crusader come in and shouts “You use a third-party service that uses Cloudflare. Change this immediately or you are the devil”. And if you don’t comply they blocklist you and start an active PR campaign denouncing all your work.

Luckily these folks and their purity spiral do not get much of a foothold on the fediverse, as they are not well-liked with their overly radical approach. It is a good example where any shade of grey is not allowed to exist. You are either good or bad.

Very unproductive. As most of the world isn’t fully aware of the harms of technology and the urgency to bring change, we have to offer people a gradual path that allows them to ultimately “see the light”. The crusaders only create an extremist group, that turns most people off. Nothing much would change if we all followed that approach.

@wolftune I added a note to the first post to highlight why I attributed the article (i.e. definition of the concept of Purity Spirals)

If you have a reason for not considering ‘social justice warrior’ or the phrase ‘identity politics’ name calling then I’d like to hear it.

EDIT; This is clearly a loaded topic. The flame wars are real. I’ve been publicly roasted in a supposedly inclusive community because a comment I made in earnest was interpreted as dog whistling. It won’t be helpful to go into the dynamics and since I wrote the above response I’ve learnt some new things and gained a different POV so would have expressed a few of my points to a higher standard although the sentiments haven’t changed.

My comments in regard to disinformation aren’t any kind of signalling or tribalism. They do literally cut to the heart of what interests me about humane tech and that is to minimise harm. Regardless of where we consider ourselves on the political spectrum I’m guessing you’re well aware of all the coloured pills and the digital soldier thing. Can we agree at least that those communities are Machiavellian in their approach?

I’m neurodivergent. Part of my motivation to discuss these things is that I really don’t like to see people exploited by virtue of their tendency to take people at face value and accept things in literal terms; or for their human need. Those vulnerabilities are more common in neurodivergent people.

I came across a post on YouTube by a young guy a few days ago. I found it because I was researching ‘Rainbow pilling’ to see if it relates to inclusivity or to religious affiliation - apparently both. For this guy the whole discussion of pilling revolved very tightly around the social nuances of dating and sexuality. It was clear his understanding was limited to a microcosm of mostly online discussion with peers and how they were being exploited by dating spinfluencers (if someone deliberately uses ‘social media marketing’ strategies based on psychological manipulation then they are a spinfluencer in my book). His video impressed me for its insight but also depressed me when I considered it could be related to spinfluencer sales coaching.

I just felt so sorry for him that as he approached adulthood in the midst of a pandemic his you tube uploads went from serving up videos about cars to serving up demographically targeted ads for a business model so deeply founded in exploitation with very limited positive outcomes, That is a travesty. Instead of finding fed. communities with inclusive values he’s producing videos to counter such overtly manipulative concepts as “all women x”. “all women y”. The ideas being thrown up to him were not, in my view, showing any respect for his needs or personal reality and are generating some sad and lonely people are being told there is some simple formulation about how they are perceived by others,

So how do we go about addressing that? It won’t work if some of us demand a level of respect we aren’t prepared to give. I loved that this kid expressed that he liked things about himself that had been described to him as negative points in some imaginary rigid female preference rating scale. He was bang on. I also loved that he mentioned he was Autistic as one of the things he was told would make him a fail. I just wanted to say “mate, you’ve just been unlucky with algorithms look up Autistamativ look up Autcollab look up lectures on neuroscience and neurodiversity. These are open hearted inclusive people I’d recommend to young Autistic men because they are smart, they’ve seen the things, they grapple with the things every day and they demonstrate that the neurodivergent community tends to not have disingenuity as a personality trait. It’s the disingenuity that undermines real respect for others but it takes a lot of bravery to tell our personal stories and often even just to see ourselves through kinder eyes sometimes.

It’s important to keep an open mind to views different to our own, if we want to uncover the truth.

Social justice via identity politics is actually an unfair form of discrimination and creates oppression via censorship. Two wrongs do not make a right. In addition, it distracts from the real issue which is inequality and plutocracy, and the real solutions which are fighting inequality and improving democracy.

Then what is social justice via identity politics? It is a form of corruption, where political elites take advantage of us for their own benefit, to distract us from the real problems. If you have any doubts, ask yourself why a rich person who self identifies as something should have benefits such as reaping millions in government contracts. Wouldn’t it make more sense, to help the people in really need fairly, to help the poor? Another aspect of identity politics is, that you are not your ancestors. There is a practical limit of maximum one or two generations where things like reparations make sense. After all the real issue is to help the poor and treat all people equally.

I’m not following what you mean by “political elites”. Which group does that term refer to?

EDIT: Apologies for posting before I’ve finished my comments. It’s an ADHD accidental thing.

A big part of where I come from is informed by a core understanding of the neuroscience of perception; how easy it is for others to manipulate that if they choose to; and that we are ALL vulnerable to both our own biases and the manipulation of others particularly if we rely on system 1 thinking (emotion based, reflexive, short cut cognitive responses) when discussing important ideas. The other tool I’m only just starting to learn is formal logic. It’s proving really useful for the system 2 thinking (deeper, intellectual, and precise analysis).

EDIT: I tend to have to read comment a number of times to really acknowledge and think about each of the ideas. I’m not sure I fully understand what you’re trying to say about ancestors and identity politics. It might help if you can personalise it a bit related to your own experience.

PS I’m not convinced there is a truth. There are self evident and agreed as most likely things based on empirical understanding. Then there is opinion. Opinions aren’t truth because they are entirely subjective. Opinions can be strongly held and close to truth or they can be completely wrong.

Sorry for being so know it all. I agree with you that there is no truth.

Regarding I am not my ancestors, I feel it is important for each person to follow their own dreams. And equally important people should not think, “I am x therefore I should act x, think x and do x”. Rather I feel people should choose what they like, even if it is outside of their parent’s culture, or their ethnicity, religion, nationality, gender, lightness and so on. For example, I actually don’t feel that I want to connect to neither my grandparent’s country and I also feel alienated and a disapointed by my country of birth the US, and actually care more about totally different countries like Turkey, China, France and Japan to which I have much weaker connections. And regarding minority groups… I actually grew up in a tight ethnic community… I feel like clinging on to tradition or to resentment for past wrongs and invasions (my parents were stateless refugees of sort) does not make sense because we are all our own person and there is not really any logical reason for these things that happened in the past to follow bloodline. People instead should follow some of the traditions of where they live, but only if they want to, and even should try new things and to import better ways of living from outside ideas.

As to political elites, I mean the rich people and the politicians who work for them. I don’t think they work for you and me. That is what I mean by plutocracy. In a plutocracy, we screw the population so that a few rich get richer, be it via real estate, autos, finance, tech, energy, education, “health care”, the war industry and so on. You can see the government works for them and not for us.

I also enjoy thinking about propoganda and manipulation, which I think runs deep in every society and person. With regards to oversimplification, yes it’s dangerous but also short is usually more effective than long. I just don’t want people to think in stereotypical ways, which I feel are often instilled via our own favorite propoganda… for me travelling the world for many years and seeing how people can be good and bad, and this was not related to any kind of ethnic group or skin shade was a start to opening my eyes, after than my eyes opened even more.

Ok cheers. Thanks for clarifying but no need to apologise right now. Some words are messy right now. They have become cues for other things. I just prefer ‘self evident’ as a descriptor for statements like “being able to swim helps you not drown”. We all think and speak and act in shorthand - we couldn’t function in real life if we didn’t. Sometimes though we misread the things or miscommunicate and in those moments I’m trying to teach myself to resist my impulse. If you had any idea how long it can take me to write down an idea and then try to edit it down to something manageable and understandable yiu really would laugh… I’m a discombobulated jumble much if the time.

Re: the ancestor thing, again thank you. Your answer wasn’t what I was expecting. Again the words are cues in many ways. It sounded like an argument I hear so often for why equity measures shouldn’t be brought in eg. if there are societal determinants like one group having much shorter life expectancy due to a history of physical and cultural harms; then pushing the retirement age out becomes an equity issue. It’s topical at the moment where I am. Also I’ve has my own experience of inter generational trauma. I didn’t think that was possible but the intense and real grief I felt came out if nowhere and related specifically to images of events that my grandparents lives through.

My sense of place is much more at once both local and universal. I don’t feel attached to ideas of a specific culture or nation. I feel attached to the people I have experience of and to humanity broadly (hope that makes sense).

EDIT: I whole heartedly agree with the principle of steering away from stereotypes and oversimplification. Equally I’m in support of a agreed principles like fairness, and self determination.

Some of the polarisation is deliberate, some of it is natural organic reach - our best chance is in owning our own stuff. Other people mostly do what other people do. Our area of influence becomes stronger the closer it is to us eh! That’s my main deal. An editing tip given to me by a mediator many moons ago is ‘take out the shoulds, the must, the have to. Replace it with prefer, can’t choose etc’.

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Nice reply. But on this part, what I am thinking is that there are no “groups”, rather we are all people. And so the better way to help disadvantaged individual people, is to look at people individually rather than as being part of some group. That way if a person is poor, or has bad health, they will get the help they need. Another way to fix problems is to fix the bad neighborhoods, by investing in them. It should not matter at all what groups live there, what is important is if the people live there on average have problems or poverty then we should invest there to make those locations better.

I think the history of physical and cultural harms thing is where people make mistakes. You mentioned you yourself had trauma when seeing images of your grandparent’s difficulties. Why is that? Would that be no different that seeing pictures of a totally random person who you have never known in the same circumstances? I feel people are often looking for excuses from the past, to fire them up and anger them. But that only separates us as people, when in fact we as humans are all the same, good and bad, equally capable, etc if we are all given the same opportunity. It’s easy to say look at other people that seem better than us, but we also forget to see all the people who seem worse off than us. And things that happen, even terrible things, are due to circumstances.

Also the danger of looking at history is that our view of history is actually a fantasy, weather family history or world history, so many events, names and so on are totally modified that there is often little resemblence to the truth. What we have left is like a film version, something that never happened, filled with the deepest kinds of propoganda and misrepresentation. This is even true of current events. I have witnessed news events (related to conflict) where the reality of what happened is the opposite of what was reported. And just look at how people portray themselves in social media, with false images.

People who did bad things in that past and in the present too, that includes people of all colors including people of color, and of all religions, all genders, all nations, all ethnicities, and that also applies to those that do good. Saying otherwise goes against the most basic idea of equality that we all think we believe in. People just act based in the circumstances they are in at any moment and their beliefs, which are affected by propoganda and what they are taught, and what they need to do to survive and thrive. In fact many people that do bad thing actually in their minds they are doing good! And to top it off, if we really want to be connected to all people equally, I feel we should not feel so connected to our grandparents but instead focus that energy on breaking down these artificial barriers like identity politics which drive us apart and oppress our thinking and actions. After all the real issue is helping individual people and places in need based on their individual circumstances, no matter who or where they are, no matter the country, religion, ethnicity or gender.

EDIT: I understand there is a risk my responses here will see me pigeonholed by one or many as some kind of unflattering stereotype. That is something people will have to manage in their own heads. It flies in the face of genuine ethics and inclusive values to use derogatory labels. It is seeing labels like ‘sjw’ skate by that made me feel commenting is necessary.

I can’t take responsibility for other people’s system 1 thinking. I can only attempt to understand and communicate at System 2 level myself. My interest in joining this forum and any of the comments I’ve made aren’t any kind of signalling - I’m far too impulsive to keep anything like that up. I am a great bridge player but my poker face never fools anyone. In all honesty I struggle quite a bit with the ‘why do people believe strange things?’ phenomena. If a forum like this requires a core skill it is probably the ability to spot unproductive language.

I am trying to find a balance in how I respond here because I don’t want to politicise these things but I can’t leave social myths dangling unchallenged.

There clearly are groups. Gaps in life expectancy show us this. Your syllogism fails at its first premise.

If you don’t have personal experience of those harms you are probably not great at judging the value of the response. If you’re relying on the word of someone with subject specific expertise we could probably debate.

My money is on this guy’s expertise What is racism, really? And how do we end it? | brother jeff S. Fard | TEDxMileHigh - YouTube

Perhaps try thinking about how you might feel about someone digging up corpses at your nearest local cemetery and then putting them on display in a museum? You have to use your imagination to translate the cultural traumas into your own value system so you get a proper sense of how far reaching these harms are. For all intents and purposes we are talking about war and the trauma of war runs incredibly deep. It certainly isn’t made up to justify

Why do you believe you need to educate me about my own experience? What I felt when I watched the words “lock them in, turn on gas” scroll across the screen is clearly not the emotion you are expecting. It was nothing like empathy, disgust, frustration at not being able to help. None of the emotional reactions I’ve had all my life in response to someone else’s trauma are a proxy for this.

What I felt was a horrendous, palpable, pit of my stomach fear and grief. The kind of grief associated with a mother burying her own child. The kind of fear associated with having watched loved ones tortured and knowing you’re probably next. The cognitive dissonance of the powerlessness and the fear and the self loathing at not having been able to stop it.

It is an incredibly painful realisation to feel in your bones the horror of what some humans are capable of inflicting on others for no reason other than their own power lust and greed.

Your feelings are about you. Your assumptions are incorrect.

Your syllogism failed at your assumptions regarding motive.

I do not belong to the ‘we’ you have described here. I’m frequently mindful of my own privilege and I also have lived experience of how quickly things can turn on a dime. I’ve lived close to or in poverty for most of my life but I’ve also seen which of my friends were treated differently. It was my Maori friends, Samoan friends, Vietnamese friends, Fijian friends and Aboriginal friends. By the time I had turned 12 I had seen more than enough. There is nothing you can say which can minimise that knowledge. If you label that as me being a social justice warrior then you underestimate how much I care about the way my friends are treated.

When I was in my early 20’s a friend from Botswana was making a call from a public phone box only to find himself surrounded by police with guns drawn who then admitted they made a false ID and let him go. Within a few weeks they had shot and killed an Aboriginal man. David Gundy - EverybodyWiki Bios & Wiki

This is not ‘looking for excuses from the past’. This is what continues to happen and saying “I don’t see colour” is not eracism. Eracism happens when we acknowledge the reality; let people share their pain and trauma; and take concrete steps toward ensuring these disparities don’t get worse. Saying “oh but poor white people are treated badly too now” is not eracism - that different flavour of victim blaming has been around a long time. Even bringing that up is familiar as consistent with lateral violence.

My friend did not hold a gun to his own head. He was just minding his own business making a phone call. I do not have to worry about a gun being held to my head because if a false ID. I’m white, white people do not die in custody at the same rates as black people.

So no, we are not all the same. We may get to the point where geography tells us more about social disparity than race, nationality, gender etc but we are light years away from there. If we weren’t I wouldn’t need to spell these things out.

But is it best practice to group people based on self-identified ethnic, religious, appearance, lightness, caste, gender, sexuality and so on groups, and put our focus on these things, and then give some people advantages based these things? I prefer to just seeing people as just individual people who each have their own individual characters, strengths and problems.

My perspective is to help people who have individual problems, because that is the best way in my mind to achieve equality, including economic equality and to eliminate the sources of discrimination such as the gender discrimination, colorism, racism, castes, conflicts between religious sects and so on. My idea of helping people in need is in fact the best way to eliminate the gaps in life expectancy you mentioned.

I feel this remark is a way of intruding subtle oppression of my ideas. I am not going to tell you what groups I belong to or what my family history is, because it does not matter. People should not be judged by their group affiliation.

I feel you should not be feeling the things your relatives felt. Your relatives are actually someone else, not you. I understand you might be imagining the same things happening again, to you. That is why knowing history and current events is important, so we can know and avoid these kinds of bad things from happening.

Is not that exactly what I am talking about, getting rid of poverty? And also treating all people equally? It seems we are trying to solve the exact same problem.

I did not say that and would not say that, because as you know I am against putting people in groups for this purpose. I would not look at people as being “white”, whatever that actually means. My goal is to help people who need help. I do not want to make anybody feel bad by saying the following, but a greater proportion of people who need help or are poor are typically grouped by society into minority group labels. Therefore the vast majority of people whom I am proposing helping would be self-identified minorities. I view this as a superior way to help the condition of the average self-identified minority. Ok now I will stop talking about these groups because even using this kind of divisive language makes me feel uncomfortable as I would rather speak of people as being equals.

Well actually we are. Saying we are not the same is dangerous because it resembles hate speech even though your intention is actually to prevent hate. You could instead say, people, are treated differently, by some other people, based on their group affiliations. Which is a huge problem that I agree with. However discrimination is just one cause of differing outcomes in individual people. We should eliminate discrimination immediately. But that alone will not solve the issue of inequality, it is just one part.

I am confident that geography already tells us much more about social disparity than your preferred method of grouping people by appearance, gender, religion and so on. However the better was is to look at individual people, because if we look at just geography, well for example there can be a millionaire living in an economically poor area.

I took some time to consider my response because I intend to continue to be candid and genuine in spite of the challenge of being presented with both the expectation that I not criticise ideas; while also being instructed on how I should and shouldn’t feel. Perhaps the word ‘should’ is more loaded for me than for you. It’s a word I make efforts to avoid because I find it’s generally unhelpful.

When I said “I’ve lived close to or in poverty for most of my life but I’ve also seen which of my friends were treated differently. It was my Maori friends, Samoan friends, Vietnamese friends, Fijian friends and Aboriginal friends.” I was not talking about poverty. I would like to be clear about that. I was talking specifically about racism that I’ve witnessed. I was talking about friends from both sides of the tracks and none of them were immune to being treated with suspicion or disregard in a way that I wasn’t. I mentioned that I’m familiar with poverty just to make it clear that I’m not mistaking the effects of poverty for the effects of racism.

Perhaps there is logic to that statement for some but I can’t relate to it at all. It implies that acknowledging difference is a precursor to competition. In many contexts acknowledging difference is just one part of a kind of social relationship asset mapping with a view to sharing. This is something formalised as ‘gifts of the head, gifts of the hands, gifts of the heart’ in community organising contexts because it actually helps to create better understanding between participants/volunteers.

To be honest I still don’t understand where your coming from on this. I can think of two possible positions of which neither or even both may be true. 1) that for you ‘difference’ implies rank rather than variety; and/or/nor 2) that you’re not familiar with how or why there may be specific funding allocations on the basis of race.

So I just want to clarify I am in no way suggesting difference implies rank; it can imply things about proximity, experience and access but on an individual level, as you suggest, being focussed on the individual is what is important. On a social level however, becoming the society where people are evaluated and supported as individuals does require that we first understand where that isn’t the case. I agree it is complex though.

It’s been an incredibly sad month for me. I am seeing this issue play out in a really complicated way in relation to access to healthcare, beliefs about healthcare, and beliefs about human rights and the law. It’s really complicated and the issues themselves aren’t for this forum but the solutions are likely to be. I read about ‘splitters and lumpers’ this week and I suspect this is a similar quest for a difficult balance.

I just wanted to add something about labels. They come up a lot in disability contexts. The social changes involved in becoming more inclusive did necessitate talk about language and determining that people first language is important eg. ‘person with a disability’ rather than ‘disabled person’. That is still the recommendation of disability advocacy groups. Autistic people collectively (through associations) agreed on a preference for identity first language ie ‘Autistic person’ rather than ‘person with autism’. This got sticky for lots of reasons. In my life it manifested as someone telling me disabled people have agreed that identity first language should be used. It took a while for that conversation to move away from entrenched positions, that only occurred when I worked out to say that while I understand the identity first thing in terms of neurodivergence (which I think of as part of my identity) I still prefer person first language in terms of my disability. That is because it is a result if a degenerative disease and why would I want to attach that to my identity?

Part of the reason people get so impassioned about these labels is because they have implications that people who aren’t disabled don’t know about. So to a lot of people (including many who have a disability and/or are neurodivergent) respond to those conversations with “who cares”, “I don’t care what people call me” etc while others are thinking about the implications that language has in support contexts because disability is not determined by diagnosis except in the case of three specific congenital diseases which always result in profound life long disability. For the rest of us disability is assessed by function of personal hygiene and self care, mobility, cognition etc. and then it is graded as mild, moderate or severe and this rating then determines the level of assistance available.

These may be things you’re intimately familiar with. I am hoping they aren’t though. I’m hoping it demonstrates how diverse the experience of disability is while also underlining that grouping and labelling is a necessary evil when seeking to ensure needs are met in the way you describe.