Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Shame, vulnerability, and blame: a lens to examine radicalization of the vulnerable

          During last week's class, we discussed internet radicalization, and in particular, ISIS recruitment tactics of targeting the vulnerable—amongst whom are those outraged by GMOs being laced into their foods, and women who have been sexually assaulted. We discussed the idea of control and power, and how being controlled by another person may be a "sick pleasure," in that one would not have to remain accountable for their own actions.
          This got me thinking—do ISIS tactics to enlist the vulnerable look that much different from those of the far-right in the US? How is it, that after mourning the horror of the Holocaust, the horror of Japanese internment camps, that our country is banning certain groups of people based on their race and religion? That more than 100 Jewish tombstones were toppled in a Missouri cemetery last week? How is it that wearing a hoodie is justifiable means for being shot in the street? How is it that 53% of white women, the race and gender I identify with, voted for a man who brags about being able to grab women "by the pussy?"
            In her TED talk, "The Power of Vulnerability"  Dr. Brené Brown, a "researcher story-teller," discusses the relationship between shame, vulnerability, and blame. She claims that a lack of connection is a result of shame and fear, and that it takes "excruciating vulnerability in order to have connection"—that is to say, in order to have connection, we must be seen. She adds that an important part of her research shows that those who were comfortable with vulnerability also had a strong sense of love, belonging, and worthiness, i.e., such people believe they are worthy of love and belonging.  And so, she says, that if we don't have the tools to be vulnerable (because it's actually terrifying to be vulnerable), we seek to numb it, which adds to why we are the most in-debt, obese, addicted, and medicated adult cohort in US history (I'd of course argue that these problems maintain other social and political economic structures, but for the sake of the argument, we'll continue). She claims that as we numb the pain, we also numb the joy—and without joy, we are miserable and seek to numb the pain further, which is when she comes to blame. "We make everything that is uncertain, certain. Religion, has gone from a belief in faith and mystery, to certainty—'I'm right, you're wrong, shut up.' That's it. Just certain. The more afraid we are, the more vulnerable we are, the more afraid we are. This is what politics looks like today. There's no discourse anymore, there's no conversation, there's just blame. You know how blame is described in the research? 'A way to discharge pain and discomfort.'" (Watch this part of her talk from 16:57 - 17:32)
            So now, let's apply the logic to the ISIS recruitment examples we discussed in class. I am terrified that GMOs are in my food, and I feel powerless over it because I can't afford to buy organic/non-GMO foods. I find an article that discusses Halal meat, and talks about how the American government is trying to harm me by putting GMOs in my food—it gives me someone to blame, and therefore I feel like I have power, control. I am able to discharge the pain and discomfort to a place of power and control, which is much easier to cope with than the feeling of vulnerability. Or, from the other example, I was raped as a young girl and have forever struggled with my sense of worthiness—my deep-rooted shame prevents me from feeling a strong sense of love and belonging. I am told that if I join a group, I will have a community, I will be loved, and I will be protected, allowing me to numb the feelings of vulnerability I struggle with on a daily basis. What would you choose?

            I'd like to suggest that this frame be used as a means of explanation for why openly racist, homophobic, sexist, pigs people are being given a voice that is actually being listened to in the US. I'd like to look at them through a lens of compassion, wondering what sort of emptiness they feel inside to treat people they way they do. I'd like to see them as children, never being treated as though they're worthy of love and belonging, so they fill their vulnerability by blaming and condemning "the other." I'd like to, but until justice begins to serve the downtrodden, I can't.

1 comment:

  1. Thinking about the mechanisms of fear always terrify me: I find the idea that our fear is leading our decisions and controlling how we frame our lives is the most dangerous, especially when this fear is being fed everyday in different means -particularly by media- to grow.