(Not something I was planning to write about, but I was having a chat about it and the subject came up …)
First, it is a basic fact of human nature that, the larger any given group, the greater the number of a-holes. A group composed of 50 or so human beings will include a couple of people whom everyone else in the group dislikes. Past a certain level, it is very difficult to keep out the a-holes. Group loyalty overrides personal dislike.
The people who are inside the group will not be aware of this. As I have noted before, ‘us’ is a group of individuals and ‘they’ are one vast hive mind. The idea that all will be judged by one is not something we are programmed to accept.
Second, it is a basic fact of current politics that the enemies of that particular group will not hesitate to use the a-holes as poster children for the group If 99 out of a 100 nerds are decent people, with only one of them an a-hole (however defined), that a-hole will be used to smear all the nerds.
In addition to this, people are influenced more by bad encounters than good. (The old ‘one slap is remembered longer than a thousand caresses’ issue.) A person whose first introduction to nerd culture, for example, is a misogynist a-hole ranting about how women ruin everything isn’t going to be inclined to give the other nerds a chance to prove they are good people.
Third, thus causes problems for the group’s leadership (however defined) as well as the rest of the group.
If they denounce the a-holes, they will be accused of both betraying the group and selling out to the group’s enemies. One act of appeasement, their followers will insist, will naturally lead to others. And they will probably be right.
If they do not denounce the a-holes, they will be accused of being a-holes themselves, because – quite rightly – they’re sheltering genuine a-holes.
If the outsiders are good actors (but who is in politics?) they’ll understand the limits of the possible, that the a-holes cannot be easily ejected. The leaders may not have the power to evict the a-holes (either because the group’s rules won’t let them or it will spark a much greater exodus) or the a-holes may only be part of the group by association. The outsiders will not hold the a-holes against the rest of the group.
But if the outsiders are bad actors, which describes just about everyone in politics these days, they’ll turn the a-holes into a club and use it to beat the rest of the group.
This provokes one of two responses. The original group may disintegrate under the force of the attack and fragment as it frantically tries to please the attacker (who will see this as evidence of weakness and continue the attack). This makes it impossible for the group to actually do what it’s meant to be doing because it’s gotten bogged down in politics. Or the original group may harden its attitude – having seen more than enough evidence that the attack comes from bad actors – and embrace the a-holes before concentrate on counter-attacking. In a sense, it’s fluid identity will have hardened (as the less committed members back out) into something rather more solid (and cultish).
If your identity is defined by your group – you’re an ‘X’ politician instead of a politician who happens to be ‘X’ – you’ll find yourself caught in a trap. On one hand, as you are part of a group, you will be unable to publicly question the group without being unceremoniously kicked out (or worse). And on the other hand, outsiders will define you as being part of the group, which means you’re either an a-hole or tolerant of a-holes.
In short, you are no longer an individual but just one of the group.
And if your group defines itself by its identity …
… Outsiders may define themselves against it.