I’m sure everyone has been in some sort of collective guilt situation before. Maybe it was a class in school, maybe it was a group of friends. Someone in your group did something bad, and some authority figure too lazy or incompetent to assign blame to the correct person and punish that person accordingly instead punishes your entire group.
In the short term, you and your peers are mad at the person who did the bad thing to get you all in trouble. Long-term, though, you forget about what your peer did and instead focus on what the authority figure did to you. Your peer did something bad and got all of you punished, but he almost certainly didn’t intend to get everyone in trouble. Instead, you get mad at the authority figure because he chose to punish you for a crime you didn’t commit. This may manifest as hatred of that specific person, or perhaps a dislike of the whole system that allows this sort of collective punishment (hey, if they can punish the whole group, you can too!).
Ultimately, the end result may or may not be that you learned not to do the bad thing, but it will definitely be that you can’t trust that authority figure to do the right thing.
So if you want to sow discord in the world, all you have to do is exercise collective guilt. Assign blame to groups instead of individuals, and punish accordingly.
Take Germany, for example. Germany did some awful things in the World War II era, such as murdering Jews and invading other countries. However, there are very few people alive today that are even old enough to have participated in these atrocities, and even fewer who actually did participate. Yet, the world seems to feel that the Germany of today bears some sort of collective guilt for the actions of their ancestors, and this has caused a bitterness in German minds, so much so that someone has remarked that “The Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz.”
How about America? People often consider slavery America’s original sin. Here’s the thing, though: it’s been over a century since anyone who even owned a slave in the antebellum South was still alive. You can, perhaps, argue that some people living today have benefitted from or are privileged by the system of slavery that was in place back in then (arguments that I consider tenuous at best, but that’s not the point of this article), but anyone who actively chose to participate in that system is long dead. No one alive currently bears any blame or responsibility for slavery in the United States. Yet again, some people seek to blame the entire country for the actions of individuals in the past, which will cause some people to be bitter and resentful for being blamed for actions they did not commit.
So what is my prescription? Well, if you want to do like my headline says and sow discord, you can blame groups of people for the actions of individuals in that group. However, if you don’t want to do that and would actually like to live in peace, harmony, and unity, then I’d recommend saving blame and punishment for individuals that actually do wrong.
Image credit: User klimkin on Pixabay