I was writing a blog post about generalization and seeing other groups as one big group that believes all the same (outgroup homogeneity) while simultaneously seeing our own groups as diverse and made up of unique individuals. I wrote too much for one cohesive blog post, but I wanted to talk more about another aspect of this kind of thing, which is dissociation. Here's a recap from the other post:
When members of our groups do something we disagree with, we might dissociate from them, saying they're not representative of the whole group, or aren't actually members of the group at all. (And sometimes this is true.) Or we put them into a sub-type. Sub-typing is one of the reasons stereotypes persist as long as they do, because when one stereotype is revealed as not actually being true of the whole group, we just add a sub-type! Instead of saying "Hmm, this must not be true," we say, "Oh this is true of the group, but this individual is part of this sub-type, over here, which is different in these ways..."
Human beings love stereotypes so much that we'd rather create more, smaller, more specific ones, than admit that a stereotype can't possibly be true of a whole group. We are silly.
Now that we're caught up, I want to talk about dissociation and sub-typing.
If a group is highly varied, then it probably has sub-types. Paganism is a large group containing many paths under its larger community title. In our case, sub-types might be thought of as the different types of paths within Paganism. So we can have stereotypes about Pagans as a WHOLE, and sub-types that explain why not all Pagans fit those stereotypes. On the other hand, if a group largely agrees on something and some members (or a very small fringe group) have a different view, we might instead dissociate from them, explaining that they are not core members and do not speak for everyone.
For example: If I have a stereotype of Pagans as all being Nature-reverent, and then someone comes along who says they're Pagan and doesn't give a crap about Nature, I might dissociate from them, saying they're really a minority view but MOST of us are in fact nature-reverent. We might even think that person isn't really Pagan, but something else entirely. It depends on how important that stereotypical characteristic is to us in our definition of our group identity. However, if I already know there's a whole group within Paganism, or multiple groups, which are not focused on Nature as part of their path, then I can go for the sub-type, saying "Oh yeah they're Pagan, too, they're just part of this specific path that focuses more on Deity than Nature." Or whatever the case may be.
It depends on who you know, in a way. And it depends on who you like. Because we tend to know more about, and have more positive feelings and thoughts toward groups we like and get more familiar with. This is why we say education and exposure are such key parts of prejudice reduction.
This reminds me of a specific example from my life:
At a discussion in Arkansas at one of the Universities there, with Pentacles of Pride, International, I went around asking members of the Pagan group in attendance what they consider their path. One person there identified as a Satanist. When talking about dissociation, I asked them how they felt about the fact that so many people still begin explaining their Pagan, Wiccan, or Witchy path by saying "But I'm NOT a Satanist/Devil-worshiper" pretty much first thing. Their answer was that being a Satanist, they figure it pretty much comes with the territory, that deciding to be a Satanist means they just have to put up with that. And I think that's pretty much crap.
If we consider Satanists members of our community (which I do), and we know that they don't all even actually worship a Devil, why do so many of us still feel the need to defend ourselves by saying "Don't worry, I'm not a Satanist or anything"...? Think about it. What do the actual Satanists get to say? "Don't worry, I'm not a... Wait. Actually yes. I am the thing everyone else eases people's fears by saying they're not. That's me. Take it or leave it."
And maybe some people like that. Maybe some people enjoy the shock value, or scaring people. Some people DO actually get into Witchcraft because they want to look cool and feel powerful, we know that. So sure, maybe some Satanists don't care. But overall, as a community, I think we can do better.
How about we define ourselves by what we are, instead of what we're not?
Maybe I did the "I don't worship the Devil" thing when I was younger. I probably did. But I haven't done it in years. I don't need to. We don't need to. I talk about what I DO believe, what I do, how I personally define "Paganism" and what the major factors are for me. Probably 99% of the time, the Devil never need enter the conversation. That other 1% of the time, it's the other person saying something about "Wait, I thought that was all Devil-worshipers", and then, and only then, do I begin to explain that. It's too complicated of a subject to just bring up first thing and toss away in a one-liner. Besides, what if you're talking to someone who has actually never heard that stereotype, and you just put it into their heads? Yeah. Let's not do that.
That's just the biggest example I have to use, because it's something that so many people still continue to say when explaining their path to non-Pagans. It's one of the first things they say, and it's reinforcing a negative stereotype about a certain group of people within the community, in the hope that we will lessen the negative stereotypes about the parts of the community with which we identify.
It's pretty rude--
But it's not the only way we dissociate from people within our community. Try to think of other ways you have done this, or have seen or heard others do it, and think about who it's leaving behind. Sometimes it's the whole community dissociating from extremists who truly do not speak for us, any of us, wide variety and all. And that's probably as positive as it gets, because it attempts to ensure that reprehensible acts are not continually associated with our community based on the actions of an individual or small group who really isn't connected or embodying the community's beliefs. (The overall Pagan community speaking out against white supremacy comes to mind as a great example of when dissociation from people who claim to be part of our community is important.) But in other ways, like shunning Satanists, or Wiccans, or solitary practitioners of any path, or Christo-Pagans, or people who we think are only focused on the Dark, or people who we think are only focused on the Light (I love those, because people think they know everything a person does in their own practice and, they usually don't), or any number of groups that we casually dissociate from... We could actually be breaking our community further apart.
I'm not saying we have to believe all the things. Not gonna happen. I'm saying, instead of saying "We don't do that," maybe say "I don't do that, but some people do." Instead of erasing things we simply don't like, we can acknowledge that they do exist in our community. And if we don't actually know what other people do, the least we can do is make it clear that we only speak for ourselves.
Now, I'm talking about differences that don't actually harm anyone, like differences in beliefs in Deity, or the way we do ritual. But this can apply to actual harmful beliefs that exist in the community, as well. We don't have to pretend they don't exist. In fact, we shouldn't. As we've learned in United States politics recently, a lot of shitty beliefs still exist in our society, and we need to deal with it, not just act like it isn't there. If it really is something that needs to change, we need to change it, not ignore it. Talk about it. Transform it. If we don't, it'll just continue.
What do we do about dissociation, then?
As always, these are just my ideas. We can start to pay more attention and notice when we are tempted to dissociate from an individual or group. (I definitely do this. This isn't about never doing it, it's about noticing it and figuring out our reasons, to hopefully reduce it to only really necessary occurrences.) Ask ourselves questions about what we feel. What are we dissociating from, and why? Then, make sure that what we say matches the reality of the situation for us. I'm a Witch, and this is just an example, but let's say I dislike a group of Witches for some deep, moral reason. Then I might say "Yeah, I'm not like them. No way. I really disagree with what they do on a fundamental level because I believe this and they believe that and it doesn't sit well with me." If the difference between us is also hugely different from my overall definition of what a Witch is, I MIGHT even go so far as to question their Witchiness. (!!!) But if I feel the need to dissociate and upon inspection of my feelings I learn that it's just because I don't prefer the way they do their circle casting, then I might say "Yeah, we don't do things the same way, but that's true of Witches as a whole. We're a very diverse group. I do this, they do that. To each their own."
I think you get the point. =)
For me, this work is all about just trying to pay more attention, looking at why we react the way we do to certain things, and figuring out how understanding our reasons can help us look for strategies for reducing negative reactions, stereotypes, and prejudice.
If you didn't read my previous post, go ahead and do that!
Otherwise, I hope you have a great day. Thanks for reading.