How media and the internet have made it advantageous to make false or exaggerated claims and profitize, prioritize and psychologically reward victimhood.
In the beginning I was a huge fan of the #metoo movement. Sexual assault and degrading misogyny are disgusting, vestigial artifacts of a brutal trek through evolution – and there is no longer any reason or place for them whatsoever. And I am still strongly in favor of actual sexual predators being taken to task for their violent behaviors. But we also have to face an uncomfortable fact – when you combine automatic support for everyone who makes claims of sexual abuse with the unique psychological environment created by social media, you get a playground of opportunism based around an economy that is centered on getting other people’s attention.
Historically getting other people’s attention was not a reasonable motive for making false claims of sexual abuse. Even actual victims often felt so confused and ashamed, and were often subject to blame or being seen as permanently damaged, that it was actually sometimes dangerous to accuse your attacker. This is why we decided a few years back to start taking these accusations more seriously and with great empathy and respect. But in doing so we also created the conditions in which you could now receive positive attention for making claims of sexual abuse, without being questioned about those claims. And that is happening in a media saturated environment in which getting other people’s attention became the backbone of socioeconomic success or failure.
Social media provides reward stimulus through likes and shares. The more affirmation and attention you receive, the more psychological stimulus you are given to perform in ways that lead to likes and shares. Over time we have become conditioned by this system. It affects how we navigate and interact and behave in almost every way. Getting other people’s attention is internally motivating, while at the same time leading to actual real life success.
And just in case you are wondering, I am discussing this right now in the wake of allegations against Marilyn Manson which I believe are highly suspicious. If you are curious about the specifics in this case I highly recommend this video by YouTuber Colonel Kurtz, as she goes into great detail to explain why there is plenty of room for doubt.
Now within that context I want to answer a valid question that many people would raise: Why would someone as wildly talented, famous and beloved as Evan Rachel Wood need to make false accusations to raise her profile? The answer is simple – greed. Greed is a seductive force within any economy, and an economy centered around getting other people’s attention is no different. When combined with the psychological rewards it can become downright addictive to seek excess attention. And if you can increase your net worth while feeding your internal cravings and urges, you can become one boss ass dopamine junkie.
At this point I don’t know how we even fix this. We cannot fix it by treating all accusations with the deep skepticism or negativity we used to, but we also cannot allow people prey on other people’s reputations in order to increase their own. We cannot allow good faith to become corrupted by false accusers, mischaracterization and exaggerations – but at the same time we cannot allow people’s lives to be destroyed by those who would use dishonest allegations to drain innocents like status vampires. But how the hell do we do that?
Maybe we just have to turn the volume down. Social media is distorting human behavior with all sorts of toxicity. It has conditioned us to dehumanize one another and take pleasure in our mutual destruction. If we can step back and get some perspective perhaps we could find the middle path we meant to land on when we crossed from one extreme to the other. Just walk away from constant trap of gratification from affirmation and negation, and detox from the psychological effects of our past abuse, if we could just do that – perhaps we could gain the clarity needed to achieve a healthy balance. We are information obese and constantly nauseous as a result, spewing our sickness on one another in ways we take for granted as harmless and normal. And maybe if enough of us can get our heads dislodged from our colonic chambers, we can take back the cultural narratives that have been hijacked and perverted by the attention economy.