Why we Ostracize

Social ostracism is something we have all faced at different times of our lives whether we are aware of it or not. It can vary widely from out and out rejection to a disapproving glare you get after saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. When we hear of ostracism (especially in the age of equality) we associate it with a negative connotations. Pictures of bullied kids come unfolding in our minds, but what is social ostracism?

To put it simply; ostracism is a tool to keep order in any given value structure. It’s a primitive form of justice.

Reward the behavior you want and disincentivize the behavior you don’t want.

We are all part of different groups (lets call them tribes). The tribes you are potentially part of is your country, your religious group, your sub-culture, your friends and your family. At each of these levels contains an overarching set of moral values. You may think of these as laws but it goes much deeper. The values support the tribes existence. The behaviors of the individuals of the tribe either add or takeaway from its over all strength. It could be the tribes success, the tribes recruitment/procreation, the tribes very continuation, the bonds between tribe members and much more. Like taxes, if you want to incentivize business’s reduce the taxes or decrease it by increasing taxes. The same goes for behavior, reward the behavior you want and disincentivize the behavior you don’t want.

Lets flash out some examples of when and how social ostracism applies.

Imagine you get unto an elevator, you barely acknowledge the other 4 people who got on the elevator with you. Today is just like any other day until the lift breaks down. All of a sudden these people become your ad hoc tribe. You all have a vested interest in getting out the broken down elevator as soon as possible. All of a sudden a value system comes into being. Any behavior which puts the other elevator members in detriment is a negative. Someone in the lift could be loosing their mind, this is very bad as panic could spread to the others and make the situation much worse. Perhaps someone on the lift needs to piss, they doesn’t bother to wait for even one minute or bother to ask for a water bottle and they just piss in the corner. They should get a bit of ostracism for stinking up the entire lift!


Another good example is a friend of mine. Their family left a tight knit orthodox  community and were ostracized for their departure. All of a sudden the some of their old acquaintances don’t want much to do with them anymore. This sounds harsh but in regards to the community, if it didn’t disincentive the losses to its members then perhaps more may leave and before long there might not be much of a community left. 

Think of your experiences, you probably see family members get roasted for not coming to family events, for drinking too much, for being too selfish, for living at home despite being older. Now at work, who gets ostracized because they slack off, or because they throw other people under the bus for their own mistakes or they kiss the boss’s ass all the time. Think about these occurrences and why these individuals are being ostracized for their behaviors (within the context of the family and work tribe value structure). 

Here is a good quote from the great John Steinbeck;


Don’t get me wrong, ostracism is not perfect nor is it always good for the group or the individual. It can be a weapon used by those who are resentful (crab mentality or tall poppy syndrome) pulling down those who are trying to succeed. This can be very prevalent in certain cultures, groups and even families. Due to it’s primitiveness it isn’t always thought through.

If you are being roasted in a bit of banter, consider the person calling you out and what might be their reason for doing so. They may have some points that may help you get ahead and be more congruent with the groups you wish to be apart of. Then again the person doing the ostracizing may be part of a value structure that you are not a part of, or perhaps they have ill intentions behind their actions. 

Ostracism will always exist if you have a group of people. It is the tool that manages social cohesion but it carries with it a few nuances. So imagine what ramifications your actions carry (all actions have consequences no matter how small). If you are sitting on your ass at work while everyone else is busier then a blue arse fly, you can be sure your colleagues are talking about you. They may even be vocal about it, “oi you lazy fuck, do some work!”

There a popular motif at the moment that says you shouldn’t care what other people think. That has some merits to it but it should be amended with “unless you want to be a part of their group”. Your reputation is important to the people you care about and to the people you need to interact with. 

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