The Swarm

It's amazing to see (but not necessarily in a "wow, that's great" amazing) how social groups can act as a singular organism, like a swarm, to create change. I picture it in my mind as a flock of birds flowing through the sky, undulating, before honing in and changing pattern to target a specific area.

resting before swarming again

This is not always a bad thing--often great good can come, like bringing attention to horrific stories and creating positive change, but at times, especially when the swarm is revved up and ready to strike again, it can lead to striking against individuals unfairly. The swarm has an ugly underbelly that must not be forgotten, and I'm not being specific to the autism community--look at any news story and you'll see nastiness towards others that is spectacular proof that far too often humanity lacks compassion and empathy towards each other.

In the United States, while we have the right to free speech, that does not mean we can say anything we want in a public forum and not have our words challenged, but when the swarm chooses to place that ugly underbelly upfront and center to silence those who speak their realities, it is not effecting positive change. It creates more divides and further isolates us from each other. Too many people use online forums as a way to lash out at others and cause harm. It is often one big bully pit. Don't believe me? You only need to read some of the comments levied at people who chose to speak out against the ubiquitous use of the r-word this past week to see how true this is. People who wrote about how it hurts them, hurts intellectually disabled individuals to hear that word were ruthlessly attacked by others. Nice swarm, huh?

This tendency to flock together can and has been used in our loose online community to harass individuals into silence or force them into capitulation so that the attacks will stop. It can be a nasty form of peer pressure, and when we use it simply to silence those who disagree with us, we should be, at the least, disappointed in our very human frailties that lead us to strike out against those who believe differently.

We have, when we act together, with a singular purpose, tremendous power to make a difference, to effect positive change, but far too often we turn this power inward and on each other.

In a community where we advocate for acceptance, when we fail to show that acceptance to others, we damage our cause.

In a community where we demand an equal and level playing field where all voices are heard, when we work to silence another, we damage our cause.

When we act like a mindless swarm, heedless of the damage we can cause to others, we damage our cause.

If we want acceptance for all individuals and inclusion within the group, and we exclude others because we find them distasteful, we are simply hypocrites acting in a mindless swarm.

We don't have to like everybody; we don't have to agree with everyone, and we certainly don't have to feel obliged to engage in exchanges with individuals we feel will be absolutely unproductive, but we should not feel we must silence them or deny them that open, level playing field. We can agree to disagree and disengage, leaving the other intact and free to continue to speak his or her truth.

Too often, the need to be right, the need to bludgeon (figuratively) others into silence and submission, takes over in social groups and we ostracize those we find too different, those who don't believe as we do.

If we want our place at the metaphorical table, if we want our children to be included and accepted as equals, then we need to be a mindful, compassionate 'swarm' that keeps that goal in mind in every action we do.

And sometimes, when we see the swarm acting in ways we cannot in principle accept, we must step away and outside of the group and willingly be outsiders, no matter the cost.

Proof that Star Trek really does cover a lot of moral territory and partial inspiration for today's post: Star Trek The Next Generation's "The Offspring."

"There are times, sir, when men of good conscience can not blindly follow orders."


farmwifetwo said...

Excellent post.

IMO those swarms to nothing to help those with autism, they simply harm. They create fear and isolation and then they sit back and cast blame when something goes terribly wrong (like murder) on the very same people they have isolated and harmed with their lack of empathy and compassion.

It is not "all about them". I make a point of saying those very words when I'm out lobbying for me and mine.

usethebrains godgiveyou said...

Great analogy!

Me said...


farmwifetwo said...


AoA found the article.

skybluskyblue said...

Often those vulnerable to swam thinking have a brain that has not fully matured [I try to think of this and thus not blame mostly younger people (under the age of 25-30) so I do not get disgusted with humanity altogether]. A good read of the National Geographic article on teen brains [they talk about brain under the age of 25 or so as not having matured yet] and related articles really has helped me lately : http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/10/teenage-brains/dobbs-text
Supposedly in a brain not fully mature the part of the brain that "cares" about social concerns dominates over the logical part of the brain . Sadly, people who by all intents and purposes have not any excuse do not provide enough guidance to those whose brains are still growing. Being an undx'd autistic, rejected and bullied, forced me to hate the swarm [or at least now to ignore it rather than hate it].
What do you think of the article Kim?

K Wombles said...

It's a good article--and the information about fully myelinated frontal cortexes not occurring until the mid twenties is something I teach in my psychology classes. It's a good thing to remember when dealing with young adults online--absolutely.

I'm sorry for the rejection and bullying--hope that has ended.

skybluskyblue said...

Once that I got to college everything was smooth sailing --I did not go to a major university, so no sororities, frats with the previous same-old popular bullies that were in HS JrH.---Later, the bullies were just next door neighbors, co-workers, but they were easier to avoid. Since I gained confidence at college I held up much better. If I ever get a co-worker bully again it will cause me to stress out again; but now that I have my dx and online autism groups/friends, I have people to support me and I understand why I respond the way I do.