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Exceptionalism as hope-mongering

Credibility Crunch engendered by Hope-mongering: "Credit crunch" focus as symptom of a dangerous mindset (Part #18)

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A particular example of hope-mongering through reframing is evident in some forms of explanatory exceptionalism.

Most striking are cases where a set of similar problems is observed but these are deliberately, or inadvertently, framed as isolated cases with no systemic implications. Treated as "anomalies" there is then no case for other levels of explanation. Each is then considered to be appropriately treated on a "case by case" basis. This approach is especially helpful when there is a major need for "damage limitation" and avoidance of systemic implications.

Striking examples in recent years have been offered by:

  • sexual abuse by clergy
  • violent and inhumane treatment of civilians and prisoners by military personnel
  • infringement of health and safety regulations by industry
  • tax avoidance, tax evasion and exploitation of loopholes by the wealthy and corporations
  • extinction of individual species
  • certain forms of urban violence (knife crime, school shootings, etc)

In each case considerable effort may be devoted, during damage limitation, to ensuring that any cases are indeed seen in isolation. Hope is then engendered that they are indeed exceptions and that there is no cause for wider or deeper concern. The "reassurances" by relevant authorities under those conditions may then be usefully understood as hope-mongering.

The process through which a set of such exceptions is transformed into recognition of a previously unsuspected systemic challenge is worthy of attention. This is the domain of the poorly recognized discipline of "anomaly research" which specifically addresses the question as to whether an anomaly is an indication of a more systemic problem. Curiously, however, "anomaly research" has itself been marginalized by being associated primarily with the questionable preoccupations of the "alternative" and "pseudosciences".