The Gossip Replicator

By Xen NGU


“If wisdom’s ways you wisely seek,

Five things to observe with care,

To whom you speak, Of whom you speak,

And how and when and where.”

-Caroline Ingalls


The inspiration for this essay manifested today as a good friend of mine conveyed concern for me in regards to old gossip that traveled well beyond the intended audience.  This friend is so far removed from the group that was the party of part in the attempted assassination of my character I had endured that I became angry and desired a way to vent.  How on Earth could it have spread so far?

Instead of launching a defensive strategy against lies that do not have merit and half-truths that paint others as the victim and thus giving any credence, time, or effort to baseless accusations, I chose to examine the idea of gossip and identify why people participate in such practice.  We all do it, others just seem to be unmarred by its wretchedness.

“Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas”

-Marie Curie

Becoming defensive and speaking untruths about others in a way that isolates and omits factors, to beings who are not directly involved, has been viewed by intellectuals as a lower form of thinking.  When considering gossip, you should recognize it as an entity which appears to have sentience.  I liken it to the T-Virus from Resident Evil, which poisons life; the Signal (as stated in Serenity, "you can’t stop the signal"); the Replicators in StarGate SG-1, whose primary directive is to consume and multiply at all costs; the Zerg; the Shadow; the Cybermen.  It is a plague which can never fully be contained. It is also a practice that is readily utilized and globally accepted even by those who have garnered enough intelligence to realize its consequences.  To defeat, we will have to refrain from creating. To stop ourselves from creating, we must first recognize its irrationalities. 

We must understand that the act of relating falsities and half-truths, spreading malicious ideas and single-sided anecdotes, or passing on factoids which by their nature are trivial and speculative to those around us for the purpose of garnering sympathy, to promote self-victimhood, and champion our point-of-view is not logical as a constructive means to create an advantageous outcome in the long term. Despite the immediate illusion of the desirable aftermath, it can also harbor unintentional consequences that, when examined, are equally detrimental to everyone involved. Many people will ignore any rational thought when engaging in gossip as creator, spreader, or listener, due in part to the physiological and sociological satisfaction that has a permeating reward for the participation in insidious scuttlebutt. As we tip the dominos, we create an almost living gossip entity which triggers the pleasure centers in our brain. Then the naturally-occurring chemicals triggered by our actions may produce an euphoric rush of pleasure.  The chemicals which are unleashed: dopamine, to our reward center as we become superior through Schadenfreude; oxytocin from the social interactions, bonding, and being part of the pack; a bit of adrenaline from the excitement; and perhaps other neurochemicals, all of which create a cocktail of self-righteousness as satisfying as any drug. It manifests a wake of disparagement towards others and attempts to minimize our own flaws or morally licentious intentions while we trip an emotional buzz.  That premium comes with a cost in the form of a chemical dependency and a desire to feed the addiction again and again. It allows the gossip contagion, a widely tolerated behavior of biasedly torching someone who isn’t around to defend him/herself, to attain a legal high that is salve for our perceived butt-hurt. To come by such a rush through artificial means via recreational drug use is considered to be socially unacceptable. Achieving the same inebriation as by illicit drug use by weaving inaccuracies, whether you know them to be true or not, has taken root in society, in the micro-order and the macro-order, as a customary way to bond. It replaces the community “peace pipe” used for social lubricant and pharmaceutical contentment.   It allows the spinner to fit into circles by way of promoting inaccurate eventualities designed to sway the group in their favor, oftentimes through vilification and scandal, while attempting to be absolved of flaws, performances, past/present odium, and exploits.  We become anesthetized, either by the rush of pleasurable chemicals or by society’s assiduous callousness, to fully examine any possible fallout during the act of gossiping. The repercussions, many of which we are not aware of or have convinced ourselves do not apply, can damage all those involved and is not limited to the subject of the lie. All “backwoods bullshit” is destructive in some way to those who have been touched.  It can cause nearly irreparable harm and follow the target of derision for years after.  It can also permanently brand the spreader in unsavory ways by creating an atmosphere of shady and dubious discourse around them that will disenchant and embitter those to whom they are gossiping. 

What if someone is merely just the spreader and not the originator of the lie?  How does one determine the culpability of one who thinks they are relaying truth, intentions notwithstanding, that the originator maliciously created?  How does the one being misrepresented then defend themselves without resorting to argumentum ad hominem?  One can state the truth and deny the lies, correcting the spreader directly. However, in defending oneself, does impeaching the veracity of the originator’s words by speaking of instances of prior malfeasance fit the exception to the ad hominem logical fallacy?  I ask myself these questions as I think of what action should be taken to dispel these rumors.  In actuality, I cannot come up with satisfactory answers.  Until I am able to reason a clear response to these questions and formulate a plan on how to cope with sinister words, I am left with only one logical option:  Learn and move on.

Going forward, I look at myself and see I am as guilty as Umbrella Corp. I am not exempt from taking on roles of major and minor players in this sick game. I have been an originator.  I am not beyond reproach in knowingly speaking ill of someone for personal gain or for narcissistic reasons.  I, like many others, have an ego which size is only matched by my temper. Pair those traits with my typically emotional nature and inability to shut my mouth and a tempestuous combination has been created. It often causes many spiteful and venomous words and actions.  I am Patient Zero in many of the cases and allowed my lies to infect and fester; the Reese of the Replicators, so to speak.  I have also knowingly and unknowingly spread gossip in an attempt to demean others in defense of my friends and ideals.  I have stood by and listened to spreaders, participating in the ritualistic slaughter of those undeserving and incapable of defending against our slings and arrows.  I have also been the nexus of a lie, the nucleus of a man-made infection spread within my social circle to demonize my name.  Without being aware of all the instances where I have helped the rumor spread, I can never hope to learn how to move past the ones spread about me. 

The objective should now be clear to everyone. Recognize when you are creating such a circumstance to breed this replicating and viral entity known as a lie, but also be critical when others try to infect you with the Gossip Replicator, a being whose sole purpose is to consume and multiply while destroying everything it touches.  As always, question the source, circumstance, and those involved directly before any conclusion is made.  Be aware that you are being deceived by your own brain into feeling good about talking badly, and have thousands of years of social evolution working against you.  Keep in mind that gossip can only live on if it is passed to another, and by its very nature, it is designed be attractive and addictive. It will paint itself up as a good feeling to ensure that its host will pass it forward.  In reality, it merely consumes and destroys faster than truth can inoculate.

“A lie can run 'round half the world before the truth has got its boots on”

~Terry Pratchett

Fighting it by ignoring or questioning will very difficult for me.  One who has said many times “If you can’t say anything nice about anybody, come sit by me.”  I also find myself trying to reason which one of those two means for chemical intoxication I mentioned earlier is actually more harmful to our person, our circles, our workplaces, our society, and our world.  However, that is a discussion for another day.