The Route of our Discontent

“There is a considerable overlap between the intelligence of the smartest bears and the dumbest tourists” – US National Park scientist, when asked why it was so extremely difficult to design bear-proof rubbish bins.

The Question

In the last post the question was asked, “How do we attempt to reach ‘understanding’?” especially when we live in so many different but culturally acceptable ‘Understanding Bubbles.’  Perhaps a more realistic form of the question should be, “When we realize there’s ‘misunderstanding,’ why do we immediately stop and get argumentative and self-defensive?”

The original question was posed with respect to an apparent General Behavior Pattern, and how we got to the point of, and continue to participate in, our increasingly polarized political playing field.  This, it seems, is just one particularly polarized and very active bubble of many in our lives.  To try and answer all of this we need to dig a bit deeper.

Be warned, however, that doing this no doubt will open a large can of ‘stuff,’ largely composed of a number of supposed ‘truths’ which will turn out to be more or less “‘politically correct assumptions’ based on lots of incomplete information.”

It turns out there is a lot of incomplete information, but we already knew this (here).  Let’s begin, but this time really at the beginning with a few needed word clarifications.

Part 1: Beginnings

Introduction

Many often ask, “Why do smart people do dumb things?” which, in most circumstances, seems like a very legitimate question.  But it is misleading and itself seems to need to be tweaked a bit, especially certain words. Let’s poke this bear and see what we come up with.

Intelligence – the mental capability “to acquire and apply knowledge and skills” – Oxford Dictionary.

Intelligent – the characteristic or attribute of possessing said Intelligence.

Stupid – having or showing a great lack of said Intelligence or common sense – also Oxford Dictionary.

Smart – actually observably demonstrating the use of said Intelligence in decisions and actions.

Dumb – temporarily unable or unwilling to speak, as in, ‘struck dumb.’

Oops, here’s a rub: colloquially speaking, dumb is more often used to mean ‘stupid’ and imply a near complete lack of Intelligence as opposed to only temporarily failing to use it.  There is, therefore, often umbrage and misunderstanding when it is used.  What we need to use is,

‘_______’ – temporarily failing to use one’s Intelligence.

And here’s the next rub: There is no word that specifically means this.  As a consequence, there is a grey area where we use an existing word to mean ‘a temporary loss,’ as in, “That was a stupid/dumb idea.”  We need one or possibly two words.  I propose,

Lazy or Complacent – as in “temporarily pleased with but failing to use one or more of one’s given abilities.”  This would then include said Intelligence.

So, our question above could now be more appropriately rephrased,

“Why do intelligent people do stupid things?”  Which is still a very good question.

It is particularly applicable in this currently repeating scenario,

Skeletons Exit Closet| Unwise social media posts have been destroying fledgling political candidates’ careers for almost a decade now, but the evidence in Britain is that the lesson has yet to have been learned.

While we blindly assume our politicians are smart, one wonders if they actually are.

And our opening quote would then be better phrased,

“There is a considerable overlap between the intelligence of the smartest bears and the laziest tourists.”

Which, as we will later see, also remains a rather perceptive observation.

Having chosen to believe that we are among the most intelligent creatures on earth, let’s look at the latest in what “Intelligence” means.

Chapter 1: Intelligence

Where does Intelligence come from, and what actually constitutes our human Intelligence?

As opposed to hair and eye color and other genetic characteristics, Intelligence is not inherited.  Something inherited is determined primarily by one’s genes. However, and this is a big but not normally recognized different fact: Intelligence is heritable.  This means that there is some parental genetic contribution (not well understood), but that additional factors including environment (that is, family upbringing, sub-cultural influences, education, nutrition, etc.) have an influence in developing or slowing its development.  Research shows that “higher-level” cognitive functions, including problem-solving and abstract thought, are about 47% heritable (a near 50/50 mix of genes and environment).  Intelligence, then, can be influenced and developed, with environments being a main contributor.

Most of us are familiar with the dreaded measure called IQ, the single number that somehow is used to completely, and often inadequately and permanently, define us.  What began as a tool in the early 20th century to help identify recruits’ abilities for the military ended up almost defining everyone’s life.  We realize now that it takes a great deal of work to all but eliminate cultural biases from the tests, but we are still shackled with this legacy single number to describe a very complex human being.

In reality we possess multiple intelligences, a number of which are non-overlapping.  The latest theory of multiple intelligences (here) describes eight abilities.  These can be arranged around a wheel,

With this framework one can see that a person can be mathematically gifted but not be able to bang a pot rhythmically, possess superb verbal descriptive abilities but not be able to balance a bank account statement, or be musically creative but not get along with people.  (Under another terminology, Emotional Intelligence or EQ, appears to be a combination of both Intrapersonal and Interpersonal intelligences.)  A person can have varying abilities in each of these eight, which means creating an ‘intelligence profile’ as a single number can be wholly misleading.  And yet, we still do it.

What does this have to do with anything?  Well, besides being the basis on which we build an education system (the only known species to do so), it has broader social impact.  Read on, but have patience.

Chapter 2: Preferred Associations

We are a social species that congregates not only by genetic heritage but also in groups of similar experiences, interests, values, and abilities.  To a degree this represents associating with those people with whom we have a good possibility of sharing positive emotional experiences.  Remember, emotions are what motivate our lives (here). A good analogy is an Elephant (our emotions) and its Rider (our rationality).  The Rider tries to control the Elephant, but sometimes the Elephant wins (The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt).

We organize our lives (and behaviors) to maximize the experience of these positive emotions.

It makes sense that associations that follow along lines of our abilities (which are coupled with our interests) also line up with our individual multiple intelligences.  They form a good part of our Comfort Bubbles, and can often be identical to our Dunbar Bubbles, or Groups – all associations that help create an environment that reinforces our positive emotional experiences.

Chapter 3: Behaviors within Bubbles

There are some behavioral characteristics that appear highly correlated with increasing intelligences (Note: that is intentionally plural here so as to refer to any/all of the eight abilities indicated above.)  Identified by a Research Professor in Cognitive Psychology, these behaviors often include,

    • An appetite for information and knowledge;
    • An ability to quickly understand a situation;
    • Identifying interesting implications and consequences of a situation;
    • Displaying rapid perception, strong learning capacity and problem-solving skills;
    • A broad scope/depth of knowledge;
    • The ability to perceive and appreciate talents and accomplishments of others.

Imagine how a burgeoning ballerina interacts in a class with a master teacher; imagine how you will expect your surgeon to have interacted with teaching surgeons in the operating room while in medical school – even though neither may be able to balance a checkbook or write a work of fiction. Different intelligences, but similar engagement within specific environments.

Coupled with the above behaviors can often be another unusual characteristic:

The ability to hold several possible answers to a given question (or alternatives to a situation) without narrowing down to one answer prematurely.

This is the ability to deliberately think “Yes, And…” as opposed to quickly defaulting to “Either/Or,” something we’ve discussed earlier.  This is known as a high tolerance for ambiguity, and correlates with recognizing that there is always Missing Information.  Think back on the attentiveness of our ballerina and surgeon.

These behaviors are strong indicators, but they neither exclusively nor always appear together.  They are just general trends (remember, some generalizations, like puns, can be good and useful things).

Sidebar: Not satisfied with what a suspect test indicates your IQ is (if indeed anyone ever told you)?  Here’s a suggestion.  First, recall from studies on emotion (here) that voluntarily assuming the appearance of an emotion can actually bring on the physiological experience of the emotion.  So, why not try to practice some of the above behavioral attributes?  I suspect, hypothetically, that this can have an impact on how you think, how you behave, and how you begin to feel smarter.  And that, as a possible consequence, you then become perceived as being smarter.  Which apparently is what Intelligence is.

Chapter 4: Behaviors within Strongholds

From what we observe of human behavior over the course of history, very few if any of the characteristic behaviors listed above (the Behaviors within Bubbles) are observed in people interacting with others outside their own Strongholds.

This does not imply anything about their actual competences in any of the multiple intelligences.  It probably says more about their being lazy, complacent, angry and/or defensive within their Strongholds.

What it does suggest is that they possess a strongly defined common values profile, developed along the lines of Moral Foundations Theory, which has been forged together with their comrades while constructing their Stronghold.  And they defend it.

Chapter 5: Where We Recognize The General Behavior Pattern, Again

The General Behavior Pattern seems to show up across the board whenever we get two or more people trying to discuss one (or fewer) life topics.  Just fill in the blanks,

We choose to believe by faith that _________________________.  We can support this by ________________________________________.  This is our position.

It starts this way, and if parties are aligned in belief the discussion continues with tea and biscuits.

If, however, there are strong alternative viewpoints and/or “facts,” it continues along a different trajectory,

We are so convinced and so affirmed in this belief that we reject all “information” from outside it.  We will build up our position and defense (the Stronghold) to prevent any further incursions.  And we will take action if necessary to further our position.

We end up with a standoff or battle lines.  Either way, it’s polarized with anger as the dominant emotion.  It’s the consequence of creating Bubbles and building Strongholds.

What happened to bring us to this?  (And what do we do about it?)

Part 2: What Did We Do, or Not Do,To Deserve This?

Somehow between birth and adulthood, something happened.

We recognize (or claim that) Homo Sapiens is one of if not the most Intelligent species on Earth.  We are also recognized to be one of few species whose offspring do not mature into survivable adults until years after birth.  We take nearly twice as long or longer than other primates to mature to self-sufficiency, to become mature physically, emotionally, cognitively (in each of the multiple intelligences), and spiritually.

What did we develop to assist this slow maturation in these areas, especially the multiple intelligences, the sole species to do so?

Education.

And what has happened to derail or flub up development in these same areas?

Education … or at least how we have developed it since the ancient Greeks and after Bismarck decided that an educated populace was the secret to a successful and stable nation.

Chapter 1: The Tangible What’s

Once Upon A Time, many years ago, education was primarily focused on the three R’s: Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic.  We had to start somewhere.  This was fine as we progressed through seasons where education ended at the 8th grade (agricultural society; few newspapers), and later at 12th grade (more manufacturing based; with radio and television).  Now we have the expectation if not pressure for everyone to obtain a college education. As a result, a lot of people are going to college and taking on a lot of debt just because that’s what they’re supposed to do, assuming but not truly understanding what they’re supposed to get out of it.

“In an age of information overload, kids need more than the ability to recall facts and parrot popular arguments.  More important is their ability to wade through noise, discern facts, analyze perspectives, and develop their own expertise,” Remembering Lauren Brown (Quartz Daily Brief, November 2, 2019).

Unfortunately, this traditional form of education has a hidden weakness. One cannot extend the same approach for more years and expect exceptionally different outcomes. (Remember, “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten (here).)

The following thoughts dig a bit deeper than I think most will recognize. And judging by current outcomes and discussions, that’s most everyone.

A clue to the problem is actually hidden in the definition of Intelligence above,

“The mental capability “to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.”“

Typical education focused on ‘stuff’ in one way or another.  The ancient Greeks discussed it face-to-face as written materials were nearly nonexistent.  After Gutenberg, printed materials were still scarce and whatever education was done was accomplished in more face-to-faces (lecture) situations.  We still follow that trend today.

Reading was needed in order to have everyone reach common agreement on the ‘stuff’ in books or other forms of printed communication.  Writing was needed in order to communicate ‘stuff’ in a durable form to someone else.  And arithmetic was needed to count and manage a life dependent upon exchange transactions of material ‘stuff.’

A sketch from an earlier post might be helpful here, with ‘stuff’ now indicated by the word data, of which there is a lot,

Education focused on selecting just a part of all the ‘stuff’ in a particular topic (the ‘filtering’ that the school, teacher, or text author performed), and presenting this ‘information’ to students in an ‘organized’ way (the teaching or lecturing).  What “stuff” was presented was deemed ‘Knowledge.’  While we looked for so-called “critical thinking” abilities, it was still about the “stuff.”  It was how we were taught to think – along the “Lower Education” Red Line.

We presumed ‘Understanding’ was reached if this ‘Knowledge’ was played back successfully via testing.  Grade after grade after grade.

The procedure was applied to everyone in the grade.  Occasionally a teacher would recognize that a student was capable of more and took extra measures.  The same would happen for students who struggled.

But the net result that was reinforced was, “Memorize ‘stuff’ and play it back.”  Research has subsequently shown that over 50% of what was ‘learned’ can be lost/forgotten within days, and over 90% lost within weeks.  Yet this has become our limited understanding of ‘Knowledge.’

When teaching college, my classrooms always had about 50% of the students who were locked into the Memorize and Play Back mode based upon their K-12 experiences.  Some in every class requested a “Study Guide” of exactly what would be on the tests (I made a list of chapter subheadings.  They were oblivious but happy).  I also experienced a smaller percentage of students who would state, “Why do I have to study and learn this, I’ll never use it.”

The broader issue became clear.  While there is indeed a need for certain information to be memorized (like the alphabet and addition and multiplication tables, for example), more important objectives were, for various reasons, missing.  This Lower Education approach was not wrong; it was just incomplete.  Some reasons for this could be due to variations in student’s inherent capabilities, their non-education environments, their expectations and/or ‘goals,’ as well as with teachers’ and the system’s expectations and ‘goals.’

Because certain objectives were missing, the various abilities of every student’s multiple intelligences were (are) going underdeveloped.  And for quite a few students the education environment helped de-emphasized (taught out/squashed) their intrinsic motivation, their curiosity, and their self-actualization.  Which is unfortunate because research indicates that highly motivated kids have a greater advantage in life than kids with a high IQ (here).

We ended up generating a self-fulfilling prophecy,

If you keep teaching young dogs, “You can’t teach old dogs new tricks,” they’ll be convinced of it before they’re old.

Chapter 2: The Intangible How’s

Knowledge, we must realize, includes much more than data, facts and skills. Look at this sketch, also from an earlier post,

I would propose that the often missing component, the important and key intangible objectives to learn and develop are the “Higher Education” Processes along the Green Line above, the “How’s” of taking all the ‘stuff’ in the world and narrowing it down to something useful,

Filter, then Organize, then Process, then Practice, Apply, Use.

One would hope that non-educational environments (family, subculture, community) would contribute to development along the Green Line (after all, it’s heritable).  But if these environments do not already possess it, recognize it, and encourage it, it will be difficult.  John Maxwell’s “Law of the Lid” (The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership) says that if you are only a 5 as a leader on a scale of 1-10, you will only be able to develop another leader to the same level 5, perhaps a 6.  You will not be able to raise up a level 9 or a 10 leader.  The same is practically true for the Green Line; development has to come from a different environment, one that possesses it, recognizes it, and develops it.  That environment, we thought and still think, should be education.  But, as above, it currently is not wrong, just in most instances incomplete.

Chapter 3: Back to the Question

Now we are at a place where we can revisit our earlier question, “How do we attempt to reach ‘understanding’?”

I referred to the above as Processes because, for example, it is not enough to learn filter (i.e., Google), but to learn the “Higher” process of finding the right filter and applying it (i.e., asking Google the right question formed the best way).  It is not enough to learn one form of organizing, but to recognize the process of organizing and reorganizing may lead to a breakthrough.  It asks, “Does this particular form of organization provide an explanation for where we started; what was?  Is it useful to try and put into practice and predict what will be?”  Even better, did the successful process of applying the steps in some arena end up reinforcing the overall process approach itself, so that it could be transferred and applied in unrelated areas?

If not, we’re just back to just memorizing one approach, a recipe, which can be forgotten quickly.  And we end up with 43% of college graduates that work in under-paying jobs that don’t require a degree (here) because they paid a lot of money to Memorize and Play Back and didn’t develop the higher-level skills.  Or resisted learning them, because they didn’t “know.”

Chapter 4: The Other How

Besides the What’s and Intangible How’s above there is the Other How, part of a new non-educational cultural environment.  Where once the ancient Greeks sat together in small groups and talked, where higher education became based upon the original face-to-face tutor concept from the Middle Ages that became the modern University (ca. 1100s), and K-12 education developed from that into the classroom with teacher, each environment was characterized by a teacher-coach-mentor present to handle discussion and feedback.

With the advent of radio and television we experienced news and information filtered most often by professionals who had established and depended upon their credibility and trust.

But with the development of the Internet and social media, there is no longer any adequate filtering, especially for the majority of the population who hadn’t learned proper filtering in the first place.

The Internet speeded up the flow of unfiltered information.  With no instinct or useable skills for filtering, we become complacent and only accept what agrees with our Bubble or Stronghold, continue to feed the echo chamber and reject in anger what and who lies outside it. A newly publish analysis following along the same lines is, The Dark Psychology of Social Media.

In other words, we have led ourselves into our partisan politics and Strongholds, whatever the specific agenda, over the course of time by being lazy and creating justifications for these Strongholds, justifications which are now being amplified by Internet “flooding” and the lack of a “filtering infrastructure” (and mindset).

These, I think, are major factors in how we got here, along the Route of our Discontent, to The Root of our Politics

By staking a claim to exercise our democratic right to form an opinion but ignoring a greater responsibility when expressing it unfiltered, we fail to recognize a huge consequence: American democracy is under siege from many quarters.  Recent articles include Democracy is faltering, America is Living James Madison’s Nightmare, and most recently, How America Ends.

Beside ourselves, additional contributors to this vicious cycle are: Politicians and their rhetoric.  Why does this cycle continue?  Possibly for two reasons.  First, recall the updated saying,

People who can, Do;
People who can’t, Teach;
People who can’t teach, go into Administration;
People who can’t administer, go into Politics.

Basically, it leads us to ask a question about them: are they ‘stupid’ (lacking Intelligence), or just ‘lazy and complacent’ (failing to use it). Or perhaps it’s more subtle for a second reason: maybe they are just ‘smart’ enough to believe all the people they are trying to influence for their Stronghold (you and me) are just more lazy and complacent than they are.

Chapter 5: Course Corrections – What Can We Do About It?

We have to start somewhere and not wait, especially for politicians.  First, we as individuals have to recognize and accept the new nature of information in today’s world.  More is not better.  Next, also as individuals, we can intentionally choose to change the way we think and learn and become adept in the above Processes in our areas of strength, create an expectation for them in our non-educational environments (i.e., homes, sub-cultures), and pass it to others.  Then we can all more readily navigate a changing world and its changing expectations.  Consider starting to think that

    • Accepting that the world is not Zero-Sum is a great leap forward;
    • Learning that these four Process steps exist is also a great leap forward;
    • Studying science and math (STEM) helps to see the Processes at work, especially where they lead to (typically) only one answer; but that
    • Studying all branches of Liberal Arts is needed to expose us to a world in which there is rarely only one answer,
      • Because now there are Homo Sapiens involved. How did people in history think, plan, and navigate?
      • Because embedded in History are not only the What’s, but more importantly, the How’s – what worked and what didn’t.
    • Learning to practice these processes is Learning How To Learn How To Learn (also possibly known as Figuring Out How To Figure Out How To Figure It Out);
    • Getting comfortable with these processes makes life one long graduate school, in which learning becomes a life long activity, not a painful workout;
    • Change becomes a common occurrence that we manage for personal, social and cultural growth, not something that we have to endure;
    • We can navigate the changing terrain along life’s journey, by accepting our Bubbles as just a temporary campsite and not stopping to build Strongholds short of the goal.

But if there’s doubt it can be done on our own, take hope,

4,000 wild black bears
Sometimes living in a mountain town means nature comes to your street in the form of a 200-pound hungry bear drawn to the smells of garbage and birdseed.  Asheville, North Carolina’s human population has grown nearly 40 percent in the past two decades, but long-term conservation efforts have also increased the wild black bear population to more than 4,000 in the surrounding mountain region.  Researchers plan to teach residents (Blog: the lazy ones) how to secure garbage in bear-proof containers, clean barbecue grills and restrict the usage of bird feeders.  [Wall Street Journal]

Ordinary people focus on the Outcome.  Extraordinary people focus on the Process.

Everybody can become more extraordinary in something because we already are extraordinary at something.  We keep telling ourselves that.  Now, as individuals, we need to adapt and do it.

 

Posted in 00: Bubbles, 05: People, 06: Incomplete Information, 07: Getting It, 08: Observing, Listening, Learning, 09: Doing, 11: Growth, 12: Character, 14: Behavior, 16: Culture, 17: Choice, Lessons from History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Root of Our Politics

“Life is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel.” ― Jean Racine

In the last post a General Behavior Pattern of

Emotions->(Thinking, maybe)->Behavior

emerged which appears to be broadly applicable. One of those applications seems pretty much to be a universal description of our current domestic politics,

    • We choose to believe by faith that Conservatives (or Liberals, or Democrats, or Republicans) are responsible for screwing up this country. We can “prove” this by simply reading the media reports about how they have failed to act on solving the problems we see in this country. This is our position and Comfort Stronghold.  We are convinced and so affirmed in this belief that we reject all “information” from outside it.  We will build up our Stronghold defense against them and any and all ideas contrary to our position and prevent any further incursions.  We will take action to further prevent their ruining of this country (How Everything Became the Culture War; Why the Left Is Consumed With Hate).

If you consider the ongoing three-year dramas of Brexit in the UK, other political activities in the rest of Western Europe (the EU), the world, and campaigning in the US, the same narrative can easily be applied.  It would appear that Jean Racine was on to something, other than the sense of comedy.

These same polarized western political activities over the last few years are what led Vladimir Putin to proclaim that liberalism, the ideology that has underpinned Western democracies for over two hundred years, had “outlived its purpose.”

I don’t think that the original liberalism has outlived its purpose (not what we currently call liberalism, but rather what it meant based upon John Locke’s political philosophy, here).  I think we’ve just forgotten what it is exactly (or were never taught it completely, a subject for another post) and have inadvertently (or deliberately) strayed from its intended practice.  Along the way we keep forgetting what it continues to provide us (The Many Deaths of Liberalism) in spite of trying to declare it dead.

Our current political behaviors bear a startling resemblance to the General Behavior Pattern above: lobbing flaming arrows over the walls of our strongholds, either into other nearby strongholds or onto innocents milling around below, and opening our gates only when someone mumbles the correct password.

Similar behavior can also be found in the following author’s comment from a post on Quora,

“Note: Unfortunately I’ve had to disable comments for my answer due to a string of recent comments which I believe are coming from the same person or persons with multiple accounts they use to flame answers they disagree with…”

It is becoming all too clear that this type of behavior is being enabled by the anonymity of the Internet both to avoid having a civil discussion face-to-face and to justify muddying the waters (The Grim Consequences from Studying Fake News).  And it is being amplified in the political arena.

Common Ground (soft, marshy, and stinky, at that)

One compelling observation over the last few decades or so is that the pendulum, once reflecting John Locke’s liberalism which helped establish this country’s foundation, has swung the other way with increasing pressure to take up one flavor or another of socialism.  This reflects the developing disconnect between our freedom and our responsibilities.  (Locke’s philosophy dealt with ways to provide individual freedom; it did not do so by eliminating responsibilities.)

Be realistic and honest, all of us have issues and problems, whether individual, family, clan or tribe.  We certainly have issues as a nation (as a whole, as well as in our sub-cultures) as all nations do.  Identifying issues is not the problem – admitting them and then agreeing on solutions, priorities and plans is.

If I had to characterize politicians (and politics) based on their reproducible behavior with respect to issues, it would be this way:

Progressive Liberals – great at defining a problem as a simple idea; poor at providing a realistic executable plan; and very poor at monitoring outcomes and consequences.

Conservatives – also great at defining a problem as an idea; better at trying to identify a realistically executable plan before running with it, and continually concerned about monitoring outcomes and consequences (probably too much so).

This is not to say conservatives are not guilty of throwing out an unsupported idea to create political impact.  Consider Boris Johnson, conservative PM of Britain and trying to leverage a deal to exit the EU:

Election Pitch| Boris Johnson continued to lay the ground for a general election in his comments following the Queen’s Speech Monday, promising “a new age of opportunity for the whole country” and a “high wage, low tax economy, with the highest environmental standards.”  He also drew attention to the Tories’ spending pledges for the state-run National Health Service.  (Brexit Bulletin; October 14, 2019; ideas & pledges, no plan).

(In hindsight, what does one actually do to Make America Great Again?  I have a not-so-vague idea but it conflicts with the reality I see.)

For the good order, let it be said that since the media spends more than sufficient time on the current administration’s behaviors, I’ll not focus on them (other than the above comment) but leave connecting them to the General Behavior Pattern as an exercise for the reader.  Go to it!

This leaves the other stronghold.  To be fair, while the techniques are similar on all sides (and participants), both the messages and messengers percolating to the top of this other stronghold through the same General Behavior Pattern are only beginning to receive superficial scrutiny. I say superficial because there are a few perceptive people out there but the majority is not perceptive enough.  One of the reasons for this is how over the last 50 years or so, like qualifying for the Olympics, we’ve changed our “political qualifying events” running up to a party’s convention.  Therein lies an issue (and possibly another blog post as well).

Let’s poke around the main “other” folks active in this “Running for President” season.

In order for this to focus just on the behaviors and how these resonate with the General Behavior Pattern above, we’ll leave out names.  (Identifying them is also left as an exercise for the motivated reader.  Hint: if clicking is easier than thinking, try one of the links).  There are two or three main contenders at the moment.  I will pick just one to start (studying the other two is an additional exercise for the motivated reader).  Some interesting observations from the media taking time to ‘think things through’ are the following,

    • This candidate has surged in the polls, as of this date (mid-October) now commanding a double-digit margin over second place, (nameless).
    • This candidate’s rise in the polls has been accompanied by positive media attention, in fact, the most friendly stretch of media coverage of any presidential candidate since a previous guy in 2008 (here)
    • This candidate is also the kind of candidate journalists love to cover — because the candidate is running on “policy ideas” (here).  Also notable, Journalists spend a lot time on Twitter.  And “Twitter********loves******* ❤this candidate” (here).
    • There are surging reports that this candidate is looking “too far to the left.” There’s a decent amount of evidence that candidates who are too far to the left or right are a bit less electable than candidates who are moderate (here).
    • However, the politically tuned-in people and policy experts in the candidate’s Party appear to have already moved “five ticks over on the progressivism odometer” (i.e., left) in the last four years (compared with the previous guy’s presidency, here)
    • The candidate’s campaign has had a very solid communications ethos and effort since the very beginning — “since they ran that ‘angry candidate’ last September” (here).  (Note: Here we see the rise of “anger” in the General Behavior Pattern.)
    • The candidate might have arrived at a strategy that has worked well: being extra to the left and framing the campaign as “having a plan” (‘I have a plan for that’: ***** leads the political party’s ‘ideas primary’) (also here)
    • The candidate continues to Fix the Blame on capitalism, the rich, and Wall Street, all the while continuing to maintain, “I am a capitalist.” (see also below)
    • The candidate’s first book manuscript (2003) was returned by the editor. “It seems the candidate had just turned in what the author thought was a mostly finished manuscript of the candidate’s first mass-market book.  But the editor had one major criticism.  The author, the editor worried, had spent more than 160 pages of text and a further 50-plus pages of endnotes delineating a litany of data-backed reasons that bankruptcies and debt were going up and the middle class was going down.  The author had described what was happening, and had diagnosed why, and had presented possible solutions for legislators, regulators and wonks.  Nowhere, though, had the author offered the actual people who were bearing the brunt of these crushing economic forces anything approaching practical advice. …  Eventually an ‘18 page chapter was tacked on.’ ”  (In other words, the original premise of the book was fixing the blame followed by regulating them to the ground.  That citizens bore any ability or responsibility was a ‘tack-on’ afterthought.  Here)

Looking closely at recent history one can see the Stronghold being built up and reinforced over time, with the timely addition of anger as a main component. “Institutions and their implementation of capitalism are to blame, along with their leaders who become rich” is the message launched from the fort.  New additional information is not admitted, or if admitted it is massaged to support the original Stronghold foundation: “They are to blame, and we must regulate and redistribute” (note the current ‘policy ideas,’ below.)  The message is designed to elicit an emotional reaction (rapid agreement before contemplation) triggered by anger at the current status.  Looking around, this is time honored political rhetoric and strategy.

But when some thought is eventually put in (here Gap Theory shows itself), what are the media reactions?  “What does this particular Stronghold actually mean?”

    • Put simply, the candidate’s momentum spells bad news for the Party. The candidacy is centered around far-left, big-government policies that once appealed only to the leftmost fringes of the party.  To be sure, the candidate’s recent surge in the polls is indicative of how far left the party has moved and suggests that the party will nominate a radical candidate who is unpalatable to independents and moderates, two groups essential to beating the other candidate. (here)
    • Key components of the candidate’s platform include expanding the reach of the federal government to tackle core inequities in American society, particularly through greater Wall Street oversight and policies to reduce income inequality by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans (here, here, and here). (These ignore other contributors to this inequality, one of which was identified by the candidate’s book editor in 2003 but which has not yet been recognized or incorporated in anyone’s policy ideas)
    • “As remarkable as the candidate’s life story is the sheer scope of the ambition to transform a system that the candidate believes fails ordinary people. Plenty of the candidate’s ideas are good. The candidate is right to try to limit giant firms’ efforts to buy politicians and gobble up rivals.  But at its heart, the plan relies on regulation and protectionism while underestimating the dynamic power of markets to help middle-class Americans.  As it stands, it is not the answer to America’s problems” (The Economist, October 24, 2019, also New York Times).  (However, both of these resources fail to identify a critical additional factor in a solution.  Again, for another post).

There are a couple of other data points (Missing Information recently revealed) that are pertinent to the substance of these policies.  Remembering that these policies are designed to “expand the reach of the federal government to tackle core inequities in American society” (above), what does this mean in actuality?  Moving from idea to plan apparently means increased taxes on the rich and redistributing them to those suffering core inequalities.  Unfortunately, according to the above references, the increased tax inflow is not enough to cover the ‘planned’ outflows.  (Stop a moment and think about this.  When an NFL team has a game plan for Sunday’s game, it is a specific executable approach of what they are going to DO.  Short of any executables, the “plan” above to increase taxes and redistribute them is less of a plan than a stuffed idea.)

However, the idea itself sounds as if there is a real heart and concern for the poor, the disadvantaged and the lower middle class.  Perhaps I am naïve, but I would tend to think that this heart attitude would also be exhibited in personal life (remember, Attitudes become Behaviors by Choice). Which is where it gets interesting.

“Most” all the major candidate’s tax returns (with one exception) have been publically released (here). Looking at these for both total income as well as amounts given to charity (a behavior of “helping others in need,” those suffering more from “core inequalities”) is rather enlightening:

    • None of the candidates are middle class, probably not even upper middle class;
    • Taxable incomes for all are at least high 6 figures if not more; wealth is not reported except elsewhere (there’s a difference, remember);
    • Charitable giving, the response from the heart and one valid metric of values and priorities, is surprisingly small for this stronghold. Candidate’s charitable giving as percentages of taxable income was:
      • 0.3% ($1,166 out of $370,000);
      • 3.4% ($36,300 out of $566,000);
      • 1.4% ($27,000 out of $1,900,000);
      • 1.9% ($6,600 out of $338,500);
      • 1.7% ($3,750 out of $215,000);
      • 5.5% ($50,000 out of $906,000); and
      • 4.1% ($8,295 out of $203,000).
  • On the other hand, one politician from across the aisle was mentioned: 29.4% (yes, that is correct: $4 million out of $13.7 million).

Over all, these numbers, except one, seem pretty pathetic.  To paraphrase, “I hear what you’re saying, but your wallet’s moving in the other direction…and your hand is moving in the direction of mine.” And by the way, what are you doing with the rest?

It gives pause about the real reasons for publicly talking about improving “core inequalities” when private behaviors are missing.  If that is indeed a passion, then there should be both history as well as deeply informed understanding of all of the factors contributing to these inequalities, not just to throw money at them. Especially when it is someone else’s,

“The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money” – Margaret Thatcher

Which leads us to the question, “Why are we so easily taken in by these approaches?”  Part of the answer is due to Gap Theory and Emotions – we react from emotions before we “think out” the fullness and possible consequences to the event or comments.  Another other part is a lack of understanding, probably coupled with a lack of motivation to reach any understanding.

To whit, how many people understand a major but subtle difference between socialism and capitalism?

Socialism– socialism’s main purpose is to redistribute currently existing wealth.  It is not creative in any sense.  In theory, socialism will work very well in a small community where everyone knows one another, a commune or kibbutz (a Dunbar Group).  In this case it operates as a zero sum game, redistributing to a hoped for equality. In practice we don’t live in small communities, we live and depend upon a much larger social environment.  A larger social environment requires a middleman, organization, or institution to collect and redistribute.  And this “middleman” will not work for nothing – a ‘pound of flesh’ will be extracted to support the required activity.  As a result, in practice socialism becomes a negative sum game in which there will be less to redistribute than was collected.  This is particularly true historically when the “middle person” is a government (well known for its ability to manage money).

Capitalism– capitalism’s main purpose is to put capital to work in processes that create more value and therefore wealth.  In theory it operates as a positive sum game due to material, services, and intellectual value that is created. In practice, it works very well,

“Because of capitalism, we are privileged to live in what may only be described as an anomaly in history, a fluke of monumental proportion.  We live in a time where most people have more wealth, better lifestyles and more freedom than has been the case across a vast expanse of history” (here).

However, in practice it is also not perfect – primarily due to imperfect human beings that are involved in it (i.e., all of us).  For the most part, there are over 30 million businesses in the US (here) that practice capitalism without a hitch, and probably well over 200 million if you consider individual family units as “capitalistic entities” with income (revenue), costs (expenses), savings (reserves), and value added in the form of labor skills (physical and mental) made available.  Even with a few rotten apples (Enron, Worldcom; criminals), a few more going bad (bankruptcies, corporate and individual), the defect rate is rather miniscule.  If the golden goose is doing well but occasionally puts out a brown egg, one doesn’t kill off the goose.

Given this highly variable “understanding” of the world we live in, and a contributing factor of our being raised to fit within culturally acceptable “understanding” bubbles (Regression to the Cultural Mean), what else influences how we attempt to reach “understanding”?  That will lead us to education, and a worthy topic for a next post.

Food for thought –think about the scale of positive (joy) and negative (anger) emotions from last post, and the negative consequences of unfettered anger and its resulting behaviors.  You are probably also aware that there are uncountable Anger Management courses for organizations and counselors to recommend and use.  But have you ever heard of a Joy Management course?

Posted in 00: Bubbles, 02: Value Added, A Definition, 04: Games People Play, 05: People, 06: Incomplete Information, 07: Getting It, 09: Doing, 13: Values & Self, 14: Behavior, 16: Culture, Gap Theory, Lessons from History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Unanticipated Consequences of Unfettered Emotions

“Life is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel.” ― Jean Racine

The chart in the previous post showed a general trend toward very negative emotions and behaviors among those having Closed Comfort Bubbles and Control issues.  It is troubling when you see it in the chart, but apparently it doesn’t seem to affect us when we see it in real life.

Starting small and perhaps simple, let’s take some current situations and see if they show a general pattern that involves our Comfort Bubbles, Emotions and resulting Behaviors and tosses them in with earlier ideas of Missing Information and Gap Theory (acting emotionally on Incomplete Information and therefore too quickly).  I think the apparent general pattern will quickly become clear:

Conspiracy Theories

    • I choose (i.e., exercise my free will) to believe (i.e., trust in the validity and “truth” of my considered opinion and position) by faith (i.e., that the limited “facts,” observations and information I have are more than sufficient and need not be tested nor added to) that the Earth is flat. I can “prove” this by holding up a ruler at arms length and see that the surface of a pond is flat.  This is my position and Comfort Bubble.  I am so affirmed in this belief that I reject all “information” from outside this bubble in order to build up a defense against any and all ideas contrary to my position and prevent any further incursions.  And I will shout it out on my Twitter feed and Facebook page.
    • I choose to believe by faith that the US did not put a man on the moon. I can “prove” this by the anomalies in the apparent images transmitted “back to Earth from the moon’s lunar surface.” This is my position and Comfort Bubble.  I am so affirmed in this belief that I reject all “information” from outside this bubble in order to build up a defense against any and all ideas contrary to my position and prevent any further incursions.  And I will continue to shout it out on my Twitter feed and Facebook page.

Innocuous enough, perhaps, but not really convincing. After all, these Comfort Bubbles are rather harmless.  But how about this one,

  • We choose to believe by faith that vaccines are not safe. We can “prove” this by reading the anti-vaccine postings on Facebook.  This is our anti-vaccine position and Comfort Stronghold.  We are so affirmed in this belief that we reject all “information” from outside it.  We will build up a defense against any and all ideas contrary to our position and prevent any further incursions.  We are angry and will take action (Congressional Hearing Disrupted; Morals and Measles).

A bit more disconcerting, and, unfortunately, with many lives being impacted. Let’s cast a broader net,

Life in These United States, now

“Anger is an acid that does more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” – Mark Twain

Apt when he spoke it, but unfortunately, not so apt now.

    • I choose to believe by faith that immigrants are invading the United States. I can “prove” this by looking at all the immigrants in my community. This is my position and Comfort Stronghold.  I am convinced and so affirmed in this belief that I reject all “information” from outside it.  I will build up a defense against any and all ideas contrary to my position and prevent any further incursions.  “I am angry” and will take action (“I’m the shooter”, the El Paso shootings).
    • I choose to believe by faith that my Human Resources Department has discriminated against me. I can “prove” this by seeing that they did not act on my issue.  This is my position and Comfort Stronghold.  I am convinced and so affirmed in this belief that I reject all “information” from outside it.  I will build up a defense against any and all ideas contrary to my position and prevent any further incursions.  I am angry and will take action (Disgruntled Cook, but with a mass shooting prevented).
    • We choose to believe by faith that capitalism and politics are not working. We can “prove” this by seeing that the income gap between the average worker and the rich elite is increasing and that Washington does not work*.  This is our position and Comfort Stronghold.  We are convinced and so affirmed in this belief that we reject all “information” from outside it.  We will build up a defense against any and all ideas contrary to our position and prevent any further incursions.  We are angry and will take action (Why Socialism Is Back).
      (*”Washington does not work,” pathetically, currently even extends to their NFL team, here.)
    • We choose to believe by faith that conservatives (or liberals, or Democrats, or Republicans) are responsible for screwing up this country. We can “prove” this by simply reading the media reports about how they have failed to act on solving the problems we see in this country. This is our position and Comfort Stronghold.  We are convinced and so affirmed in this belief that we reject all “information” from outside it.  We will build up our Stronghold defense against them and any and all ideas contrary to our position and prevent any further incursions.  We will take action to further prevent their ruining of this country (How Everything Became the Culture War; Why the Left Is Consumed With Hate).
    • We choose to believe by faith that members with other viewpoints are responsible for screwing up our political party. We can “prove” this by simply watching how they have blocked our proposals and therefore failed to act on addressing this country’s problems.  This is our position and Comfort Stronghold.  We are convinced and so affirmed in this belief that we reject all “information” from outside it.  We will build up our defense against them and any and all ideas contrary to our position and prevent any further incursions.  Not only that but we will take action to further prevent their ruining of this party (The Five Wings Of The Republican Party; The Six Wings Of The Democratic Party).

I am reasonably certain this could go on for both sides (the Either/Or people) of current and past domestic issues (racism, sexism, police, union actions, education, Medicare-for-All, etc.) as well as global situations (climate change, the global economy, Hong Kong, Brexit, the Middle East, etc.) to say nothing about historical differences.  It’s part and parcel of a “feeler’s” tragic rapid automatic appraisal of events.  But to thinkers it is not funny.

The greater issue is, if (IF?) some of us (who think about these situations after our own rapid automatic appraisals) can see the negative results of the mixing of all of these emotional and behavioral aspects of our humanity, what are we going to do about it?

One answer might be: hope that someone else (Washington, London, Brussels, the tooth fairy) solves the issue.  This is the Fix The Blame attitude, demonstrated fairly clearly in the situations above.  If you think that, please go back and reread this blog, starting at the beginning, here.

The alternative is the Fix The Problem approach, to recognize and take up our own personal responsibility, that “thing” that precedes but is permanently attached to freedom, and step out of our own Comfort Bubbles (or Strongholds).  To help with this, here are some helpful questions,

What’s in your Comfort Stronghold?

Who else is in there with you?

Who’s really in charge of building and maintaining your Comfort Stronghold?  You?

Or someone else?

All of these thoughts, and possible revelations, about emotions and behavior make me think it is about time to look a bit deeper into the problems of our political environment and education and test them there.  Next posts.

Posted in 00: Bubbles, 06: Incomplete Information, 13: Values & Self, 14: Behavior, Gap Theory, Lessons from History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Affliction of Emotions

We have no problem in recognizing, or staking claim to the fact that we are highly evolved thinking beings (our conscious cognitive state) who also possess a strong free will (our conscious volitional state), both of which take significant time to develop.  What we severely underestimate and often fail to recognize, to our detriment, is the strength and influence of our innate emotions (our affective state of consciousness), which is there from birth.

Given that we are social beings and that our emotions are both innate and the primary motivators of our lives, the question arises, “How do we, our emotions, a situation, and other people merge together in one instant of time to result in a particular emotional episode?”

Part of the answer, I think, lies in a more fundamental question, “How do our innate emotions get carried along during our development into thinking, free-willed individuals, and then get expressed when we later behave in “particular” ways in various circumstances?”

Working with an earlier concept that describes the main factors in the progress of our development,

An inherited Genotype (Nature) + Environment + Triggers (Nurture, Events) + Chance + Choices (free will) determine our expressed Phenotype (who we are),

I propose combining the primary universal emotionsidentified by Edman in Emotions Revealed, into a hypothetical answer to the question.  Before getting to the result, some simple explanations might be useful:

Nature– refers to the biological/genetic “predispositions” we are born with and their impact on our human traits.  This is where we begin: our DNA, genes, genotype, and what is genetically endowed to us.  Among other things, it defines a temperament, including some level of each of the 14 primary emotions.

Nurture– describes the impact of learning and other influences from one’s Environment. These are the external factors that influence who we develop into through some of the actors below.  Nurture acts on Nature’s temperament to develop personality through both positive and negative events and environments.  It also generates conditions where we would share/experience emotions with or against others.  The actors are,

  • Family, which strongly influences personality more or less by imposition (Regression to the Cultural Mean)
  • Friends, Others, and Events. Their influence is primarily acquired but could be imposed
  • Opponents, who would have a negative emotional influence

The net effect of Nature and Nurture is the creation, development and maintenance of our Comfort Bubble – our preferred circumstances, situation, and/or Cultural Environment that provide safety and positive emotional situations and/or a defense against negative emotional situations.

A Person– You and me, as individuals who experience our temperament, personality, and values developing by broad and varied influences from both Nature and Nurture.  Our emotional activity, these fast automatic and potentially cascading appraisals, are run by a subconscious Affect Program that can be either,

  • Open – learning, engaging, or
  • Closed – which can then be either
    • Isolating (a Flight reaction), or
    • Confronting (a Fight reaction)

Affirmation– this, honestly, is the basic human need for received emotional support or encouragement that results in a positive emotional feeling about ourselves.  (“Affirmation” here is a family of related desires of varying strength, including esteem, respect, recognition, etc., usually received from external sources (received external validation), while self-respect and self-esteem are learned and felt directly (self-validation).)  Affirmation can also come indirectly through Altruism where one serves others or has a giving nature, or through ControlControl appears to be expressed in two ways: the first is neutral or potentially negative in its influence on others, and the other as purely negative.  In the negative mode it appears we are primarily observing the taking of external validation behaviors,

  • Power Over others, or
  • Denigrating others

In seeking to find an answer to the earlier more fundamental question, combining the universal emotions with a description of our development into thinking, free-willed individuals seems appropriate.  Simplifying our development statement as follows,

Nature plus Nurture form a Person who chooses to seek Affirmation through Behavior,

and then asking how the 14 emotions might be expressed or developed in various scenarios, results in a 2 dimensional chart.  It looks like this (click here to open a new tab, then click on the chart to enlarge, click again to be able to scroll),

I decided that positive emotions towards the top should be green and negative ones, going down the bottom, red.  These “assessments” are based on both Ekman and personal experiences.  (You can also think of green for constructive growth upward, and red for blood spilled from destructive behaviors.  Just a thought…)

I made some assumptions, and am still processing how valid these may be:

Nature, through our genes, is assumed to endow all the emotions with equal probability (the left column in the chart).  Once temperament begins to be expressed, differing emotional profiles can then be seen.

Environments are more complex and have multiple components,

Family is assumed to influence the development of positive emotions more often (or at least it should), although there is ample evidence that negative emotions and events are also experienced.  After all, none of us is perfect.

Friends are assumed primarily to influence positive emotions, i.e., that’s what friends are for.

Others and Events are more or less neutral and could influence both positive and negative emotions depending upon the circumstances.

Opponents, by definition, influence negative emotions not positive ones (except perhaps when you defeat one).

A person will develop, experience, and respond to situations from their Comfort Bubble (see above).  Emotional triggers arise from both within and without our Bubbles, and the type of Affect program that helped to define our Comfort Bubble will influence these responses,

An Open Affect Program, with which we will gravitate toward positive emotional experiences (and learn to avoid negative ones), or

A Closed Affect Program.  We could choose to be Isolating (Flight response: avoiding either extremes), or be Confronting or Destructive (Fight response). This latter response seems to be more adept at creating or experiencing negative emotions (until the person wins).

Ways that Affirmation can be received include,

Altruism, referring to those apparent “selfless” acts that to an extent benefit ourselves not materially but by providing positive emotional experiences indirectly through serving others (received external validation).  Recall that there’s always a bit of “Self” in everything we do (here).

Since the so-called negative emotions are not always experienced as unpleasant (here), it is not surprising that Controlling personalities, at least by broad experience, appear to experience some measure of internal positive emotions by exercising/expressing outward control over others, or in a more extreme case, denigrating others (taken external validation).  Overall, this is surely a Negative Sum behavior.

Some Generalities

Looking at “general” trends on the chart (granting that it is my hypothetical creation but based on other’s research and years of personal experience), the following seem to be a pattern:

  • Positive emotions and experiences (ecstasy, joy, happiness, wonder, contentment) tend to be developed or significantly reinforced in environments with family, friends, and positive events (towards the upper left of the chart in various sections). This is not to say that family environments are all and always positive (realistically, how many family members are integral members of your own Comfort Bubble?).
  • The negative emotions and experiences (agony, fear, contempt, anger, and disgust) tend to be developed or be significantly reinforced in environments with opponents (actors) or negative events (circumstances) (towards the lower right of the chart in various sections). Here again it is unfortunate to remark that sometimes family situations fall into one or both of these two categories.
  • A person with an Open Affect Program (more able to control their emotions) seems generally to experience positive emotions and experiences more often. (And yes, we experience the immediate negative experience of failure, but generally extract the long-term positive experience of something learned.  But it takes work.)
  • A person with a Closed Affect Program can either be Isolating and have a Flight response, in which case they probably would consider the relief of escape to be very positive… or Confronting and/or Destructive (the Fight response). In the latter case it appears that while negative emotions prevail in their expression, the unexpected revelation that experiencing these may actually be positive if not unpleasant must also be considered.
  • And that brings us to received Affirmation. With some thought I think it can be agreed that people who are in some way giving, who can at times practice an Altruistic attitude, can indeed benefit with positive emotional experiences indifferent to any material benefit (received external validation).  The oddity in the pattern is that Affirmation for controlling people appears to come through their power over others, or even worse, through their denigration of others (taken external validation).  In the latter case the negative emotions of contempt, anger, and disgust stand out.

It has been said that just before we die, as our physical abilities and consciousness fade, the emotions still remain.  They are there at the beginning, and they are the last to pass.

In between, we have a choice.  Either we succumb to this ever-present “affliction” and let our emotions control our lives, or we can minimize the “affliction” by learning to recognize and manage them and turn them into a strength.  Some “learnable” patterns and lessons emerge from the chart above.  The next question is, “Can, or will we choose to learn the lessons and apply them?”

We’ll look at some current observable consequences of both choices in the next post.

Posted in 00: Bubbles, 04: Games People Play, 05: People, 08: Observing, Listening, Learning, 11: Growth, 12: Character, 13: Values & Self, 14: Behavior, 16: Culture, 17: Choice, Gap Theory | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Root of Our Emotions

Last time I posted (here) it was about the progression from benign conspiracy theories to fake news to hate vitriol.  As much of an unfortunate start that benign conspiracy theories are, an even worse ending is when they morph into hate vitriol.

How does that happen?  And why?  And more importantly, is this relevant to the partisanship and polarizations we are experiencing in the country and world today?

A very important book, Emotions Revealed by Paul Ekman, which deals with universally experienced emotions (valid cross-culturally), was mentioned in the last post.  I realized that it has such great importance that it was worth the time to look at some major takeaways.  These will, I hope, help us not only to understand and manage our own emotions, but also be able to recognize the effects of emotions in others’ behaviors, whether as individuals, groups, or nations.  That, I trust, will help shed a brighter light on current events.

The Takeaways

First the primary takeaways (basic things we should know about our emotional selves), and then in a following post we’ll look at some of the various cascade effects and consequences of “emotions unchained” [emphasis mine]:

  • The universal emotions we experience are (in family groups of related emotions; less positive/more negative going down the list)
    • Positive (signaled more by voice than face)
      • Ecstasy
      • Joy (unconditional)
      • Happiness (conditional)
      • Wonder
      • Contentment
    • “Neutral”
      • Excitement (alone, or merged with one or more positive emotions)
      • Relief (always preceded by some other emotion, positive or negative)
    • Negative (signaled primarily by facial expressions)
      • Sadness (passive; resignation and hopelessness)
      • Surprise
      • Agony (protest; attempts to deal actively with source of loss)
      • Fear
      • Contempt
      • Anger
      • Disgust
    • Emotions are what motivate our lives. We organize our lives (and behave) to maximize the experience of positive emotions and minimize the experience of negative emotions (page: xxi)
    • Very importantly, the so-called negative emotions are not always experienced as unpleasant (58). (This is not necessarily obvious and is an unexpected but pertinent revelation)
    • Emotions are so powerful that they triumph over hunger, sex, and the will to survive (xxi)
    • Up until 1969 most psychologists accepted the theory that human behavior is all nurture and no nature, that everything in human behavior was instilled by parenting, family, clan, and environment (“It Takes A Village”). Little credence was given to inherited factors, the genetics that lead to a person’s temperament (12).  (Some anthropologists still remain unconvinced, even today)
    • More recent research has demonstrated that our emotions are a “process,” a particular kind of rapid automatic appraisal occurring before we think about a situation that is heavily influenced by both our evolutionary (inherited) history as well as our personal (experiential) past. It’s a combination of both nurture and nature (13).
    • Since we are primarily social beings (it’s tough to exist alone in a relational vacuum), emotions are primarily about how we deal with other people, and how we build and react to the relationships in our lives (24).
    • Separate from emotions themselves, the events that trigger emotional reactions are influenced not just by our individual experience (nurture) but also by our common ancestral past (nature) (29).
    • There are nine paths that personal triggers can use to turn on our emotions (37):
      • Operation of the automatic-appraisal mechanism
      • Reflective appraisal (reflecting on an event)
      • Recollection of a past emotional experience
      • Imagination
      • Talking about a past emotional event
      • Empathy
      • Others instructing us (Regression to the Cultural Mean)
      • Violation of social norms (Violation of the Cultural Mean)
      • Voluntarily assuming the appearance of emotion
    • When gripped by an inappropriate emotion, we interpret what is happening in a way that fits with how we are immediately feeling and ignore knowledge that does not fit (self-defense in our Comfort Stronghold; avoidance of the Repugnant Question) (39).
      • Emotions change how we see the world and how we interpret the actions of others. We do not seek to challenge why we are feeling a particular emotion; instead, we seek to confirm it (39).  (We separate others into “Them” or “Us”)
      • During an emotional event, we are unable to incorporate information that does not fit, maintain, or justify the emotion we are feeling (Gap Theory) (39).
    • Our temperament is a genetically (nature) based emotional disposition (64).
    • The inherited central mechanism that directs our emotional behavior is known as an affect program; we have either (65-66):
      • A Closed program, in which nothing can be inserted by experience; or
      • An Open program, which allows for additional input/growth during one’s life span.
    • Cultural traditions and upbringing within a culture, along with temperament, play a role in shaping one’s attitude about feeling or displaying sadness and agony (and other emotions; Regression to the Cultural Mean) (91).
    • Most of us presume that everyone else feels an emotion the way we do, or that our way is the only correct way (97). (This is Solipsism: “If I don’t know it, it doesn’t matter because it doesn’t exist; if I don’t understand it, it’s wrong”)
    • Anger controls; anger punishes; anger retaliates; and anger calls forth anger (111).
      • The personality trait that plays a central role in anger is hostility (125).
    • Contempt is related to but different from disgust (180-1):
      • Contempt is only experienced about people or the actions of people;
      • There is an element of condescension toward the object of contempt (a feeling of moral superiority);
      • The offense is degrading, but one need not necessarily get away from it, as one would in disgust.
    • Disgust (removing us from what is revolting) is triggered by four primary culturally learned interpersonal triggers (175):
      • The strange;
      • The diseased;
      • The misfortunate; and
      • The morally tainted (as culturally defined, outside the Comfort Bubble or Stronghold)
    • Emotional episodes can differ (232):
      • In the speed of emotional onset;
      • In the strength of the emotional response;
      • In the duration of the emotional response; and
      • In how long it takes to recover and return to a baseline state.
    • The frequency of emotional episodes is a crucial feature in understanding an individual’s emotional profile (233).

While all these takeaways may seem like a lot, just remember that we are very complicated beings.  And also very stubborn.  Ponder them awhile.

Next post we will look at how emotions cascade through our lives and some of the resulting consequences of behavior.

(Check out the book.  It is enlightening).

Posted in 00: Bubbles, 05: People, 06: Incomplete Information, 14: Behavior, 16: Culture, Gap Theory | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Jump From Benign Conspiracy Theories to Fake News to Hate Vitriol

On most occasions we would find something minorly amusing when the media presents us with a wacky conspiracy theory.  The Earth Is Flat comes to mind, as possibly does The Moon Landing Was Faked.2  However, some conspiracy theories loom much larger and encroach, sometimes dangerously, on our daily lives:  Vaccines Cause Autism 3, for instance. Our default reaction is typically that these are cultural outliers that have somehow survived, at least until the Internet, after which they just seem to persist.

Unfortunately, it turns out this is wishful thinking as the recent excellent article by Maggie Koerth-Baker on FiveThirtyEight (Conspiracy Theories Can’t Be Stopped) reveals. There’s more to conspiracy theories than we thought, and so, after highlighting some points in this article, we will dig a bit deeper and see that there is apparent method, a pattern, in the madness.

“Conspiracy theories now appear to have become a major part of how we, as a society, process the news.  It might be harder to think of an emotionally tinged event that didn’t (emphasis mine) provoke a conspiracy theory than it is to rattle off a list of the ones that did.”

In case you glossed over it, the almost casual phrase “emotionally tinged” carries significantly more impact, as we will see below.  Continuing,

“For years, the potentially dangerous consequences of conspiracy led many researchers to approach belief in conspiracies as a pathology (disease or injury) in need of a cure.  But that train of thought tended to awkwardly clash with some of the facts.  The more we learn about conspiracy beliefs, the more normal they look …

The experts I spoke with all said that the Internet has changed the way conspiracies spread, but conspiracies, both dangerous and petty, have always been with us.”

That conclusion follows after research showed that published letters in newspapers alleging and discussing conspiracy theories had been pretty constant over the last 120 years, and that it was reasonable to assume that these reflect what interests readers more than what interests editors.  The research is significant in coming to realize and understand conspiracy belief as a societal (cultural) norm.

“As it turns out, most of us believe in some strange goings-on behind the curtains. More than half of Americans think there was more than one person involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, for example.  A 2014 study found that more than half of Americans believe in at least one medical conspiracy – a list that includes things like giving children vaccines they know to be dangerous or the idea that the Food and Drug Administration intentionally suppresses natural cancer cures because of pressure from the pharmaceutical industry.  The more specific conspiracies you ask about in polls, the higher the percentage of Americans that believe in at least one. … it’s likely everyone has a pet conspiracy to call their own.”

There are also “broader categories of what are known as ‘erroneous beliefs’ ” – things such as paranormal experiences, gambling fallacies, etc.  The research shows that as we learn more about conspiracy beliefs, the more they have in common with these other kinds of wrong ideas.

“Feeling a lack of control over various aspects of life, a tendency toward paranoid thinking, failure to understand and use statistics and probabilistic reasoning – all those things correlate with belief in ghosts and slot-machine prowess as much as with belief in the Illuminati.  … If you believe in the paranormal, you’re more likely to believe in conspiracy theories, and vice versa.

At the same time, conspiracy theories have a sociopolitical aspect that makes them stand out.  Researchers think of belief in conspiracy as an interaction between individual tendencies and social circumstances (emphasis mine).  So, for instance, if you’re part of a group that is marginalized or lacks power in important ways you’re more likely to believe in conspiracy theories.  That means being a member of a racial minority is a predictor of conspiracy belief – and so is unemployment, low economic status, or even just being a member of a cultural group that’s looked down upon by people in positions of power.”

To be thorough, however, one must also consider who is accusing whom of engaging in conspiracy,

“… (the) study of newspaper letters to the editor tracked the social status of the letter writers.  Consistently it was found that conspiracies were “punching up.”  Not only did average people write more than 70 percent of the conspiracy letters – as opposed to elite members of society – the conspiracies alleged were usually aimed at people in positions of power.  There’s also no evidence that conspiracy belief is a phenomenon of the far right or the far left. Americans broadly believe in a “them” pulling the strings and manipulating the country.

To be sure and also to complicate individual thinking, there is evidence from history,

“… this is where conspiracy beliefs start to get tangled up with truth, because history does contain real examples of conspiracy.  Pizzagate was a dangerous lie, but that incident also exists in the same universe as the Tuskegee experiments, redliningand the Iran-Contra Affair.”

The belief in conspiracies can also have political consequences,

“ ‘During the Bush Administration, the left was going f-ing bonkers … about 9/11 and Halliburton and Cheney and Blackwater and all this stuff.  As soon as Obama won they didn’t give a sh*t about any of that stuff anymore.  They did not care.  It was politically and socially inert.’  In turn, conspiracy theories about Obama flourished on the right.  Uscinski (the researcher quoted above) said he is frustrated by this tendency for partisans to build up massive conspiracy infrastructures when they are out of power, only to develop a sudden amnesia followed by deep concern about the conspiracy mongering behavior of the other side once power is restored.” (I think I really like Uscinski.)

Can conspiracy beliefs potentially offer benefits, such as,

“ ’… tools for dissent used by the weak to balance against power?’  Some scientists do disagree.”

Although the world is complex (understatement), conspiracy theories are

“… viewed as largely negative – erroneous beliefs like gambling fallacies, but with the power to disrupt whole societies rather than just one person’s bank account.”

Another researcher, following a thought to eliminate conspiracy theories, is

“… working on a line of research to see whether a false conspiracy belief can be corrected by giving the people who believe in it something that they’ve lacked – power and control over their lives. …”

That is, empowering people by giving them a sense of control, operating with transparency.  Indications are that conspiracy theories seem to become less appealing.

“Trouble is, in the real world, who has the ability to offer that kind of empowerment?

That’s right, THEM!

If a group of people strongly distrusts a government or group of leaders, anything they do will raise suspicion.  Whether they want to get rid of conspiracies or not, scientists (and global leaders) are kind of stuck.  Conspiracy beliefs are the norm, and difficult to shake because the people with the most interest in shaking them are, usually, the very people conspiracy is meant to fight.  It’s not an easy task.”

Although the article presents the broader scope of conspiracy theories to a wider audience, there appear to be two remaining questions: What drives the need for conspiracy beliefs on an individual scale, and What motivates their propagation? Now we can dig a bit deeper.

First, on an individual scale, we all should but typically do not realize or accept that in any given situation there is always Missing Information (Fundamental Principle 6).  In other words,

We don’t know that we don’t know what we don’t know.

When we are confronted with this in a situation, we are also confronted with a lack of control over some aspect of our life. Our normal Bubble, our Comfort Zone is disrupted.

Second, we all should recognize that we are uniquely emotional beings who are built for social interaction.  A marvelous and important book on our emotions (and how to recognize them in ourselves and read them in other people) is Emotions Revealed by Paul Ekman.  A necessary fundamental understanding of ourselves is,

Emotions are what motivate our lives.  We organize our lives to maximize the experience of positive emotions and minimize the experience of negative emotions.4

This helps explain why the article remarks that it is hard to think of an “emotionally tinged” event that didn’t provoke a conspiracy theory – because we are all emotionally involved with our surroundings and circumstances.  The positive emotions we seek are typically joy, happiness, wonder and contentment.  The negative ones we seek to avoid are include sadness, agony, fear, contempt, anger, and disgust.  Our responses can be quite visceral and begin before we can cognitively process what is happening.

Third, triggered by our emotional reaction to an event or circumstances, we are confronted with this Gap in information. Gap Theory recognizes that since we do not have the patience or possibly the skills and resources to readily identify and find the pertinent missing information, we try and quickly close the “gap” between our partial knowledge of what we saw or heard and create a “reality” or “truth” in order to accomplish the following,

    • Attempt to Identify “the Truth” – fill the “gap” with any believable information that “explains,” usually resulting in overemphasis on “knowledge” be it real or improvised (the “conspiracy”) in order to bring calm back into our Comfort Zone;
    • Attempt to Fix the Blame – looking to identify a cause or source, especially if the issue is outside of our control and is perceived as a threat to our Comfort Bubble (stronger than a ‘zone’ and now built to resist or keep out undesirable stuff) and resides with those who have perceived “Power” (spread the “conspiracy”). After all, it can’t be anything we did or didn’t do that contributed to the situation (avoiding The Repugnant Question);
    • Continue to pursue the above, moving away from the personally experienced negative emotions (fear, lack of control, anger at an outcome, contempt and/or disgust at those we blame) and intentionally moving to experience positive emotions (happiness and/or joy through regaining control, even when this is accomplished by directing anger, contempt, and disgust at others) (use the “conspiracy” as leverage to regain some control and feel more positive);
    • Do this as quickly as possible – one doesn’t have the time to Filter, Organize, Process to Understand and then Apply the hard-to-find Missing Information, especially if this involves accepting contrary facts and/or dealing with statistics and probabilistic reasoning (avoid disrespecting or challenging the “knowledge” establishing the “conspiracy”);
    • Use the Internet to quickly find confirming real or improvised “knowledge,” build upon it by adding one’s own “knowledge,” and then repeat it online (propagate the “conspiracy”).

The benefits of these actions not only include reestablishing control over and experiencing positive emotions in one’s Comfort Bubble, but also bestowing perceived self-esteem by setting oneself apart from the ignorant masses who are outside of our Comfort Bubble (and, we think, pretty much belong there).

These pretty much describe all of us at more than one time or another, and since we each are guilty of our own privately held conspiracy belief(s), it pretty much describes how we got there.

The interesting next step, not the individual “creation” of the conspiracy belief itself, is the process by which the propagation becomes possible, i.e., how do conspiracists congregate/flock together and share and spread?

First, since we are socially relational beings, we need to recognize how socially (culturally) acceptable beliefs propagate, building upon our “Nature.”  Our primary unchosen (birth) social group is among family, clan, or tribe.  Within these groups of varying size, common beliefs are acquired by “Nurture,” which can either be via a happy nurturing and teaching environment, Regression to the Cultural Mean, or result from an imposed Coercion to the Cultural Mean.  The Culture or sub-culture that is developed is designed to help members understand who “is one of us” and, by inference, who is “not one of us.”  We are always connected with this culture, even if we have been excluded (Exclusion from the Cultural Mean).

Second, we need to understand what sociologists recently recognized and which has roots going back to pre-Roman times.  We tend to choose to encircle ourselves within a small group of “close connections,” close because of common roots, common responsibilities, and/or common beliefs. The number is almost always no larger than 150, and is recognized as the Dunbar Number or Group.  It’s whom we are most comfortable with, within certain constraints depending upon the commonality.  This group probably comprises or contains our Comfort Bubble.  It’s rarely family.  Remember,

You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.

Both of these are strongly supported by the observation in the article that belief in conspiracy is an interaction between individual tendencies (emotions, information, and regaining individual control, above) and social circumstances (birth and/or Dunbar Groups, the environments for reinforcing social relationships, above).  The interaction is stronger in groups that are marginalized by society or lack (or feel they lack) power.  As a consequence, the research strongly suggests that conspirators are punching up, that is, fixing the blame for their circumstances on those above them in social control and power.

This punching up is just one aspect of conspiracy belief and theories.  It appears, generally from the newspaper letters, that adherents to the belief are targeting their anger and blame on those above them who have done something directly to the group of adherents.  One can look at this behavior as the victims (adherents) perceiving themselves in a Zero–Sum environment (only so much to go around) and are punching up at those who are perceived to have intentionally taken something that the adherents had a right to but were denied access.  In other words, they are perceived as Takers outside the adherent’s Comfort Bubble or world.

Adherents at this point can feel that they are helpless victims and justify complaining by engaging in reiterating gossip or certain forms of “fake news” both verbally and online.  The Florida Man memes come to mind.

But a second and more negative consequence of conspiracy belief and theories arises when adherents make the jump to feeling they must not only blame the perceived beneficiaries of the conspiracy, but also confront or attack them.  Here the adherents can be pictured as not in a Comfort Bubble but in a Comfort Stronghold that they not only have constructed for defense, but a place from which to take the fight to “them.”

Instead of just repeating or lobbing the “fake news” they come across, they engage in creating “fake news” with an intent to negatively influence others and events.

This can also escalate to the realm of hate crimes, racial intolerance, and a host of other issues.  There is no argument that strong emotions play a role here.  This arena is addressed by another fascinating scientific article (in Nature) specifically about the propagation of hate online.  An interview with the lead author, N. F. Johnson, appears in The Guardian and discusses research results that indicate that online hate does not spread from individuals, but from the “aggregation of individuals into communities” (think Dunbar Groups).  The communities actually help constrain behaviors by collective reinforcement (think Coercion to the Cultural Mean), so that they tend to do them again and again.  From the interview,

“People say [online hate] is like cancer, it’s like a virus, it’s like this, it’s like that – no.  It’s exactly like gelation, which is another way of saying the formation of bubbles” (ah ha! Think Comfort Strongholds.  A good example is How a conspiracy video on YouTube went viral on its own).

The math that models the spread of hate online is virtually the same as the math that describes the formation of bubbles in boiling water.  If you want to stop water from boiling, you don’t stop the individual molecules; you stop the bubbles from forming.  So, among the very interesting policy proposals based upon the conclusions from the research are,

    • To stop hate spreading online, go after the smaller (Comfort) bubbles (they are not yet as close-knit and haven’t yet developed bonds to discuss how they got banned and how to avoid it and get back online (i.e., haven’t yet formed into a Comfort Stronghold));
    • Instead of banning individuals (the current approach), because of the “interconnectedness of the whole system (groups on the Internet), the math shows you only have to remove about 10% of the accounts to make a huge difference in terms of the cohesiveness of the network. If you remove randomly 10% of the (Comfort Stronghold) members globally, this thing will begin to fall apart.”

Cutting lines of communication can also disrupt the cohesiveness.  Pinterest’s approach has apparently been successful in blocking the spread of anti-vax conspiracy activity (here), whereas policymakers’ approaches have not yet recognized the root driving force behind this particular conspiracy theory (Morals and Measles).

Bottom line, we are all emotional beings, invariably seeking to maximize the experience of positive emotions (either directly, or indirectly by expressing negative ones on others).  We also suffer from not knowing that we don’t know what we don’t know.  As a consequence we create Comfort Zones and Comfort Bubbles, very often choosing to ignore information outside of them.  And if these don’t provide sufficient positive experiences and if the influx of missing information becomes too threatening, we create Comfort Strongholds, acting defensively and impulsively, to the detriment to others.

While the math indicates we can currently begin to control conspiracy theories online, at least the more virulent and dangerous hate ones, by focusing on a limited number of propagating communities or Bubbles, the greater issue is how do we close the Attitude Gap that sends our individual behavior into the realm of generating and acting on conspiracy theories and hate. We have to be honest with ourselves in identifying how our birth and/or Dunbar Groups nurture our Comfort Bubbles and Strongholds and develop the Attitude Gap in the first place.

Some practical ideas start with:

    • Explicitly teach that the world is not Zero Sum;
    • A Comfort Zone is nice and relaxing, but a Comfort Bubble precludes learning and growing and actually exercising control; and
    • Teach Moral Foundations Theory so that an individual begins to understand what their concept of “control” is foundationally based upon.

Notes:

1 There Is No Gravity.  Things Fall
  Looking for Life on a Flat Earth
  Are Flat-Earthers Being Serious?
  What it’s like to attend a flat-earth convention?
  How the Internet Made Us Believe in a Flat Earth

2 Moon-Landing Hoax Still Lives On, 50 Years After Apollo 11
  Conspiracy theorist punched by Buzz Aldrin still insists moon landing was fake
  Fox’s 2001 Special – Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?

3 It’s old news that vaccines don’t cause autism. But a major new study aims to refute skeptics again
Morals and Measles
The Real Horror of the Anti-Vaxxers
‘It will take off like a wildfire’

4 Emotions Revealed, p. xxi

 

Posted in 00: Bubbles, 04: Games People Play, 06: Incomplete Information, 11: Growth, 12: Character, 13: Values & Self, 14: Behavior, 16: Culture, Gap Theory | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On Freedom and Responsibility, via a Parable

I settled on this topic in March, but did not begin it until May, and it is now August.  Life intervened.  This time in the form of extended travel – first to Eastern Europe on a fact-finding mission, then to the west coast for a memorial service and time with dispersed family and friends.  These, however, were quickly followed by the throes of organizing and planning the flow of content for a business conference in Eastern Europe to be held in September – thus the urgency and re-focus (“Squirrel!”) – which just a couple of weeks ago, not unanticipated, was postponed until next year.  At least much good preparation was accomplished, with a possible broader impact. Only now are calendar and mind free enough to go back, reread the blog draft and try and remember where I was and where I was going with this.  In the meantime, also not unexpectedly, interesting and pertinent news events continue to surface.

Now, back to the post.  Sometimes complex concepts are best demonstrated simply and in the form of a parable.  (Note: or ‘parabolically’ as I almost wrote, before accepting that, while correct, the word is still rather obscure…)  The parable (which you can read on multiple levels, but try and keep it simple):

“Call the Master of the Mint!” cried the Emperor.  “I want new coinage!”

The Master of the Mint was hastily summoned and meekly presented himself before the throne, “Yes, Your Highness.  How may I serve you?”

“These old coins are too big and cumbersome.  They need to be lighter, but not smaller.  And I want my image to be the only image visible!  The solution I have thought of is very simple – make me coins that are only one-sided!  Then only my image will be visible and the coins will be less cumbersome!”

“But, your Highness…!” whimpered the Master of the Mint.  “Enough!” retorted the Emperor.  “Have some new coins to me by tomorrow.”

The Master returned to the Mint and pondered his assignment.  Then he had a sudden insight, “I’ll simply cut off the back side of a coin!”  His apprentice cocked his head in disbelief, but held his tongue.

The Master took old coins and tried cutting them in half between the front face and the back.

Alas, no matter how careful he was, each cut left him with thinner and thinner coins that still had two-faces.  What was he to do?  It was nearly dawn, so in trepidation he returned to the palace.

“Have you succeeded?” demanded the Emperor.  “I have done my best,” replied the Master of the Mint.  “But every time I cut off the back side of a coin, another side appears! Perhaps if I cut them thin enough there will be no second side!  Give me another day to finish.”  “Very well. Return with your success tomorrow, or there will be a new Master of the Mint,” said the Emperor.

The Master returned to the Mint in despair.  The apprentice listened quietly, and then humbly suggested, “Perhaps the Emperor doesn’t realize that there will always be two faces to a coin.  But, if you hammer and stretch out the gold until it becomes thin enough, then only one image of the Emperor needs to be put on it, as this image will be able to be seen looking to the left on one side of the coin, and to the right on the other… Perhaps that will make him happy.”

The Master again went to work and hammered and stretched the gold until it was so thin you could almost see through it.  He carefully embossed the Emperor’s image on a coin, and lo and behold!  The image appeared on the backside looking in the opposite direction.  “Ah-ha! This should please him!” regaled the Master.

The next morning the Master took a few coins and went to the palace to present them to the Emperor.  “Well, let’s see your handiwork!” exclaimed the Emperor.  While inspecting the coins he marveled at his images, raised and boldly looking right on one side, and indented and looking left on the other. “Marvelous!  There’s just one of me, but doing two things at once!  I love it! Proceed to issue these from the Mint as soon as possible.”

The Master did as he was instructed, “striking” as many new coins as he and his apprentices could manage.  They bagged them and began to circulate them.

Very quickly but very quietly there arose a problem.  The merchants, left with no other choice, found it difficult to count out the coins, or to verify a count upon receiving them, but persevered.  Citizens, on the other hand, were much more realistic.

“Look at these ‘coins!’  They certainly aren’t worth much because they have no weight to them.  They are so thin they crumble and tear, if I can ever find them in my purse.  These Two-faced Emperors are worthless as currency.”

The shrewd, however, collected enough coins to melt into more substantial black market currency, while the not so shrewd simply shoved them in an old crock.

The Emperor never knew.

Now, back to reality and the point: some things just cannot be separated without major difficulties.

Often when we selfishly want something we choose to ignore the surroundings and the obvious.  And the unintended consequences.

It is an interesting and informative exercise to ask the following questions:

What do you call the backside of a coin or paper currency?

Most likely you will hear answers such as, “backside,” “tails,” or “reverse.”

Then ask,

What is the front side called?

You will most likely hear, “front,” “face,” or “heads” (for a coin), as typically there is someone’s face (or head) printed or embossed on it.

Finally ask,

That is the common name, but what is the original and technically correct name for this side?

Usually you get a long pause and the scratching of heads.  Few people know.

While we easily recognize the backside of a coin or bill as the Reverse side (easily remembered because that’s also what we call the gear that makes a car (or any vehicle) go backwards), we don’t recognize the true name of the front as the Obverse side.  (Many people might assume that this word is a synonym for Reverse that has fallen out of usage.)

And perhaps we should be grateful at that, because with the advent of motor vehicles we have also changed reverse (a noun, the backside of a coin or other object) into reverse (a verb, to drive a vehicle backwards, or change directions).  Consider the oddity of sticking to the original Latin terms and having to put the car into Obverse to go somewhere (a verb, to go forward).

How does this relate to freedom and responsibility?  Very glad you asked.

Freedom and Responsibility are inevitably bound, like the two faces of a coin.  You cannot separate them, cannot have one without the other.

Our cultural issue is that we’ve put the emphasis on freedom so much that we’ve begun to ignore the responsibilities that must go with it.

After all, it’s foundational to our values.  “Life, liberty (i.e., freedom), and the pursuit of happiness” is in the Declaration of Independence.  THAT we remember, without fail. That American citizens would take up the duties and responsibilities for the common good that go with these values is assumed by the authors.  The word itself does not appear.

So, the unintended consequence?  The word Freedom has become so frequently used (and misused) that it in fact has become just like the legacy word “Reverse,” which became the most commonly recognized label that, consider this, actually describes the back-or least important side of a coin.  By usage we’ve made Freedom, which is the desirable result of practicing Responsibility, the more important thing, standing alone, forgetting its obverse.

The inseparable “obverse” for Freedom?  That’s Responsibility.  The front, first, and most important face of the duo.  In other words,

First demonstrate Responsibilities, and then enjoy Freedoms.

Choice is a gift, and Responsibility is a choice. It comes first.  Having demonstrated one can handle Responsibility appropriately, freedoms can follow.  Not the other way around.

With that in mind, it should be easy to recognize some consequential cultural behaviors that scream this ‘reprioritizing by omission’ loud and clear:

  • Adolescents who boldly proclaim, “It’s a free country, I can do what I want.” (Yeah, been there, done that, and subsequently had to deal with that.  It’s parenting.)
  • Supposed adults who proclaim the same thing, and then behave like it (see below).
  • On a specific cultural note, our aversion to taxes –
    • While we remember that one of the motivations for founding this country was “No taxation without representation,” we actually only remember the first part, “No taxation.” We have de-emphasized the importance of representation (the more important obverse or first part of the demand) to mere insignificance.  We do have representation* now, we just still complain about taxes being too high.
      (*but only if they agree with our views);
    • We ignore that the actual US tax rate per capita is among the lowest among all developed countries;
    • As one consequence of this attitude, a recent investigation showed that it would take about 80 years to fix the neglected bridge infrastructure (~48,000 bridges) in the US, if tax monies were allocated. (Remember the 2007 Interstate bridge collapse in Minneapolis?  By the way, 80 years is longer than it took to originally build them.)

A few other observations about Freedom and Responsibility:

  • For a bit of irony and backhanded support, Australia’s new (2019) $50 banknote has a typo. The yellow denomination, which had 46 million notes printed before the error was discovered, misspells the word, “responsibility.”  (Apparently they will still circulate them, figuring no one will notice.)
  • The Internet was envisioned as a neutral platform to be able to disseminate facts and information. How did it get so broken and misused?  How did the web become a force for extremism, fake news, corporate greed, and tyranny?  Crazy/Genius, a podcast series from The Atlantic, “probes these questions, beginning with the “shape-shifting concept of privacy” in which we ponder the realization that privacy apparently used to mean to a lot of people the guarantee of acting in freedom w/o responsibility (unless you were mature), and now this acting has spilled over onto the Internet.”  (It will be enlightening to pursue in a later post just why we do this.)
  • In a related situation, the apparent disconnect between freedom and responsibility also pops up here: White House declines to back Christchurch call to stamp out online extremism amid free speech concerns.  (The reasoning, apparently, if that it will interfere with the Freedom of (irresponsible) Speech.)
  • I realize this might be touchy (and some might say condescending and over-generalizing, but I didn’t write the linked article): Here’s how many millennials get help from their parents to pay rent and other bills.  The common observation is that they “Can’t afford their current life-style w/o help,” which then begs an inquisitive person to inquire, what’s the missing obverse of this life-style?  Why does it sound like there is more valuing Freedom (to live) over Responsibility (to live responsibly)?  But then,
  • Consider, that the de-emphasis on societal responsibility versus “freedom to maximize earnings” on behalf of everyone else in society has led to the economic conditions experienced by the millennials above (and a larger swath of society).

I wonder if all this naturally flows from the human condition of default (lazy) binary thinking (i.e., either/or): we grab a hold of the outcome, freedom, forgetting there is the connected ongoing process to retain it, responsibilities.

The progress of this mode of thought seems clear enough: freedom is something for me; responsibilities I have to perform for someone else.

All this leads to a greater emphasis on Individualism (which we also recognize is a strong if not dominant American value, but which actually originated during the Renaissance).  In Individualism, we lose, abandon, or abdicate focus and strong accountability to a utilitarian greater good and in its stead substitute accountability to a special interest good (often self), for which the benefit to the greater overall good is either negative or zero.

A subsequent unintended consequence is that when we, as social beings, necessarily choose to create social organizations and systems to permit us to mingle together for mutual and common benefit, the only choices we have to mingle with are other people (many of whom exhibit the behaviors described above).

Then we end up with a situation where our organizations and systems are neutral but screwed up by a minority of people.  How much flak have politics, government, the church, capitalism, socialism, business, unions, and even families and marriage directly taken while ignoring the inadequacies of certain people involved?

Finally, what is more interesting and potentially more worrying, is this is an apparent underlying shift in the central focus of our societal values.  The shift is there, but it is unarticulated because it is not fully recognized.  Or it is just simply politically incorrect.

Posted in 04: Games People Play, 10: Integrity, 12: Character, 13: Values & Self, 14: Behavior, 16: Culture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment