The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Monday, July 05, 2004

The consensus illusion

We cannot but see ourselves as rational, temperate. Our actions make sense. It is others who are the extremists. If they would only think, they could not but agree with us. Never mind that each person has their own unique tenets, values, foundation upon which all else is built. Our me-centrist logic demands the fundamental validity of our own life values.

At the expense of others?

Oh, how reluctant we are to create and maintain life precepts which seem, even superficially, to be too much at odds with those around us! In most cases we do establish a point or two of separation, of distinction -- enough that we can say: "Look! I think for myself!" Yet somehow, nevertheless, those in our tight social groups, those we can name "friend" in truth and not only casual drop-in or acquaintance: these always seem to have established life foundations that do not far differ from our own ... even if we have to abandon -- or even sabotage -- previous friendships to make it so. We seek out those who are like-minded to us, and we feel eased when their views "just happen" to support ours. Peer-group consensus is the single simplest personal affirmation.

(The illusion of democratic society creates the illusion of consensus.)

Yet there will always be those among us who won't find direct personal reinforcement for their specific Weltanschauungen. Perhaps their views don't happen to match what is prevalent for their social environment. Perhaps they have grown into so strong a me-centric belief-need that any contradiction cannot be tolerated ... or perhaps even any longer sensed.

Modern technology makes it a simple matter to disengage from unwanted social re(anti)enforcement, and just as easy either to identify media channels which support that particular me-centric view of the world, or to create them oneself.

At the extreme, any clash of individual Weltanschauungen with that of other persons becomes a zero-sum game: every expression of contradiction, or implied contradiction, or even less than perfect and absolute control over every aspect of social environment must be immediately and relentlessly quashed -- as a threat to selfdom. Necessarily, such threats must include any expression or action by another suggesting that any world-constructions other than one's own can have even a scrap of validity. Granting any validity to an alien Weltanschauungen threatens and takes away from one's own selfdom. What is not derived from oneself cannot have validity -- is not "real", cannot be allowed to be real. Thus, every effort must be made to destroy it: the maximum effort possible based on one's ability to exert power over one's social environment.

(A variant of the same cognitive phenomenon is seen in some lower-middle and low class environments: with selfdom defined upon a zero-sum dominance hierarchy where any respect given to one must be at the expense of another: the source of "You diss[respecting]ing me?" Hence possibly also why it is frequently so difficult for those born into such family environments to learn to lead effectively, to optimally utilise the skills of all without feeling threatened.)

Its results take many forms: micromanagement, narcissism, racism, authoritarianism, sexism, other-sabotage (setting up others to fail, and thereby confirming their inability and non-trustworthiness) ... but all deriving out of a deep-seated personal insecurity in the face of the other.

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