Monday, February 26, 2007

Another good post from the badger that is stealthy

(i'm really digging this guy):

"Our tribe."

When we see someone frothing at the mouth, pontificating almost without reference to the points being thrown back at them, what is really going on? When someone whose arguments have been pounded into scrap suddenly pauses and says with the slightest of smiles, “well I just don’t believe it,” what the hell just happened in that person’s head? When someone who knows they’re not going to convince you keeps pounding away without mercy or reason, what are they doing? What, besides adrenaline, causes some people to love heated dispute, and to actively seek it out? Why are people, and that includes you, sometimes driven to moments where you say “if only they could just see how wrong they are?” If you have been maddened by this before, and even later wondered at your own willingness to skip over a shaky bit of reasoning in order to state a conclusion that you’re not completely comfortable with, and wondering why exactly you felt good about doing it at all, the answer is pretty simple: endorphins. Part of the package you get from being human is a system for rewarding group identification.

When you affirm your beliefs (which ultimately in our inner world defines who is tribe and who is not), you feel a glow of warmth. When you reject someone else’s that conflict with your own, you feel it too, in addition to whatever turmoil the discussion may have stirred up. When you are forced to be polite to someone who you feel is “other,” it’s a horribly disorienting thing. It literally feels good now and then to think in your heart that freepers are idiots, because you’re affirming membership in your own tribe. It’s not a simple thing, it’s not by far the only thing that acts within us, but ignoring it is like pretending you don’t blink. This isn’t thought control, though through repetition and symbol abuse, it can certainly push your buttons. It isn’t a tinfoil-hat theory, this is just part of how your head is put together. It isn’t good or evil, but it isn’t particularly well adapted to modern society.

... Our brains are wired to make our bonds with the group we belong to more important than anything else, which is what makes a sociopath so terrifying to society at large - whatever makes that connection give you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside just isn’t working.

So what can you do? If this is the way it works, then isn’t any attempt to fight it doomed to failure? It’s not like you can pull that part of your brain out, and there’s certainly no way to counter it any more than you can “make” someone stop drinking, right?

Yes and no.

Yes, it’s always there, but there are ways to turn it from a weakness into a strength without jumping feet-first into a moral slime-pit. The very, very first thing you need to do when confronted with this behavior is to get over yourself. Nothing productive is going to happen as long as you and whoever you’re arguing with are feeding each other’s endorphin/adrenaline habit. Second, recognize that you have no power in the situation over anyone or anything but yourself. On the other hand, unless you’re strapped into a restraint chair in an interrogation room, no-one has any power over you that you do not give them. It’s your mind, and it’s morally wrong to give it away when all you get out of the deal is a little glandular excitement. Lastly, relax and breathe; you are safe. You are part of a group that recognizes its faults and seeks to overcome them. You are of the family that embraces mistakes as opportunities for learning. Your tradition is to value being correct more than being “right.” Your people’s passion is to be good, kind, and fair when nothing in the world forces them to do so. You are part of the reality-based community, and your tribe’s wisdom is the Enlightenment.

Once you’ve gotten yourself under control, first find out if there is any common ground you can reach with the other person. Not just a common opinion, but some way in which you and they can look at each other as part of the same group. If not, then get out as quickly as possible, because nothing can be accomplished barring some accidental magical transformative moment. Perhaps someone else of your tribe can connect with them, all you can do is exacerbate the problem by reinforcing the divisions between you. Feel free to call them on exactly what they’re doing, though - your tribe values truth.

If you find that common ground, see if you can expand it a little. Just a little. Don’t push for too much, and don’t expect anything later. See if you can stretch the boundaries of agreement just enough for someone else to have a better chance of reaching a little further later on. The goal is not to make them do or be anything, it is to have a conversation in which truth is agreed upon, even if that truth is that you don’t know the answer to the question you face. Ultimately, their definitions of “us” and “them” are their own responsibility and no-one else’s, all you can do is invite them to see you as one of the former, rather than the latter...

25 comments:

Unsane said...

Good post. Those who are strongest are those who have nothing to prove.

R. Mildred said...

Our brains are wired to make our bonds with the group we belong to more important than anything else

MADE UP NEUROLOGY! Ten yard penalty!

He's actually describing Man'chi, which is a fictional xenopsychological analogue of love felt by members of the Atevi race in C.J. Cherryh's Foreigner series.

Humans make bonds with people because we're people, we'll latch onto and will even change our beliefs to better fit into groups that seem like they'll accept us unless we actively stop ourselves.

The human brain is wired to belong, not to value who we belong to higher or lower than X, but simply to belong in and of itself because, evolutionarily, all our ancestors HAD to either bond and merge into often antagonistic rival groups and thereby survive or we would die - and if we had to be the omega chimp in the troop that killed our children and/or our old troop, we would put up with that. Sentience however gives us the ability to say fuck that and suppress our deepest and instinctual urges to merge and give in to bastards, and to revenge and to exercise spite and to look at the doctrine of MAD and not go mad in response to it.

Sociopaths are dangerous and scary because they don't make bonds with you but you will make bonds with them unless you know enough to stop yourself becuase you are not a sociopath, and they will exploit your trust, your faith, your willingness to join their tribe, and you will not get anything back from them that does not actively benefit them as well.

You want a contemporary example of all this?

Democrat(sic) have a sincere belief in bipartisan politics. Their goals, their state political goals at any rate, are anathema to what they give up to the repugs in this much vaunted (largely by hyper-partisan repugs of course) spirit of "bipartisanship".

The reason they do play this bipartisanship game is because politics is more than a battle between good and evil, about civil rights and mass murderin' (also the prevention/cessation of such), it is a gentlemen's club where the upperclasses can go when it's raining and they can't play outside, and they have ties and wear suits and smoke cigars and, more important than all that, where they can belong because even scuttlefish go "pfft! Begone spineless squishy creature!" when they meet the politico in teh road and so the upperclasses are ostracised by their continued natural instinct to kill people and melt the teeth of the oppressed down to be sold off to swiss banks and american investors who they owe money to.

And stealthbadger's whole post proves me correct.

Hfnah!

R. Mildred said...

Oh wait, my "start a fight in an empty room" switch was left in the "on" position.

*click*

Trinity said...

Belle:

Was your impetus for linking this the Return of Carolyn? :)

ArrogantWorm said...

Humans make bonds with people because we're people, we'll latch onto and will even change our beliefs to better fit into groups that seem like they'll accept us unless we actively stop ourselves.

That hasn't been my experience, though. Human children bond with who or what is kind to them, and that is not always people.


I've seen people hunt for groups, and fall in and out of different groups many times because they didn't feel they fit, or because others in the group didn't consider them a proper fit.

Fitting in takes effort, it takes work, and a modicum of skill as well. In teenagers I notice it seems to be a very consciouse action,must have clothes the group approves of, must use popular slang, ect cetera and so forth. What is at first a conscious action becomes habit with repetition.

The human brain is wired to belong, not to value who we belong to higher or lower than X...

I'm also missing this from my experience. Territory and group mentality seem to play a large part in our society, if we didn't value it I think there would be much less war.



-Belledame,

What in god's name is up with your word verification thingie? I have to try two or three times at a minimum before it lets me through. =(

Chuckie K said...

"the group we belong to" - 'the' serves here as an index of shared knowledge sufficient to identify a category. Rhetorically it naturlaizes this category by making seem self-evident. We all know "there is an x, such that x is a group AND we belong to x."
I question the self-evidence of this presupposition. Does each of us in fact belong to exactly one and only one group? Might 'group membership' be relative to the acitivity and the topic at hand? If so, can membership itself be "more important than anything else"? Getting all het up unquestionably involves our primate wiring, bouncing on the balls of our feet and pointing, screeching. But why our particular brand of primate takss a particular brand of ideas that seriously might benefit from a more complex analysis.

ballgame said...

Good post. Belonging to an "in" group is simultaneously one of the most basic and gratifying aspects of being human, and also one of the most dangerous.

R. Mildred said...

I'm also missing this from my experience. Territory and group mentality seem to play a large part in our society, if we didn't value it I think there would be much less war.

Well except that's not neccesarily hardwired in there - that it is so central to the maintenance of oppressive systems makes me stare at anyone implying that it is "natural" with a suspicious squint.

In teenagers I notice it seems to be a very consciouse action,must have clothes the group approves of, must use popular slang

ah, no, it doesn't work like that with teenagers, I'm assuming you're old because from a distance that's what it looks like, but what marks rank within teenage cliques is the ability to innovate along the central theme of the clique, it's not just about wearing clothes that the group approves of, it's about showing solidarity with the group through showing an understanding of the overarching emotional theme of the clique through fashion choices - but innovation and originality is what defines indivuals within the groups and leads to the emergence of new groups entirely.

And the slang isn't a homosocial bonding thing alone - teenagers psychologically need slang to express their thoughts and feelings about the world around them in ways they don't feel they can using society's approved methods of speech - why do you think a deep seated love for saying "fuck" and other sexually connected terms emerges during puberty?

...And I'm defending teenage fads. oh. my. gawd.

I've seen people hunt for groups, and fall in and out of different groups many times because they didn't feel they fit, or because others in the group didn't consider them a proper fit.

And we're talking about different sorts of groups though, you're positing groups where entrance and exit are easy enough that such social trepanning can exist, whereas I'm talking much more of hte Super-Cliques that define nations and cultures, where the pressures and problems involved in participating and disengaging are very different so that the overall cost/effect balance would be weighted grossly in the favor of large and heterogenerous groups who play pretend to be homogenous to the end of oppressing someone or other.

There is probably no social equivalent to a theory of everything, much will be deeply contextual to take into account the inherently hetero (in the literal meaning of the prefix, rather than the sexuality based one) nature of humanity and humanities natural states.

ArrogantWorm said...

No, I'm not old, and I'm not at that much of a distance, I'm only 23.

But I would think heirarchy and territory have something to do with 'how are brains are wired' (what a horrible term) because it doesn't seem plausible to me that we humans managed to escape a biological 'need' for heirarchy when our closest dna 'relatives' use it so profusely.

ArrogantWorm said...

I'd like to learn more about this originality in groups, though. Is it the same as a person differentiating themselves from others so they can, well, 'be their own person' or is it different? If you're too much of your own person, a group boots you out. Any suggested reading material?

Deoridhe said...

You know, I was asked once why, when I discovered a friend was racist or sexist, I didn't dump them like a hot potato. I was told that my disagreeing with them was just reinforcing their beliefs. That my absence would speak louder.

I still disagree with that, but I can understand why people would view me with suspicion at the same time.

Now, a couple years later, one is dead and the other is FINALLY getting therapy for the anger issues he was displacing upon the race he mischaracterized and that I defended. And I still don't know if I made the right choices, and I know is that once somoene becomes "friend" it becomes exponentially difficult for me to turn my back on them and walk away.

I agree with M. Badger, but I think something needs to be said about how it isn't easy, about how people WILL judge you if you talk about having a friend with a heinous set of opinions as latently having those heinous set of opinions yourself.

I still wonder if I do, to be honest. That critique hit home, as it was meant too, and I've carried it ever since. I mean, I hope I don't, I try to show my appreciation of people regardless of their skin tone or language of birth or religion, but there's always the chance I'm being glaringly blind to my own faults. I guess I can only hope my friends will point it out if I am.

WomansSpace said...

"'how are brains are wired' (what a horrible term) because it doesn't"

Brains are wired, but they are wired from what is around us and what we see; post-socially, not pre-socially which is pure patriarchy or third-wave feminism which is very close to the same.

Deoridhe said...

oh. my. gawd.

Slang penalty!! Slang penalty!!! *cracks up*

One of the basic indicators you've been accepted into a group, I think, is having the inner-group slang explained to you. This is HUGE in my main social group, which is held together by very little other than a shared geekiness and a slew of inside jokes.

Funny side note on slang, which I will wontonly reinterpret as jargon - I'm writing grad school applications, and one of the big checks I and my lovely editor have to do is for jargon. I belong to a number of subgroups, including CompSci geeks, comic and anime aficianado, and psych major, and while the jargon of the last is fine, I've had to edit out a LOT of jargon from the other groups in the interest of appearing "inside" with psych and not "outside" with another group. One of these was "tweaking" a system, and triggered a discussion of technical jargon between myself, my roommate, and my editor. We all agreed it would likely be a mainstream term in five years, but it was currently jargon.

It just underlies how fluid language is, I think, and how subtly it reinforces groups and hierarchies and can be used to include or exclude equally.

StealthBadger said...

Erm... R. Mildred... Hate to say it...

What's been coming out of the neurochemical mechanisms behind the placebo effect, the sub-rational bases of trust, and group identification (to name a few parts) is not "made up neurology." I have no idea what Man'chi is, nor do I care.

Sorry, try again.

Thank you for the link, belledame!

I'll visit again when I'm more awake.

StealthBadger said...

Heh. Meant "coming out of research into."

By the way, R. Mildred, you have a very scarily insubstatial concept of "proof."

Anyhow. A few more sleepy sentiments, in no particular order:

Thank y'all for your measured critiques. I do not propose to be writing a handbook on how human beings work, but I do believe that there is some validity to these things. Perhaps what I'm trying to describe would be better illustrated in that most artificial set of circumstances: workplace politics, where quite often the enemy of my enemy is my friend until they yoink my Snickers from the freezer. Who knows.

Brains are wired, but they are wired from what is around us and what we see; post-socially, not pre-socially which is pure patriarchy or third-wave feminism which is very close to the same.

When I say "wired," I do not mean with intent - I mean "this is the way the neurons behave and react at this current moment." I'd also disagree that you could say it was post-socially or pre-socially. There has to be some general framework to evolve from, just as there has to be enough freedom for adaptation.

I question the self-evidence of this presupposition.

We all belong to at least one group, no matter how amorphous. Period. Beyond that, Caveat Lector and lay on, you only will make me a better writer. ^.^

I agree with M. Badger, but I think something needs to be said about how it isn't easy, about how people WILL judge you if you talk about having a friend with a heinous set of opinions as latently having those heinous set of opinions yourself.

You are known by the company you keep and such. Unfortunately when I started to consider venturing into that and other areas... I realized I was trying to write a book and not a short piece. -_-;

Thank you again, belle, for linking (especially so I could find my way back to this discussion and learn lots!).

Until later!

StealthBadger said...

Blah.

insubstatial s/b insubstantial.

*goes off to bed for really real*

R. Mildred said...

What's been coming out of the neurochemical mechanisms behind the placebo effect, the sub-rational bases of trust, and group identification (to name a few parts) is not "made up neurology."

But how many of those studies on neurology factor in that their subjects have been trained from birth to value specific groups over other groups, and to in fact fear the Other on a subconcious level? Neurology that fails to take into account the fact that the damn brains they're studying is designed to be trainable like that is made up neurology.

If you'll check out some history you'll notice that no two social groups have stayed Other to each other for too long before social, cultural and behavioral entropy (using entropy in the thermodynamic sense here, with different social groups making up a closed system between them, but stay with me a second) has occured and mushed up all the clear distinctions.

And I say this because this is what is occuring to the several million muslims across the world, what has happened to pretty much all asian buddhists across the last couple of millenia, what has happened to the english every century since the romans invaded, and americans every other decade.

The way the us/other dynamic seems to work is that groups meet, and unless there is political/social pressure created to justify the maintenance of the Us/Other dynamic past the initial "strangers in the night...exchanging fluids" reaction to meeting that exotic Other, then all those icky human feelings and emotions and propensities to bond with any port in a storm step in and dirty up those tribes of yours.

Without the pressure, and routinely inspite of it, people will expand and break their current definition of Us to encompass Other people even if that means breaking taboos of their Us group for numerous reasons, and how the taboos are routinely stretched to accomodate the old Other for yet more.

As the cliche goes, Love will out.

You could maybe do with doing a bit of research on why "confidence tricksters" exist and how they work.

Cassandra Says said...

This was an interesting topic, both for the original quotes and for the discussion...
FWIW I do think that humans are somewhat wired to try to classify people into tribes and then form bonds accordingly, but one thing that seems not to have been discussed so far is the way that plays out in terms of those who are not in the group. It seems to be that the category "not us" is in many ways more important in most people's minds than the category "us". People have a fear of being associated with a non-valued tribe. Witness the recent inter-feminist wars - there were echoes of the high school good girls vs the bad girls going on there.
BTW Belle - I borrowed the idea and riffed off it a bit, hope you don't mind. I would do a trackback but, um, I'm an idiot and don't know how to do that.

belledame222 said...

no prob, and: welcome, stealthbadger!

StealthBadger said...

Mildred: Most of your points either don't address or contradict what I'm saying at all, but I do take exception to this one:

If you'll check out some history you'll notice that no two social groups have stayed Other to each other for too long before social, cultural and behavioral entropy (using entropy in the thermodynamic sense here, with different social groups making up a closed system between them, but stay with me a second) has occured and mushed up all the clear distinctions.

You're completely confusing what I'm talking about, which is probably because I wasn't clear about it. I'm not talking about groups in the empirical, external sense; I'm talking about perceived groups (by the way, your statement is a truism - obviously the distinctions are muddled when you learn about the very complex individuals that are actual, living representatives of "those others over there").

Unfortunatlely, as Northern Ireland, most of the Middle East, and most political critters can attest (including you, given your comments about Democrats), even when we see individuals and realize that maybe "that group" isn't a collection of clones, this doesn't destroy the existence of "that group" in our minds, or our behaviors regarding them.

Just sayin'.

Cassandra: way that plays out in terms of those who are not in the group.

This is what gets sticky. I think you mean those in a perceived other group, but there are also "others" who are within the same culture but in radically different communities (think the Janitor and the CEO who go to the same office every day), those who are "unknown," those who are untouchable, or those who are supposedly in groups created by nothing more than the power of public relations (think of the often villified but quite rare "welfare queen.")

*penalizes himself a cookie for quote abuse*

*goes back to work*4

By the way, Belle, consider yourself blogrolled, and than you for the add as well. ^.^

belledame222 said...

cheers!

Cassandra Says said...

SB - I meant both those in the more obvious perceived other group and those within the subgroups that are also perceived as other (ie your janitor example). What I find interesting is the way that groups constantly create ever more specific subgroups separated by ever smaller distinctions. It's the Achilles heel of most radical movements, really, the tendency to narrow the definition of who gets to be in the in group until it excludes almost everyone.
Now let's take that idea and look at the recent feminist blog wars. That was all about who gets to claim membership in the group and who is othered.

StealthBadger said...

Now let's take that idea and look at the recent feminist blog wars. That was all about who gets to claim membership in the group and who is othered.

Ugh, I missed most of that. But the funny thing is, since most groups are social constructions (i.e. reinforced by behavior and imagination), then each of us gets to say who we include in whatever group, and nothing can stop us. Okay, now I'm going to spend the whole trip to work wondering how much non-resource-based inter-cultural conflict is based on trying to impose our own images of various groups on other people.

Pointless truism aside: Feminist debates are up there with any other subject you can name as far as how intense the debates and arguments *can* get, because there is no part of your life that feminism doesn't touch. That's why I tend to steer clear of doctrinal schisms.

StealthBadger said...

"your life" should be "our lives."

I need to stay out of lecturing mode. It's pompous and just annoys people. -_-

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