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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Day 441: Blending in

This is a continuation from my previous posts starting here, please read for context.

Have you ever been worried about what others would think of you if you expressed your true attitude toward an issue? If so, you will understand the dilemma that Princeton University students experiences in a study conducted by Miller, Monin, and Prentice (2000). The private attitudes of those students toward heavy alcohol consumption were relatively negative. But they believed that other students' attitudes toward heavy alcohol consumption were more positive than their own (an instances of pluralistic ignorance, in which we erroneously believe others have different attitudes than ourselves). When these students we placed in a discussion about alcohol use with other students, they expressed greater comfort with campus drinking than they actually felt, and their beliefs about what others would think about them predicted their behaviour in the group discussion better than their actual attitudes.
Such constraints on revealing our private attitudes can occur even when we are with other people with whom we highly identify. For example, members of groups that either pro-choice or pro-life in their stance toward abortion have been studied (Robinson, Keltner, Ward, & Ross, 1995). In both groups, the participants were reluctant to publicly reveal the ambivalence they actually felt about their political position for fear that members of their group would see them as disloyal. Thus important forms of situational constraints of this sort can prevent attitudes from being expressed in overt behaviour (Fazio & Roskos-Ewoldsen, 1994; Olson & Maio, 2003). - Social Psychology ( Twelfth Edition) by Robert A Baron, Nyla R Branscombe, & Donn Byrne

I wonder why it is that we have this tendency to try to hide our personal feelings and preferences from other people when what we think and feel is not the same as what they think and feel. This dynamic obviously leads to a society in which no one is honest because everyone is trying to fit in. These days, TV and movies influence our social dynamics quite extensively. We will see something on TV and will think that that is how we're "supposed to" be - like seeing the scenario of someone being dishonest in order to fit in - especially for children. When we're older we like to think that TV and movies do not influence us, but that is simply not true - we use what we see as a guideline for "who we should be" - this is a well known fact, especially for big companies paying huge amounts of money for advertising.

What happens when society is based on dishonesty and the desire to fit in? People start doing a whole lot of crazy stuff they would otherwise not do. That begs the question: If so much of what we do in groups is not actually what we want to do, how much less extreme would the world be if we just had the courage to be honest with each other? We are all trying to put on the "right" face for the "right" occasion, in the belief that if we don't fit in then we will be shunned. That's some faulty logic. Unfortunately it's also quite accurate. It's accurate because everyone is living in the grip of fear, so much so that they will "toe the line" even if they don't really agree with it - so long as they are part of the "in-group".

That pretty much translates into "everything is just a fad and we are just trying to be fashionable". No one has the courage to "think outside the box" - because that means social suicide. This is one of the main mechanisms that keeps our world and system the way they are - we are simply too scared to do anything other than what everyone else is doing. We are too scared to say that this system is crap and that we are tired of constantly struggling for money. We are too scared to say that we're tired of being scared of some god. We are too scared to say that we are tired of being slaves to fashion. We are too scared to say that we think that what a lot of people do is simply abusive, disgusting and unacceptable. We are too scared to say that what is deemed as being "acceptable" by society is actually abusive and we would rather not accept it. We are too scared to say that some things just don't make any sense, like philosophy. We are too scared to speak our true views because we have developed the idea that there are "right" and "wrong" views, or "good" and "bad" views - and that somehow our view will end up being "proven wrong". We are too scared to speak up because we fear that other people are smarter than us and will just reveal our stupidity.

We are scared for a number of reasons - most of them irrational. We live in the grip of social fear, trying to act only according to what is deemed acceptable by a crooked, abusive and twisted society. What does that make us? Will we justify ourselves by saying that those were not our intentions, that even though we accepted and allowed abuse to take place, we didn't agree with it? Will this absolve us of responsibility?

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