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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Friday 2 March 2012

Politics of the Human Animal

Group Think
It’s like watching a car crash, or a school-yard fight; something isn’t quite right, so we’re drawn to it. 
Ever wonder why?
If you watch herd behavior, say a flock of fish, the grouping of individuals into a collective makes it harder for a predator to pinpoint a weak link or know where to strike.  Animals like a lion or a tiger will chase a specific, small or weak animal – the one that will also get left behind when the majority groups together and rushes off.  This is how evolution works – the weak individuals get consumed, the fittest survive.  In society, we call this bullying, getting ahead or politics as usual, depending on the context.  Individual palyers don't consciously know the impact their behaviour will have on the crowd and vice versa; it's there none the less.
People like to think that we are superior to and separate from nature and therefore, justified in doing whatever we please to our environment.  Not only is this wrong; the very reasons why people think such things is biological.   
We have an urge to group together whenever there is a perceived threat, just as someone experiencing acrophobia has an uncountable urge to lie down.  We have a tendency to compete more vigorously with each other when resources seem scarce.  The more occupied our heads are, the more likely we are to skirt over what we perceive as minor issues – until they don’t feel minor any more.

People are busy, so politics isn’t of major interest to us.  It’s a big mass of incomprehensibleness, so we are less motivated to confront it.  Politicians count on this – they use the “nothing to see here” meme, because they don’t want to deal with scrutiny.  Or, they shout fire and try to redirect your attention.
For their end, politicians are frequently loath to deal with the big, messy challenges of our times – the Gordian Knots of politics like urban transit, poverty reduction, mental health.
Yet, when it becomes clear that our own interests are clearly at stake either positively or negatively, we become unwaveringly engaged.  We just need enough motivation to get there.  This can be a limited number of resources available (SALE! Come buy before it’s all gone!), a significant threat to safety (trouble lapping at our shores), control (i.e. “you’re withus or with the child pornographers” polarization) or my favourie, the desire not to be l left out of an emerging movement.
The question is, where does our threshold of self-interest lie?  If you’re a cut-throat entrepreneur or a narcissist, it’s pretty high.  You’re about you all the time.  If you’re a “why can’t we all get along” heart-bleeder, it’s pretty low.  There’s a reason shame is connected with empathy and neither rest at the top of behavioural traits of the 1%.
So – Stephen Harper plays an “ends justifies the means” game because he’s a worried, worried man – the world’s a threatening place to him.  He tries to distract the public from his team’s increasingly self-serving, socially-detrimental tactics by either saying “there’s nothing to see here” or shouts fire while pointing elsewhere.  He also walks away from big, messy problems like national healthcare integration because he doesn’t see it as relevant to him.  He’s predator of the populace, prey to his own fears.
For our part, we overlook prorogation, in-and-out, etc. because it isn’t seen as that relevant to us – it’s all an over there thing.  When it comes to robocalls, though – that’s a bit like a deceptive advertisement, isn’t it?  Now that it’s seen as a legitimate threat to our individual control, what have we done?  We’re circling the wagons.  Just as any group does when there’s a perceived threat.
The more convinced we are of our own internal sovereignty, the more we subject ourselves to unconscious, biological control.  The more we question ourselves and connect with others, the more actual influence we have.
That’s why education in general and understanding cognitive function in particular are so important.  Without knowledge, we’re slaves to our own natures.

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