Social Forcing 101
I think this is something that people here, over the years have picked up on, but also still underestimate.
Social Forces, on a personal level, are nothing but an accumulation of individual experiences. Day to day experiences, can add up to a social force, or social pressure. Once we add up a bunch of similar experiences, we begin to feel the urge to conform towards whatever direction we are pushed.
You see one person’s opinion may not effect you much, but a bunch of peoples opinions will. Our urge to conform is very natural, and everyone has this urge. This urge is what makes us sociable. The urge to conform actually has a deep place in our moral systems. Yet we all know there are also dangers to this.
There is this rather famous sociology experiment on conformity (several actually, but one will do), where they put a person in a room filled with actors. This person is convinced to take a test. They put two lines on the screen, one line bigger than the other, and they ask everyone to say out loud if they think the lines are of equal length. Now factually the lines are obviously of different lengths…. but what the social scientist found was that, if the group of actors said the lines were equal, a majority of the test subjects agreed it was. Now, there is a heck of a lot more that went on in the experiment, but I could write a book on that – so lets just sum it up with that point.
Recently neuro-scientists have taken a stab at the experiment too… and what they found was startling. Of the people within the group who conformed and said the lines were equal, neuro image scanning revealed that it is not that they where lying persay, but that many of them actually believed they saw two equal lines. That, is the power of conformity. When enough people say do this or think this…. you will also find the urge to do or think that, and also think you are “right” to engage in that behavior of thought.
You take this urge to conform, and then you combine it with common cultural values. What you get in return is that everyone in this or that culture shares similar values and thus act in a similar way and think they are justified to do so. So when an individual decides to act in contradiction to those cultural values – this is irrespective of the “truth status” of those values – what they get in return is not just one person telling them not to do that, but a bunch of people telling them not to do that. Usually this is effective in getting this person to stop rejecting the cultural values – and this happens quite independently of any rational evaluation of the status of the values.
It also stands to reason that those who internalize and conform to the cultural climate will feel less social pressure. After all, if you are already doing something everyone agrees with, all you will get is agreement. Which is a reward in itself, and these rewards are in fact social pressures as well. However, those on the negative side of the social pressure, will feel it more. What we find is that this will also give them this uncanny ability to identify what that social pressure is, because they have direct experience with the negative effects of that pressure everyday. The people who have internalized it, most of the time do not ever realize they have, and thereof may fail to realize then they act as a member of a group who adds onto negative social pressures of conformity.
I gather, everyone here can follow this line of reasoning fairly easily and agrees to it. However, I do not think that people make the necessary connections to what this line of reasoning makes us say about ourselves, about human nature. What I am saying is that we are all biased in a certain cultural way, and that this bias is there regardless of the situation we are in. Take a minute to take this in, because such a simple idea has an insane amount of repercussions.
I write this because too many of us are convinced that we have to center an argument on an individual level, and too many of us because of that, miss that there are many times where reasoning on an individual level is not enough, and we must take this idea past that… and put it into a cultural level. Without that cultural analysis, we will be forever lost in some aspects of discussion.
I want the emphasize this point… we need cultural analysis, not just individual analysis, when we deal with problems that involve culture.
Let us explore this together… take a situation, and analyze it on an individual level. Then, let us see what we can not see when we take it to a cultural level. Let us take a fairly uncomplicated situation and begin…..
Everyone today likes to give a firm handshake. (When I say everyone, I mean this is a cultural norm) We see ads with hand shaking. We read novels where the hero is the guy offering the handshake. We see shows where something bad happens those who refuse to shakehands. We see villains refuse to shakehands. Our parents discuss how wonderful firm handshakes are, and we see other parents demand good handshakes. We see children being taught to shake hands and teachers and job trainers advocating good handshakes. We see government officials shakehands with with the public. We see the country we are at war with have different greeting traditions. We see sports stars shaking hands of their opponents.Everyone loves to shake hands.. and that is just an obvious fact!
In fact, it is so obvious, that after a while people just stop justifying why they like to shake dands all together. Instead whenever something good happens we see shaking hands. Whenever something bad happens, there is never a handshake at the end. (This happens on a cognitive level, not one in reality -confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance, falliability of memory, etc… and all that). Soon, hand shaking stops being so explicitly relevant, just implicitly and casually accepted to the point where they reach somewhere inside of us. At that point… It becomes a steady culture phenomenon over the years and throughout history, not just a fad, we even all just forget the origins where the origins of that tradition came from. It has been there for so long, that represents a part of our internal values in a way that one can not imagine unless one grew up shaking hands.
One person, decides to not to shake hands – for some reason or another we can not imagine.
What do we think will happen to that person?
Lets start with individual scenarios:
1) A stranger looks at this person oddly.
2) A stranger physically distances themselves from someone who greets a different way.
3) A friend tells this person that are acting weird.
4) Another friend offers this person a chance shake hands after declining.
5) A parent comes to this person and flatly says that the lack of a hand shake is offensive.
6) One person threatens violence for no apparent reason.
7) Co-workers did not show up for a lunch previously scheduled.
8) A perspective employer “found someone else” at an awfully convenient time.
Individually, these events do not mean much, or can not be conclusive. A stranger would look at you oddly if you did not shake hands.. what would you expect! If you remind someone of some bad behavior of another non–handshaker, (the thug) then of course they do no want to be next to you on public transport! If you are attracting negative behavior from others, of course an employer is not going to hire you! That one person who threatened violence, how would have done that to anyone else… there is no direct evidence he did it because you did not shake hands.
There are literally limitless individual possibilities that exist that can rationally explain away these individual events. No single event proves anything, accept for maybe is someone did an explicit threat – like someone punching an individual and calling them “a thug” or something for giving some dap. In fact there may be good reasons for some individual events, there is no harm in offering to let someone understand that it is only proper to shake hands.
I submit to you that you can not possibly make sense of these events unless you are aware of a bigger cultural picture. I then also submit that although most single events are not worthy of being called “forcing one to act or think one way.”…. an accumulation of all these evens paints a very obvious picture on how they function. If you accumulate enough bad experiences, bad interactions with other people, with a certain set of behaviors, you are less likley to repeat those behaviors. If you do not stop repeating those behaviors or ideas, than you accumulate a lifetime of negative events just like this. These events alone mean little, but amalgamated together and added over a bigger set of events, or bigger ideas within culture as a whole, build us an accurate picture of social forces.
If you think this is obvious and the implications are clear and uninteresting… you are in part right, and also very very wrong. Let me ask you another interesting question.
If a person in this scenario does not wear shake hands because he is simply more comfortable not shaking hands… will people be reasonable and not look at him strange?
The answer is fcking no.
Nothing in history or cultural studies tells us to expect society to simply accept differences that conflict with core values so easily. Instead differences must be fought for, the ones who are negatively effected by these values have to fight back – not ask, but fight. Trust me… go on job interview while being black and brown… and give fcking dap.. see how well that sht goes. You probably won’t get the job because of it.
That is the god damn lesson you need to take from this. I do not expect anyone to behave rationally when I attack their little sht cultural values. Even ones as trivial and non eventful as a fcking handshake. Maybe I like giving fcking dap… how about you accommodate me? I expect them to behave in a way that speaks to my experience of oppression, my reading of history, my readings in the social sciences, and now in modern times, I expect them to behave in a way that neuroscience predicts. That is.. I expect them to behave in a way in which they will protect cultural norms that they have internalized to a highly irrational degree, and I expect them to function as an oppressor, regardless of their intent.
You may think this is a giant over reaction to handshaking… and I mean, c’mon… it is true I don’t really give a sht about whether I should shake hands or give dap. However, the fact does remain that if this reasoning holds strong for something as trivial as a handshake.. how do you think this is going to play out in more serious oppressive cultural trends? You do not have to guess…. just look at history.. look at when women demanded equal treatment and fair pay (which they still do not get), look at when blacks decided simply not to sit in the back of the bus (mofos got fcking arrested!), look at any form of minorities attempting to correct oppresive cultural norms and you are going to see a huge backlash not based on rationality.. but based on the fundamental concepts I outlines above. We, at present day are not better than the post oppressors, we are equally likely to behave just like that. This is why we have to ask ourselves, everytime we defend some status quo… i f it is worth defending, and why we are even attempting to defend it when minorities are saying it works to oppress them.