Posts tagged: power

Group Think

Business Logo for Psychological and Neuropsychological IssuesElections have many features that overlap with a psychological investigation.  The life history of the candidate is increasingly revealed as the their campaign unfolds.  Debates between candidates not only exposes how they think, but also how they are likely to function under stress.  The announcement of a winner reveals the humility of the winner and grace of the loser(s).  Voters are able to analyze the behavior of each candidate across many situations and points in time.  Voters hope to gain an insight into the candidates as they are, rather than the image they would like to project.

Not surprisingly, this sort of behavioral analysis is not unique to elections.  It is a microcosm of how humans evaluate other humans.  Evaluating candidates, however, is much more difficult than merely judging one’s peers.  Most people are not represented by a public relations firm in their daily lives.  Most people do not receive specialist advice on how to mold their image.  Most people do not have helpers that distribute the molded image to the public.  Most of us have to muddle through life with an image that pleases many and angers some.  It may be a fine way to make friends, but it is a sure way to lose an election.

The image molders are the corporate entities commonly known as political parties.  In America, we have many political parties, but only two of them actually produce elected officials.  In effect, these two parties are factories that manufacture candidates.  The other parties are akin to boutique shops that produce specialty items.  They are unique and special, but not fit for mass consumption.  The big factories call the shots, and are quite habituated to their position.  The question is whether these factories produce items that are useful to America, or merely the factory where they were manufactured.   Moreover, each factory has eyed the other for so long, that their products are difficult to tell apart.  If a winning candidate has three arms, the other factory is sure to produce an array of three armed candidates.

The preeminent goal of these candidate factories is to win elections.  The candidate factories make all decisions as regards their products; how they will be constructed, how they will be advertised, and how they will be fit into their product line.  All product decisions must take into account the other factory’s product line.  Competing products must be constantly monitored for new features and styles.  The factories are locked in an endless battle for supremacy, yet frustratingly, neither factory ever manages to gain a significant advantage over the other.  Each factory is afraid the other will become dominant.  Fear is the music that has played throughout this one hundred and fifty year dance.

Much of what is called group dynamics is motivated by fear.  Competition is less about aggression than fear.  Each factory is afraid the other will become dominate, they are afraid of a poor public image, and they are afraid of losing their jobs.  If just one factory dominates the national agenda, it may have implications that last generations.  More importantly, the factory directors may lose control of the national agenda, and that is their worst nightmare.  They are afraid of losing power.  Power has always been the flip-side of the political coin.  Power is heads and fear is tails.

The desire for power and the emotion of fear are powerful vectors of behavior.  They play a strong role in everyday group dynamics, but are the sine qua non of war.  Other motives at play in the young factories have been stripped away in the course of their development.  What remains are the ingredients for war.  Not war in the sense of physical annihilation, rather war in the sense of victory at any cost.  Those who work for and identify with each factory find themselves separated by their fear of the other, and their desire to control the competition.  Neighboring towns begin to align themselves with one factory or the other.  Middle positions are no longer tolerated.  Are you with us or against us?

The truly pathetic feature of this war is that the factories that maintain and escalate the conflict are completely unnecessary.  Their products are not only useless, but eschewed by most consumers.  People continue to identify with a particular factory out of fear the other will dominate, and the factories are not ignorant of how to exploit this fear.  People in this war have ceased to ask if the products are needed, and purchase them merely to offset the purchases made by the other side.  Most importantly, what is purchased from the factory is in actuality readily available and free to all.  It’s like spending dollars to purchase a pint of water in a bottle when pennies purchase gallons from the faucet.  Who would do something like that?

Protesting Economic Inequality

Business Logo for Psychological and Neuropsychological IssuesIt may become an important historical phenomenon, or become a discard on the scrapheap of history.  There are people gathering all over the Western world to protest economic inequality.  The media tends to focus on the lack of clarity and singular purpose in their message.  Conservative media outlets portray the protesters as borderline communists.  Liberal media outlets portray the protesters as noble iconoclasts.  Neither interpretation is very accurate.

Corporate and institutional greed is painted as a particular sickness of our time, but it is hardly a new phenomenon.  Let us consider corporations and institutions to be private and governmental bodies (respectively) that initially fulfill the desire of a particular group.  Both institutions and corporations attempt to fulfill a particular social need; be it health, spirituality, security, shelter, food, et cetera.  As an institution ages, it increasingly fulfills the needs of its directors, at the expense of those it was designed to serve.  Institutions that begin their life in transparency become opaque with age; increasingly insular and jealous of their privileges.  Compare the Catholic church at the first ecumenical council in AD 325 with the what the church had become by the time of the inquisition(s)-twelve hundred years later.  Compare the French nation at the time of Charlemagne with French government by the time of Louis the fourteenth-fifteen hundred years later.

With an increase in population there is an automatic decrease in the personal control enjoyed by individual members.  With an increase in population there is a corresponding decrease in personal responsibility of the populace to the institution.  With an increase in the geographic distance between members and directors, there is a net decrease of the director’s personal responsibility to those that depend upon them.  If there is little chance that a member will have social contact with a director, the director will automatically have greater freedom to impose unpopular rules on the members.  Perhaps this is an emergent property of population growth upon the nature of institutions and corporations.  Perhaps it is an emergent sociopathic tendency of those who need to control others.

A loss of control tends to increase personal angst.  More than one commentator has used the word “angst” to describe the emotional tone of the protesters.  There is a palpable fear of the future; an anxiety over their children’s experience of the world.  If the current Western socioeconomic systems remain static, parents will fail to maintain the modern social compact with their children.  Each generation shall enjoy greater prosperity than the one preceding.  It is the largely unspoken social compact between parent and child in much of the Western world.  Over the last three years, an awareness of the individual’s lack of power and worth has become all to apparent.  People are increasingly confident that the next generation will be less prosperous than the last generation.  It is likely that this awareness has fueled the current protests.

Five hundred years ago, Thomas More wrote that “I see nothing but a conspiracy of the rich, who are aiming at their own advantage under the name and title of the commonwealth.  They invent and devise all ways and means by which they may keep without fear of losing all they have amassed by evil practices, and next to that may purchase as cheaply as possible and misuse the labour and toil of the poor.”  The same could be written a thousand years before in the Western world, and perhaps three thousand years before in the Eastern world.  From Socrates to Marx, great thinkers have pondered the sickness of social and economic inequality.  Socrates believed slaves and idle thinkers were indispensable to a republic, versus Marx who believed that both were evils unto themselves.  If two of the greatest thinkers in Western intellectual history are unable to agree on the ideal society, how can the media criticize a group of people in the park for failing to provide a solution?

The solution is for all public institutions and private corporations to become more transparent and regulated by the members they serve.  Lewis Mumford wrote that,”any group that operates in secret…loses touch with reality by the very terms on which it operates.  What begins as the suppression of a critical opposition ends with the suppression of truth and the elimination of any alternative to the accepted policy, however patent its errors, however psychotic its plans, however fatal its commitments.”  This statement holds true for both the Catholic church during the Reformation and Lehman Brothers during the last financial crisis.  The directors of modern society, as in all past societies, have no motivation to change the system by which they profit.  It is unfortunate that society does not change with great ideas, rather it changes when the directors become fearful of the members.  Any system that does not impose constant scrutiny on its directors will find itself in the present situation.  Transparency and accountability are the answer.  The present protests are an indicator of frustration, not a process leading to a solution.  It can be taken for granted that imposing transparency and accountability will not be accomplished with the cooperation of the directors.  The issue is less what must be done, than how it will be done-if it will be done at all.  Perhaps Robert Crowley can summarize these thoughts better than the author.  He penned these eerily apt lines in the sixteenth century:

And this is a city in name but in deed

It is a pack of people that seek after meed (profit)

For officers and all do seek their own gain

But for the wealth of the Commons not one taketh pain.

And hell without order I may it well call

Where every man is for himself and no man for all.

All rights reserved

Switch to our mobile site