MEET THE NEIGHBORS

The following are profiles of potential neighbors trying to move into your neighborhood. Take a moment and reflect on whom you would co-sign for. You must choose one. No cheating. 

A.) A person moving from one block over who you suspected had stolen tomatoes from your garden and followed that up by being elected as president of the neighborhood watch association.

B.) A family whose child had falsely accused yours of theft and assault resulting in a nasty episode where you ran into the father at the park and he punched you in the face and smashed your windshield.

C.) An acquaintance you had previously met at a birthday party for a family friend where, having had too much to drink, they caused an ugly scene by using a racial epithet and mocking the religion of the host.

D.) A family from a foreign country who visibly practice a foreign religion but don’t interact with the other neighbors.

We all have our own mental schema for judging people, places and things. Our views of people tend to be influenced by our socio-cultural environments. The same can be said of our views of systems and groups. Both systems and people imbued with traits from the outside. Lawyers and doctors are deemed to be smarter than average. Priests and nuns are said to be caring and morally upstanding. Charitable people with good hearts staff non-profit organizations. Only losers and criminals are members of street gangs. These are all forms of schema for viewing others that are socially reinforced.

The perception (or expectation) of others that we have been conditioned to believe in can greatly affect our daily lives. When a person’s actions do not agree with their words we call this hypocrisy. We tend to view hypocrisy as an extremely negative trait in people. When an institution acts hypocritically we tend to view that as resulting from bad actors within an organization. We are loath to write off institutions as malevolent. When considering an institution that holds a special place in our hearts or within our community it becomes an existential crisis to question it.

Moving back to the scenario at the start of the article which option did you select? The four profiles outlined at the start were not meant to represent people. They are in fact representations of scenarios the U.S. government and military have been involved in. It is easier to make a judgment about the actions of small group of people largely due to our cognitive biases and preconceptions. The closeness of interpersonal contact creates deeper impressions upon us while the distant and faceless nature of dealing with institutions tends to be less visceral. That said, the invisible expressions of culture, authority and integrity imbedded in how we are conditioned to see certain institutions can become a hindrance.

If the actions of the State, or a church, or a fraternity were viewed as the actions of a single person we’d likely have less patience for them. Imagine one of the people described above attempting to talk their way out of the situation they had created, would you allow it? Would you forgive and forget? What if they told you that they had punched you in the face because if a child claims that something happened to them they must believe without questioning? You’d likely think that reasoning was shallow and not strong enough to warrant you being punched in the face without engagement. You’d also be right if you thought that. A person could be charged with assault if they’d done that to you. But what is the recourse for nations who suffer similar events? What is the moral position of citizens who live in a nation that expresses hegemonic power physically and psychologically seemingly without border? Are we the bystanders eventually to pay a price?  

THE POWER OF PARTISAN PEER PRESSURE

Studies in adolescent psychology suggest that peer pressure has its strongest effects in grades six through eighth and wanes going into the high school years. This may seem counterintuitive as we imagine teenagers to be hormonally driven and slightly irrational. From a biological and psychological perspective those things are true but they are not the same as peer pressure. 

Since Donald Trump entered the American political process a cleft has been forming between the real and the surreal. In America the “Opinion-Nation” driven by 24-hour cues in news as to how reality is supposed work, we are trained to offer our thoughts on current events both on social media and in our dealings with others in our daily lives. Many times we don’t have a personal opinion, but one fabricated for our use. Just like a consumer product. Political partisanship had been on the rise since the early 2000s and it reached a boiling point as Trump meandered his way towards his eventual surprise victory over Hillary Clinton.

As a result the ideological lines of demarcation have been declared as a social demilitarized zone for people in our country. The center, at least in terms of discussion, is largely bereft of members. Despite the lack of conversation from the those in the center it should not be assumed the center doesn’t it exist. Many Americans, left and right, do not agree with all the points promoted by their parties. Just like they don’t agree with all the points promoted by their cable news channel of choice. It is the insane media environment we find ourselves in that proffers a slanted view of reality alongside its over hyping of differences in worldview between Democrats and Republicans. 

I personally can not remember a time quite like this one. For those of us who consider ourselves “informed citizens” the battle of opinions is never ending. People have retreated into equal and opposite corners of delusion. Very little of true “political” importance is engaged at the national level. Most of the time is spent either attacking Trump or defending him.  All the while America’s military and corporate oligarchs continue to make America the person you don’t want moving into your neighborhood. 

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