Societies are very much like cities, in that, they are not inevitable results of nature; they are products of human design. And while we often feel helpless in the face of current reality, designs– of both cities and societies– can be changed. But doing so requires analysis and understanding of the current design.
While it is tempting to just “jump in” and participate in the emotional cacophony of our current political discourse, my studies of history make me pause and wonder why the sad unhappy things I see around me are happening. I can’t help but wonder of there is some efficacious way to quell the emotional violence that I see every day, on the news and on social media comment threads.
My grand conclusion du jour is this:
As primates, we are, like all other social animals, terribly aware of pecking orders. For examples, look at our fascination with rankings of everything, from sports teams to high school test scores to universities to restaurants . . . how many top ten lists are there?
It is this pecking order instinct, and the abuse of it by various people to further their own agenda, that is the cause of so many of our woes.
Pecking order issues are a little like salt in the diet. If you remove pecking order issues from a discussion, suddenly it gets very arcane and dull.
For example, if we are discussing philosophy in a civilized manner, that is, if we are not trying to establish relatively higher social standing, our pecking order relationship is politely set aside. Once that is done, now we might actually make some progress in mutual understanding.
But . . . if we are NOT being civilized, then, well . . . HEY– my favorite philosopher can beat up your favorite philosopher.
In a pecking order contest, we are now highly motivated to just defend ourselves. No consensus is reached. No enlightenment or teamwork occurs.
Incidentally, when this level of pecking order conflict occurs, this is when suddenly everyone else tunes in.
Pecking order conflicts are great for TV ratings, as primates are fascinated by pecking order battles. Who will get voted off the island next? Who will win the championship? Who will get dunked on? Who will get humiliated at a congressional hearing?
A major contributing factor here is the loneliness and disconnection that so many of us suffer from. A psychologist once explained to me that people in disconnected “shame” states will seek to make themselves feel better by at least making themselves feel that they are superior (read higher on the pecking order) than other people as a replacement for their lack if connection. It has become a broad social phenomenon, and it gets worse as we get more and more digitally cocooned and isolated.
If you dispassionately sit back and watch our so-called political discussions, you will see that most of the time, it is just a pecking order conflict. It’s rarely about actual policy, or even facts; it’s about saying that my candidate / political “tribe” is of a higher social rank than yours, and thus, any amount of invective is fair game, because after all, this is not really about policies– it is the human version of a cockfight.
It is very easy to take people out of calm civilized behavior by creating a threat, real or imagined, to their ever so precious sense of social rank. Thus, conversely, if you seek real consensus, it is key to make yourself unthreatening to that person you are trying to reach. “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (For more on this, see my Principles of Applied Stupidity.”)