Monday, 30 May 2011

Sociological imagination 1.7


I have hopefully completed my bachelor in sociology this week, so I thought this week's article should relate to sociology. I don't really know yet what paths my thoughts will go through, but I was thinking about linking different thoughts and ideas related to sociology, neuropsychology and social psychology to illustrate a small path towards emancipation. I don't think I'm setting myself an easy task here but being over-ambitious is my personal curse. Nevertheless, there is nothing wrong with being self-critical (paper from Berkley uni this week).

I will therefore start by explaining that in every interaction, there are tensions. It all starts with pulling or pushing, antagonism and attachments. You speak with someone, and some things will push you towards that person, some things will push you apart. Similarity is probably the most powerful tool for attraction, and the opposite is true as well. People will try to blend into a selected group. Now, from there, we can already see how networks of culturally-categorized groups are built. We cannot escape categorization.

As Aristotle observed some time ago, we tend to make universalizations to make the world more easy to understand, but for every rule we make we can find exceptions which is what we call particulirisation. And the new exception can make a rule. We have to accept this paradox of how we socially construct notions, that a notion is both an over-generalized rule as well as just a unique exception from another rule. That's why the quest for knowledge is an infinite path for a complete language.

Language is indeed the first and most important tool of our social life nowadays. It is the imperfect tool of communication. It is imperfect because somehow, and that's again greek antiquity knowledge of rethoric, any affirmation raises a question. Even a 'hello' raises the question of 'should I acknowledge you' as silence could have been the other answer. Blinding people from wondering about the possibility for other answers is a rule of power. Language is also the best tool to push or pull people.

The rules of powers are also multiple. Power is mainly the name for an imagined societal order which silences any other possibility of interaction. It is the instance where traditions take over innovations and it probably constitutes most of our days' activities. Power restricts everybody's movements. It conditions everybody and the degree of interaction to the extent that a 'Yes,sir' is a powerful answer, as it conditions superiors to keep their distance from a subordinate.

That's where the project of emancipation is difficult. As most interactions are restricted in languages of power, just understanding it is not enough to control it. Most changes lead to an unknown place where the script can either be directed by the person creating the change or by a clumsy consensus that re-establishes a more equal dialogue. It is like meeting someone from the opposite gender from a country you never heard off. How do you greet them and how much personal space should there be are unresolved scripts creating awkward confusion. Now imagine going to a shop and telling the owner you'll work two hours for him to pay for your grocery instead of letting money be the pillar of the script creating the power relation. That would create confusion and most probably distance, or the shop keeper can laugh it off to keep the usual degree of interaction but not allowing the possibility of questioning the power of money.

Our interactions with the world are constant to a degree we still do not understand. Wearing fake luxury glasses does not boost your ego, quite the contrary, you would score a lesser score at an I.Q. Test. That's why emancipation starts not by copying imagined 'superiors' because that just legitimises their position. Real emancipation is understanding one's position within a global network of categories and their power position. To do that in a good manner though, a very large degree of empathy is needed to understand everybody else's positions. Confront people with their own position in a grand scheme and they might understand why you ask for a little change.

Empathy is a hard game to play. To do such a thing, the more data you collect the better off you are. Understanding where a person comes from means understanding more about them than they do themselves. For example, if Argentinians, Canadians, Germans and Japanese work more than Costa Ricans, Texans, Greeks and Cambodians this is because there is a correlation with a sense of time and your distance from the equator. Just like 7,3,6,8,2,5,9 if asked to be put in order will be put in the order of the language you write. An Arab would more naturally write it 9876532. The way people read affect their entire behaviour.

Empathy requires actually more than understanding the persons motivation or point of view. It is trying to understand their real ideology. Zizek, a guy I like, defines ideology as the things people do without knowing why they do it. They do give a motivation, but even if they know it does not make sense, they still do it. For example people will smoke for self-destruction, everybody knows it is lethal, and yet the excuses are addiction, stress relieve, social habit and so on. Most smokers will deny their first reason to smoke is to die.

Now there are instances where stimuli can change someone's behaviour. Here, I am going to outline 7 types of external stimuli that have high chances of triggering positive reactions.
The first one is the simple principle of contrast. You're out buying shoes, you see two pairs you like, the seller tells you the first one costs three times the normal amount for a pair. You ask about the second and he tells you its one time and a half more expansive. You will most probably buy them there even though you know you could go to another store in town. You would actually re-evaluate your standards for the price after the first one is given.
The second principle is reciprocity. Reciprocity is a bitch. Someone you hate helped you, now you owe them. It is something engraved in them. That's why you should always be the first one to offer a gift.
The third principle is that if you ask someone to take a certain point of view, ask them to defend it writing it down and afterwards reading it out loud and they will internalize that point of view. That's why the Korean army had the only really successful brainwashing camps.
The fourth is sympathy. Someone mimicking you, associating himself with someone well regarded, known for being helpfull and constantly self-critical is impossible to hate.
The fifth is that everybody respects some form of authority they have never met. Everybody will trust some people blindly just because of their position or their good publicity.
The sixth is that rarety is always attractive. If you know you hold something no-one else has got, you will cherish it. Also, it explains why we we do not want to loose more than we want to win more. That's also why souls are so important.
The seventh, I find, is an interesting one. It is that in uncertain times everybody will be a sheep. That's why you want to point at someone if you are in need of help. You shouldn't wait for someone to break the pattern of inactivity of the herd. This is why if you have big groups unaccustomed to each others interactions patterns these groups will stick together. If they are directed to help for a greater shared goal, they will start to break their distances.

Now, as I said, the sense of time is an important factor in our lives. Even if we think that the world should go faster because we are confronted with people on television who do not spend real time doing things, we do not see that we are breaking and changing all the patterns of previous generations. At the same time, we are provided with internet which gives informations about anything. We do not have the patience to read as much as we could on it. Instead, we use the internet as a security for the invented motivations for our lives.

Accumulation of knowledge in itself is not emancipatory. First of all, you have to train your memory like a London cab driver. Our brain is a sensible receptor that can be manipulated. As such, people who have to learn more actually have or develop a brain which reacts faster. Other stimuli make the brain react. While the perfectly calculated satisfaction of classical music can give you peace for sleeping, playing jazz cuts off any sense of inhibition of thoughts in the brain to let free-expression through. Finally, meditation, training for extreme attention unto one subject for a long time, relaxes you more and is a great training for being capable of having a deep concentration in any activities afterwards. Those are only examples where self-discipline should give us better tools to deal with our multi-dimensional social world.

There on all thoughts can be collected and will interfere in all your activities to create hybrids scripts and thoughts. Creating attraction by knowing the comfortable script is a good beginning. From there on, asking questions and deviating the script lets you know the limits the person has set him – or herself.

Distance is the drive behind too many of the scripts and it is the best drive also for cementing power relations. If someone lets you know they have a private space they would like to respect, most people will take it badly and keep their distance from there on. A king cannot be talked to by the lay person. You don't need to have met the person you elect.

Distance might as well appear to be positive for us, without us being aware of it. No matter how universal the declaration of human rights is, we always interpret it so we can judge someone else, claiming higher moral grounds just because of our relative moral system. And everybody does it daily. How do we make sense of the world without judging? I don't have an answer for this one, except for the yet unreachable goal of constant empathy. Meaning knowing everybody through their lifes and the way people knew them. More than six billions people is too much information for anyone.

This is one of the moments when I would like to know my maths to calculate the moment when memory capacities could be powerful enough for empathy, one of my impossible science-fiction dreams.
Historical hermeneutics is the science of interactions, the study of the evolution of language and meanings. I don't know yet its value, I don't know to what extend history repeats itself. It does show though that we do lock ourselves in ways and that changes are always slow to happen.

Print, radio, television and internet have accelerated our exchanges of languages and information. I don't know if that is a good or a bad thing. Are we accelerating towards the better or not? As scripts get re-adapted constantly at the moment, I'm afraid material inequality at the moment rises as well. More levels of distances are put between the owners of the most important source of power nowadays (money). Companies, countries, wars financed by banks owned by hedge funds directed by a front man called CEO owned by unmediatised individuals who have accumulated power to cause beneficial change, if change wasn't against their own interests.
Scripts get changed constantly and we don't have the time to study the power relation they have created. We can study how an interaction is now and we can study how changes have operated in the past but predictions are still impossible. It is an impossible quantuum study that we operate unconsciously whenever we bring a new script into our life. We calculate the probabilities of others to take our point positively or negatively without knowing exactly how their standards are at a given point. And whatever works on an individual level can reflect on a group category, through universalization.
I don't really know what conclusion to bring to all this. I have just written down some little things I have learned and tried to integrate this year. It might have been helpful to me so I thought it might be useful to you as well.


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