Question of The Day October 12, 2012 ~ A Lone Gunman ~

Not long ago, in the United States of America, a lone gunman, purported to be a white supremacist, opened fire in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin killing 6 worshipers. A day later, a mosque in Joplin MO was burned to the ground on the second attempt in several weeks. (Some background info at the NY Times “If the Sikh Temper had been a Mosque”.)

Are you aware that a process of enmification (the making of a collective of people into an enemy via mass media) causes people to view some events as “understandable”, even if they are not excusing them nor aligning with beliefs that even make such violence actions or hate-based crime justified? How do you feel about this personally?

Yes – I am well aware of the process.

It is a process that has been used by people in pursuit of power for many thousands of years.

I do not like it.

I understand that all people must come from a culture, and each must work up through the levels of identification, from family to tribe, to region, to nation, to humanity, to life, to existence.
Along the way we develop successive levels of self understanding, self control, and awareness of self and our environment.

There does not appear to be any end to the levels – they appear to be infinite, each more complete than the last, and still only a part of the total.

So to me, the only effective counter, is to raise the level of awareness of individuals, and to encourage people to trust their own intuitions and to avoid getting tangled up in crowds.

[followed by]

Hi Christine

The evolutionary drivers for identifying with an in-group are very clear when one considers games theory.
There is a complex feedback between genetic selection and development.

Greater intelligence has a payoff, in that it allows us to outsmart our competitors as adults, but it comes with many costs.

One set of costs is that as our brains become more generalised, we become more helpless at birth, and take longer to develop the ability to survive and reproduce alone. This trend is a driver towards sociality and cooperation (to ensure the survival of offspring). A human child takes a minimum of five years of protected development before it has any reasonable probability of surviving alone, and the probability increases substantially up to the mid teens, and is still increasing (though more slowly) throughout life.

Thus there is a very strong driver towards sociality and “altruism of the individual for the group”.

Any such trend towards sociality faces threats from invading (cheating/ freeloading strategies – in any form).

There are many possible strategies to counter freeloaders and cheats, and one of the simplest (in a genetic sense) is to build in a very strong preference for those that look and act like you, and are therefore likely to be carrying the same genes.

There are many more strategies that can evolve at the level of culture, but this one at the level of genetics is likely to be very fundamental to how human brains are formed, and will be open to exploitation at higher levels of pattern by those so inclined to exploit for whatever reasons.

One of the key strategies to overcome these exploitations, is to teach people to identify with the entire species, and with life itself. This approach is a high level exploit of the tendency to identify with groups.

There are many other strategies at play that also play a part in the response.

One of the simpler higher level strategies is retaliator. This is a strategy for deterring cheats that says to trust until trust is broken, then retaliate to remove all benefit to the trust breaker. Those wishing to demonise a group often exploit this one, by making it appear that the group has cheated in some way – thus adding the retaliator response to the outgroup response, for a double hit.

It can get more complex still, as other strategies are also exploited, and you can get the general picture from these two simple examples.

[followed by]

While I can agree with all you say in a sense Torch, there is another sense in which our creativity requires that we create.

And that creativity seems to be inhibited if it comes from any sort of sense that anything is wrong.

It seems the most powerful creativity comes from a sense of contribution – of creating just for the sake of it.

[followed by]

Hi Gil

How to defend against the double hit is a really intriguing question.

The most powerful way is to “head it off at the pass”, that is to convince the mass that what they are being told is lies.

Once a large group of people form a mob they are very difficult to change. The mob has a lot of low level emotional feedback, and very little capacity for reason. We really need to stop people becoming a mob.

Once a mob is in action, it is best to stay out of its way.

On a one-on-one basis, we can counter it simply by who we be for the other party.

[followed by]

Hi Deb

There is a huge difference in my lexicon between a large group of people and a mob.
When there is a lot of emotion, and little reason, in a collection of people, then they can easily be transformed into a mob by an orator, and the people in that mob will do things that they would never contemplate doing on their own.

I have seen this effect at many levels.

I have experienced the feedback from mob to orator, when I was addressing a group of about 2,000 angry individuals, and found myself saying things that I did not believe when I arrived, and did not believe 20 minutes after I left, but believed when I said them.
The power of so much raw emotion on the context of mind is immense. It must be experienced to be understood. It takes a great deal of self training to master not being swayed by such emotion, and to retain the ability to hold a high level context in the face of such emotion.

One of the great dangers of leadership is finding a way of overcoming being swayed by such effects without losing an ability to empathise with ordinary people. Most leaders lose the latter in the process of creating the former. It is not an easy journey, one of the more difficult journeys of my life’s experience.

[followed by]

Hi Andrew

The problem is one of levels of leadership.

Many leaders, to achieve the “follow their own drum” effect, do so by deafening themselves to all the other drummers out there.
While that strategy does work, at a “meta level” it is not what I would call high level leadership, yet to many at a lower level of awareness there is no distinguishable difference.

Having been involved in politics at local, regional and national level for over 30 years, it is a phenomenon I have observed both in others and in myself.

In my own case, the first time I stood for parliament was 1984, and was a short campaign (Muldoon’s last “snap” election), involving me in full time campaigning for the 6 weeks. One particular meeting was speaking to a group of about 2,000 wharfies, and I was astounded, upon later review, at what actually happened to me. My intention was to be of service, and I still believe that my motives at the time were high, yet the actual experience, the actual words that left my mouth during the two hours or so I was involved in question and answer, were not at all what seemed appropriate to me two hours after the fact.
I was shocked by the effect of the emotional context of the meeting had on the context of my mind, and the words that flowed from my mouth as a result.

I have since contested 5 other elections, and have undergone a lot of training (self and external) in between each, and am now confident that I can retain a strong influence on the high level contexts of my mind in most situations.
I have observed that many achieve that outcome by closing themselves emotionally to others, and essentially “acting” open (they become very good actors, perhaps why actors make successful politicians).
While that strategy works to a degree, it is extremely dangerous in societal terms, as it leads to total isolation – there is no feedback mechanism left.

So, yes – we need to march to the beat of our own drummer, and it seems to me that we also need to be able to understand the sorts of beats that are out there amongst other people, if we are to create social systems that actually meet the needs of all, and create security for all.

[followed by]

Hi Andrew

To me, there is not so large a difference between business and politics as you seem to claim.

Both involve interaction with the population at large.
In business, at our best, we are there to provide goods or services of value, for value; and both sides need to see the value as “fair”.
In business, we prosper if we improve a little every day.
The best way to improve is to employ all minds at all the levels they have available to them.
The leader is most powerful if (s)he is able to operate at a level as high or higher than all others in the organisation.
It seems to me that some one needs to be able to make decisions rapidly in times of emergency, and that one is most powerful if (s)he has listened and learned and taken counsel from as many as possible in times that have allowed that.
This appears as true of the political process as it is of the business world.

I have started and run two businesses, one for 17 years, and the other for 27 years. I have a little experience of both paradigms.

Consider that perhaps democracy is based on the knowledge that while it is the most inefficient of systems, it is less open to total corruption than any of the alternatives.
The most efficient form of government is undoubtedly a benign dictatorship, yet there is no way to ensure that any dictator remains benign.

Democracies make mistakes, a great many of them, and they usually allow most to survive.

In business, if a leader becomes too autocratic – then the most productive employees simply leave, and the business fails.

Consider that many politicians attempt to operate from the level of the lowest common denominator of perceived self interests, and attempt to create contexts that show them delivering value in that area.

There are other strategies available.
It is possible to appeal to the highest values in each of us, and many of the great leaders in history have done exactly that.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) with reasonable security, tools, resources and degrees of freedom, and reasonable examples of the natural environment; and that is going to demand responsibility from all of us - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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