User:Woozle/2005-09-09 More Thoughts on the Divide

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When I first wrote this, I was pretty sure I was onto something, but I wasn't sure about the details. I'm still not sure about the details (for example: will any American actually admit, when cornered, to believing that truth can only come from authority? I'm trying to find that out), but the more I think about the overall pattern, the more I start to see it shaping people's behaviors – both in the news and in my personal direct experience.

It explains, for example, why bullies seemed to be not only tolerated but almost slyly encouraged at the somewhat conservative-leaning school I went to in 2nd through 8th grades. Someone who dominates someone else through a show of force is simply practicing skills they will need in order to become a valuable leader later in life.

If it's more important to work as a group than as individuals, then it follows that individuals who don't act in concert with the group are liabilities to the group. It therefore makes sense to criticize those who even appear to stand out from the group, as this means they are not making much effort to work with the group -- to be "team players". Thus anyone who violates (for example) the corporate dress code is clearly not "with the program", and is to be viewed with great suspicion. People who look different, for whatever reason, are subject to the same reasoning -- even if they didn't choose to look different, the fact is that they probably come from a different culture (or subculture) and thus will not necessarily behave the same as the rest of us, and thus will be a liability. Furthermore, other people will see that we have these different-looking people in our group, and will think that we are weak (in part perhaps because they assume we cannot find enough "normal" people to complete our team) -- which will hamper our ability to lead and dominate.

Compromise is generally not an option, to this way of thinking. If we cannot dominate, we will be dominated, and we will suffer and those under us (our families, for example) will suffer. What is to be gained by being in control if you do not take full advantage of it? And of course if we dominate, we not only save ourselves from this fate, we gain the benefit of doing the same to our competition -- so it is doubly important that we are the ones who dominate, not them. Anyone who weakens us, by not working in unison, by being different, by criticizing our goals or the means we use to execute those goals, threatens our unity and therefore increases our chances of losing. They become as bad as the enemy -- or worse, because they are one of us, and are not just fighting us but betraying us.

The reasoning, if you accept the premise, seems very clear indeed. Calling anti-war demonstrators "traitors to America" suddenly makes sense, if you look at it this way.

Some other things are less clear.

To start with, is there any clear dividing line between the two sides? Is it an absolute measure of "placing the individual above/below the group", where the importance of each can be measured and there is some point at which both are held equal? Or is it a continuum, and the best we can do is to say that certain groups are definitely one side or the other (red or blue, individualistic or authoritarianism)? Is the disagreement, perhaps, mainly about where the middle is?

Secondly, are there any questions we can ask people which would make it clear where in the spectrum their beliefs fall? Are there patterns of response to such questions which might correlate to a person's stance on certain very divisive issues, such as George W. Bush, the Iraq War, or abortion?