Wednesday, 12 December 2012


While making my way through the deeply fascinating I Am Alive And You Are Dead: A Journey Into The Mind of Philip K. Dick, I came across a reference to the experiment on social conformity carried out in the 1950's by Solomon Asch:
'A group of people, all but one of them confederates of the experimenter, were shown three lines of varying lengths and asked which of the lines was the same length as a fourth they were shown. The confederates, as instructed beforehand, all replied incorrectly though the correct answer was obvious. With astonishing frequency, the one real subject, who went next to last, ended up disregarding what his own senses told him was true and joined in with the others.'

The author, Emmanuel Carrère, goes on to say
"Totalitarian states [are] nothing if not an experiment of this kind on a vast scale. They had found out how to show a chair to people and get them to say it was a table. More than that, they got people to believe it as well... the goal of a totalitarian state is to cut people off from reality, to give them a make-believe world to live in instead."

It should be obvious to regular readers here the implications this has for the PC society we presently live in - which was founded, after all, in totalitarian ideology - the very term 'political correctness' entered our language through the first English translations of Chairman Mao's Little Red Book back in the 1960's, and was used - to begin with - only to highlight the inevitable dangers of such oppressive policing of thought. Campus Marxism popularized these 'left-wing' ideas & portrayed 'PC' as the language of the liberators rather than the oppressors. And so it is still today, in our Orwellian future: Black is white. A table is a chair. Feminism Is Equality. Stuff like that.

Curious about the experiment I looked deeper & elsewhere found the sex breakdown showed
"Consistently within and across experiments, all-female groups (a female subject alongside female confederates) conform significantly more often than all-male groups. Around one-half of the women conform more than half the time, versus a third of the men." 1

Women as a group appear to have evolved to be both more self-group biased than men & also more pack-minded, as presumably getting on with others was more essential to the survival of a woman - usually with child - unable to easily hunt & fend for herself than for a man who was freer to strike out on his own & make his way outside of the tribe, if necessary. Women have always known the strength of numbers, of banding together to get what they want, & a necessary part of that is a greater willingness to defend the beliefs or actions of those within your group (in this case women) regardless of their objective truth or morality (hence: feminism). This is as true now as in the Paleolithic: recent studies have shown that "women's automatic in-group bias is remarkably stronger than men's", & that "men appear to lack a mechanism that bolsters automatic own group preference".2

But outside of the sex difference, the dilemma remains & is universal, facing everyone: The price of conformity is the loss of individual thought. The reward for conformity is acceptance & support. Most human beings, of course, would like both. And there's the rub.

For the great masses of humanity, the rewards that come from subsuming their identity & individual thought by joining a political movement or religion (from the Latin religare 'to bind') outweighs the lonely satisfactions of being the fool on the hill, the outsider, an independent observer without affiliation. That is never going to change, & it is the height of foolishness to expect otherwise from almost anyone you meet.

The most I think we can hope for is to work towards a dominant belief system in which the awareness of the lenses, the filters we are inevitably seeing the world through are made so integral a part of the rituals & commandments that they are constantly at the forefront of every persons consciousness each & every day. Such a movement does not presently exist, perhaps never has, & perhaps never will, but if we really want to have any hope whatsoever of seeking Truth beyond ideology, if we really want to break the endlessly recurring silence under the rule of the dictator, the church, the faceless corporation or the bovine masses, I see no other way.

"People are not machines but in every opportunity where they are allowed to behave like machines, they will so behave"
- Ludwig von Bertalanffy


1 comment:

  1. I would be curious about the cross sexual implications. We see that women have automatic own group preference based on only the fact that they will agree more readily with other women than men will with other men. But we have not asked the question, if you repeated the study with three male confederates, and a female subject, or three female confederates and a male subject would a different result emerge? I don't think one would but I think it would be best to study it to get the most complete picture!