Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why Are We the People Easily Led and Aggressive

Lately there are many questions about the nature of we the people. Why is it that there are people who still believe Sadam had weapons of mass destruction: why do people think the health reform law is either socialist or so afraid of it for some other reason: why did people believe the Republican party was the “Christian” party? Then there are the Pres. Obama questions: How can some people still believe Obama is not a U.S. Citizen: Why do some still believe the President is a Muslim plant? Do you realize that many people believe the President is going to take over the U.S. Either to a be a dictator or to turn it over to a world government? Why such aggression lately. Aggression such as carrying a gun so near the President of the U.S. Aggression such as seen during the health care reform debates in Congress and at the town-hall meetings. The list goes on and on.
There is also the question of how someone can tell people one thing for years then turn around and tell them the opposite is true and many ignore it or choose to believe it. Here is a little poll.

So let us take a look at possible reasons. There are many possibilities depending on the types of psychological or sociological theories and studies you use or choose. Nothing is simple. It is like the old question nature vs. nurture. Are we “Tabula Rasa”, blank slates, when born or ... Then breeding horses, who has the stronger influence on the disposition of the foal, the mare or the stallion? Many have decided it must be the mare as she is in closer contact with said foal. Sounds like a good answer but what about those everyday experiences that happen, those unexpected experiences? Personally I get frustrated with any one answer I want to yell it is all of the above and maybe more. I like to envision Venn or maybe Euler diagrams for such questions.
We don't really know much about humans as individuals or as groups. I, for one, am sure there is so much more to learn. (With the advances of science in the body chemistry, DNA studies and with the new ways of watching the brain without being as invasive, we begin to learn more and more.)

First things first; we are humans. We are part of a group of Animals called Primates. (OK some of us don't even agree with that. For my research and thoughts I accept it.) So look at how Primates act. They have group, herd, characteristics and within that group they are individuals. Some are more “individual” than others. Some lead and some follow usually for the good of the group. There are times when different groups group, for protection against other groups or predators. Then those groups, after the predator is gone, may well turn on each other. I am sure you get the picture. ( We could go even further and look at humans as part of the world or the universe but let's focus in or down a little tighter for these studies. )

We all have certain undeniable things in common. We have, for instance, opposable thumbs, a supposedly large brain for our body size, we have a long developmental period. (Well sometimes I am not so sure that last one shouldn't be an arrested developmental period. We seem, at times, to develop no further.) Again though for the purposes of this writing I accept the long developmental period.

Have you ever noticed that groups basically are made of the followers, submissives, and the leaders or dominators. In a small church congregation you will always have the same people over and over who volunteer and the volunteers that want to lead the volunteers, again the same ones over and over. Then you have the rest of that congregation, the ones who want to come to service or “Sunday school” but want the Minister or the Sunday School superintendent and teacher to tell them what they need to “think” about. Well, the same thing happens in most any group. Think about it. What about PTA groups or what about political groups. At work have you noticed that even among the non-management workers there are groups and the group divisions appear within those small groups. All the groups have the same patterns. The reasons behind each participant, individual, and their fit within the group may be different but the group divides along the same lines.

So now we can begin to look at some of the theories that abound about our individual as well as our group think.

Time, both mine and yours, is a problem. My attention span is pretty short-I am an American.
So I am concentrating a few different theories and studies. But hope to cover several, each in a different post.

Here is a partial list of some I am studying or reviewing: The Authoritarians, Social Darwinism, Just World theories, Bandura's theory of aggression, A study of overcrowding and aggression in rats, Effects of birth-order, some history of Social Movements particularly in the U.S. As I have a hard time with genetics, I won't probably spend much time on that branch of science though I acknowledge much is to be found there. (nope, I don't really believe in Tabula Rasa.)

This will take time and many posts to cover so be patient. I hope both the reader and I can learn a little.
When I find something that surprises me I will try to let you know. If, no when-I know me, I find things I don't like or with which I don't agree I will try to let you know. “Even if it kills me.”

Next: The Authoritarians, By Dr. Bob Altemeyer.


  1. Hi Kanna,

    I am very interested in this subject. I look forward to the posts and I know I will learn. I have always enjoyed watching the behavior of people in different circumstances and how they think and work together.

  2. Kanna: Looks like you are writing your magnum opus with this posting. Lots of interesting stuff.

    I want to confess that I'm one of the idiots who keeps falling for "the government line". I actually believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Sure, I knew that the US government lied about the reason for Vietnam, I knew that it lied about involvement in Chile and Iran and Nicaragua and Panama etc., I knew the neo-cons wanted to go to war, I knew that the presentation by Colin Powell at the UN was lame, but I fell for the line. I've done that time and again. Later I kick myself. But it is so easy to fall for what "the authorities" tell you. They have all the resources. And each time your cynical side says "don't trust them" but I'm such a credulous guy, I fall for their line again and again. I don't think I'm unique. It is really hard to be an "informed citizen". It is really hard to really know what your government is up to (especially when they stamp so much as "top secret" and when they ignore Freedom of Information requests).

    I can relate to the bit about church and PTAs. When I was a kid busy in my religious youth group I noticed the tripartite division: those who came and used the amenities, those who came only because we let them order us around, and those of us who did all the work. I didn't mind doing the work, but I certainly begrudged the aristocracy who only deigned to show up if we let them grab all the titles and top spots. I never wanted to run anything, so it wasn't jealousy. I just didn't like the fact that there were parasites at both ends: the ones who came to be entertained and those who came to run things. Neither of these groups deigned to sully themselves with the actual dirty business of setting up and taking down and running the machinery between "big events".

    I note that you are interested in birth order. I find that books by Judith Rich are very pursuasive against that viewpoint. You should read her The Nurture Assumption.

  3. Hello Thomas,
    Are you still getting to work hard. Funny thing to say "getting to work hard". You know what I mean.
    This has been and is fascinating research. I hadn't kept up since my school days in the 70's so maybe it will be good for my slow brain.
    Of course, I realize that by the very selections to research I am skewing the posts.
    But you have to limit or you go nuts.
    Thanks for commenting.

  4. RY,
    Thanks for the recommendation. I will look through my notes to see if I have something by Judith Rich.
    Many of us fell for the "wmd" stuff. I didn't trust that bunch until Powell spoke at the UN.
    I felt he was the only one who just might tell the truth. Again I think many people felt that way. He disappointed me by not stepping down instead.
    I shall never forget that morning, Mar. 19th.
    what a present that was-near my birthday.
    Aw the church groups, my dad, a few uncles, and my brother were ministers of rather small congregations. I don't care which one, the group thing was always the same. Then years later I saw it again and again with work groups. As a student I noted it again. Then when our son went to school there it was again.
    Anyway this is interesting stuff, social psych and psych of the individual. Put together and I should gain more understanding.
    What is somewhat new to me is the study of violence of social movements in US history. Of course I knew about the "waves" but not to the extent I am reading.
    Then what?
    I don't know but learning can be fun for its own sake.

  5. Kanna: I had a lot of respect for Colin Powell. He seemed to be a soldier's soldier. He projected dignity and a straightforward, no nonsense ethic. But with his testimony at the UN I came to realize that I had been suckered by the Hollywood image. It was too good to be true.

    In the myths of my youth, true soldiers fell on their swords. They always did the right thing. But Colin Powell quietly left and took the pension and the trappings of office and never used his position to speak the truth. In short, he sold out. He didn't live up to the Hollywood ending.

    As for learning... it is fun. Knowledge is power sure. But that's for the fanatics who want to boss people around. For the rest of us, learning is to honour the past, to give to the future, and to make our present more delightful by giving us greater insight into our world. We live in an amazing place and at an amazing time. Science and technology let us see things of unbelievable size both big and small. We can peer into the past through the lenses of our telescopes and the power of science. And it gives us the eyes to peer intelligently into the possibilities of the future.

    We have many cultures and arts and literature from around the world to delight us. In the late Renaissance a prince could spend his fortune to amass a library of a thousand books. Today we have public libraries with tens of thousands of books available and through inter-library loan hundreds of thousands.

    The Internet is a window on the world that even the most powerful potentates of the past couldn't have dreamed. Google lets me do searches that would have required teams of hundreds just 20 years ago.

    The only thing missing is the social dynamic that would arise if more people appreciated what is available and decided to take up "learning for fun". But you are doing your bit on that front. Good for you!

    Here are a couple of books on labour history (40 years old but that's because labour radicalism went out of style with the 1960s):
    Labor's Untold Story by Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais
    History of the Labor Movement in the United States by Philip S. Foner. (This is monumental with 10 volumes but it only goes up to the 1920s.)

    and for a more up-to-date account but a broader history of the US with only bits of labour history, read:
    A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn. I've posted a bit about Zinn here and here.

  6. Hi,

    I argued with people and quite vocally, too, that there were no WMD's in Iraq. I don't say this to brag because I did it more out of distrust and gut feeling than education. I was just quite certain that there were no weapons in Iraq and that the whole thing was some sort of money making scheme or an emotional decision by bush and his cohorts. I was too stubborn to fall for any of their reasoning... I could have ended up being wrong for all I knew at the time.

    I just want to say that the dialog here is quite illuminating and refreshing compared to the comments sections on other sites. Thank you...

  7. Good Day to you Thomas.
    I also argued about the wmd and the war.
    However, I didn't trust myself. I kept saying surely they, the administration at the time, wouldn't lie to get us into war. They wouldn't go that far would they? When Powell gave his presentation at the UN, I didn't buy it all but figured he knew more than I did.
    Wrong. Then too I figure they could do strategic strikes as I figured they should in Afghanistan. Wrong again.
    So now I question everything about everything "my" government says. Older but wiser? or just paranoid now?
    Thanks for the comments about the comments.
    Maybe it is because I write posts that say I know I don't know much about so much.

    Yet, I too can be very hard-headed just not about many subjects.

    But then, you notice I don't get many commenters either. Many of the readers do not comment they email me.(relatives and friends)
    I should start copying those and pasting them in that would stir the pot a little.

    I do appreciate those that do bother to comment.

  8. RY,
    Thanks for the comment.
    You are so right about the technological advantages these days.
    It sure makes research easier and quicker.
    I live in a rural, small town type area so the internet and satellite are great assets. (Not to mention search engines and my failing memory.) Now if they could and would do laundry, ironing, house cleaning and ...
    Then I think of "I Robot" or "Bicentennial Man", and I guess I'd better be careful what I wish for..."

  9. Thomas: I'm glad to hear that you got the WMD issue right. That's exactly why democracy works. It takes many viewpoints aired and debated to find our way forward. Nobody has a lock on "the truth". Everybody should be humble and accept that they don't know "everything" and it is through the strength of the group that we can get ahead.

    Kanna: I'm a little more excited about the robots than you. I posted this video with a robot folding clothes. Hopefully that gets you a little more excited. But I'm willing to admit that the future isn't all rosy. I do think the robots will take over. But it won't be a Hollywood ending with some fierce battle where they annihilate us. Nope. We will go gentle into the night as we merge with our offspring, the robots. Already we incorporate all kinds of prosthetic devices. (This of the Iraq vets with fancy prosthetic hands that can crack an egg or pound a nail with a hammer that were built in Dean Kamen's research lab, the Luke Arm.) We will merge with the robots so in the end both we and the robots will "win".

  10. RY,
    I actually have great hope in the use of robots, especially for the disabled. But, you may take a little of the movie fun away.

    I loved the folding clothes video. I didn't realize how difficult that job really is.
    I think I need to ask for a raise, don't you.
    Thanks for the comment.