We few, we happy, happy few Conflucians might be a shrieking band of paranoid holdouts, or some such Kossakian nonsense, but we have something the rest of the left blogosphere doesn’t have with few exceptions (corrente, Ian Welsh and Avedon Carol, for example): The pain of independence. What the heck does that mean?
Well, it’s just a single point right now and I need to collect more data. (“fricking scientists”, they mutter)
The term “pain of independence” is what psychologists say people experience when they refuse to conform to peer pressure. Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” cites a psych experiment where a group of people are shown a couple of 3D objects and are asked to decide whether the first object can be turned into the second. Think of it as an exercise in group mental paper folding. You have to turn the object around in your head and look at it from all angles.
There were a couple stand out features of this experiment. First, the subject didn’t know that the group was seeded with people who knew the right answer but deliberately gave the wrong answer. The other thing was that everyones’ brains were being monitored. The experimenters already knew in advance that a certain percentage of people were going to go along with the group and give the wrong answer too. The question that the experimenters were asking was, did the subjects choose the wrong answer because they knew that it was wrong but consciously decided to go with the group to fit in (pointing to the prefrontal cortex) or were their perceptions changed unbeknownst to them (pointing to the parietal and occipital lobes)?
The disturbing answer is that the subject’s perceptions were changed and they weren’t even aware of it. Yep, peer pressure affects your sense of space. Maybe this is not entirely mysterious. A sense of space would seem to be important to how you fit into a group of individuals. Think of herds or flocks of birds. People presumably once travelled in such pods before, hundreds of thousands of years ago. So maybe this is an artifact of that.
The question that next occurred to the experimenters is: what was happening to the brains of the people who didn’t go along with the crowd? Ahhhh, this is interesting. It turns out that their amygdala was activated. The amygdala is the small almond shaped structure located near the middle of the brain that processes emotions. If you were a holdout, your amygdala lit up indicating the emotion of knowing you were alone on this one. Sending this signal to the prefrontal cortex is too cold and logical. No, to be a dissenter means you know the emotional pain of not fitting in.
And that, my friends, appears to distinguish the dissenters from the joiners. The dissenters appear to be able to tolerate that pain better than the joiners.
If you were a Hillary holdout in 2008, because you had used the rest of your brain to process the information about the candidates, you likely knew the pain that comes with resistance to peer pressure. And it *is* painful. No one likes to be left out from that emotional tug that enveloped everyone else. That’s why love bombing is so effective. It alleviates the pain of being alone and drops your resistance to peer pressure. If you attempt to dissent later in the indoctrination process, the love is withdrawn and you know the pain of independence. It is not pleasant. Ask the many former Hillary supporters who changed their allegiance in 2008 because they didn’t want to be ostracized. Oh, yes, the emails I got during that summer when the pain got to be too intense for some people. Talk about embarrassing.
Cain reports that something like 40% of the people in peer pressure experiments will go along with the group. It’s hard to believe that there are 60% of us who won’t because we always seem to be on the losing end. On the other hand, our elections have been really close over the past 12 years. Gore actually won, Kerry probably did, we know that Hillary beat Obama in the primaries by a slim margin in spite of the horrific peer pressure tactics. So, there are more people resisting than it appears but the bad guys keep winning anyway. I suspect that’s because there are a lot more people who experience the pain of independence than care to admit.
According to Cain, the reason why democracies exist is because of the dissenters. That would be the 2008 PUMAs who were mocked and humiliated, and the Occupiers who were treated like radical, lice ridden troublemakers. And maybe I shouldn’t be surprised to have counted myself in both groups’ numbers. A Jehovah’s Witness child knows all too well the pain of independence from the group. We have been brought up to be isolated. Our very first day in the classroom is a lesson in dissent when we are instructed by our parents to not salute the flag. (when I think about it, it’s a shitty thing to do to a 5 year old, but I digress.) Our amygdalas have been exercised so much throughout our childhoods that we are used to the sensation, even if it is still unpleasant. We realize that we aren’t going to die of embarrassment or ridicule if we don’t go along with the crowd. I’ve said in the past that my purpose here at The Confluence is to give people a place where it is safe to be unpopular. I knew it was important but until today, I didn’t know why. Same with Lambert, Avedon and Ian.
The left blogosphere might want to think about that for awhile. If it thinks that nothing it does makes a difference to the powers that be, maybe it should try dissenting and allow the pain of independence work its magic. DON’T say you’re going to vote for the bastards even if they treat you like shit. And then mean it. They’re counting on you to go along with the crowd in order to alleviate that pain and fear. Peer pressure only works if you let it. And those of us who have resisted from the beginning can’t reason with you to make you see our point of view. Resisting peer pressure is something you need to come to grips with on an emotional level your own. It *is* painful but worth it when your thoughts are your own. It’s sometimes physically disorienting and nauseating, I won’t lie to you. People aren’t going to like you. They’re going to call you stupid or mentally ill. They’ll say they were wrong about you and you’re not as sexy and smart as they thought you were. They’ll tell you that you will bring Armageddon down on everyone’s head if you let the Republicans win. They know how the brain game works because they’ve read the studies and it’s always worked this way. If you give in to them, they win and they can do whatever they like because they know you will go along in order to feel good about yourself.
They need you more than you need them. They still need the momentum of the crowd, the frenzy of the mob, the mounting pressure as the election gets nearer. They need your vote. If you refuse it, you monkeywrench their entire peer pressure apparatus and then they have to start paying attention to you and addressing your demands. They’d rather not have to do that. They have other people to win over. It’s easier for them to know that they have checked you off their list so they can move on to tougher nuts. Don’t make it easy for them.
Accept the pain of independence, learn to dissent and triumph over them. Think of it this way, dissenting is the best way to preserve our democracy. That’s an idea that is worthy of the pain.
The dissenter’s theme song since 2008:
Filed under: 2012 Election | Tagged: amygdala, Democracy, dissent, election, introverts, pain of independence, peer pressure, Quiet, Susan Cain | 34 Comments »