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Conformism

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"It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong." 

Francois Marie Arouet Voltaire, 1694-1778

"Once spirit was God, then it became man, and now it is even becoming mob." 

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Conformism is a psychological trait that demonstrates itself in the inability to withstand group pressure, willingness to conform to group demands. From Wikipedia

Conformity is the act of matching attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to group norms.[1] Norms are implicit, unsaid rules, shared by a group of individuals, that guide their interactions with others. This tendency to conform occurs in small groups and/or society as a whole, and may result from subtle unconscious influences, or direct and overt social pressure. Conformity can occur in the presence of others, or when an individual is alone. For example, people tend to follow social norms when eating or watching television, even when alone.

People often conform from a desire for security within a group—typically a group of a similar age, culture, religion, or educational status. This is often referred to as groupthink: a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics, which ignores realistic appraisal of other courses of action. Unwillingness to conform carries the risk of social rejection. Conformity is often associated with adolescence and youth culture, but strongly affects humans of all ages.[2]

Although peer pressure may manifest negatively, conformity can have good or bad effects depending on the situation. Driving on the correct side of the road could be seen as beneficial conformity.[3] With the right environmental influence, conforming, in early childhood years, allows one learn and thus, adopt the appropriate behaviours necessary to interact and develop correctly within one's society.[4]

Conformity influences formation and maintenance of social norms, and helps societies function smoothly and predictably via the self-elimination of behaviors seen as contrary to unwritten rules. In this sense it can be perceived as (though not proven to be) a positive force that prevents acts that are perceptually disruptive or dangerous.

As conformity is a group phenomenon, factors such as group size, unanimity, cohesion, status, prior commitment, and public opinion help determine the level of conformity an individual displays.

"Our complex global economy is built upon millions of small, private acts of psychological surrender, the willingness of people to acquiesce in playing their assigned parts as cogs in the great social machine that encompasses all other machines. They must shape themselves to the prefabricated identities that make efficient coordination possible... that capacity for self-enslavement must be broken.” (Theodore Roszak - The Voice Of The Earth)

Few tasks are more challenging than that of attending to our subtle, internal responses to the world against the deafening roar of what is deemed ‘obviously true‘. Writing in the 1930s, the anarchist Rudolf Rocker made the point that the state is not a disinterested spectator on the issue of freedom of thought. In his classic work, Culture And Nationalism, Rocker wrote:

"The state welcomes only those forms of cultural activity which help it to maintain its power. It persecutes with implacable hatred any activity which oversteps the limits set by it and calls its existence into question. It is, therefore, as senseless as it is mendacious to speak of a ‘state culture‘; for it is precisely the state which lives in constant warfare with all higher forms of intellectual culture and always tries to avoid the creative will of culture." (Rocker, Culture and Nationalism, Michael E. Coughlan, 1978, p.85)

The stakes, Rocker noted, are high:

"If the state does not succeed in guiding the cultural forces within its sphere of power into courses favorable to its ends, and thus inhibit the growth of higher forms, these very higher forms will sooner or later destroy the political frame which they rightly regard as a hindrance." (Rocker, p.83)

If this strikes us as implausible (as it should), it is for a very good reason. It seems incredible to us that individuals working for the state - in government, education, local government - could be eagerly working to “reduce all human activity to a single pattern”. Are they not human beings like us? Do they not seek freedom of thought, independence of mind, for their own children?

It is a very reasonable argument and applies equally to the media. Dissident analysts claim, and in fact demonstrate, that truth is filtered, depleted to a dramatic degree by the corporate media. But surely the men and women of the press - again, human beings like us - are not eagerly striving to oppress humanity.

The answer is found in the way the performance of an organization is shaped by its primary, bottom line goals. As I have discussed elsewhere, the process is similar to the mechanisms underlying crystal formation. The near-perfect, symmetrical shapes of snowflakes and other crystalline structures are no accident but flow from the founding conditions around which the crystals form.


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Old News ;-)

[Sep 13, 2017] The Rape of the American Mind

Notable quotes:
"... Repeat mechanically your assumptions and suggestions, diminish the opportunity for communicating dissent and opposition. This is the formula for political conditioning of the masses. ..."
"... I-dont-care reaction ..."
"... Confusing a targeted audience is one of the necessary ingredients for effective mind control." ..."
"... Ennui of the bureaucrat, entropy of an inability to change, and the credibility trap of failed ideologies in a failing empire. ..."
"... Not so for the financiers and their minions. They will not be quiet, alas. The more badly they behave, the louder they seem to become. ..."
"... Although a child is limited by lack of faculty and experience, the speculator is hampered by vanity, a self-imposed lack of human development, and an almost obsessive preoccupation with drinking, favorite objects, and teats. ..."
jessescrossroadscafe.blogspot.com
"He who dictates and formulates the words and phrases we use, he who is master of the press and radio, is master of the mind. Repeat mechanically your assumptions and suggestions, diminish the opportunity for communicating dissent and opposition. This is the formula for political conditioning of the masses.

The big lie and monotonously repeated nonsense have more emotional appeal in a cold war than logic and reason.

The continual intrusion into our minds of the hammering noises of arguments and propaganda can lead to two kinds of reactions. It may lead to apathy and indifference, the I-dont-care reaction, or to a more intensified desire to study and to understand. Unfortunately, the first reaction is the more popular one. Confusing a targeted audience is one of the necessary ingredients for effective mind control."

Joost Meerloo, The Rape of the Mind

There is going to be another financial crisis within the next two years, and it will be global, and it may be much more consequential than the other two or three we have seen since the Fed embarked on this course of its long and checkered career.

It is also avoidable, and in their quiet, private moments the really good economists can see it coming. Why don't they say anything? Ennui of the bureaucrat, entropy of an inability to change, and the credibility trap of failed ideologies in a failing empire.

They did not get to where they are by 'rocking the boat.' And so they will be quiet, unless they see some advantage in it for them, most ordinarily in a pay for say.

Not so for the financiers and their minions. They will not be quiet, alas. The more badly they behave, the louder they seem to become.

They are short term, and almost infantile in the self-centered reasoning. Although a child is limited by lack of faculty and experience, the speculator is hampered by vanity, a self-imposed lack of human development, and an almost obsessive preoccupation with drinking, favorite objects, and teats.

They see something and they want it, they know only what they can feel in the desire of the moment, morally they are undeveloped, and when they make a mess they cry loudly, until an adult comes to clean it up for them. But unlike a child they have no gratitude, no sense of their own dependency, or natural affection for others.

Have a pleasant evening

Young Economists Feel They Have to be Very Cautious'

August 23, 2015 |

From an interview of Paul Romer in the WSJ:

...Q: What kind of feedback have you received from colleagues in the profession?

A: I tried these ideas on a few people, and the reaction I basically got was "don't make waves." As people have had time to react, I've been hearing a bit more from people who appreciate me bringing these issues to the forefront. The most interesting feedback is from young economists who say that they feel that they have to be very cautious, and they don't want to get somebody cross at them. There's a concern by young economists that if they deviate from what's acceptable, they'll get in trouble. That also seemed to me to be a sign of something that is really wrong. Young people are the ones who often come in and say, "You all have been thinking about this the wrong way, here's a better way to think about it."

... ... ...

Posted by Mark Thoma on Sunday, August 23, 2015 at 12:27 AM in Economics, Macroeconomics, Methodology | Permalink Comments (7)

pgl said...

Very interesting interview on many fronts. What you highlighted - "The most interesting feedback is from young economists who say that they feel that they have to be very cautious, and they don't want to get somebody cross at them. There's a concern by young economists that if they deviate from what's acceptable, they'll get in trouble." - is itself troubling. Young scholars should dare to be different. Fama and Shiller viewed financial economics from very different perspectives and we are all the better for it as the Nobel Prize committee recognized.

djb said...

For young economists caution is a rational approach

Preferably get an advisor whose work you agree with or encourages your intellectual explorations

But the formula: Get on, get honored, get honest is probably the best approach

tom said...

The story is true for young academics in general. As in many areas, the rules don't apply to the superstars, or to those expressing the views held by the establishment....

Peter K. said in reply to tom...

"The story is true for young academics in general."

Or many jobs or careers in general? It's a nice by-product of loose labor markets where employers hold all of the cards.

Go along to get along. Don't make waves.

DeDude said...

This is one of the unfortunate side-effects of human tribalism. When you challenge the tribe you belong to (or say something in support of a competing tribe), you are viewed as "one of them" rather than "one of us". That will inevitably make you less likely to gain support from the tribe you belong to and in early stage careers that could be detrimental to your success. Tribalism is a basic human character flaw that we cannot get rid of no matter how much we would like. Maybe we could try to create a "tribe of truth" where the thing that will get you "one of them'ed" is a failure to seek the truths, regardless. I know -99% of scientist will claim that this is exactly what they are doing (just like they will claim they are above average). But how about holding their feet to the fire on that.

Benedict@Large said...

When I first heard the expression "dismal science", I thought, what is so dismal about economics? Now that I've learned economics however, whenever i hear the the expression "dismal economics", I think, what is so science about it?

Lafayette said...

{There's a concern by young economists that if they deviate from what's acceptable, they'll get in trouble.}

Sad, very sad. Whatever happened to Intellectual Freedom in the US?

It's hidden in a blog behind a pseudonym?

1984! Group Think!

I submit this trend started with the Rabid Right and Reckless Ronnie in the 1980s. Let's hope it is coming to its well-deserved end.

But, maybe not ...

[Mar 15, 2013] What's wrong with being a nice guy? Plenty, according to a local therapist

Friday, May 3, 2002

By CECELIA GOODNOW
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER

In an age of suicide bombers, contaminated mail, road rage and rampant rudeness, it seems the last thing we should worry about is an epidemic of overniceness.

But while America slumbers, says Federal Way therapist Robert Glover, an alarming number of men -- maybe 1 in 4 -- are morphing into wimps who live to please and end up pleasing no one.

Davide Badders/P-I

"I think since World War II, Nice Guys have just proliferated," says Glover, 46, whose focus on "Nice Guy Syndrome" has spawned a best-selling e-book, a growing caseload and a global online community of "recovering Nice Guys."

"Now I'm seeing second- and third-generation Nice Guys coming along," says Glover, who acknowledges he has no hard data beyond clinical observation of a trait he has sought treatment for himself.

His concern is not with generic niceness but a specific constellation of traits such as passivity, conflict avoidance and emotional caretaking that in the past were more commonly associated with women.

Response to Glover's weekly "Nice Guy therapy groups" is so strong, he's about to launch a fourth concurrent group at his Center for Healing and Recovery. Also in the works is an intensive summer workshop he hopes to turn into a global series of events.

But his largest audience is at nomoremrniceguy.com, where he runs an online support group of about 100 members, fields e-mails from around the world and markets his book, "No More Mr. Nice Guy!"

With business so good, Glover theorizes -- debatably-- that he has hit upon a problem for our times. Wading further into roiling waters, he blames Nice-Guyism on an array of 20th-century social change.

His list of causes responsible for creating Nice Guys -- inclusive enough to rile nearly every interest -- includes absent fathers, the anti-war movement of the Vietnam era, the sexual revolution, an educational system that he claims is "dominated by women" and "women's liberation and feminism."

The end result, he argues, is that a lot of male baby boomers and Gen-Xers grew up adopting "a female perspective on masculinity."

To which family historian Stephanie Coontz replies, "Oh, puleeze."

"Do you have any idea how many times in history someone has announced breathlessly that women are raising men to be wimps?" says Coontz, co-chair of the national Council on Contemporary Families. "Every 40 or 50 years, somebody decides this would be a great thing to worry about."

Coontz says the debate over male upbringing goes back to the Roman Empire. If e-mail had existed in 1900, she added, the same kind of virtual hand-wringing would have taken place then.

Coontz, on leave from teaching history and family studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, doesn't dispute that overly self-effacing people exist.

"I certainly think there are many men, just as there are many women, who fit this description," she says. "But the idea that they're becoming more common is just absolutely groundless, as far as I can see."

Glover, a psychologist specializing in marriage and family therapy, says he has spent about a decade -- half his career -- working with men who try too hard to be nice.

It was partly because of his established, online following that Barnes & Noble Digital agreed to publish his e-book (priced at $5.95), which quickly and briefly became one of its top five e-sellers. In February, the company added a print-on-demand paperback, priced at $14.95 and sold over the Internet.

Glover calls his message "unashamedly pro-male," but says he's heard from women who agree with his premise.

Wiry, with a high forehead and trim mustache, Glover has an acerbic sense of humor and a tone that veers between conventional psychological counsel and edgy outrageousness.

He says he hasn't received any negative feedback from other therapists, "if they actually read the book and get past whatever preconceptions they have from the title."

One Seattle psychologist who hadn't heard of the book said it sounded on first blush like "another marketing ploy." After reviewing Glover's first chapter, however, psychologist Robert Strazicich revised his opinion upward.

"I'm not sure what the validity is for saying this is a new personality type for our age," Strazicich says, "but he does describe a pattern of male behavior that really does exist."

Specifically, says Strazicich, "He seems to be describing an insecure, dependent and probably depressed adult male."

From a "packaging" standpoint, he adds, it's much easier to hook readers by describing them as Mr. Nice Guy, "instead of saying this is something for 'Mr. Insecure, Dependent or Depressed.' That's not very appealing, is it?"

Some of the men in Glover's online support group are, in fact, struggling with serious life issues that have sent them to therapy.

Glover went that route himself, two years into his second marriage. His wife, Elizabeth Oreskovich, is a therapist and co-director at the center.

"My frustrations were pretty typical Nice Guy relationship issues," he says. "Not feeling appreciated, not feeling sexually desired by my wife. I didn't feel like I could make my wife happy, (didn't feel) like I received as much as I gave."

Glover surmises that a lot of "Nice Guys" grew up with fathers who were abusive, overcontrolling, alcoholic, distant or just plain absent. Vowing never to be like their fathers, these men overshoot the mark and become ineffectual, emotionally repressed, manipulative and sexually dissatisfied.

In fact, says Glover, "Nice Guys" really aren't nice at all. Avoiding confrontation at all cost, they wear a mask of agreeability that hides a buildup of resentment, rage or passive-aggressive behavior. All of which he recognized in himself before seeking therapy.

"Elizabeth would often state that she never knew when she was going to 'get it' from me," Glover says. "I decided to seek some answers. I loved Elizabeth and didn't want my second marriage to end in divorce."

Glover, who spent a total of five years in therapy, says the emotional overhaul wasn't easy.

"Doing this recovery from the Nice Guy Syndrome isn't just tweaking things here or there," he says. "It is a dramatic shift in paradigm."

Glover steers clients toward an ideal he calls the "integrated male" -- someone with a strong sense of self who acts with integrity, sets clear emotional boundaries and knows how to nurture without caretaking.

His ideal is a leader who is comfortable with his masculinity and willing to "provide for and protect those he cares about."

Strazicich responds that it's a pretty good list, as far as it goes.

"His notion of striving to become an integrated male generally sounds like a good thing," he says.

Strazicich adds, however, that the list fails to note that "being flexible and adaptive and accommodating -- those are strengths as well."

As much as he lauds honest expression among men, however, Glover is no sensitive, New Age male.

Take his counsel regarding wifely chitchat, for instance. Glover makes no bones about telling husbands not to listen when their wives run on about "work, family, girlfriends and rude checkout people."

"I don't think men are inclined or even interested to hear about every detail of a woman's day," Glover says. "I'm just encouraging men to listen more selectively so they'll listen more carefully."

Without blinking, he adds that women may be drawn initially to men who "listen to them for hours and drink coffee with them and never sexualize them." But in the end, he claims, women "come to despise" them for those very qualities.

His term for such men: "A girlfriend with a penis."

That draws an incredulous snort from Strazicich, who responds, "That's just absurd. That's humorous, really."

Coontz adds that Glover's assertion is "just not true." But she adds, "It is true that women have conflicted feelings and give conflicted messages to men."

Maybe that was the case with Cally, from Perth, Australia, one of Glover's e-mail correspondents.

"Wow, your description of the Nice Guy sounds SO much like my ex-boyfriend, whom I broke up with for the same reasons -- that he was too much of a nice guy," she told Glover. "Note (that) nice guy = desperate guy."

Competing with your neighbor got you in debt

MSNBC.com
Competing with your neighbor got you in debt?

'Green with Envy,' looks at the silent struggle we have with our money

Updated: 7:54 a.m. ET March 9, 2007

'Tis the season for taxes and money is on everyone's mind. It's a time when we tally what we've made and wonder what others take home. But when it comes to money, it's not something we discuss with friends. We talk about our sex lives and dysfunctional families, but money is still a taboo. So we continue to wonder about our neighbors and friends. Shira Boss is the author of, "Green With Envy: Why Keeping Up With the Joneses is Keeping Us In Debt," and she was invited to discuss these issues on TODAY. Here's an excerpt from her book:

It started even before the couple next door moved in. The comparison. The envy.

My husband and I live in a relatively small apartment building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where the gossip - the news, as it were - traffics in our cramped elevator or basement laundry room. Behind its thirty doors, our building houses a flutist, a filmmaker, lawyers (both corporate and public sector), interior designers, a nurse, an accountant, a grad student, an expatriate retiree who feeds the birds in Central Park, and the usual coterie of mystery inhabitants: They're around, even during the weekdays, they own cars (unusual in this area, where parking spaces start at $400 per month), they seem to be supporting themselves comfortably, but we're not sure how. The building has units from rectangular studios to penthouse two-bedrooms. Perhaps what sets the residents apart the most is how long each has lived here. Considering how real estate values have tumbled upward in recent years, the newcomers are consistently quite a bit better off than those of us already here. Five years after moving in, for example, our mortgage - the one we stretched our debt-to-income ratio to the absolute outside limit to get - is about equal to what the down payment would be now.

In this environment, the most prized fruit of the grapevine is which apartment is being sold, and for how much. So when our neighbors right next door to us put their place on the market, you can be sure we were interested in who was moving in, and at what price.

And then we heard. In the elevator. The seller told me that a young couple our age was buying it - for over the asking price - and that they were paying cash.

Cash?

Somebody's daddy has some money! our neighbor guessed.

Yeah, I guess so. We couldn't imagine living mortgage-free at our age in Manhattan. And most of our friends couldn't imagine owning any property here at all. We had been the envy of our friends for having scraped together a down payment and bargaining our way into a mortgage. But hearing about our new neighbors, who would have no mortgage at all, we were the ones who felt kind of behind. And certainly mystified. We couldn't help but wonder where that kind of money was coming from.

There were two possibilities as to how the buyers accomplished this very large cash purchase, and my husband and I speculated about them at length. Either, as the seller thought, Mommy and Daddy helped them out by writing an enormous check (and that's how we referred to them, "Mommy and Daddy," as opposed to when our parents helped us out, in which case they were referred to simply as "our parents"); or they belonged to that dreaded class of twentysomething dot-com millionaires. We weren't sure which was preferable. Both seemed frustratingly undeserved.

We met. We had been ready to be annoyed by them, for them to be privileged, East Egg people, or intolerable hipsters, but actually John and Tina were very nice, apparently normal people. They seemed like a quirkily mismatched couple: Tina, a petite, brunette Italian, had a stylish haircut and wore chic clothes surely from a downtown boutique. John, a taller, blond, we-soon-learned Upper West Side Jewish native, seemed more like a kindred spirit to me. He had just gotten out of a PhD program for geography (we got that bit of info from looking them up on Google) and dressed simply in jeans and flannel shirts. They seemed to go to work in the morning like everyone else. I had visions of becoming good friends and living like the two couples on the 1950s sitcom The Honeymooners, always dropping in on each other. We put their finances out of our minds. None of our business, we told ourselves.

Then on a Friday afternoon I ran into Tina waiting in the lobby of our building with a small (new, chic) suitcase.

Going away for the weekend? I asked.

Yeah, I'm just waiting for John to bring the car around. We need so many things for the apartment-we're going antiquing Upstate.

Antiquing? Who uses antique as a verb? I wondered. Does it mean the same thing as hitting flea markets for neat old stuff? Because I would have been fine with hearing that, but the idea of our young neighbors going on an antiquing spree-when, years after moving in, we were still waiting to buy something to cover our windows-reminded me instantly of their wealth, and that they could afford to do things differently.

After making smalltalk about antiquing, I turned to the elevator and pushed the call button, but I was interrupted by a question:

Can you recommend a good cleaning lady?

I froze. We all have different definitions of financial success, and mine is being able to afford a cleaning lady. I had a boyfriend once who lived in his parents' six-bedroom place off Park Avenue, with a live-in cook and a cleaning lady who spent every other day scouring the apartment. It was like living in a 5-star hotel, or what I imagined that would be like. Thick white towels were always folded and fresh. When you threw anything into any wastebasket, it blinked back at you from the bottom. Clutter never had a chance. Nor dust, nor dirty dishes. The best part was that my boyfriend never had to give any of these chores a thought. To my mind he dwelled in housekeeping nirvana: total comfort, zero effort.

My husband and I have had the usual "discussions" about keeping our home clean, and not even clean clean, but just keeping it from sliding into squalor. We've often ended up with the solution that if we paid somebody else to do the dirty work even now and then, we wouldn't have this tension. I've heard that solution from married people and read it in women's magazines: "Hire a cleaner. It'll save you hundreds in therapy bills!" But it has always felt financially impossible. Money that would go to a cleaner could be put toward a dozen more important things. Necessary things. Later, we end up saying, when we have enough money.

But our new neighbors, they evidently already had enough money, and they could afford a cleaning lady.

Rather than play along, I decided to confront the envy by just being frank.

No, I told her. Actually, it's my dream to have a cleaning lady, though.

Tina, being a nice person, tried to make me feel better by saying, Yeah, it's been so long since we've had one.

So what's changed recently? I wanted to know. Whence these cleaning lady funds?

I'm not proud to recount my conversation later with my husband. Antiquing? I mocked. And who keeps a car in the city, anyway? That's ridiculous. It's cheaper to rent one whenever you need it. Insurance, parking, not to mention the cost of the car itself - what's the point of paying for all of that when you can hardly ever use a car here anyway?

My husband's response was even more delicious. Well, we know how they can afford it, he said smugly. Without a mortgage, we could afford a lot of extra things too.

From then on, every expenditure we noticed - packages arriving seemingly daily from Bloomingdale's and Restoration Hardware, hiring someone to repaint their apartment, the installation of the antiques! - it was all dismissed as "mortgage money."

They are the Joneses, and we are not keeping up. However much we understand that we are not - not, under any circumstance - to covet our neighbor's anything or to attempt to keep up with the Joneses, we can't seem to help it. We are gripped by this involuntary urge, a drive to compare and compete that is ingrained, at least in Americans, if not all people.

We have been challenging ourselves to keep up with the Joneses for time eternal, even though it frays our nerves and is a quest without any destination. We know we shouldn't do it, we try not to, yet we find it irresistible.

It's not just that we want more for ourselves but that we specifically want more than, or at least as much as, what others have. That's how we know how much we deserve: It depends on what the other guy has. Since the days of Cain and Abel we have been bickering and jostling over who has the better lot. Wealth and well-being are largely a mindset, and how we're doing in relation to the company we keep is key to our contentment.

It would seem logical that the people we envy the most would be those at the top of the ladder, the rich and famous. It's true that we are fascinated by the wealthy and celebrities, and might fantasize about living their lives, but we are driven by just that, curiosity and fantasizing. We don't really expect that with enough hard work and some good luck we will end up with millions in the bank and our whereabouts splashed across the cover of People magazine. It might happen to some, but we don't count on it.

Who we truly envy are our closest peers. Psychologist Herbert Hyman defined this phenomenon in 1942 in an article titled "The Psychology of Status." He said we compare ourselves within "reference groups" of those around us and who are similar to us. We look to our classmates, our co-workers, our siblings and our neighbors to see how we measure up and, secretly, who we must catch up with. The super rich and famous have too many variables for us to match, but those with similar backgrounds to ours, with similar advantages and opportunities, those are the people we believe we should be able to match. When one among us breaks away and does much better financially, we feel put down. We want some kind of explanation. Are they just smarter? Did they make better decisions? Why them and not us? Is this fair, after all?

Our visions of success are built on a scaffolding of comparison, and planked with envy. Envy is the only vice warned against in both the Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins. In Dante's purgatory, the closest rung to hell is pride, the second closest is envy. Manhattan therapist Anita Weinreb Katz describes envy like this: "You want what that person has, and you want to destroy the person who has it. It's a very primitive feeling."

It's not pretty. We're certainly not proud of it, and usually don't want to admit that we are in its jaws. That leads us straight into troublesome secrecy. The don't ask, don't tell policy of life that lets us live around other people. On the rare occasion that someone admits bald-faced envy, we nearly crumble with commiseration and relief. A treasured quote from writer Gore Vidal: "Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies." We can laugh that off as an artistic temperament, but when we're honest with ourselves we know that there is more there, that we suffer similarly, by letting our relative positions in our various groups affect our well-being, whether we mean to or not. So we can't help ourselves from quietly scoping others' situations, from private investigating to figure out what others have and, consequently, what we should have too.

Tina invited me over for a late-afternoon glass of wine, to get further acquainted. My Honeymooners plan was progressing. As we walked up the stairs to her living room, she asked me what I do and I told her I'm a journalist.

Really? she asked. She seemed excited by it, and I felt proud that my job impressed her. Then she announced, I work for the New York Times!

No way! I said, while I really did think to myself, NO WAY! A competitive mushroom popped out at me like an airbag. I might not care about her wearing better clothes, but when it comes to career I didn't need competition living next door, on staff at the Times. Forget the Honeymooners, that was two generations ago. Times were gentler. I wanted to go back down the stairs and ignore our new neighbors and their wealthy parents and paid-for apartment forevermore.

Instead, I kept up the conversation with a dry throat: You're a reporter too? What do you cover?

No, I work in Web development.

Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you. She is not a journalist! I do not have to read her articles in the paper, talk shop, or keep up in any way! What a relief. We can be friends again. Maybe I'll knock on the door to borrow half a cup of sugar one day. I even scoffed a little at Web development. Boring, I thought.

My relief was short-lived. By the time we reached the top of the stairs it came to me: Web development . . . the Internet . . . dot-com millionaire.

Everyone heard stories of twentysomething millionaires minted in the late 1990s. They couldn't be avoided. They were on television, they were on the covers of magazines, and there weren't just a few junior moguls, they seemed to be everywhere. The economy was shaken up like a snow globe, and money really did seem to grow on trees, there for the plucking. The idea of building up a career or business through years of hard work was actually mocked. People used to ask me what I was doing still writing for newspapers and magazines, those relics: Why didn't I get an Internet job?

Seeing our peers get enormously wealthy on stock options was, to say the least, irksome. We were just as smart and educated and ambitious - how was it fair that they were so much more successful financially? It shouldn't be any of our business how much money our cohorts make, or how they do it. Why do we chip away at clues, then, building a financial profile of our friends and figuring out where we fit on the scale?

In the United States, at least, where productivity is valued more highly than anything and is generally measured in dollars, this comparison and competition is inbred. It feeds the system. The drive to consume more, to have more and better things, and continually to raise our level of comfort, is stronger here than any other place on earth.

The American Dream itself - the novel system in which every one of us, regardless of background, is not only able but expected to move up, to do better and have more-is at its heart about competition. We're trained to gaze up one level from where we are and to aspire to get what those people have. Once we accomplish that much, we're looking up again. By cultural design, there is no end to it.

Setting our goals based on what others are doing goes even deeper than human nature. Fleas, for instance, do some keeping up with the Joneses of their own. They are the world's highest jumpers. When you put a population of fleas into a box and put the lid on, a few times they'll jump up and donk their heads on the ceiling. Pretty quickly, though, they learn to jump just as high as the ceiling without hitting it. Take the lid off and they still won't jump any higher - until a new flea moves into the box who doesn't know anything about the old lid. The new flea jumps to great heights. The others see it. Then they all start jumping higher again.

Climbing over the Joneses isn't only a social and financial phenomenon but an economic one. Moving up is our reward for hard work. Desire and envy are the engines that keep us going. Trade up. Earn more. Improve. This is what keeps our capitalist economy throbbing. So while we're told not to attempt to keep up with the Joneses, tsk-tsk, we're also shown that that is exactly what we should do. If we all minded our own business, if we were all content with our lot as it is, the economy would slow and our standard of living - which we measure, for the most part, in things - would tumble. "An economy primarily driven by growth must generate discontent," writes psychologist Paul Wachtel in The Poverty of Affluence. "We cannot be content or the entire economic machine would grind to a halt."

The trouble is that what's good for the whole is not necessarily healthy for us as individuals. As Wachtel describes it, "Our personal lives run aground on the perpetual generation of desire and discontent." Americans are working longer hours and earning more money than ever before, but the reward in terms of greater satisfaction with our lives has failed to materialize. A survey asked who in America feels they have achieved the American Dream. Among those earning less than $15,000 per year, only 5 percent agreed. What about among those earning more than $50,000, which is the top half of the American public? A near tie, at 6 percent. In the Bible a teacher says, "And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man's envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind" (Ecclesiastes 4:4). Keeping up with the Joneses puts us on a never-ending, stomach-yanking roller coaster. And we bring it on ourselves.

As soon as John and Tina got back from their tropical honeymoon, she quit her job at the Times. The economy was in the midst of a major slump. Nobody who had a job was complaining, or at least nobody was quitting. But that's what dot-com millionairehood was all about: You did what you enjoyed, you worked while it was exciting, and then whenever you felt like it, you walked away. And so she did.

She was in the right industry at the right time, that's for sure, my husband said with a sigh.

Contrasting our situation with theirs was painful. Tina talked about how they would soon start "popping out the kids." The idea of us having children ourselves, while attractive in theory, seemed practically impossible. We figured John and Tina probably did argue, like everyone, but they probably didn't argue about money stress, like we did. It wasn't the material goodies we grew envious of, it was the ease with which they seemed to be able to live. From the clues we collected, John and Tina seemed able to afford a psychological lifestyle that, to our disappointment, far surpassed ours. While our lives felt suffocatingly on hold while we straightened out our financial issues, our next-door neighbors, at our age, were living carefree, apparently enjoying life and each other to the fullest.

Copyright © 2006 by Shira J. Boss

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17533710/page/2/

medialens: DANGEROUS MINDS By: David Edwards

"Our complex global economy is built upon millions of small, private acts of psychological surrender, the willingness of people to acquiesce in playing their assigned parts as cogs in the great social machine that encompasses all other machines. They must shape themselves to the prefabricated identities that make efficient coordination possible... that capacity for self-enslavement must be broken." (Theodore Roszak - The Voice Of The Earth)

Heart Murmurs

Few tasks are more challenging than that of attending to our subtle, internal responses to the world against the deafening roar of what is deemed 'obviously true'. Writing in the 1930s, the anarchist Rudolf Rocker made the point that the state is not a disinterested spectator on the issue of freedom of thought. In his classic work, Culture And Nationalism, Rocker wrote:

"The state welcomes only those forms of cultural activity which help it to maintain its power. It persecutes with implacable hatred any activity which oversteps the limits set by it and calls its existence into question. It is, therefore, as senseless as it is mendacious to speak of a 'state culture'; for it is precisely the state which lives in constant warfare with all higher forms of intellectual culture and always tries to avoid the creative will of culture." (Rocker, Culture and Nationalism, Michael E. Coughlan, 1978, p.85)

The stakes, Rocker noted, are high:

"If the state does not succeed in guiding the cultural forces within its sphere of power into courses favourable to its ends, and thus inhibit the growth of higher forms, these very higher forms will sooner or later destroy the political frame which they rightly regard as a hindrance." (Rocker, p.83)

If this strikes us as implausible (as it should), it is for a very good reason. It seems incredible to us that individuals working for the state - in government, education, local government - could be eagerly working to "reduce all human activity to a single pattern". Are they not human beings like us? Do they not seek freedom of thought, independence of mind, for their own children?

It is a very reasonable argument and applies equally to the media. Dissident analysts claim, and in fact demonstrate, that truth is filtered, depleted to a dramatic degree by the corporate media. But surely the men and women of the press - again, human beings like us - are not eagerly striving to oppress humanity.

The answer is found in the way the performance of an organisation is shaped by its primary, bottom line goals. As I have discussed elsewhere, the process is similar to the mechanisms underlying crystal formation. The near-perfect, symmetrical shapes of snowflakes and other crystalline structures are no accident but flow from the founding conditions around which the crystals form.

Recommended Links

Conformism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Conformity (psychology) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Peer pressure - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Teamwork - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

II Conformista / The Conformist by Bernardo Bertolucci



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