by das monde
Sun Jun 15th, 2014 at 09:49:41 AM EST
There was a brief incomplete discussion the other week here on macho dominance, hierarchy enforcement, power dynamics. I had lived pretty ignorant of social status games for long - but recently I realized that hierarchy interactions, instincts and emotions have to be taken seriously. Let me shake similarly your rational onlooker premises about power and human nature.
Stanford Prisoner Dilemma
I start with the two most famous psychology experiments of the 20th century. The Milgram experiment addressed the strength of obedience to authority directly - and the results were shocking. The Stanford prison experiment is even more notorious.
Two boring weeks of playing guards and prisoners were expected - yet the experiment was stopped after just 6 days, with 5 prisoners replaced or released sooner. Even Zimbardo, the experiment head, got absorbed in his role as the superintendent.
The first surprise was a prisoner rebellion on the morning of Day 2. That unleashed an escalating series of punishment, mocking, solitary confinement, harassment.
The study shows that before the volunteer prisoners started showing signs of distress, they did not take the guards and their authority seriously. The prisoners mocked the guards, trying to regain their individuality. This, however, was short-lived. The prisoners soon realized that the attitude of the guards was very serious and that they demanded obedience. This began a long string of confrontational quarrels between the guards and prisoners. The guards used physical punishment and exercises, such as pushups, in order to show their authority to the prisoners.
Prisoner solidarity was soon broken, the aggressive guards got creative. Other guards were uncomfortable, but did not challenge.
To me, the experiment course becomes less mysterious with the subpersonality notion coupled with primality of hierarchy dynamics. At the start, the prisoners did not accept the arbitrary assigned roles, hence revolted. Ironically, this provoked authority defense bio-mechanisms of guards, real abuses from them, and eventually the submission mood of prisoners themselves. This dynamics is probably as old as primate species. These situations bypass the prefrontal cortex and turn on primal subpersonalities.
Where Is Social Protest?
The evolution of post-WWII social protest is remarkably similar. The more egalitarian 60s saw little tolerance to blatant social injustices. But inequalities and power abuses are reaching feudal levels now - yet social protest is basically absent. Without denying the influence of growing economic conformity, mass marketing and uniform political narratives, I see much psychologically comfortable acceptance of unjust or random turns of fortunes. People would rather wait for a wonder success than stand up to their rational interests. I guess, similar (though milder) biochemistry lies behind, with the wealth hierarchy and social roles not confusing at all now.
Or look at Russia and Eastern Europe. Decades of communist ideology left virtually no trace of affinity towards an egalitarian system. Either virile oligarchs, barely self-reliant entrepreneurs and professionals, or missing out poor -- all embraced the rat race and mostly modest consumer choices. Apparently the people were more dissatisfied with the lack of status race in the socialist times.
Is extreme inequality less painful psychologically than it seems logically? After all, relative wealth/depravity appears to affect happiness perceptions and personal actions more than objective welfare level.
Admittedly, I am following a fancy trajectory of personal transformation. I had tried some NLP, conventional CBT, meditation, cheesy "Law of Attraction" stuff. A cliche wisdom can be both profound and misleading, you know. And some deep realities are tricky to formulate, communicate. There is one particular thing recommended beyond immediate marketing - abundance mentality. It turns out, concern about limits or fair distribution of resources are quite limiting for a person. Little wonder then if the most successful on this planet do not seem to care about modern ecological predicaments. At the very least, they learned to be successful with the abundance idea for themselves.
Paradoxically, this abundance assumption has an evolutionary sense. The creative primate species were living on the survival edge (or limits of applied resources) for millennia. They did not solve ecological limitations by smart thrift, but by intense competition. You may try to explain territoriality, hierarchies as Dawkins by selfishness logic - but these arrangements do have an ecological function. After a century of industrial growth and oil abundance, the civilization is back near its ecological limits. A sharp hierarchy with a broad level barely struggling to survive is a way for societies to carry on (if only the climate change won't be too nasty). How else can we continue to build progress on Earth?
Anyway, I am now open to the idea that to live your life fully it is good to embrace the abundance idea of (potentially) living as some king. The richest emotional experiences are closely related to achieving a high status, apparently. Just look at the FIFA World Cup emotions. Even if we logically know how dirty are FIFA workings, it is hard to resist the drama and potentially massive validation of your affinity, intuition, extended identity. Is it not?
And one more secret. They say, the status potential is the very thing that people intuitively evaluate in the first seconds after meeting each other for the first time.
Dating Blues And Roses
Our discussion started basically with the topic of sex frustration - so I will risk the next slippery step. Dating is increasingly messy for both sexes - and perhaps not accidentally. To stay on topic, I just quickly touch one cliche - that women are looking for alpha men. That is of course not true - except that a couple of alpha qualities are essential. By now I have a plenty of confirmation on that.
Firstly, a real man must have his own direction, interests, inspiration. He should take care of his own (and then his lover's) emotions and logistics. He should usually make decisions, take leadership in the relation. If a guy is always asking a girl, what she would like, he is lost. Yep, women like to take a back seat in a relationship - especially those with a high status.
Secondly, it helps hugely if a guy is a socially dominant personality. At least, he should have social skills and status, a promise of special social experiences.
Beyond this, macho extrapolations are mostly superfluous. Sexual attraction happens between deep subpersonalities; logic does not help here at all. How is this related to the hierarchy topic, I leave it to you to ponder.
Seven years ago I read a book "Prometheus Rising" by Robert Anton Wilson - on the brain circuits that people use. I was surely bugged that about 50% of people rarely use calm rational thinking, stay stuck in just bio-survival, emotional-territorial and socio-sexual circuits. On the other hand, life enjoying experiences lie there, in emotional and physical joys of pride, achievement, enduring. Whatever our grand intentions might be, people will love to play chief and herd games. How much would you like to push against?