SPIRITUALITY 104

SMALL RULE SET BEHAVIOR

REVIEW FROM ARTICLE 101: There is such a thing as objective reality, but from the day you're born, damn near everyone in your life plays mind games to get you to believe what they want you to believe independent of the truth. Spirituality is a discipline for untangling the false belief systems and discerning the underlying truth.
REVIEW FROM ARTICLE 102: Instruments of social control condition you to respond to certain cues, or "buttons." The anthem plays and you stand up and a tear comes to your eye and a lump to your throat. The lights dim in the theatre and the crowd hushes. The preacher uses a certain cadence and everybody shuts up and pays attention. More complicated buttons, rituals, signal important events and changes of condition. A wedding is a ritual that connects two people in a legal sense. An innauguration is a ritual that impresses on the country that the old guy is not the president, but this new guy is. People use this against you. They give trivial events a false sense of importance by surrounding them with mock ritual.
REVIEW FROM ARTICLE 103: People confuse and manipulate you by placing complicated distractions between you and what you want. For example coupons and complicated pricing schemes cause you to buy things you would not otherwise buy. Bosses motivate the sales force with sales contests instead of increased commissions. We spend our working lives creating paperwork that will never be looked at again.

MOTIVES

Freud gets credit for two concepts, first that people are guided by motives which they do not understand and of which they are unaware, second that the unnatural environment imposed on us by modern life is an important cause of neuroses. Other than that, he didn't come up with much of any use. He talked those two subjects to death, encumbering them with baroque symbology until they became no longer true.

People do the things they do for just a few reasons. When I talk about "small rule set behavior" I'm talking about people who live their lives based a small number of predigested guiding principles. Think of it as a simple program that makes life as routine as possible. Wake up. Shower. Brush teeth. Go to work. Come home. Watch TV. Drink Beer. Go to sleep.

Small rule set behavior comes from three natural human impulses.

HABIT, AUTHORITY, CONFORMITY

  1. We do things because we did them yesterday.
  2. We do things because some authority told us to do them.
  3. We do things because we saw our neighbor do them.

That's about it. That covers 99% of human behavior. Psychoanalysis is a dump truck load of expensive mythology designed to make you think your feelings have more intricacy and significance than they really have. You'd like to think that there's a lot going on between your ears, but there's not. You'd like to think you're making a lot of rational decisions, but you're not. The uncomfortable fact is that we are all going where we are led and we are eating what we are fed. Our leaders think of us as cattle, and they have pretty good reasons to do so.

There is significant social inertia behind small rule set behavior. The least deviation from the small rule set triggers social sanctions. When my house first became mine free and clear, I trimmed the shrubs in a slightly unconventional way. I had to explain myself. One of the neighbors called my parents, concerned that the line of shrubs was no longer trimmed to the same elevation. Certainly the lack of symmetry was the projection of a disordered mind.

I lived for years with the universal white-wall-brown-carpet scheme of apartment living. So when I became a homeowner, I painted the place. Looks like a Mexican game show in here. I'm not hurting anybody by having bright colors in my house, but when people see it for the first time I hear that same polite disapproving silence. Then, "Well, it's different." Or the slightly preferable, "Hmm. Unusual."

You can become marginalized by making the most superficial deviation from the most trivial social convention. Test it out. Instead of wearing a business suit to work tomorrow, wear a tuxedo. People will demand explanations. People will gossip in the break room. If you persist, meetings will he held on the subject of what to do about you.

Mind you, just showing up in a tux doesn't actually DO anything other than attract the attention of the mechanisms that maintain western civilization the way it damn are. The status quo had become comfortable with you in a given role. When you show up wearing unconventional clothing, the status quo (which in this case consists of your boss, your coworkers and the customers) fears you're trying to get out of that role. You are a potential threat, a potential disruption, a malignancy which must not be allowed to spread. You can bet your ass there will be an intervention.

I don't want to imply that all conformity is by definition bad. Suppose you walked into a bank and the teller dressed and spoke like Pauly Shore. You'd get out of there and you'd take your money with you. If you were boarding an airplane and you heard the words, "This is your pilot, Gallagher, speaking. We'll be flying at whatever altitude doesn't kill my buzz." You'd turn on your heel. There are times and places where conformity is essential.

Habit and conformity also allow you to think about other things. What if you got up every day and before you got dressed you had to give equal consideration to everything in your closet? A brand new decision every day. Suppose that every day you had to sort out the advantages and disadvantages of all available ways of getting to work? Your brain would melt down. Habit and conformity are efficient ways of handling life's daily logistics. If everybody at school is wearing the same uniform, there's that much less to distract the kids from their studies. Combat is the most chaotic human pursuit and thus requires the most conformity from its participants in order to minimize unpredictable events.

We like habit and conformity. It comforts us. We seek it, build it, arrange it. We unconsciously cooperate in maintaining it. Groups of humans do this the same way that groups of fish school and groups of birds flock and with similar survival advantages. Associate a bunch of people into a social wad, and they find subtle ways to be like each other and to stay like each other. Take a bunch of individual freshmen, pledge them all to the same fraternity and bingo, they adopt ways, habits and manners as a means of distinguishing "us" from "them." It's a natural impulse.

People know we have this natural impulse and they use it to control us, to cheat us, to distract us and to fool us.

Style setters change the fashions every three months. Don't dare wear bellbottoms. If you want to conform, and you do, it's going to cost you. Get out your wallet. To me a Members Only jacket is not only a badge of honor, but it's a way to smoke out the sleepwalkers. "Ooh, nice jacket," quoth the zombie.

People want to be on the winning side, regardless of the cost to them personally. They want to vote for the winning candidate. "Ralph Nader doesn't stand a chance. You're throwing your vote away." So people vote for the guy that they think is ahead in the polls and in their minds they connect with the more powerful group. A high number in a newspaper poll will attract voters, thus fulfilling its own prophecy because people want to throw in their lot with what they think is a large powerful group even though they gain nothing personally from having cast the vote that way. And so they vote not for the guy they think is smartest or most ethical, but for the tap-dancing chimp that the TV tells them is ahead.

The urge to conformity helps us but makes us vulnerable as lemmings. A perfect example is the high-tech bubble of the 1990's. People threw their life savings into relatively worthless stocks for no other reason than that's where everybody else was flushing their money.

Authority is another adaptation from our primitive tribal past that people use to monkey with our brains and cause us harm.

Authority is a social mechanism that can coordinate a group of people to accomplish things they can not do alone. Authority is absolutely necessary whether you're building a pyramid, running a corporation, or overthrowing a junta. Authority can be good. It relieves us of making lots of difficult decisions. It can rally us for mutual protection in times of stress or threat. It allows us to have amazing things like cell phones, interstate highways and internet pornography. Much like the natural impulse to conform there is also a natural impulse to create authority structures.

There is something very comforting in a situation where there is no doubt who the boss is. In my vast experience with large numbers of bosses, it's the screaming, yelling, whipcracking boss that feels his authority is threatened. He gives out all kinds of arbitrary timewasting work for no better reason than to reassert his authority over his personnel. He runs you around just to show he can run you around. The boss at the top of a secure authority structure never wastes anybody's time. He's never screaming or yelling. His employees aren't putting in overtime. Nothing has to be redone or undone. He's thinking about the job and not about the personnel. He's allocating his resources, not twisting rebellious employees into submission.

Employees finding themselves under a really good boss are never goofing off or avoiding assignments. It's a natural impulse to want to please the authority and to cooperate in the group's higher purpose. For some reason nineteen out of twenty bosses will utterly ruin that impulse. I've seen workplaces fall apart. The old boss is transferred out. In comes some new guy who has been to a lot of "management seminars" where he's learned a lot of mind games guaranteed to maximize something or other. It's like night and day.

The modern abuse of the authority impulse comes from the fact that we are presented authority that does not arise organically. Rather authority is prefabricated and hollow and it is dumped on us.

For most of the last million years, social groups were never larger than a few dozen. A tribe. Nobody needed a command structure. Nobody needed a year of primary elections. Everybody knew who the top guy was. They knew him since he was born. The tribe has a problem and everybody thinks simultaneously and spontaneously, "Ungatu will know what to do," and that's that. Maybe Ungatu will have a couple extra big feathers in his headband, but that's just so his team can spot him way across the veldt.

Even three thousand years ago the largest social unit was a city when big cities were just a few thousand people.

Eventually social units got so large that people ended up taking orders from folks they'd never met, and when that happened the authorities had to invent ways of getting you to submit right away. They didn't have time for any of this organic development of authority stuff. So they come up with uniforms and badges and crests and offices and tall chairs, all variations of the big headband feathers, to signal you that you are to do what this guy says to do.

This kind of signalling worked well enough so that people could achieve power by using the superficialities. In small groups, authority could come from a spontaneous universal acclamation. Later on, authority came from nepotism (the King's nearest relative is the next king) and gangsterism (the King is the guy who can intimidate all other contenders) and superstition (supernatural legitimacy, the most attractive line of BS, The Lady of the Lake gave Arthur excalibur). Trial by ordeal was also big in the old days. The chief was the guy who could throw an axe the farthest, for instance. A potlatch was a Native American trial by ordeal in which the big man of the tribe was the guy who blew the most money. Our interminable American elections are a kind of trial by ordeal coupled with a potlatch. It's the worst of everything. You pay for the privelege of being slandered by everyone else who is paying to be slandered by you.

In a tribe of a hundred people, nepotism, gangsterism and superstition might make somebody chief, but it wouldn't keep him there long. If this was a man of inferior substance he'd be sorted out pretty soon.

In a city of several thousand, the chief can put together a palace guard whose job it is to coerce obedience from the governed. And the crappier the chief is, the more coercion he has to use and all that coercion costs money and the more taxes he has to raise to pay for that coercion and the more taxes means more dissent, so more coercion is required. Things easily spin out of control. Unnaturally imposed authority is a misery machine. You don't have to read much history to see that in such systems the people at the bottom work hard to pay for their own beatings.

The modern workplace is a perfect example of unnatural authority. Your boss is over you either because he is paying you or he has better credentials or a degree or more seniority or he's the owner's nephew or he brown nosed his way up the ladder. Compare this to the three preceeding paragraphs to prove that all the old feudal misery gears are still lubed and cranking.

I'm going to end this essay here because I'm starting to get off the subject. I've got another chapter coming up that treats the subjects of authority versus power, discipline versus control, cooperation versus coercion, and other situations in which you find other people making decisions about what you're going to do. Going into it now would confuse the central thesis of this page.

...to be continued.

RTJ--11/19/2003


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