Sometimes I wonder about the critical thinking skills of our era. We are taught in school rote behavior. Regurgitate, bell rings, regurgitate, bell rings, regurgitate, bell rings. In that form of habitualization, we stop thinking for ourselves. You become even more aware of this tactic after you read “Social Class and School Knowledge” by Jean Anyon. Having had dropped out of school after the sixth grade I wonder how that impacted my ability to think critically about the world around me and its role in my nonconformity. I’m comfortable on the periphery. From this vantage point I find it odd how quickly our society went from hipster beards to tiki torches.
I’ve been thinking a lot about identity formation recently. The first thing I think of when I encounter someone with destructive behavior are modalities of self preservation. I remind myself people are social animals and will protect their source of psychological safety at all cost. Example: If daddy makes me feel safe and daddy is a racist then I’ll be a racist so I stay comfortable (Remember I’m always talking about the rule and not the exception).
Recently, I’ve started to think more about identity and how and why conformists would latch onto destructive behavioral traits. We can explain away such behavior through archaism and say, “Hate filled people have lizard minds and operate from only the oldest parts of their brains,” meaning they are not evolved. I’m not going to rehearse a full lesson on the different hemispheres of the brain. If you’d like a broader explanation of what I’m meaning you can search “reptilian brain psychology” and you’ll discover a lot of resources on the topic.
So to categorize certain people as “not being evolved” feels over simplified and reductive. It might satisfy our egos to say something like that, but I think there’s more to it.
Often when we run into society wide racism we wonder about the silent majority. Why aren’t they speaking up? How can they passively sit by and allow their relatives and community members to be monsters? To answer these questions, I’m moving myself past the self-preservation explanation. When I started thinking about identity I started where I had last left off, which was that identity was a rigid and fixed thing. I came to this conclusion through acknowledging it takes repeated narratives running through our minds and reinforcement by our social network, like family, friends, church, etc., to fix our identities; where we become so rigid in who we are that we psychologically never bend and will only break under pressure.
Recently, I’ve been considering if our identities are malleable. Maybe even fluid altogether. With the recent serge of hatred across the planet, and especially in the United States, it’s easy to see how fluid our identities are or have become and maybe always have been.
So how can the silent majority move from hipster beards under Obama to tiki torches under Trump? How can we all of a sudden, almost overnight, start hearing more racist language at work? I do believe Girard’s scapegoat mechanism in culture formation is at play, but I also believe our identities have shifted because we are habitulaized through rote behavior and conformity to do what “daddy does.” Not to sound patriarchal, but in our current era it is patriarchy that controls us.
I want to believe we have the critical thinking skills to not be so easily swayed by media and political figures. Can we think for ourselves? Can we deduce what is ultimately self destructive? Is the silent majority a bunch of cowards? Or are they mindless sheep standing on the train tracks?
(Cited: Images were borrowed from Pixaby, Pexels, and Flicr)