Read below or watch/listen to Broadcast #4 where I read the essay from the bridge of the Sanity Retreat:
The swarming social insects divide up work between castes:
Like ants and bees, humans are social creatures. We are a little more flexible than termites. We are individually smart [caveat 1: at least relative to an ant; caveat 2: in most cases] so our nests, and our roles within them, are less well defined. Depending on our mood, and on the availability of resources, the ‘hive’ we pledge our loyalty to might be family, kin, tribe, or species; but, just like a worker bee, or a warrior ant, we are all allocated our predetermined roles. We call these archetypes:
The patterns of behaviour are persistent. They crop up again and again in our fiction and mystical writing. This is because they are behaviour pre-sets that prepare an individual for a specific role in our hive/society. These archetypes are our human ‘casts’. They were created by evolution to help our species cope with the various trials of life by assigning challenges to ‘specialists’ equipped to deal with them.
Societies can change their attitude by varying their mix of ‘casts’:
Sparta, focused on The Hero, while Athens, preferred The Sage.
The same concept is common in the corporate world. We are told that effective teams are made a mix of personality traits:
These names are less mystical than the Tarot archetypes, but the concept is the same. People tend to fall into different buckets, and, by mixing and matching these personality traits, a skilled manager can improve the productivity of her team.
It should be noted that because we are dealing with squishy human psyches here, the divisions between archetypes, aka personality-categories or casts, will be blurry and somewhat arbitrary. They will also be fractal. If we zoom in on the tip of a branching category we will always be able to divide further, right down to the individual. Perhaps it is easier to go the other way then, and zoom out until we are all split into just two groups:
Which are you?
I suspect a disproportionate number of you will say ‘The Leader’. It is more romantic to be a leader. Follower has negative connotations, but evolution is not sentimental, in a social species, we can’t all be leaders; imagine a room full of cats to get a glimpse of that society! For a smooth functioning hive, most of us need to be followers. Each hive only really needs one leader — one per tribe, for humans something like one in a hundred, one per cent. But evolution will ensure a couple of spares, and, if we add in the next generation waiting in the wings for when the king gets too grey and weak to lead, we might end up with something like an eighty-twenty split between the follower-cast and the leader-cast.
The necessary excess of leaders will consign the majority of individuals displaying leader-archetype characteristics to follow; this will not sit well and will be a source of much conflict within the hive, but this overhead is preferable to ending up with no leaders at all. At the same time, some follower-archetypes will be thrust into leadership positions—in many cases by those above, emplaced because they pose less of a threat to those who put them there.
In short, archetypes are behaviour-presets installed by evolution to ensure optimal performance at the level of the hive [clan/tribe/church/corporation etc]. Most of us — the eighty per cent — are built to follow. We are susceptible to messages from our leaders, from the authority figures of the tribe. We instinctively perform loyalty displays; even if we are not aware that this is what we are doing when we put on our suits and ties and climb into our BMWs to drive to the monthly sales meeting.
When we see starlings murmerating, we can’t find individuals. The entire flock seems to move with eerie synchronicity. Humans, also social animals, are the same. When our swarm moves, we respond; subconsciously and immediately. When those around you begin to wear bell-bottom trousers, you buy them too. When all the ladies on the television use Persil washing powder, you will feel awkward if you don’t switch from Ariel. When the citizens around you decide that group X are subhuman Untermenschen you too will withdraw your compassion from their awful plight…
I am not being flippant. Scientific studies show that more than sixty per cent of us will murder an innocent with a 450-volt fatal shock of electricity if a man in a white coat tells us to. If you are not familiar with this unsettling fact, check out the chilling “The Perils of Obedience” by Stanley Milgram.
In another study on social conformity, Solomon Asch found that seventy-five per cent of people will agree to a truth they know to be false if it aligns them to the choices of the other individuals around them.
Philip Zimbardo found that just by putting on a uniform people are empowered to abuse those in their charge.
You need to understand this about yourself. The obedience that eighty per cent of us are compelled to perform is a vulnerability in our minds. It is no different from having a medical propensity to a certain condition. Like a bad-back that goes out when you lift something heavy. Once you are aware of your frailty, you can exercise, build up the muscles around your weakness and compensate.
The experiments I mentioned were performed in the 1970s. People have known these dark secrets about ourselves for a long time. For most of us, when we learn of this moral frailty built into our species, we feel a little shame; but other human casts don’t see this psychological vulnerability as a bad thing, in fact, they saw it as an opportunity! The original science was sponsored by the military, but the knowledge of these weak places in the defences of our minds is now widely distributed in the civilian world and deployed daily by advertisers, propagandists, and other persuasion engineers.
I am sure that many of you will have an area of expertise in which you are regularly perplexed by the irrational behaviour of the majority in your field. ‘How can people be so dumb’ you will think as you watch them all fall into the same shallow logical traps. If you choose to scratch back the sand and explore deeper, you may notice that in most cases this irrationality is not random noise pulling the truth in multiple directions, but a systematic bias towards facts which benefit those currently doing pretty well out of whichever status-quo currently dominates their particular discipline. If you manifest some attributes plucked from the leader-end of the archetype-spectrum, you may conclude that the fear, uncertainty, and doubt you are witnessing is not organic, but manufactured. If you are a follower you may not have noticed anything wrong at all. Or perhaps you reassure yourself by believing that the irrational behaviour of the majority is due to innocent incompetence…
It is not.
We know that advertising works.
We know we are monkeys vulnerable to persuasion.
We know that others have known this for fifty years.
Can you make yourself believe that an effective weapon that can be stealthily deployed without detection to achieve power and financial rewards will not — and has not — been deployed? If you do, take one of my Smoking-is-Good-for-You cigarettes while you sit down in front of your Clean-Coal fire to read about those ridiculous battery-electric vehicles that will never catch on…
Our leaders are mostly followers. They don’t even know what they are up to. Like most of us, they just do what they are told. It is not possible to climb high in a corporation or government by questioning your betters; sure, a few genuine free thinkers do sneak through. Like Job’s, Musk, and Branson when a true genius appears, you will know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him. [Jonathan Swift]
Even the elites benefitting from this wanton social manipulation are mostly innocent. Rich and powerful people are born into the follower cast too. They grow up drinking from a bottomless bowl of soup which they will continue to slurp down until the system bursts — unless we show them where the bottom is, and tell them when enough is enough!
In my books, I write about a seagull embedded in a virtual flock. He is happy, responding to the flock’s dance, never knowing he is alone and the other seagulls are digital, virtual, and fake.
This might be you.
The tribe around you, especially if it is on TV or Facebook might very well not be real. Are you sure you are not following the bots, shills, and simps towards some dark island littered with seagull skulls?
Knowing that your obedience is being manipulated is very uncomfortable.
It makes you feel bad,
nothing will change,
…so why am I haranguing you so?
I have been asked this quite a lot recently, I think I know the answer, it’s because:
It’s a NEGOTIATION btches!
If we don’t at least ask for what we want, what is the chance we will ever get it? If we don’t at least let them know that we are onto the scam and that the deal on the table is unfair, how likely is it that they will offer up a better one?
This is nothing new. We have done this negotiation before: emancipation and equality for women, freedom of sexual identity, worker rights, civil rights for racial minorities, etc.
Nothing is fixed. When we take our eyes off the prize and stop paying attention they like to roll things back. When you see a power grab, especially when it is universally supported by institutional voices who humiliate, terrorize, and censor any debate or discussion, consider the possibility that they are at it again!
Sure the rich and powerful will always take the lion’s share, but we don’t have to make it easy for them to shake us down! At least let’s have some self-respect and haggle a little!
Make your obedience conditional.
The first step out of an abusive relationship is to recognise the problem, let me, a friend, point it out then:
They know how you tick.
They know you will do what you are told; especially if the people-around-you are doing the same.
BUT, and this is your power, YOU are one of the-people-around-you for someone else. You are part of somebody else’s flock.
They react to your moves.
If you can break off, fly crooked, think different, challenge at least one of the absurd facts that your inbuilt cognitive vulnerabilities makes it so hard for you to question, you will be starting the negotiation for a better deal!
As always, if you’d like to drop me a note, you can find me on Twitter at @weston_toby
Check out my novels which are SciFi action-adventure where I get to choose who wins the struggle for humanity’s future!
This type of thing is only really funny when it’s ‘next century’ not next week…