Thursday, May 24, 2007

How did we get here?

We are at a precipice as a Nation. Is that overly optimistic? Have we already fallen over the edge into disgrace? How did we get here?

Remember when you were a student? Your teacher explains some elaborate concept or idea, and asks "are there any questions?" The response is deafening silence, even though at least one student doesn't understand. But rather than expose him or herself, that student remains silent in order to blend into the group.

According to, the largest site in the world on all aspects of how we change what others think, believe, feel and do:

"Groups all have norms of attitude and behavior which are shared and which help form the identity of the group. Adopting these norms, even if you do not agree with them, is a part of the individual sacrifice that people accept as a price of group membership. It is thus possible for groups to have norms which hardly anyone agrees with, but with which everyone conforms. These situations typically occur when the norms are older than all members of the group or when one member or a small group is dominant and can force their attitudes on the rest of the group."

Innocuous examples include office chatter - all your colleagues are chatting about American Idol, and you join in even though you think it's banal, stupid, and an assault on real music. They include Homeowner Associations (Condos) - which usually have a high level of consensus unless there is an overzealous board or a particularly contentious homeowner in the group.

This phenomena is called "pluralistic ignorance" (PI) by social psychologists. In this state of mind, people mistakenly believe their own thoughts and feelings are different from everyone around them. They look to others for cues instead of trusting their own instincts. PI is particularly disturbing when the situation involves imminent danger. When the danger appears to be ambiguous (think about the Bush rhetoric of terrorism), the social rules of belonging and acceptance trump looking different or alarmist. This also creates the "bystander" effect: people are more likely intervene in an emergency if there is nobody else watching. In a crowd, people monitor the reactions of everyone around them. If no one steps forward, the PI factor creates non-action, because the shared belief becomes that it is not necessary. Think of "gaper's blocks" on the freeway when there's been an accident on the other side.

And so here we are. I go back to September 11, 2001. I remember clearly how I sat in an AA meeting, sobbing. A friend of mine had been on American Airlines flight 11, the first plane hit the World Trade Center. A friend of mine said to me at that meeting "We have the right man for the job, don't you think?" She was referring to Bush. Horrified, I said to her "Absolutely not." And I watched as this entire circle followed her lead. Except for me. And it silenced me for a long, long time. I was new in Los Angeles, and I needed to be part of a group - but it swallowed my voice. PI swallowed my voice.

Not any more. I've been very vocal for the last couple of years, and find that I am effectively changing minds and creating action within my own circle. But this phenomena is bigger than me. It has silenced our media. It has silenced our elected Representatives, and Senators. It has silenced our students. Our nation has become riddled with fear, and fear keeps us silent as Bush grabs more and more power. Have we gone over that edge? Is there no emergency brake on this collective thinking?

My friend, the one who thought Bush was the right man, has long since changed her mind and asked me to help her become a Democrat. But I'm not sure I'm even a Democrat any longer - they've become so weak, they no longer really stand for what I believe. The issues are so huge, and who has the voice? AND the ability to change?

We did not get here overnight. If we did, McDonalds would not have sold billions and billions of burgers; we would not all have Pottery Barn furnishings in most of our homes; we would not all be seeking out the next franchise; we would not give a shit who danced with which D-list star. Who cares if Brangelina split or adopt or eat mudpies? Who really cares if TomKat divorces, or get pregnant?

Apparently, the majority of US Citizens, because despite only having a 28% approval rating, Bush has managed to railroad through some very dangerous directives. And it slipped through, with little attention to it.

So. Solutions? There is nothing better than the truth.

'You must be the change you wish to see in the world.’

— Mahatma Gandhi


annie said...

i am crazy about this post, and am where you are on this, completely.
i am fed up with the democrats inability to stand up and fight for us all, and do not feel connected to any of them this is really, really bad. and yet, all people seem to care about is consumption, distraction, and phoniness. to say i have lost hope in mankind would be a gross understatement. thank you for making me feel less alone in all of this.

annie said...

"pa" was an inadvertent typo... i wasn't calling you "pa" !!

Donnie McDaniel said...

I am so angry with the Dems right now! I don't know what to say anymore! This has to stop soon. Someone must have a backbone out of the lot of them. Gonna have to see what it would take to make Katrinacrat a recognized party. We need someone to represent us, and not a party. This pack mentality and the eat you own mentality has to stop. What the hell happened? We gave them a mandate.

mirth said...

Where the hell is Howard Dean? Why aren't we hearing DNCSpeak from him about the inaction of Reid and Pelosi?

proudprogressive said...

I think our Alturnative just might be to support Dennis Kucinich to the end of the line. He is a Kleptocrat, not owned by the Corporations and the only truly sane person in the Dem Race for 08. While he may not win, it is my absolute conviction - he needs to heard, plant the memes of change and sanity. The betrayal of the Dems. will not be without consequences. I am thinking 7 generations out. These memes need time and repetition to take route. With a ONE party system what is there to loose by backing heartily this SANE dark horse..i am just saying. And right now those of us who do back him , will experience the PI effect..great post Jood. Be one in a million - he does not accept corporate donations.

proudprogressive said...

opps i meant to say He is NOT a kleptocrat. sheesh world is typos..and disgust with the democrats and bushCo.

sumo said...

Waaaay good post Diva. I'm so sorry for your loss on 9/11...I know you've spoken about it before...but I know it still must hurt terribly. Commenters from other countries ask me why the American people are allowing this to happen. I say because the paranoia of the government runs deep...and it's getting harder and harder to assemble to dissent and not be bothered by the cops. It doesn't matter that it is peaceful...Cheney and Bush will do all to stop us from voicing our discontent. The Dems just handed us over on a silver plater.

Tina said...

I know what you mean about saying something anti-Bush and having an entire room of folks look at you like you have a horn in the middle of your forehead. The group of teachers that I worked with couldn't gush enough all over that moron after Sept 11th and everytime I opened my mouth and spoke my mind, I was either attacked by several or given the evil eye. Besides the fact that NOTHING stopped these Bush fans from gushing all over him and singing his praising and I figured that I had every right to speak my mind, also, I didn't care nor do I care now who I pissed off. I kept saying what I felt and knew was the truth... even when I probably shouldn't have (like in the presence of my uber-Bush loving pro-lifer boss). Honesty was and is always best, and what this war needs now and has needed since 2003 is brutal honesty.

robin andrea said...

What a great and thoughtful post. I have been thinking something like this for a while. I'm not sure our country is recoverable. It think it may already be too late. The Democrats just capitulated to a President who has a 23% approval rating on Iraq. I'm not sure why they are spineless hypocrites, but the fact that they are tells me all I need to know about the health of our nation. It's over.

DivaJood said...

Annie, we are fat, happy and comfortable. It's hard to effect change when we are so comfortable. Real change is NOT comfortable and requires real sacrifice. How ready am I?

Donnie, I have decided to back Dennis Kucinich - he's the most vocal, he is against this war, he's introduced a bill to impeach Cheney, he's for single payer, universal health care, he's pro-Union. He's my guy.

Mirth, good question. Where has Howard Dean been? Busy supporting the main-stream Democrats?

Proudprogressive, I think your comment really did it for me. I'd been sort of supporting Obama, because I think he's mainstream enough to win, but my heart really is with Kucinich. And in light of what I'd posted, it occured to me that I can take a step in the direction I want to see.

Sumo, thank you. Everyone I know who knew someone who was murdered on Sept. 11th has been unable to completely shake that sense of loss. I've had many friends die over the years, and grieved, and moved on - that's what we do. But my god, every time Bush invokes Sept. 11, or Osama Bin Laden as a talking point, I feel like I'm going to explode with rage. How dare he? How fucking DARE he?

Tina, you are quite courageous and you're raising your children to be courageous. For me, it is hit and miss. There are times when I really do fall into the lull of pluralistic ignorance - unable to speak. But when I do have something to say, out it comes.

Robin Andrea, I fear you might be right. I think we've become so polarized that nothing short of complete upheaval will correct anything. In some ways I believe we need to divide into smaller nations - the interests and needs of the Western United States are certainly not the same as, say, New England. California, if it was a nation, would probably have single payer, universal, not-for-profit health coverage, for example.

Thorne said...

DJ, sorry to comment off topic (I'll be back again to actually read this post! Looks good), but I just remembered you asked me to remind you about "Thursday Thirteen"

proudprogressive said...

Todays vote in the house and senate really did it for me. i am tired of the charade and would rather fight overt fascists than stealth ones. I will vote. I know change takes time, but really i must follow my heart as well. Murder, lies , and war is wrong. WE are capable of so much better and its always been the crazies that have led the way. I live on a dis. check and yet my money must go to where my heart lies. I have no children , but care about the future and the children of others. We have nothing to loose and must empower the sane. TY for your acknowledgement, and the writing you do. Your wisdom is greatly appreciated, i have enjoyed your great humor and perspective- much love and i will continue to seek and value your observations. THANK YOU DEAR ONE !


Tree said...

You have a real gift of words, Ms. Diva. Have you thought of writing a book on these issues facing us today? If anyone could do so, and do it well, it's you.

DivaJood said...

Thorne - eeek. I forgot! Thanks though! :)

Proud Progressive, thank you - very kind words. I appreciate it. But I don't feel wise, I feel angry.

Tree, oh, thank you too! But writing a book takes discipline and I have the attention span of a gnat.