Societal Norms

So, Coker has got me thinking about societal pressure a lot lately. He’s been talking a lot about the difficulty of not judging other people. Which is nearly impossible, and we all know that. But it got me thinking about the question of why we judge. And I’ve been wondering if perhaps this is our pack behavior. This is our way of passing down important knowledge that is not easily ascertained by cause and effect. Like “have sex and you’ll get pregnant” is pretty simple to teach kids. It’s much harder to get them to understand how much their life might suck if they have a kid at 12. How they might not get to finish high school. How much fun they might miss out in college, etc. Thus we build in societal judging of young mothers. It’s worked decently well for millions of years. And it’s fascinating to me, because we’re obviously in a period where it’s less accepted to judge people. Or at least we think that’s true. In reality we’re just better at segmenting ourselves into populates that just judge fat people, or welfare moms, or soccer moms. Whatever, our little tribe is not. But we encounter so many other tribes in our day to day lives that we get to the point where we pretend we’re not judging anyone. Except in reality we are. Oh we are…

Obviously there are great reasons to buck the trends. The struggle for civil rights is a great reason to buck conventional wisdom. But at least with race now we live under the opposite polarity. We judge people who have the slightest tendencies to do or say things that are degrading to a particular race. So we haven’t gotten rid of that particular taboo. We’ve just moved the mass consensus to the other side. I’m not sure you can actually get rid of this tribal judging. I just think you can move it around on the value map.

It’s interesting to see how people fit into these trends. Some people seem to be the tastemakers in this respect. Setting the bar for those in their tribe. And sometimes various people in the tribe can be the tastemakers on different subjects. Perhaps someone who is a strong foodie in the tribe decides which wines and cheese are good. And the rest of the tribe follows. Because they don’t know as much about wine and cheese. And suddenly you have an entire tribe that judges people who drink St. Genevieve. But is that a bad thing? It’s more a fascinating thing. And when the St. Genevieve drinkers come up against this tribe, perhaps they have a reason that St. Genevieve is a good wine. Perhaps they are thrifty and feel that it’s a waste of money to spend that much money on wine. Their tribe judges people who spend excessively on food. Who’s right? Who cares? These are both valid points, and their judging helps to mold their tribes.

I think one of the unfortunate fallouts of this is that some people can’t take the criticism. This is a clash of cultures man! You can’t just say, I’m pissed off by this or that makes me angry. You’ve got to confront the idea. No one in life is going to have the same life experiences and there’s no way they’re going to understand how your experiences shape your opinion unless you tell them. And then confront your own. Which one is more valid for you? And are you perhaps angry because you see the validity of the other side, but it’s not what you want in your life? Might you need some personal growth and rejection of past dogmas? Unfortunately, with certain people and certain settings we don’t feel free to debate. Work is a great example of this for me. So there becomes less and less to talk about. Because if you can’t talk about your values, what are you really talking about? TV, I guess.

The downside to tribal life is that while we can get meaning and security from keeping a set of values, we also can stagnate and become “old fashioned”. Becoming “old fashioned” I don’t believe is a function of believing in certain things that are no longer hip. It is a function of settling in, and no longer accepting new ideas. Of settling in as one of the tribe with no input on direction.

We no longer have vast country sized tribes. You don’t see Nazi Germany’s or 1950’s US anymore. We’re fragmented. Our migration patterns, and communications patterns allow us to find a very small, personalized tribe. And to reform our tribe as we see fit. Anyone have any thoughts on this? Am I the only one thinking about it (and feeling that perhaps it is postive for our society as a whole)?