Dial “R” for Rapture!
Who is thinking, if we all think alike?
By Harry Saloor, Founder, Creating A Sustainable Future
April 21, 2008
In The Death of Homo Sapiens Sapiens (Part 1) I quoted E. F. Schumacher who, in ‘Small is Beautiful,’ spelled out what he called the six leading ideas, a toolbox of ideas stemming from the nineteenth century by which the civilization interprets the world:
– Systemic application of the theory of evolution;
– Natural selection, which insures the survival of the fittest through competition;
– Suppression of spirituality, religion, philosophy, art and culture in favor of economic gains;
– Relativism, which denies all absolutes and negates the idea of truth in pragmatism;
– Positivism, which states that the only authentic knowledge is scientific knowledge and such knowledge can only come through empirical sciences (i.e., positive affirmation of scientific theories via exact scientific observations);
– Freud’s theory of unconscious mind, unconscious desire and repression.
Freud said, “Against the dreaded external world one can only defend oneself by some kind of turning away from it, if one intends to solve the task by oneself. There is, indeed, another and a better path: that of becoming a member of human community, and, with the help of a technique guided by science, going over to attack against nature and subjecting her to human will. [And if the technique guided by science fail to reverse the ‘marsification’ of Earth that it started in the first place, you can always hide behind more abstractions!]”
Freud’s theory of unconscious mind, unconscious desire and repression forms the backdrop for a powerful myth that, coupled with a discourse based on [fatal] “traditions” [social proof] and religious dogma, are driving human race towards extinction.
Social Proof and our response to the Collapsing world
How could we be ignoring the signs of the looming environmental catastrophes, and what has that got to do with “social proof?” Robert Cialdini, the famed psychologist, says: “ Experiments have found that the use of canned merriment causes an audience to laugh longer and more often when humorous material is presented and to rate the material as funnier. In addition, some evidence indicates that canned laughter is most effective for poor jokes.”
But why is canned laughter is so effective, especially when we know it to be “mechanically fabricated” and so blatantly false? To understand this, Cialdini says, we first need to understand the nature of the principle of social proof, a potent weapon of influence. “It states that one means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct. The principle applies especially to the way we decide what constitutes correct behavior.”
On those conditions under which social proof operates optimally, Cialdini adds, “when we are unsure of ourselves, when the situation is unclear or ambiguous, when uncertainty reigns, we are most likely to look to and accept the actions of others as correct.”
The main danger of acting under social proof is “the reaction of other people to resolve uncertainty,” Cialdini says, because the others “examining the social evidence, too. Especially in ambiguous situation, the tendency for everyone to be looking to see what everyone else is doing can lead to a fascinating phenomenon called ‘pluralistic ignorance.’ A thorough understanding of the pluralistic ignorance phenomenon helps immeasurably to explain a regular occurrence in our country that has been termed both a riddle and a national disgrace: the failure of entire groups of bystanders to aid victims in agonizing need of help.”
Cialdini cites the classic example of “bystander inaction” that has been the subject of much debate in political, scientific and journalistic circles. The case is about the murder of Catherine Genovese in Queens, New York City. The murderer, the NYC police revealed inadvertently, had stalked and attacked his victim for thirty five minutes in three separate attacks before finally stabbing her to death. At least thirty-eight of the victim’s neighbors witnessed the entire attack “from the safety of their apartment windows without so much as lifting a finger to call the police.” Why?
[Note: The accuracy of some details of the The New York Times report of Catherine Genovese’s murder written by Martin Gansberg has since been challenged, but extensive research into other similar cases, as well as an impressive program of research performed by two New York based psychology professors, John Darley and Bibb Latané, their colleagues and students, has produced unambiguous results that verify the characteristics of “bystander inaction” as described by Cialdini.]
Why did so many “good folks” fail to call the police even anonymously?
Did those folks hated the victim and wanted to see her dead? Were they all cold-hearted bastards who were hardened by the sheer volumes of violent crime in NYC? Were they afraid of the murderer? Was it the “depersonalization” associated with urban life?
Cialdini knows why: “The psychologists speculated that, for at least two reasons, a bystander to an emergency would be unlikely to help when there are a number of other bystanders present. The first reason is fairly straightforward. With several potential helpers around, the personal responsibility of the each individual is reduced: ‘Perhaps someone else will give or call for aid, perhaps someone else already has.’ So with everyone thinking that someone else will help or has helped, no one does.”
“The second reason is the more psychologically intriguing one; it is founded on the principle of social proof and involves the pluralistic ignorance affect. Very often an emergency is not obviously an emergency. Is the man lying in the alley a heart-attack victim or a drunk sleeping one off? Are the sharp sounds from the street gunshots or truck backfires? Is the commotion next door an assault requiring the police or an specially loud marital spat where intervention would be inappropriate and unwelcome? What is going on? In times of such uncertainty, the natural tendency is to look around at the actions of others for clues. We can land, from the way the other witnesses are reacting, whether the event is or is not an emergency.”
What are we doing as the global catastrophe unfolds?
The Last Judgement – Fresco in the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo.
Everyday we are faced with the facts about collapsing ecosystems, declining fisheries, wild food, fiber, timber and wood fuel resources, deteriorating freshwater supplies, eroding cropland, deteriorating air quality and climate regulation systems, failing disease and pest control mechanisms, loss of pollinators, loss of natural hazards regulation, mounting environmental toxic pollution … each case surely being tantamount to a premeditated murder. Every time we watch the news on the TV (or computer screen) from the comfort of our livingroom couches we witness yet another ecological disaster in the making. More species are becoming extinct, sea-levels are rising, ice is melting faster, extreme climatic conditions claiming more victims . . . every instance a case of “Catherine Genovese” being attacked over and over again as we look on until she is finally murdered right in front of our eyes without us so much as picking up the phone calling the “police.”
Cialdini says: “What is easy to forget, though, is that everybody else observing the event is likely to be looking for social evidence, too. And because we all prefer to appear poised and unflustered among others, were likely to search for that evidence placidly, with brief, camouflaged glances and those around us. Therefore everyone is likely to see everyone else looking unruffled and failing to act. As a result, and by the principle of social proof, the event will be wrongly interpreted as nonemergency. This, according to Latané and Darley, is the state of pluralistic ignorance ‘in which each person decides that since nobody is concerned, nothing is wrong. Meanwhile, the danger may be mounting to the point where a single individual, uninfluenced by the seeming calm of others, would react.”
Where does the religious dogma come in?
The problem becomes compounded when some people, prejudiced by the same powerful methods of influence of social proof, believe everything is meant this way and that “the beginning of the time of salvation would be marked by an important and undeniable event, usually the cataclysmic end of the world.”
Among the examples cited are: The Montanists of Turkey (second century CE); the Anabaptist in Holland (16th century); The Sabbataists of Izmir (17th century) and the Millerites of the US (19th century).
Posters like this were placed in public locations around the New England area in 1992. (Image maybe subject to copyright). See MSRB Fair Use Notice.
So here we have it. The “almighty” took the good part of 4.54 billion years to create and perfect the Earth (not counting the preparatory time of 9 or so billion years that he previously spent to “create” the universe) so that it could be destroyed by a cataclysmic event, at least according to Christian eschatology (study of the religious beliefs concerning final events, or End Times).
With the heaven and angels (“they were created before God created the Earth”) awaiting our arrival, do we need to clean, restore and preserve this garbage-dump of a planet and keep it fit for life? Why must we bother, if our peers, the pluralistic ignorant inactive bystanders, who surely know better because there are so many of them, invite us to have faith and join the believers instead?
For those of us who believe, “whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved …” latecomers may dial “R” for Rapture!
- Cialdini, R.B. (1993). Influence: The psychology of persuasion, New York: Quill William Morrow
- Saloor, H.(2007, February). The Death of Homo Sapiens Sapiens (Part 1). Killed by Homo Economicus. Retrieved April 21, 2008, from http://www.restorative-business.org/empire_focus.htm [website no longer maintained.]
- Saloor, H.(2007, February). The Death of Homo Sapiens Sapiens (Part 5). Who Really Benefits from Cheap Oil. Retrieved April 21, 2008, from http://www.restorative-business.org/empire_focus.htm [website no longer maintained.]
- Saloor, H.(2007, February). Cosmic Scale Evil: Money Fetishism and the Looming Omnicide. Retrieved April 21, 2008, from http://www.thepeoplesvoice.org/cgi-bin/blogs/voices.php/2007/08/08/p18766