"Social Stuff"

[From Fred Nickols (970519.0648 Austin Texas Time)]

First off, as you can see from my date-time stamp above, I don't know if
Austin, Texas is on daylight savings or standard time. So much for the
quality of my reference conditions.

Second, in response to Bill Powers' musings about "social stuff" in
[Bill Powers (970517.2014 MDT)]

<snip>

But that isn't the main thing I've been thinking about, if you could call
musings while cutting down dead trees thinking. It's really Society that's
been on my mind -- the strange disparities between what PCT tells us and
what we find in the real world. PCT tells us that we're all basically
self-controlled, yet in social situations we seem to have not only some
people controlling others, but the ones who are being controlled acting as
if this is only natural and right. Of course I'm averaging over the
impressions of a fairly long life, and there is less of the doormat attitude
nowadays. But there is still a class structure, we still have royalty, we
still have heros and gurus and mentors and people who expect deference from
others and get it. We still have people who think they have a right to run
the lives of others; to judge them, to tell them what to do or think or
both, to arrange our social customs and laws for the benefit of some and at
the expense of others. And more puzzling, we have people who grant them this
right.

Cosmologists have been worried about the structure of matter in space. If
everything started with a single point-source bang, how could any
inhomogeneities ever have arisen? I have a similar problem with Society. Why
do not all people demand to be treated equally? Why is any person willing to
view another as somehow deserving better treatment? How do the imbalances
and inhomogeneities arise? And why are they, apparently, self-sustaining?
How do the have-nots conspire with the haves to keep the situation not only
the same, but increasingly inequitable?

I don't know the answers to any of these questions. It seems to me that
sociological research using PCT ought to be able to answer them. But the
more I think about this problem, the less I understand about it. Any ideas?

It seems to me that if lots of individuals are raised to believe that they
should defer to older, wiser heads, that they should comply with the wishes
of those in authority, and that, in general, it is best to "go along with
the program," then it seems to me that what has happened is that lots of
individuals have developed a set of reference conditions that yield behavior
patterns that look to others like compliance, obedience, submissiveness, etc.

On the other hand, if some small number of people are raised to believe (or
come to believe on their own) that their judgment is sound, that they are the
chosen ones who should establish the programs with which others should go
along, and that compliance with authority is the basis of social order and
that it should be enforced at all costs, then I suspect you would see what
you see; namely, some people acting like they are in charge of the rest of
us, and lots of the rest of us going along with that program.

In short, Bill, I think PCT explains it perfectly. But then what do I know?
I'm one of those people who spends a great deal of time thinking about how
to get what he wants without tipping his hand so that others can interfere
with his aims. I consider myself governed by my own standards, ethics, and
whatever other labels we might wish to apply to subsets of what are usually
referred to on this list as "reference conditions." I assume everyone else
in the world behaves in accordance with their own reference conditions as
well. I DO NOT assume that any two individuals' reference conditions are
identical or even particularly similar.

Consider Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. Those crimes against humanity were
not committed by beasts (although we would like to think that was the case).
Those crimes were committed by what, in other circumstances, would have been
very ordinary people. And what did they claim when Justice came calling?
"I was just doing my job; I was simply obeying orders." Clearly, there's
something wrong with that reference system from my perspective, but it is a
reference system or set of reference conditions none the less.

Am I wide of the mark here or are these comments responsive?

Regards,

Fred Nickols
nickols@worldnet.att.net

[From Bill Powers (970519.0622 MDT)]

Fred Nickols (970519.0648 Austin Texas Time)--

First off, as you can see from my date-time stamp above, I don't know if
Austin, Texas is on daylight savings or standard time. So much for the
quality of my reference conditions.

Probably CDT. [I've left the appearance of the original post alone in that
paragraph: note overflow of margins. I'll fix the other quotes manually, as
I usually do. SET MARGINS TO 65 CHARACTERS! My current campaign.]

It seems to me that if lots of individuals are raised to believe >that they

should defer to older, wiser heads, that they should >comply with the wishes
of those in authority, and that, in general, >it is best to "go along with
the program," then it seems to me that >what has happened is that lots of
individuals have developed a set >of reference conditions that yield
behavior patterns that look to >others like compliance, obedience,
submissiveness, etc.

I think this is quite right. How many times do you hear it said of someone
"He's a real team player" (approvingly) or the opposite (disapprovingly)?
How much of our young lives did we spend being told to keep quiet and do
what the teacher (or parent) says?

On the other hand, if some small number of people are raised to >believe

(or come to believe on their own) that their judgment is >sound, that they
are the chosen ones who should establish the >programs with which others
should go along, and that compliance with >authority is the basis of social
order and that it should be >enforced at all costs, then I suspect you would
see what you see; >namely, some people acting like they are in charge of the
rest of

us, and lots of the rest of us going along with that program.

This, of course, is an extremely old pattern. I think many people would
argue that it's built into "human nature" by evolution or Divine Will. Some
are born leaders, others are born followers; some are born to command, the
rest to obey. I wish I could find the whole text of that British hymn, which
contains the phrase "the rich man in his castle, the poor man at the gate."
It's all about how God made each person to fit into the proper socioeconomic
niche, and all is right with the world.

It's a fascinating idea to think that the way most people behave in a
society is simply a product of system concepts that have been formulated and
passed down from one generation to another, together with a large network of
"moral" principles and detailed reasoning that make it all seem to be
inevitable and right. And all, of course, with no understanding of how
people actually work. I don't know if PCT is going to be around for ten
years or a thousand, but it seems clear that social system concepts would
change greatly if everyone understood PCT.

In short, Bill, I think PCT explains it perfectly. But then what do >I

know? I'm one of those people who spends a great deal of time >thinking
about how to get what he wants without tipping his hand so >that others can
interfere with his aims. I consider myself governed >by my own standards,
ethics, and whatever other labels we might wish >to apply to subsets of what
are usually referred to on this list as >"reference conditions." I assume
everyone else in the world behaves >in accordance with their own reference
conditions as well. I DO NOT >assume that any two individuals' reference
conditions are identical >or even particularly similar.

This is one of the great ironies of life. What you say is really true of
everyone -- any standards, ethics, morals, principles, and so forth have to
be understood by each individual and adopted as working reference
conditions, so EVERYONE spends a lot of time "thinking about how to get what
he wants without tipping his hand so that others can interfere with his
aims." The problem is that each of us grows up thinking we are the only
person in the world who does this -- everyone else _really believes_ in all
these things. When newscasters recently started babbling about "the most
beloved First Lady in history," meaning Jackie Kennedy, how many people
stood up in public and said "I didn't think she was so wonderful"?

The problem is that each of us knows perfectly well what we _really_ think
and feel about things, but we know nothing at all about what anyone else
_really_ thinks and feels. So we adopt, superficially, socially acceptable
attitudes in order not to appear out of step or as you say "tip our hands."
But how strange it is when nobody _really_ thinks or feels what everybody
assumes that everybody _else_ thinks and feels! The social conventions lose
their anchor in reality, and society becomes something very different from
what the individuals in it actually wish to experience.

Consider Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. Those crimes against >humanity

were not committed by beasts (although we would like to >think that was the
case). Those crimes were committed by what, in >other circumstances, would
have been very ordinary people. And what >did they claim when Justice came
calling? "I was just doing my job; >I was simply obeying orders."

I think I believe that claim was true for most Germans. But doesn't it mask
the real problem? When everyone around you seems to be hating the Jews, how
can you stand up and admit that you don't care much about Jews one way or
the other? You'll leap to your feet and shout "Sieg Heil!" along with all
the others, thinking you're the only one who feels silly going along with
this ridiculous play-acting. You could have an entire crowd composed of
people having such secret thoughts, but because of the social conventions,
each one will feel he or she is hiding a dangerous secret.

Heck, I can remember singing "We're gonna have to zap the dirty little Jap"
in world war two, and thinking "That's really a terrible thing to be saying
about the Japanese." Who hasn't gone along to get along, and been ashamed of
doing it?

I sometimes wonder how many secret PCTers there are in the world. It's
really hard for me to imagine how any intelligent person could actually
believe, for example, that every action and every thought is being directed
by external stimuli and reinforcers or genes popping off one after another.
I can see someone believing that this is true of everyone _else_, but how
could it be true of oneself? To believe this would trivialize everything;
even one's belief in stimulus control or genetic control would simply be a
result of stimuli or genes, so a chance combination of stimuli or genes
could have made one believe just the opposite (as apparently it has done in
many other people). So maybe it's believing in stimulus and gene control
that is the result of such a chance combination of meaningless
circumstances! I don't see how this line of thought could lead anywhere but
to giving up altogether any scientific ambitions.

Suppose, however, that you don't actually believe any of these things about
yourself, but everyone around you is talking as if _they_ believe it, and
exerting great pressure to combat any deviationism. What are you going to
do? Stand up and admit to your doubts, and be scorned and ridiculed, or even
hated? And -- the biggest wry laugh of them all -- what if _every single
person around you_ were in exactly the same dilemma? Each one would be
showing the others what a good team player he or she is, by joining in the
scorn and ridicule toward any offender, and feeling uncomfortable with the
fact that one's own belief is defective. "I believe, oh Lord, help me in
mine unbelief!"

I mean it when I say I wonder how many secret PCTers there are. I've been at
this for 44 years, not publishing a great deal, but certainly enough for
lots of people to have heard my pitch. And I've talked a lot and written a
lot of letters; B:CP sold somewhere over 6000 copies, and I keep running
into people who have heard of my ravings and liked them but never thought to
mention it to me. I've seen lots of oblique references to PCT ideas in the
literature, not so much citations as just an attempt to deal with an idea
that I've told a lot of people about (often an attempt to refute it). So how
many people have secretly got the main idea, but have been in a position
where talking about it would be, shall we say, not in their best interests?
I have this fantasy: somewhere in the world there is a department of
psychology in which every single member goes around thinking, " Gee, this
PCT stuff really makes sense -- I wish I weren't the only one who thinks so."

Ah, well, the imagination connection is a wonderful thing.

Best,

Bill P.