The most prescient treatise on the political and social phenomena of this year is quickly becoming a toss up between Lord of Flies and American Psycho. The very first casualty of any and all political and social revolutions, more appropriately a regression in this case, is the people still communicating with thoughts and not emotions. If you have any doubt emotions have carried the day in public discourse, then listen to the radio, cable, and read the major news websites. How much of the information is actually…information? If you cannot cite as a verifiable fact or construct some type of logical syllogism with it then most likely it is opinion being passed off as fact and crafted to elicit an emotion or behavior, colloquially known as propaganda. I believe several factors have conspired to rid us of thought, the chief among them being the steep decline in education, the destruction of historical cultural norms and the increased perception of massive social, economic and political instability.
Following a rabbit hole that began with Spinoza, Descartes, Freud and eventually ending somewhere in psychotherapy, I ran across an idea that shed some new perspective on the collective insanity of societies under massive stress. Murray Bowen applied systems theory to the family as a unit, focusing on the whole and the relationships between the respective members rather than as a collection of atomistic individuals. Interesting stuff, but the relevant part of his theory was his idea of self-differentiation and societal regression. Self-differentiation to Bowen was how the mind works when dealing with emotionally charged, stressful situations and relationships. High differentiation is the ability to a) discern between thoughts and emotions and b) rationally make decisions rather than react emotionally to a situation. Conversely, low differentiation is the inability to distinguish between emotions and thoughts, and a high degree of reliance on those around you to make decisions about something. Societal regression is simply low differentiation writ large. Bowen theorized during periods of high stress on a society, small group or family, differentiation can virtually disappear. An easy example of this is the siblings who can pick and fight, but present a united front to someone outside the family doing the same, whether their sibling is in the right or wrong. Essentially, the deciding factor becomes who is involved rather than what the facts of the situation are. Doubtless, some of his conclusions were colored by his personal experiences in WWII.
While I do not agree with Bowen’s conclusions entirely, I do find his concept of social regression to ring true in many cases. A case could be made for low differentiation in many circumstances, such as military units and team-oriented endeavors, but has incredibly destructive power in politics and intellectual pursuits. Human progress depends on highly differentiated individuals creating alternatives to the existing ways of doing things in science, business and other fields of knowledge. Rational thought, and by extension a high percentage of the population self-differentiation, is also a prerequisite to a constitutional republic. There are other factors in the mix as well, but the ability to think through a position and vote against naked self-interest for long term benefit or well-reasoned beliefs is a crucial one.
What started as a trickle of emotional hysteria has now reached a fevered pitch, culminating in two of the most aberrant and least qualified individuals running for a political office giving them control of the world’s most fearsome nuclear arsenal. How could 300M+ people have collectively displayed not only such poor judgment but such strong emotionally driven decisions? Trump is a reactive candidate, an emotional response to a very real threat perceived by middle America. No rational person would consider him an actual representative of either his party or the ideals of classical liberalism. The politicos failed to understand he is an outlet of frustration for the American public and not the product of any rational process. The Trump candidacy is the proverbial fist through the wall in frustration, it helps the situation none at all other than providing a momentary catharsis. Utterly unpredictable in specific terms, it was inevitable all the same. Such actions seemingly make no sense, a nation of relatively well-educated individuals with high literacy rates and comparative wealth whose populace is increasingly displaying erratic behavior. ‘Triggering,’ ‘virtue signaling,’ ‘genderqueer,’ ‘pan-gender,’ ‘bi-gender,’ ‘non-binary’ and ‘safe spaces’ continue to twist normal human behavior into an elaborate, nonsensical word dance where rapists are welcomed with signs and everything from gender to race is now a garment to be put on or cast aside as fits your goals today. Reality is increasingly seen as an inconvenient truth to be generally ignored and on most college campuses today one is simply unable to even greet a person without risking accusations of visual rape, microagression, inherent racism in the greeting or facial expressions, calling a genetic female by the wrong (biologically correct) gender, and assuming the 20 something does not happen to identify as a geriatric or even simian that day. Perhaps emotional hysteria is too timid a word for the current state of affairs, and mass hallucination more apropos.
Bowen I believe sheds some light on why this erratic and hallucinogenic behavior is occurring. A collection of individuals under stress, as we can all attest is increasing across all social and economic strata, will push individuals to react emotionally and lose differentiation. Mob mentality, if you will. To those in conservative circles it has manifested itself in the GOP fracturing along preexisting political lines and pushing groups inward toward themselves rather than the loose coalition of previous elections. The Constitutionalists no longer consider themselves part of anything other than people like them, the establishment has been much the same, and the rise of the alt-right has been a gravity well for the disenchanted of the hard right and libertarian parties that tired of the niceties and sought a more aggressive approach. Rational individuals would have adopted the ‘no enemies to the right’ method that has worked since Reagan and maintained the voting bloc. Emotional individuals cannot see past the us v. them paradigm and engage in a sort of tribalistic outlook to issues, where Trump, Beck or ____ can do no wrong because they belong to my group and anyone outside it must be destroyed. We have seen this among liberals as well with the Bernie supporters throwing fits over Clinton’s appointment to candidacy. Rational discourse between parties has all but disappeared as whites, ‘conservatives,’ males and heterosexuals are the enemy whether they utter a word or not. It has been made plain that the very existence of those conditions is an anathema to some other little group. On a hundred different social, political and economic lines we have collectively regressed into our own small group of people who think like us, talk like us, look like us and believe like us because America is scared. When America is scared we do things like demonize whatever bogeyman pops into our head and eagerly seek out and ally with those who all agree that the bogeyman must be slain for the good of all of us. In that frantic emotional state, no one ever contemplates that they are the bogeyman to someone else and that venom and hatred being spewed is a two way street.
The frightening thing about this tendency toward emotional homogeny is that it seems to feed on itself. Every Trump supporter being screamed at by feminists for being born a man or SJW’s for believing the ‘lie’ of national sovereignty creates a bogeyman that did not exist before. Trump supporters have been so galvanized by the us v. them approach that they have begun to respond in kind. Things a person would have balked at previously, such as imminent domain or import tariffs, now take a back seat as they willingly abandon those positions to ally with the only people who don’t seem to hate them, other Trump supporters. Again we see self-differentiation beginning to wane as rational positions are given up to fall in line with those who see the bogeymen as they do. Trump’s gaffes and policy shortcomings don’t matter to the supporters precisely because it is Trump. Trump can do no wrong because he is ‘us,’ and ‘us’ is on the side of good and ‘them’ are on the side of bad. The same exists across the aisle with the obvious support and adoration still being heaped upon a murderer, felon and traitor. The patriot movement is no less immune to this emotional knee-jerk response and the quite numerous ways of expressing our collective distain for the 90%+ of Americans fondly referred to as sheep, zombies and a myriad of other names.
Unfortunately, Bowen provided no real answers to solve this problem on a macro scale. The first step would be to remove the perceived stress on individuals, and as we feel less threatened many would undoubtedly agree that maybe not all men are bad, or that imminent domain is actually a very poor solution to economic development. The real kick in the teeth however is the realization that the stress will likely increase in the future. Economic stagnation will continue, racial division is becoming an increasing reality and the voices of reason are not only numerically inferior, but have little chance to be heard in today’s ‘if it bleeds it leads’ mass media exploitation of naked hysteria 24/7/365. The French Revolution comes to mind with the guillotine being used liberally on a whole host of people having very little to do with the real issue that started the whole thing, culminating in Robespierre’s paranoia and prompting his removal from the situation. The social phenomenon we are witnessing will continue to follow it’s crazy and wholly unpredictable path, driven by hysteria, hallucination and emotion. Half the battle is not succumbing to it ourselves upon realizing the rulebook has been thrown out the window and there are very little rational predictors to current behavior. The other half is guarding against it in our own lives and those we love, and preventing emotion from taking over our thought processes and overriding our rational behavior. Reality always wins the war, though it seems to be taking a drubbing at the moment. The closer we can remain to what is real and what truly makes sense, the better of we will be. Stay frosty, and never underestimate the power of stupid people in mass amounts.
Information on Bowen’s Theory: