Quotes from The Culture of Conformism, by Patrick Colm Hogan.

“Though confusion and fear may well be consequences of prior conformity, individuals generally react to these feelings by conforming still further. In part, this is because, already feeling vulnerable, people cannot bear the thought of being the object of collective scrutiny, and thus, perhaps the object of collective hurt. But it is also because, uncertain as to why they are unhappy to begin with, confused as to the causes of their dissatisfaction, individuals are likely to turn to other people in order to see what they want, on the assumption that what other people want must be what would make those individuals themselves happy as well. This is not, most often, a conscious process of inference, but a more immediate, imitative response. It is, in a sense, a response to a type of mild panic.”

“[M]ost people grow to maturity with fundamental beliefs about the physical world that are roughly Aristotelian. In studying physics, people may come to internalize Newtonian or Einsteinian beliefs. They may be able to act on these beliefs, reason via these beliefs, and the like, when they are taking a physics exam or are doing research in physics. But even those who go on to do advanced work in physics rarely substitute the Newtonian or Einsteinian beliefs for the Aristotelian ones. The Aristotelian ones remain fundamental, guiding thought and action in most of life, while the Newtonian or Einsteinian views are “triggered” only by such contexts as that of research or test taking. As Holland et al. explain, ‘Strong rules learned in childhood will not be forgotten or replaced by subsequent learning. Instead, such rules will remain in the system, to be called up when later circumstances resemble those under which the rules were first learned,’ which is to say, in this case, the circumstances of ordinary life- in contrast to the far more limited context of the classroom or laboratory. Moreover, at any time, the presuppositions of the former may spill over into the latter, leading, for instance, to errors in exams, or even in the design and interpretation of research. In sum, ‘people reliably distort the new rules in the direction of the old ones, or ignore them altogether except in highly specific domains.’

Clearly, the discrepancy between fundamental and contextual beliefs is highly consequential outside of academic science. It is no doubt that one cause of such phenomena as the U.S. populace’s contradictory tendency to assert that politicians are all corrupt and dishonest, and at the same time, to accept unquestioningly much of what politicians actually say. It can be seen in the conformist behavior of rebels, the racist actions (and even remarks) of “antiracists,” and so forth. Along with self-interest, it is no doubt one of the reasons for the common tendency for revolutionaries to slip into conformity. In each case, there seems to be a strong, consensual, fundamental belief operating in contradiction with a more recently acquired, nonconsensual belief, with the former asserting itself outside of special contexts or at times when one’s self-conscious vigilance flags.”

“In a famous phrase, Marx referred to [religion] as ‘the opium of the people.’ The analogy indicates that religion is a form of distracting pleasure that numbs people to their own oppression. But, perhaps even more important, religion operates to co-opt the vision of eudaimonia, and it does so in the service of the present system. Much as a commercial society fashions people’s material demands from the impulses of their legitimate needs, religion (or at least officially dominant religion) forms nonmaterial desires out of people’s legitimate aspirations toward eudaimonia. Whether it urges people to seek heaven or nirvana, it turns their sights away from establishing a real eudaimonic society here and now; it encourages them to aim for an ideal life beyond this world or in detachment from it. Indeed, it often does this by fostering social consent to specific and overt ways. To take only one of many possible examples, the role of Christianity in the colonial domination of Africa was, as Walter Rodney has noted, ‘primarily to preserve the social relations of colonialism, as an extension of the role it played in preserving the social relations of capitalism in Europe.’ In order to achieve this end, ‘the Christian church stressed humility, docility, and acceptance,’ and ‘preach[ed] turning the other cheek in the face of exploitation’ so that ‘everything would be right in the next world.'”

“Specifically, the content of the ideological assertions concerning hierarchized group difference is fairly constant and contributes directly to dehumanization. Members of the dominant group (men, whites, Europeans, straights) are characterized as rational, methodical, and restrained, while members of the dominated group (women, blacks, Arabs, gays) are depicted as irrational, emotional, and hysterical. One way of discouraging identification is by presentnig the thought processes of the opposed or oppressed group as inscrutable, most often due to inconsistency or even insanity. If another person’s thought processes are incomprehensible , if he or she is unpredictable in thought or feeling or action, one simply cannot invoke any representational schema in his or her regard. Even the bare schema of human subjectivity assumes a commonality of reaction to pain, disappointment, or insult; it assumes a similarity in aspiration, desire, and moral principle. Even the bare schema of human subjectivity involves structure and predictability. To make the Other incomprehensibly different is, in effect, to make him or her inhuman, by making his or her feelings and ideas merely random. The situation is only made worse when that other person is viewed as duplicitous as well- a further racist and sexist commonplace. To take one example from the Gulf War, in U.S. News and World Report, Judith Kipper maintained that, ‘We go in a straight line; [Arabs] zig-zag.’ More exactly, ‘They can say one thing in the morning, another thing at night and really mean a third thing.’ The similar sexist clichés about female illogic are too well known to require repetition.”

“Movies and television shows, news programs, and magazine articles, morever, all tacitly invoke these imagoes by, for example, contrasting the heartless businesswoman with the affectionate wife and mother- a recurrent structure in recent television and cinema, as Susan Faludi has stressed. In doing this, they not only foster consciously conformist beliefs and attitudes (say, those that condemn highly independent women) but also link these with powerful unconscious imagoes: the devouring mother and the nurturant mother, in this case.”

“A perhaps more obvious function of transference in the Gulf War was the negative transference onto Iraqis, and Saddam Hussein in particular. Hussein was not only dehumanized; he was repeatedly characterized in terms that encouraged an identification of him with the negative paternal imago of a violent brute and lascivious rapist- an imago already central to both antiblack and anti-Arab racism. In fact, he was implicitly characterized as a rapist of children, a particularly effective cue for the threatening oedipal imago. Some striking instances of this may be found in Bush’s speech announcing the beginning of the war. (I am grateful to Marianne Sadowski for pointing this out.) Bush begins by characterizing Kuwait as a child, “small” and “helpless,” that has been “crushed” and “brutalized.” He goes on to contrast the “family of nations”- the phrase serves to trigger positive infantile associations- with Hussein’s treatment of “tiny” (again, childlike) Kuwait, which “Saddam Hussein systematically raped.” Bush further specifies Hussein’s crimes as “unspeakable atrocities” against “innocent children”- an especially effective image, in context, if also one that is particularly obscene in its hypocrisy (recall the hundreds of thousands of innocent children killed because of the war and subsequent embargo).”

“[P]anic tends to foster racism, authoritarianism, and more generally, consent and conformism- a point that is deeply consequential for U.S. society today. As Susan Douglas has maintained, the news media are largely driven by the dictum, “If it bleeds, it leads,” and are filled with sensationalistic stories of crime and disaster. This “body-bag journalism bludgeons the viewer into a state of cynicism, resignation, and fear.” These “sentiments… serve a conservative agenda,” at least in part, because they lead people to shift from positive to negative attitudes in their beliefs or prototypes. This is most obvious in the case of race, but it applies to a wide range of social phenomena. Everything from places to institutions to people are conceived of via topics inflected by attitudes. As attitudes in general become bleaker, people are more likely to shift to negative specifications of topics across the board. Douglas argues that “the more TV you watch, the more inclined you are to exaggerate the level of crime in society, and to exaggerate your own vulnerability to crime.” In consequence, “people who watch a lot of TV are much more likely to favor punitive approach to crime- such as building more prisons and extending the death penalty- than are light viewers.” Presumably, part of what is going on here is that panic leads people to specify crime-related topics in the most negative and dehumanizing way. This, in turn, leads to the advocacy of the harshest and most authoritarian responses. (For a summary of research linking authoritarian convictions to fear of a hostile world, see Duckitt 1992). “

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