I was in an Uber a month or so ago. The driver was acting strangely as they often do, and it was weirder still that the Air BNB I rented a week later was apparently in my driver’s apartment complex. But that’s another story.
On the first occasion of our meeting, he must have used what I’ll call trigger words, dropping names of things or people or circumstances that others recently have dropped or that were relevant to fears I’d voiced or expressed in my online browsing. Sometimes they’re ideas not spontaneously selected, but planted in obscure corners of the internet or by strange people who are part of the whole thing.
It’s impossible to know whether anyone using trigger words is actually involved, as themes tend to reoccur regardless and the brain tries to make sense of things that look like patterns. I only know that something must be going on because I used to be religious. Things rarely come in packages of more than three, a fact I noted as a Christian. When there were three or more, I called it a sign, and never did chance prove Divine.
Anyway, he had me on the defensive, so I defended myself a bit. “They just want to break me, to keep me down. It’s never gonna happen.”
He whipped his head around with an amused, disbelieving grin stretched the whole width of his face. “The audacity,” his expression said, though he said nothing. I repeated myself. “It’s never gonna happen.”
But there is a lot that I’ve learned these three years. One is that individuals and groups are capable of awful things. The current chapter in my Psychology class is giving me the tools to characterize this phenomenon. Here’s what I’ve got so far: You’re all a little prejudiced, based on social and societal priming. This means, by definition, that you harbor unfounded beliefs which induce you to discriminate against me, for whatever reason you picked today.
Attitudes follow behavior, so that to reduce cognitive dissonance when your actions are misaligned with your beliefs, you’ll adjust your beliefs. If you have treated someone terribly, you’ll find a way to justify it long before you’ll apologize.
I’ve noted before that people tend to blame the victim, mistakenly positing the “Just World” fallacy. People get what they deserve? Hardly. I deserve a million bucks in damages, and you just keep damaging me.
Group polarization occurs when a like-minded clique forbids entry to opposing views, and is responsible for coordinated atrocities like terrorism. “Its starts slowly, among people who share a grievance. As they interact in isolation, their views grow more and more extreme. Increasingly, they categorize the world as us against them.” That’s an expert on actual terrorism, not me on you. Surprise.
Group think is where all the individuals comprising a clique self-censor their opposing views, so that “harmonious but unrealistic” ideas proliferate.
Sixty five to seventy percent of the 1,000 people included in 20 different experiments continued to administer electric shocks to tortured victims because they were told to do so all the way up to an excrutiating 450 volts. The victims communicated discomfort at just 75 volts, at 150 volts, they withdrew their consent to paticipate, and only twenty percent of the torturers stopped. At 375 volts, the victims became unresponsive. Less than five percent of the electricity weilding subjects were swayed to cessation by the extreme display of suffering.
One third of the people in another experiment were willing to completely deny what they’d seen with their own eyes when the consensus was that they had not seen it.
Deindividuation occurs when anonymity is the rule, so that those already succeptible to authoritative forces and groupthink are absorbed into the collective more completely. Self awareness suffers, less responsibility is taken for one’s own behavior. People are brutalized.
These are the things that define you, whoever you are. You, who I cannot see, who refuse to be seen. Your mask is the mark of the beast. You are the evil that you say I am. You’ve shown me what that means.