(Stillness in the Storm Editor) There’s a shocking fact about the human condition we need to come to terms with. Most people comply with authority even if it goes against their better judgment. Due to social conditioning, we’re wired to blindly follow authorities, and there’s a reason why. The following article details several studies that reveal this phenomenon. The good news is there is hope for changing this condition.
The underlying psychological basis for why most people follow orders and become pawns for often unscrupulous borderline psychopaths is that, on the whole, they lack self-mastery and fear abandonment. Or, stated another way, they’ve become too dependent on others to do their thinking for them.
Authorities Don’t like Critical Thinking
We’re each born with a capacity to think and evaluate reality for ourselves, to make contact with the truth and distill wisdom from experience that helps us guide our lives. But like all skills, it takes practice and dedication to master.
For most of human history, thinking for yourself in combination with speaking your mind, could get you killed. As a result, the cultural fabric that influences people today does not encourage critical thinking and personal autonomy.
Contemporaneously, we have a lot more freedom to think and speak freely, but we’re still dealing with various social mechanisms that suppress the urge to master one’s mind.
Most, social groups, institutions, and governments want compliance, not critical thought and discussions of merit about why you should do one thing or another. How many authority figures do you know, be they police, judges, school teachers, or figureheads in social groups (e.g. sports teams) want you to question things?
The overall effect of this social imposition is to stifle the personal urge for self-mastery, the use of one’s mind to discern the truth and live by personally distilled values for life.
Despite this intrusion of culture, some of the most influential and pioneering people have transcended their dependence on what others think of them, changing the world by coming up with good ideas and sharing them unabashedly. Such individuals did enough self-mastery work to make contact with their own values and placed greater influence on these than the values imposed on them by others. This is the key.
If we don’t seek to discover intrinsic values and vow to live by them, it is very easy for us to comply with an authority.
We’re predisposed to seek group acceptance, very early on in life. If our parents and family don’t accept us, we’ll feel unloved and unsupported. In society, lack of acceptance means ostracization, an inability to find a mate, an inability to grow one’s business and overall emotional and financial hardship. These are just the social effects but there are biological factors that hinder us when we feel unworthy of the acceptance of others.
Within each of us is a biological counter, so to speak, that measures our social acceptance in our family, jobs, friend circles and society at large. If a group accepts our ideas, behaviors, and values, it elevates us up the social hierarchy in our minds, releasing more serotonin. Serotonin is instrumental for a great many things related to the mind-body connection. Particularly, serotonin regulates stress, reward mechanisms, and creativity, along with remaining confident in challenging situations.
Low serotonin levels leave us feeling pessimistic, emotionally drained, depressed, unmotivated, and low in confidence—states of being that do not engender thinking and acting outside the social strata. High serotonin levels make us feel optimistic, emotionally vital, courageous, and bold.
What this means is that the people who feel accepted by their social groups rank higher in the social hierarchy, translating into biological feedback mechanisms that enhance their ability to be courageous. This makes you feel braver, taking the time you need to think carefully so you can voice your opinion. This biological mechanism can either support us when we need to question an immoral authority or it can hinder us, depending on how intrinsically motivated we are.
When you’ve become intrinsically motivated, developing values and arguments to support them, you are no longer as dependent on society or the opinions of others. Now your biological reward mechanism feeds you encouragement, even when you don’t feel accepted by a social group.
The underlying mechanism for intrinsic motivation and thinking for oneself is the value system.
Intrinsic Motivation and Values
A value system is something we rely on to guide our thinking, actions and behaviors. When we value something, we move toward it. If we don’t value something, we move away from it.
In this sense, the challenge is to make contact with values that make your life better, particularly values that you’ve created a personal justification for. You have to know why you value this or that goal, at a personal level, as oppose to relying on blind faith or social encouragement.
Intrinsic values are life goals that make you feel inspired. When you have an intrinsic motivation, supported by an intrinsic value, you do the things you do because you are personally motivated by them. You not only know what you want to do, you know why and those reasons or justifications are consciously recognized.
For example, if you value creativity, you might paint, draw, write music or poetry, become a free-lance carpenter and so on. A painter who is intrinsically motivated consciously knows how good it feels to take a vision in their mind and render it into art. The feeling of accomplishment, expression, and upliftment is palpable and forms a case or argument for why they paint—a justification.
Often, intrinsic values are inspiring, uplifting, and love motivated, engendering bliss and happiness when acted upon. Intrinsic motivation and values make you the center of your value universe, guided by your choices, desires, distilled truths, and philosophic axioms. In short, you are the captain of your motivational ship, not likely to change course out of fear pushed from an authority.
Conversely, extrinsic values are ones that motivate you from the “outside.” For example, if you fear being a social outcast, you might wear clothes that you think other people will like, even if you don’t. Or, you might go to a party or dinner with people you don’t like because you fear losing connection. Or you might agree to do something at work that is against the law because you don’t want to lose your job.
Extrinsic motivation makes you dependent on others, what they think of you, what you think society wants of you, and how others see you. Extrinsic values often engender fear, shame, and cowardice. And from this disempowered unconfident place it is very easy to succumb to an immoral authority or be influenced by a social norm that hinders personal growth.
Evolution Via Self-Mastery
There is an evolution of values. That is, we can slowly learn how to build and develop our own reasons for doing the things we do, which is an aspect of self-mastery.
In the beginning of life, we have to accept the extrinsic values of our parents to a certain extent. Once the higher centers of the brain come online, starting at around age seven, we can start to philosophize or think about what we value and how to express these in our desires and behaviors.
If someone suggests we do something, and we think about it carefully, assess if it is in alignment with our values, and build a justification that supports it, then the extrinsic value becomes intrinsic. Now it is ours, and we’re motivating ourselves on our own steam, not just doing it because someone told us to.
For example, your parents might instill in you the desire to clean your room. Initially, you don’t clean your room because you want to, you do it to avoid the wrath of your parents or to make them happy—extrinsic motivations. But later, you might discover you enjoy the aesthetic of a clean room or you notice it feels good to have your living space in order—intrinsic motivations.
The cornerstone concept to understand here is that extrinsic values and motivations are enforced on to us, which we internalize as either avoiding punishment or seeking reward. Values become intrinsic when we think carefully about the reasons behind our justifications, only when we build a personal case or argument for why we want to do something.
In movies or stories, the hero who disobeys an immoral order is intrinsically motivated. The minions of the villain that do what they are told out of fear of punishment or reward, are extrinsically motivated.
Thus, the more you contemplate and think carefully about why you do the things you do, the stronger your intrinsic motivational system becomes. The side effect of this exercise is making contact with your personal value system, which becomes an ever increasing and supporting system for motivating and guiding your behavior. Eventually, you reach the adulthood moment indicated by carefully weighing all things against your value system, and speaking up when you feel something isn’t right.
A Farm For Order Followers and Why We Need Black Sheep
Let’s face it, not everyone is capable of thinking for themselves so as to build intrinsic motivation.
The fact is, most of us have suffered greatly at the hands of immoral people who took advantage of us. Furthermore, the cultures we live in tend to value obedience over critical thought, effectively becoming a farm for order followers. In this sense, each of us has to battle between developing ourselves or complying with society.
Society is a social hierarchy, wherein certain values are rewarded while others are not. Since critical thought isn’t as valuable to an authoritarian society, then it is punished. Since obedience is valuable then it is rewarded. These external environmental factors make it so that most people become order followers instead of free thinkers. It takes a lot of courage, dedication, and self-mastery, to go against this grain, but people do it. And once you step into this mode of being, your biological reward mechanisms come online, helping you climb the obstacles of life.
For the most part, people at the top of the social hierarchy are intrinsically motivated. The cutting edge thinkers, inventors, and influencers of history have all been intrinsically motivated. The models we should focus on are the people who dared to think against the grain and progressed in life despite a lack of social support. What this tells us is that self-mastery, or the practice of knowing thy self through careful consideration, critical thinking, and self-reflection, is crucial for intrinsic motivation. With intrinsic motivation in hand and a critically thinking mind, we can more easily navigate those moments when we’re pressured to do something we know is wrong.
Consider Nikola Tesla. He was one of many pioneer thinkers who dared to advance his ideas despite his peers attempts to drag him down. He was a black sheep.
In modern psychology, the personality trait called disagreeableness relates to this ability to say no or go against the social grain.
Being disagreeable in and of itself isn’t necessarily a good thing. But when the truth guides us and we’ve carefully weighed the consequences of voicing our opinions (strategy vs irrational idealism) we’re more likely to take a sand that is actually beneficial.
Most importantly, the truth and our dedication to it is the foundation for gaining self-empowering and socially uplifting intrinsic motivations. That is, disagreeing with someone or disobeying an order is best done when we’ve carefully considered all the facts and perspectives. Just saying no, purely because you have an ax to grind isn’t helpful. But keeping an open mind, evaluating what is suggested, determining if it is in alignment with your values, and is actually the best for all involved is extremely helpful. Imagine if everyone started doing this, how quickly would the status quo change, one that relies on most people blindly following orders?
Ultimately, we live in a world where thinking for yourself and discussing the merits of an idea isn’t encouraged. But we have to be daring enough to break the chains of authoritarian culture so as to develop self-mastery. And the more we do this the better our lives and our world will become.
Read more articles by Justin Deschamps.
by Lance D Johnson, April 2nd, 2018
Many of us really are sheep, quick to follow the crowd and obey orders. Instead of standing up and speaking out on our own convictions, we often choose to fit in. Assimilating with the crowd, we find it’s easier to go-along to get-along, even if that means giving away our own power, rights, and dignity in the process. In fear of isolation, we do not question or challenge authority figures, even when they are morally and ethically wrong.
Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram unveiled this sad reality of human behavior in a social compliance experiment that showed how ordinary people will torture others under the social pressures of an authority figure. Milgram wondered why Nazi military personnel were so easily influenced to inflict torture and death on innocent people. His experiment gave us a window into the compliant nature of human psychology.
The experiment, detailed in Milgram’s 1974 book, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View, shows that when people are under the influence of an authority figure, they are easily coerced to repeatedly hurt others. In the experiment, Milgram asked volunteers to deliver an electric shock to a stranger. The volunteers didn’t know they would be shocking actors who were pretending to be hurt. Even after inflicting visible pain on others, the volunteers would continue to shock them only when they were ordered to do so by an authoritarian person in a lab coat. Even when the victims feigned heart attacks, only a small percentage of the volunteers chose to defy the orders of the authority figure. Most continued to torture their victims. According to Dylan Charles for Waking Times, “The suggested conclusion is that people are inherently unable to think for themselves when given a subordinate role in some authoritarian hierarchy…”
A personal story of questioning authority and standing up for parental rights
When visiting a church with my wife and three-year-old, we were initially told to register our kid in their computer system, obtain a number ID, and wear tags so that church security staff could properly identify the child and the parents. When our daughter cried during the church service, my wife went into the nursery for five minutes to help her get used to playing in there. A watchful staff member outside the nursery walked in and told my wife that ‘only people with background checks are allowed in the nursery.’ The staff member watched her closely, but my wife refused to leave our child even though she was pressured to.
When my wife brought our daughter back to the church service, I decided to take my daughter back to the nursery myself, passing two security guards on the way. I unintentionally disobeyed their rule, thinking it was natural to stay with my child to help her get acquainted with the nursery. Later that week, we questioned church authority on the matter. We were told that this is their policy, that parents must ask for their child and not cross into the nursery unless they submit to a criminal background check. Applying social pressure, they told us no one had ever had a problem with the policy. In the end, they only wanted us to listen and obey the rules, for which I responded, “I cannot guarantee that I would, since this is our kid” and we are free as parents to be where our kid is, if need be.
The church may have rules that their staff undergoes a background check, but the church authority has no right to keep parents out of a place where their kid is being kept.
Social pressure and compliance illustrated in Netflix documentary, The Push
A Netflix documentary titled, The Push, explores this obedience-driven group psychology further, showing how readily people hand over control and authorship of their own lives. The need to belong can drive most people to act in unethical and violent ways just to fit in. Even with a little authoritarian pressure, people will give in to immoral demands, shunning any bit of courage they might have had. With no conviction or individual standards to go by, many will bend to authority to please the manmade hierarchical structures that have been formed by group think and the needs of the group to feel that they belong.
This is prevalent in The Push. In the opening scene, a café worker takes a phone call from a police officer and within a minute is convinced to abduct a woman’s baby. At first the café worker showed hesitation, but ultimately carried out the wrongful act under the social pressure of the authoritarian figure.
In another elaborate experiment, participants are slowly coerced to comply with the demands of a persistent authority figure and the pressure of a small group of others. By the end of the experiment, the participants were so compliant; they actually took orders to push actors off of a building, believing they were doing the right thing by committing the murder.
Most people are wired to take orders and feel as if they belong, even if that means relinquishing their own power sacrificing their integrity, or trouncing on someone else’s human rights along the way. (For more stories on exercising personal freedom, visit Liberty.News.)
found on The Daily Sheeple
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