Category: society

Dealing with ‘fake’ news.

Dealing with ‘fake’ news.

Someone sent me this question last night via TROM FAQ: “What can we do, individually, to better distinguish factual news from fake news?” But becuase the answer is quite long, I’ll post it here as a blog post.

I will touch upon this topic in more detail in a future TROM ebook, but here are a few important points based on my experience with news/information lately. So, think about this question: “Is language itself (grammar) influencing the way people think?‘. This is a simple question that you may want to find the “real” answer for. The question does not seem controversial, but how can you go about answering it? This is how I answered it and what taught me about ‘fake’, or unreal news.

I came across the idea that language influences thought and to me it made sense so I immediately accepted it. I was like “Yeah, makes sense.” That was a quick answer based on my knowledge. Any article I’ve read or seen about this topic that confirmed my views I registered it as “proof” that my thoughts about this were correct. The ones dismissing this notion I rarely got to see because I wasn’t looking for that. You may call this a “confirmation bias”.
Later on in life I started a TROM ebook on language and I had to focus more on the topic, so I started to learn about language. After months of learning what language is, how it works, etc., I realized that with so many differences between languages we should see a huge difference between ways of thinking if language were to influence thought, but there doesn’t seem to be any differences. Chinese (any dialect) and English are totally different languages, but can we see a lot of difference between Chinese people and let’s say Americans in ways of thinking? No. So I started to deduce, again, based on my updated knowledge that this idea might not be right.
I said that in order to properly answer that question I have to go straight to the science, to the source, and I started to read scientific research that was looking at answering this exact question. What else can be more valid than going straight to the source, to the science, to the research? Well, the first thing that I realized was that there is a lot of scientific research that implies that “language influences thought”. Many experiments from different sources pointed to that. The second thing that I realized was that the articles and videos I’ve been digesting on this topic were misrepresenting these scientific papers. As an example, BBC (respectable source of science to me) presented in one of their documentaries an experiment that ‘seemed’ to prove how language indeed influences the way we see the world.

After my ‘investigation’ and reading the actual study that the BBC relied upon presenting their claims, I realized how much misinformation the BBC presented in that documentary. Basically, they exaggerated most of it. And I got fooled by that thinking it was BBC, so they must have presented the experiment in an honest way. They didn’t. Basically, if you were to have seen that BBC documentary where they presented how “language influences thoughts” you would easily get fooled by that. This taught me that when you read a summary of an actual scientific research, you will at best read someone else’s interpretation of that study/experiment. And don’t forget that those who summarize (news outlets, blog posts, documentaries, books, videos on youtube, whatever) will want to maximize their profits and therefore engage in click-baiting summaries (misleading summaries). Therefore I learned that going to the source is a must if you really want to know if something is true or not. Summaries will never do justice to any research.
So that’s it, right? I first learned that knowing very little about a subject you are unable to tell if what you read about that subject is true or not, and you may be inclined to only listen and be interested in things that confirm your worldviews. Second I learned that the more you know about a subject, the better your dissection of that subject – you can ask more relevant questions, you can sniff some ‘fake’ stuff when you read it, and so forth. And third I learned that you have to go to the source of information – if you don’t do that then you can at best read someone else’s opinion on the subject.

I wish this was all. But after learning about language and reading the scientific research of “language and thought”, because of my relevant questions and skepticism (based on what I’ve learned about language) I started to get across other scientific research that contradicted that language influences thought. To read the source is not enough, I learned. That’s the point. You also have to have the knowledge to ask relevant questions about the topic you are researching and then read criticism of the research from other direct sources. For example, the research papers I was reading that contradicted the idea that “language influences thought” pointed to very relevant holes in the other research like: the number of people studied was too small; the interpretation was not correct; there was no reproducibility; and so on. So all of the “respectable” sources that

I’ve read previously who pointed that language influences thought, lacked the scientific basis to be relevant. Lacked reproducibility, lacked a relevant huge number of participants, lacked ways to extract relevant meaning from the research. To make it simple: if you go to a tribe that has 3 times more names for shades of red than in the English language, and do an experiment with 20 people from that tribe, and 20 from American culture, to see if indeed language influences the way we think or see the world, then you need to reproduce this study and add in a lot more participants. Whatever you find out from your little experiment is not valid unless you add in more participants and also try to replicate the study + other important details. 20 people cannot be representative of anything.
And so, after all that journey, I got to understand that there is absolutely no evidence that language is influencing the way we think. It can’t. There is no scientific research to showcase that.

To summarize:

The first important thing is TO KNOW. If you don’t know much about how our bodies work, how medicine works, how treatments work, and so forth, then you can’t judge anything you read from healthcare research. At most you may read an article or watch a video that confirms your worldviews (whatever the subject), and feel satisfied with that. But also, if you read the criticism (the opposition to that) you will either ignore it or for sure you’ll be unable to understand it (how can you understand someone criticizing that “language influences thought” if you know so little about the subject itself – language!?).

Second important thing is to realize that whenever you read anything BUT the scientific research, then you’ll read a biased view of that research. You will play the telephone game where the research says something and then the others hear it and project it forward in a mutated manner, then others get that mutation and mutate it forward, until in the end of it when you will read it on a news website, or in a book, and so on, in a form that is very difference from the actual study itself (where it all started). If a research states something, then some journalists read it and summarize it, then CNN or others take what those journalists summarized and summarize it further, then others take what CNN summarized from that summary and summarize it further….that’s not going to be representative of the actual research.

And third, you have to understand that even the scientific research itself is not enough. A scientific research can omit important aspects in the study, can present it as factual even if it is not replicated anywhere else, can mislead by what they interpret out of their findings, and so much more. Even more, many scientific studies are financed by companies so they may be indeed biased in what they present. Or you cannot even access most scientific research since it is behind paywalls or complicated language. So at least, when you read a scientific study, ask yourself what is the sample size (the smaller, the less relevant the study); was it reproduced and what were the results?; who financed this study?; and so on.

But if you are not familiar with a subject then you can’t go through any of these. For example, a doctor can pretty much spot the BS in scientific research if it is in his area of expertise. A doctor can ask: ok, but what are the side effects of this treatment? what about people over a certain age, can they get this treatment? how does this treatment compare to the other ones? and so on. These are questions that you and I can’t ask. We are also unable to measure the answers to these questions for the same reason: we don’t know enough from this area.

In a few words: this is fucking complicated and it depends on what you are looking at.

If it is a news from politics then how can you go to the source of any claim? The only thing you can do is to go back to who said something, or a personal testimony about something, and things like that (the start of the telephone game). But because the game started with basically people testifying things, then this can’t be relevant even if you hear it from the source. This can’t be called science. Therefore it depends on the nature of what you are trying to figure out. If it is a research (science) then at least there is an answer somewhere. If it is politics then I don’t think you can do much about it, so you are left with “trusting” whatever X or Y said. So choose your team…. Even polls that say people think this or that about this subject, it depends entirely how the question was asked for that poll. Numbers and studies masked as experiments can be truly misleading. Psychology and psychiatry suffer enormously from this kind of muddy research that can’t even be replicated most of the time.

The Solution.

It is 100% crazy to ask people to “go to the source” and “know a great deal about a particular subject before making up your mind about it”.  The world is fucking complicated. So this is not a solution. The solution is “improve the summarizers”. These are the folks and organizations who have the time and expertise to go through the source of information and summarize it for the rest. And if these creatures are experts in the fields they summarize from, then even better. And if they are also working for an organization that makes no profit out of their work, then even more trustful.

An example is HealthNewsReview. A non-profit organization that keeps an eye on health news. They have hired a bunch of doctors and journalists whose sole job is to go after the source of important health news and ask educated questions. They break them down and showcase if and how media misrepresented the studies.

We need such groups of people for everything out there. Unfortunately, they are a few and very unpopular. The only reason they can survive is because of donations and their obsession with what they do. So we need a bunch of experts who can summarize scientific research and not be in the business of making money out of that. CNN, NYT, BBC, and mostly all news outlets out there are the exact opposite and their core focus (or at least a huge part of their focus) is to make money. This will lead to poor quality journalism research and exaggerated articles/documentaries/etc.. I find governmental sources way more trustful because they are in the business of informing (at least in theory). Like the National Health Institute in the UK has a section called “Behind the Headlines” where they break down health science news in a similar manner as HealthNewsReview does. UK Cancer Research does the same for cancer research.

But these watch-dogs are very few, underfunded, and don’t reach many people. The other ones, the barking-dogs, are so many and so well paid, and so motivated to present bullshit news just to make a buck. On top of that we have a population that knows very little about the world and has very little time (or interest) to learn more. The best that people can do, as I said, is to “trust” sources that summarize information for them, but since their options are mainly limited to corporations and for-profit entities, then it is hard to trust anyone. It is like picking a football team. Some may go with BBC, some with NYT, some with who knows what source. I am not saying these sources cannot be trusted, only that it is hard to trust them. Very!

It is the perfect storm, and it is all the fault of the trade-game we play.

People have all the reasons today to not go in depth on any subject. But they have reasons to present shallow, misleading and exaggerated information because they trade that for money (clicks equals profit). But also, today something weird happens: any moron can become a well-known summarizer because of google, facebook, and other sorting and filtering online tools that measure “goodness” (value) in terms of views or likes, or reactions. Morons put out there ‘bombastic’ news titles and article, or videos, and become more and more well known because of that. The other morons who give likes and shares are masturbating their confirmation bias with these materials, and together they become the shittiest summarizers our there, and the most popular ones. The world is full of these prostitutes that became so cheap that even the likes and shares do it for them. They don’t necessarily need money anymore, they only need likes and shares and they’ll post all the crap in the world for that. The bombastic, the simple minded, the exaggerated, are all working so damn well online, becoming so noisy that nothing of good value (which takes a long time to produce) can be heard. It is like the telephone game where the research says “neutrino” and at the other end comes up as “dick”. Some of these morons truly believe what they promote, so they are not about making a profit (money, likes, views) but because today matters what is popular (as I said more views equals more well known), then these honest morons get to so many other morons out there because what they present is simplistic and bombastic, spreading misinformation. They too are victims of the trade-based world where us, as a society, do not provide them with a proper education and proper opportunities so that they can grow scientific minds. These are the feral morons emerged out of a handicapped society. And they are not actually morons. They only reflect the culture they grew in.

Therefore we like it or not, we can’t all go through the difficulty of investigating claims out there, going to the source, and such, and so we have to choose who to trust. I’ll say experts who work for non-profit organizations are a great start.

I created TROMNews specifically for this reason, to curate news from trustful sources. It is not perfect at all, but for sure it is much better than anything you’ll find out there. Also, to get back to my question on language and thought – because I am helped financially by our readers I could spend more time researching that topic and because I make no money out of selling TROM ebooks I could be as non-biased as possible when presenting the summary of that I learned about language. I am a summarizer too, and the fact that I am a “not-for-profit” creature, then it makes me more trustful I would say. But I am not an expert in what I am presenting, so keep that in mind. Can’t tell you how many people sent me a ton of books to read about “language and thought” and even though I tried to give those a shot, this is not the kind of work I want to do for TROM: to read the summarized and then summarize that. So I went straight to the source of the subject I was writing about. And, as a last thing, don’t forget that I can also be wrong (of course), but at least I am less likely to be biased and the more financial support I get the more work I can put into making TROM as scientific as possible. I don’t need click bait titles, or exaggerated content because that’s not what I am selling. By contrary, doing that I will lose readers/supporters.

Look:

There is no simple answer to the question of how to distinguish fake news from ‘real’ news. The culprit is the society we live in as that’s what pushes people to engage in such behaviors of misleading (intentionally or not) others. If you can’t find someone to trust (a source that summarizes) then I’ll say whenever you hear anything: meat causes cancer; the earth is flat; exercise improve health; and so on, ask yourself where was that news coming from? It has to have a source. Where did the telephone game start? Find that source! Then learn about the subject and not the question. If you know a great deal about Earth or science in general (from gravity to paleontology, climate, astronomy, etc.) then you’ll ask relevant questions when you hear some saying the Earth is flat. If you are familiar with healthcare research then you know that it is never so simple as saying “this food causes this disease”; psychological experiments rarely imply causation; and so on.

Side note: These articles are so easy for me to make because I know a great deal about these subjects. In contrast, it takes me so long to make TROM ebooks (compared to blog posts) because there I am exploring subjects I know very little about and takes a lot of time to research for them. This article took me around 3-4 hours to make. A TROM ebook of the same length (which is super small compared to TROM ebooks) can take 3 days or 10 days, it depends.

Living your dream

Living your dream

Here’s something interesting: if we were able to decode dreams and play them in a movie-like format, would you be interested to watch them?

Let’s say you go tonight to bed, you wake up tomorrow and I give you this technology to be able to see what you dreamed last night. Would you be curious? I am sure most will, as I will as well. But what if the recording of your dream lasts a few hours time? Would you watch it all? Then would you continue with the recordings and watch them every day after you wake up, like you watch a tv series now? Because if so, you may end up dreaming your dreams, or living your dream. Get it?

If you watch what you dreamed, for many hours a day, every day, is like taking what you have in your head and putting it back again in a constant loop with tiny variations. I find this a huge waste of time.

But wait a second…I think that’s pretty much what most people do today.

Taking_photos_of_nature_with_phone_3_590

They go to places and take photos or record videos of that place and they barely enjoy it. They share that moment with others and end up looking at photos more than at reality. You look where I went on my FB profile, I look at yours, we both look at photos. I know people that see all places in photo quality, to put it this way. Because they look for how awesome a photo with a sunset will look like, but they don’t enjoy the event. Look at your Facebook or Instagram, or other people’s profiles, and you will pretty much have an idea of what I am talking about :). If you spend your life taking photos and videos, and then watch them later on, it’s not only similar to watching your own dreams, but even spending time recording them. And you forget to live….

 

More to that. How many watch movies, reality shows or tv series? A lot! You can look at stats and you will find that billions of creatures watch them daily. But isn’t that like watching other people’s dreams?

TV-Watching

Think about this….is it worth spending the short amount of time you have on this planet looking at digital representations of it, of reality?

 

I used to be obsessed with new phones and cameras, I had some of the most high-end phones back in the days when phones with cameras were first available. I was taking so many photos and recording so many videos. One time I remember I went to a school holiday (in a camp sort of a thing) and I had an Alcatel from 2003 (brand new) with less colors than my shoes that are blue with white :)) and a camera of such a low quality that you could identify people from trees, but not the other way around :). Anyways because I loved technology I took the phone in this holiday and filmed/photographed everything, even though it only had 1.8MB for storage, but I deleted many photos as I wanted to take new ones. I used it so much and looked at the holiday/trip through its display for so long that I had troubles for weeks to be able to think or dream in more than 3 colors :). I mean it. It was so frustrating but if I tried to imagine a scenery I wasn’t able to imagine it in full colors. Only in Alcatel quality. All of that trip for me was in 3 colors. Same way, I suspect, such moments, if not most part of people’s lives, are in HD or 4k, but never in full eye-resolution.

Everywhere I go I see people with their phones taking so many photos, then they look at their screens to be sure the photo is good. They seem to pay little attention to wherever they are.

I choose not to slip into this kind of behavior again and I rarely take my phone out to ‘capture’ the reality, so rare that I have to explain it these days because it is not like I am taking only 30 photos a week, but maybe 10 a year. I realize now how relaxing and real it is to enjoy where you go (or when just live) instead of taking photos or record. Even if you say that you will only take a few photos, I suspect that unconsciously you are still looking at sceneries in terms of a good photo shoot, and this may diminish your enjoyment of that moment.

I know that it is interesting to look back at photos of you, more so when you get wrinkles :), but I hope to create a very interesting life for myself so that I don’t feel the need to look back, not even further, but at present.  When I was little I played all day long with my friends: hide and seek, football, and so many other games. I find it ridiculous to imagine now that we could stop and take a selfie while hiding when playing hide and seek and ‘hashtag’ it  #youcantfindme and put it on twitter. Or a group photo with the momentary football teams that we assembled on the spot. We enjoyed that moment and didn’t feel the need to post it somewhere or capture it so we can look at it in the future, because we were so busy with the present. We really felt like we were living and we won’t miss a thing if we don’t record the moment because tomorrow we start over again 🙂

A side note: I suspect that people who post photos with them or updates about how much fun they have, don’t have that much fun because if they had they would have little or no time or interest to post it on a social network for others to see. Don’t you think? I also suspect that most interesting people don’t have a FB or Instagram account :). They may not care about such things, but their present life that they are so busy living that they don’t need to record it.

I understand that there might be people enjoying taking photos and don’t see this as a big deal, but do you wonder how it would be to live in an era where there were no such devices? Maybe that would be more fulfilling for you? I’m just wondering this…

 

I’ve been in some very interesting places and took no photos at all, but I don’t feel like I had missed anything. I enjoyed the trip and this is what I do for the past years. Try to leave your smartphone at home when you go out, see how that feels :). Maybe it is a complete waste of time to record all these moments…..for whom are you doing this? And whoever that ‘whom’ is, in hundreds of years time (or less), your photos or videos may, more than likely, be completely irrelevant. So, I would suggest to live for yourself, and if you leave no trace of your life, no worries, all of our life’s traces will be gone eventually (and quite sooner I suspect because with so many photos you may find it hard to already see their relevance).

I don’t choose to live my dream, I just try to live 🙂

Social Pressure

Social Pressure

Social Pressure: The Force Behind Societies

This girl falls pretty hard at a ballet concert and hits her head on the floor, but although we can see that she felt pain (perhaps quite a lot), she quickly went back to ‘perform’ the dance. 

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This is something we may not pay that much attention to, but I think we are missing an important ‘force’ that holds societies together, and that is the “social pressure”. Trends in fashion, jokes, what is gruesome, normal, what are the limits of social values, were always fine tuned by the social pressure force that exist solely as an unseen effect and influencer of human cultures, ideas, rules, norms.

What I want to talk in this article about, is the general influence this ‘force’ has on all of us, and see if we can define it and how valuable it is for The Venus Project’s direction, as it might be one of the most important aspects that will keep a society like TVP in place.

 

DARK MATTER

From Galileo and Newton, to Einstein, one ‘force’ has become more well know than any other, it is the Gravity. Many people have heard of this force, which as Einstein proved it is actually the bending of space (not really a force), but there are other forces or ‘theories’, less known and less popular. 

Take for instance a galaxy. Huge pile of stars and planets (billions of them), gas and interactions. Many have thought that the ‘backbone’ of a galaxy is the very popular gravity that holds all of the ‘stuff’ into one formation. However, recently humans realized that there is not enough mass for the matter that is inside a galaxy to be held together by gravity alone. In short, if all the matter that is observed inside a galaxy would rely solely on gravity’s effect to hold its structure, a galaxy could not form. They then theorised that there should be more ‘stuff’ than the ‘stuff’ we observe, and this ‘stuff’ should have enough mass to then explain why galaxies do not fall apart. They called this stuff ‘dark matter’.

Spiral galaxy NGC 1376.

And this ‘thing’, because they do not know what it is exactly, seems to be an essential part of the universe we know, without which the universe that we know today would not exist. It cannot be seen directly (it does not absorb or emits light), but its effect on other cosmic bodies seems to be noticeable. 

SOCIAL PRESSURE

In the same way, we today may think that what holds a society together is knowledge, culture, technology, or laws, and even if some of those are of course part of, I think the ‘dark matter’ in this case is the social pressure, without which, a society could not have formed, no matter of the society. 

Social pressure may be mostly associated with a negative impact on individuals, but in actuality it all depends on the circumstances. What I want to do is to showcase its power regardless of the outcome.

Let’s categorize the social pressure in 3 distinct parts: the fear, the uncomfortable, and the unnecessary.

 

The Fear:

At a high point on planet Earth, as one may call it ‘almost the top of a mountain’, a group of people survive with only their basic necessities met. They have an agricultural system to provide them with food, and collect water mainly from the melted ice that sits like a blanket on top, around and close to them. They are not many, they have no government, no money, but they are organized because of one simple and single force: pressure, peer pressure.

150324_SCI_Himalayas-MeetinginMarthang.jpg.CROP.original-original

You see, water is scarce there and working the land requires many of their own. Both can only be achieved through cooperation. When cooperation breaks and conflict happens, the instigators face ‘social imprisonment’. They are ignored by the rest of the members and the instigators’ lives become solitary, in a place where the nearest pile of civilization is 257 km (160 miles) away, and can only be accessed with a jeep for only a half a year as the rest of the year is covered by snow. This social imprisonment is so powerful that no one wants to be in such a position. If they do not want to help with the agriculture or share water, they are threatening the survival of the entire community and the community reacts like an immune system.

They very rarely face such issues because of the tremendous force, not written, but felt, that governs their community. You can read more about them here.

Laws are the means through which ‘civilized’ (that’s what some say) societies tried for thousands of years to keep themselves under control (be it for ‘good’ or ‘bad’ reasons). But trying to map and harness the power of social pressures with laws is like trying to map the stars in our galaxy with the naked eye and harness their solar power. Very inefficient, almost ridiculously so. Laws may make a few fear to break them, but as we showcased in our article on prisons and ‘morality and ethics’ their power is greatly limited and most of the small scale conflicts (in family, with friends, etc.), and perhaps even big scale conflicts, are solved inside the community/family and not by law, and ideally will be solved by technology as we will discuss near the end of the article.

Think of that community of people living on top of the mountain. If they had laws that did not matched the reality in which they lived in, then the laws would have been inefficient. If they would have said: “If one refuses to work, then he/she will be kept in a dark room for a period of time as a punishment” then the people may not have seen the reason behind such a law and not be as pressured to respect it, but if they grew up with the notion that if they refuse to work, they hurt the community that they were part of, and there are some inherited laws (like social imprisonment/ignorance, and not punishment as in the ‘law’ sense) then one could better measure the consequences and understand the reasoning.

 

To put it another way, if you were to explain to your kids all of the things they are not allowed to do (don’t play with the dishes, don’t throw away the food, and so on) then you will have little success, but if the children grow up understanding that by playing with the dishes they may break them and that hurts the family financially, or that throwing away the food then they may not have what to eat, and all that will also cause their parents to be ‘upset’ at them (not talk to them, ignore them), then this will be more efficient as a social (familial) pressure that the children will learn to respect.

Sad little girl listening her parents having an argument

Therefore the fear behind social pressure must be one that matches the reality and it is inherited, not punishable by others, but self imposable. If I refuse to share water with people, I know that they will ignore me and I will become alone and with no help for the future, no support of any kind, and this will make me feel more powerfully the things that I will lose if I am not going to respect that ‘rule’. It will also make it hard for me to blame someone but myself, but if there will be a punishment for my behavior in the form of a law, then I may regard that as a ‘someone else’ that punishes me, which is the one that made the law and people who are supporting it, and it may make me feel like I am right, but the law is ‘wrong’. And all this may make the law very inefficient. Understand? I hope so.

So, if there will be a ‘fear’ factor when it comes to social pressure, then for it to be more efficient, its reasoning and consequences must match the reality and be properly understood by the people.

 

In our societies people fear the same social imprisonment too: you can start to be ‘mean’ with your friends (not violent or breaking the law) but you know that you will lose them and this fear makes people modify/edit their behavior. In a documentary by Channel4, “The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds”, they looked closely at how 4 year olds interact with each others in a kindergarten, and one example is perfect to show how social pressure in the form of ‘fear’ influences the human behavior, almost similar with how scientists, although they can’t observe this ‘dark matter’, observe its effects on other cosmic objects. There was a 4 year old boy who was very mean with the other children (he was stealing the toys, food, and behave in a ‘rude’ manner) but after a while, because of his behavior, the other children started to ignore him and not play with him. The teachers were also reminding him many times to behave better with the other children because it is not nice to behave the way he did. But never punished him for his behavior.

Chaim, Christian and the chocolate cake. Photograph: Katie Hyams/Channel 4

This entire pressure, being felt day by day, made this kid to start and behave more nicely towards the other children and seek for friendship at one point. You could clearly see him suffering for being alone. No punishment was applied for this kid, only the social imprisonment he felt because of his own behavior. No one he could blame for his behavior, no ‘enemies’ he could project a possible anger towards, he just felt alone and ‘fighting’ with no one but his own behavior. Realizing that improving his behavior results in better outcome (making friends for instance) he seemed to understand and control this better than a rule that might have punished him for the behavior he exhibited.

Politicians are very scared of such pressures and often they choose their words carefully to not upset the people, or else they may not get elected. ‘Mini-Gods’ (celebrities) are also pressured by their fans and their public appearances to behave in a certain way and only say a certain things. Even priests, parents, or other people in societal ‘functions’ will fear for losing their established position. 

When the uncomfortable becomes very uncomfortable, the fear is felt.

 

The Uncomfortable:

If the husband of a loving wife, dies, and at the day of the funeral the wife cannot find her makeup tools to prepare for the funeral, she may get stressed over this, even though it is the funeral of her beloved husband. She doesn’t want to look ‘bad’ or ‘inappropriate’ even in such situations because that may make her feel uncomfortable. 

A girl with a rare syndrome is sleeping even 2 weeks on a row, with occasional wake ups to go to the bathroom and eat. She is a teenager and, from what this documentary about her portrays, she seemed more concerned about not missing school or the prom than about her own health. One may wonder why she may seem more concerned about societal factors than her own health. If I were to have this syndrome, I would be very interested as to what is causing it, how it affects my health and what can I do to improve my situation. But even the girl’s parents looked more concerned that she may not be able to finish school than how this syndrome affects her health. Towards the end of the documentary she seemed more emotionally affected by her high school final grades than about the important medical results of her condition that she just received. As a side note, I am sure her parents are concerned about the girl’s disease, but they seemed far more emotionally touched/driven when it comes to society based and invented rules such as the one’s look, proms, or school grades, than about a real, health crippling condition. 

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In another documentary, a girl had another rare condition that made her look much older than she was. At 16 she looks like at 60. Face, teeth, indeed some internal organs, seem to be all affected by the disease. The interesting aspect is that, as shown in this documentary as well, the girl and the people around her, looked more concerned about the peer pressure, social pressure, than about the disease and its effect on the girl’s health. The girl, as she said, was mocked and ridiculed in school because of her looks, and that seemed to have affected her more than the disease itself. This was evident when she went for a very expensive and painful facial plastic surgery to ‘fix’ her, not health, but societal problem.

This all shows, I think, how, even if your life is on the edge or crippled by some sort of disease, many people are conforming to the tribe’s norms that they self subject to and get ruled by.

 

And these are not rare situations, we all feel uncomfortable by this kind of social pressure every single day. One may even be quite stressed that his hairstyle is not ‘ok’ in the same day when he finds out if he has cancer or not. Very few of us think of walking very slow on the street, just so we can piss other people off (because that may cause us trouble with the other people); or say nasty words to random people; dress in pink dresses if you are a guy; curse at no one while walking on public; dress backwards; lick trees, or whatever. 

You can do many things in this world that are not punishable by any kind of law, yet you don’t because is either the social pressure (you are afraid of how others will see you or how they will react) or because it doesn’t even cross your mind to do these things.

I was once walking with a friend of mine and we saw a convertible car. We were young and from a tribe where you don’t see such cars very often. He laughed and said: “Ha! Such a stupid design. I bet many people pee in his car because it has no roof!” That looked like a good argument for both of us at that time :). But of course, this is not happening because no one will really thinks of doing that, even if some may do this, and it is not because of the fear of laws/consequences mainly, but just because it is not ‘right’ to behave this way or because of what other people might think of you if you are exhibiting such behaviors.

 

There are many psychological experiments done over the years that show even more clearly how this ‘force’ of social pressure is present in many cultures and in many different circumstances and ways. Watch this playlist to see some of these experiments:

[ytp_video source=”1-U6QTRTZSc”]

Think about it: the way people talk, walk, what they wear, what they like or don’t like, is very much influenced by the social pressure. No law tells you to not wear a dress if you are a guy, yet you don’t wear one even if you may like it, because you are afraid of how others will see you. You will feel uncomfortable.

 

The Unnecessary:

But this state created by the social pressure doesn’t have to be one of ‘fear’ and discomfort, but one of feeling ‘right’ to not behave a certain way. Meaning, a scientist may not destroy important fossils because he may understand the importance of them, even in a situation in which he will not face any legal repercussions. He understands, based on his culture, that it is not ‘right’ to behave in a certain way and he can be influenced by that even in situations in which he doesn’t feel any kind of fear or be uncomfortable about his decision.

potrojny grob 

I can take all the money from TVP Magazine donation campaign, not share any with Ray, and run away with them without making any TVP Magazine issue :). Since perhaps no one knows where I live or who I really am, and I signed no contract that forces me to use the money for this magazine, I would probably face absolutely no fear or state of discomfort by doing this (no one can contact me to make me feel bad about my decision). But I can’t do this because I feel it is not ‘right’. There is no law or punishment or state of discomfort that something/or others can put on me, but still, I am behaving ‘properly’. And that is solely because this is how I feel is ‘right’ and that state of feeling is created by the environment I was exposed to. Thus, I feel it as unnecessary to do this.

 

BUT IT CAN BE BEND OR BROKEN OR IT CAN VANISH

If you were to give to the people from the top of the mountain as much water as needed and food, without them being forced to work to obtain them, then the social pressure on behavior that gravitated around those needs will vanish as no one can be punished for not sharing the water since there will be no need for sharing it.

If the dishes are unbreakable, children can play with them and no social pressure will be needed to make them change their behavior in regards to that as they can’t break the dishes.

If that 4 year old child had access to all the toys and foods he wanted, then he would probably not have seen the point in stealing any toy or food and so his behavior towards the other kids would perhaps be very different. 

If people would have been educated about what ‘beauty’ is or even what ‘social pressure’ is, then perhaps less will see the need to modify their appearance or behavior because of other’s opinions or put their appearance first and health second.

If I were to starve to death and would need the money from TVP Magazine that also belongs to Ray, then maybe I will be forced to take all the money to save my life. On the other hand if I were to live in a TVP like society where we would need no money to cover our basic needs (to keep us alive) as they will be meet, then the entire dilemma/situation around this issue would disappear completely (no one would even wonder if I were to do such a thing).


Great-artists-steal-How-to-dramatically-improve-as-a-Web-Developer-by-stealing-from-Open-Source

When the fear created by social pressure is exceeded by other means (like being in a position where you life is threatened by, let’s say, lack of food), when environmental factors (climate change, poverty, etc.) are more uncomfortable than social pressure, and when you don’t see it ‘right’ anymore (education, changing values) to behave in a way that society values as ‘right’, then social pressure can break, bend or vanish in certain circumstances.

 

But I find it hard to think that social pressure will ever be eliminated as it is an effect of the contrast between social norms (culture and the society) and individuals. If in a society there is normal to share for free all the goods and services, then the social pressure will be felt by those who may think of not sharing. Not all will feel the same effects and in the same way, but we are all, in a way or another, no matter of the culture and society, affected by the social pressure, this invisible force that shapes our behavior, and we shape society because of it, and society influences us, and this loop is a constant one.

 

But hold on, I have talked about social pressure as if it is a ‘something thing’ although I must admit I do not understand what it is properly either, only see its effects, and let me explain why it may not even be a ‘something’ but a ‘something else’.

Baby Expressions

Dark matter is, probably, not ‘matter’. At least not something we recognize as matter. Scientists have literally no clue of what this is, but it certainly is something. Maybe gravity is not properly understood and this dark matter doesn’t even exist, and is something beyond it and the gravity. It is still a mystery, a complex one to solve for us, humans. 

Social pressure may be the same. Perhaps we are just observing some effects of the environmental influences on human behavior and we choose to call some behaviors as as social pressure influenced, some scarcity driven, some emotional, and so on, and they all might not even be relevant categorized as such. I do not know, I must admit, because this might be more complicated than the dark matter itself, but as in the case of the dark matter, there is definitely something there as we see ‘its’ effects, a ‘force’ that makes most people behave in a way that does not break the social norms that often and this ‘force’ seems to keep a society more alike, more uniform, more robust, whatever this society might be.

 

This whole thing might be explained by rewards and punishments in regards to behavior. When you give food to a pigeon who turns its head left, and you do that many times, then the pigeon associates the head movement with the reward. Perhaps people associate rewards in how people behave to them with other kinds of behaviors that they themselves exhibit. If one sees that by drinking alcohol and being a bully he is admired by his peers, then he might continue that behavior for the peer reward factor. In another sense, of one sees that when she brings religion into discussion when she is with her friends, it makes her friends uncomfortable and they even try to ignore her, then she might end up by not discussing religion with her friends.

 

Therefore, this thing that we may call as social pressure, if we can define it properly, should then be regarded not as a ‘bad’ or a ‘good’ influence, but an influence, a powerful one. The saner the society, the more positive outcomes such influence will have.

 

To harness its powers for a progressive and saner future you should create an environment in which people are scientific enough to have a basic understanding of the world the live in, human behavior, technology and semantics. Also, without an environment of abundance (goods and access), meaning an infrastructure that can keep a society saner, this ‘social pressure’ will be perhaps more harmful and many times non effective as people will steal, become violent, and create all sorts of issues when their needs are not meet, regardless of how powerful the social pressure will be.

 

In a TVP like society people will feel right to not steal or take advantage of others; they will feel right to share with people, cooperate, help the others and the society. It may feel hard to imagine that such a world can work without police or laws, but couple the TVP infrastructure with social pressure and I think we might see it being a realistic view of the future.

 

Language is very inefficient when trying to explain such a complex subject and I can only hope you understood this article. I highly recommend you the article we did on Reason and Logic and one about values (The TVP Vaccine) to try and see how it connects with this one.

 

NOTE: This article was written by me for TVP Magazine but was not accepted by Jacque and Roxanne as they said it has many assumptions, and I agree it has some, but I also think that you cannot avoid this when talking about human behavior. Anyway, I think it is an important article at least to make you think about social pressure and what, if any, importance it has. 😉