OK, I have been building up to another post for a while, I have been trying to write one on the psychology of racism but feel there are some premises that should be explained before it. The first of these is going to be the lies we choose not to process. We think, thanks to our super efficient consciousness that we know everything that is going on in our brain but that is far from the truth. There are shortcuts, design flaws, things not worth noticing and beyond all that there is the unconscious mind that actually does all the work and gets none of the thanks.
We process lies, we are told lies and we process them. We add up whether there is any truth in the statement, we analyse all things associated with the situation, previous experience, what we know about the person speaking, whether we have any evidence and then we decide whether it is the truth or not. If you want to understand this better, consider it within a conversation with someone who might be telling the truth or not. Then assess things in terms of their usual familiarity about that person and whether or not they seem more easily retrievable. They should be. We make these decisions as to a persons’ honesty, we decide how we will treat their future information and our conscious mind takes all the credit. The problem with this is that it thinks it is in control, it needs to think it is in control and contradicting that would undermine consciousness as a whole. So, it will give glimpses of this decision making process, it will allow just enough reasoning to happen consciously and it will generally just get on with things.
There is an issue with this though, we only pay attention to a decision if it is hard or if there are things attached to it that make it particularly significant. There are a few little examples in normal life that should give an idea of the complications involved. How often has, what should be a simple decision taken ages to make, simply because you had the misfortune of paying attention at the time? Things like picking from a take away menu, becomes a massive decision, taking up your entire central executive (the conscious thinking bit). Or, you have been agonizing over a decision for days, then without thinking about it at all, you realise you have made it. This highlights, for me anyway, the interaction between the unconscious and the conscious decision making bits of the brain.
There are a bunch of studies coming out at the minute and for the last 6 or 7 years that will tell you that determinism is entirely real and I do not actually disagree with this but it is far from as simple as saying ‘well if I was only ever going to make one decision, I don’t need to think about anything’. There are moral, physical, neurological and societal reasons to confuse this issue but for now, I will just say that we are conscious beings and as such, there is large element of decision making that is automatic.
So, what’s the point? Well, in this instance the unconscious decisions, the things we don’t quite bother attending to, the things like a government telling lies or a government being racist or Louise Mensch being stupid enough to think she is a feminist, these are things that should concern us but don’t seem to be doing often enough. So, why is that? I am sure there is a complexity to this answer that I would not dare to approach in all honesty but a couple of things of interest is the way we at least appear to repress things we don’t want/ don’t feel the need to pay attention to.
We think (hopefully) that all the current MP’s, for example, are scum sucking leeches that only have big business and their own interests behind every single action (if you don’t think this, then this article is particularly for you). It is precisely because we attribute things like ‘liar’, ‘cheat’ and other generally unscrupulous adjectives that they get away with things like expense scandals, giving Vodafone a couple of million £ bung and flat out lying to students in the run up to an election. It is not always as simple as that though, there are thresholds and as I have mentioned, there are some cognitive processes that play their part as well.
To attend to a decision it requires either a conscious decision, which people are conditioned out of making in terms of politics or the decision to be particularly salient to them personally. If not, then as long as it doesn’t contradict current schema’s it will be dismissed using an attitude and everything carries on. It is worth mentioning at this stage, attitudes are formations of cognitions designed to make sure we don’t waste time and energy thinking about things that we already know about. If we had to decide every element of every decision, then we would do very little else. We develop attitudes, which are automatically achieved schemata that dictate what groupings of things are associated with each thing we experience. It is a way of saving time. These develop both consciously and subconsciously and I won’t bore you with too much detail about all of that. The point is, if you think that politicians are liars, cheats and thieves and they behave like that, it is not even going to hit the conscious thought process. It is far more likely that you will just carry out about your business, happy in the fact that actually your current understanding of the world has been affirmed again. In terms of operant conditioning, you are actually rewarded for being right about being cheated and apathy ensues.
All this matters because Marxists constantly talk about raising the consciousness of the working class and people talk constantly about the apathy of a generation. The simple fact is, while people attribute these things to politicians without fighting and questioning why they should be this thing and get away with it, apathy will continue unless what they do becomes massively important and requires conscious processing because of the threat it poses for the individual. So, it is necessary for change to happen for every person to believe that every act they carry out directly affects them and just writing them off as liars and cheats is going to compound the problem. I am not saying we shouldn’t think of them as this, there is plenty of evidence to suggest they are both. I am saying though, that actually, the expense scandal has almost actually worked in their favour. They sacrifice a few lambs, most of them are back in work relatively unaffected and life continues for them are we get done over.