Why are we so groupish?

Can we work together?

We are all stuck here for a while. So let’s try to work it out

I have been listening to The Groupish Gene: Hive psychology and the origins of morality and religion from The RSA with Jonathan Haidt and reading his 2 books ‘The Happiness Hypothesis‘ and ‘The Righteous Mind‘. He tells us why we do things in groups and why we are born to co-operate.

Thanks to a single mutation in our jaw muscle, around 2.4 million years ago, The human species where capable of growing a much larger skull and thus leaving place for a larger brain. With this brain we where able start evolving complex social structures and more advanced groupish behavior.

We became the Tribal and Story Telling Chimp.

Pan Narrans – The Story Telling Chimp

We are not a bee hive and we are not The Borg. Whoever we are a groupish species that are 90% chimp and 10% hive-mind. We are Pan narrans, the storytelling ape. It’s a term by Terry Pratchett, Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart they coined in the book Science of Discworld II. Our brains is a storytelling and pattern recognition system that acts like everything is part of a story. I talk more about Storytelling in this blog Your Story 🙂

We are all Groupish vehicles for human genes. We became able to use a set of shared intentionality that later developed into a shared Moral Matrix for the group.

This Moral Matrices then enable each group to elect something sacred for the group that we could circle around and the defend in a very irrational way. This sacralization bound us together and made us blind to rational evidence.

The Hive Switch

We humans have the ability (under special circumstances) to transcend self-interest and lose ourselves (temporarily and ecstatically) in something larger than ourselves. Haidt calls this ability The Hive Switch. This leads to a sense of shared fate. This is present in the PERMA model of what makes us flourish by Martin Seligman.

We think that this Hive-Switch is made out of Oxytocin (witch I talk about before) and Mirror Neurons. It can be triggered in many ways but some of the easiest is experience Awe of Nature together or becoming in a state of Trance when dancing together to Trance music.

The Elephant and The Rider

The best mental model and metaphor for our brain is that of a very large elephant that makes up most parts of our brain that are in a constant debate of what decisions make. Then we have the small rider that is our conscious thought and reasoning.

The Elephant stands for our intuition that makes constant and instantaneous decisions. The Rider then works like Press secretary that makes up a story that correlates and justifies with the decision made by The Elephant. With the help of this Press secretary, we are able to lie and cheat often, and then cover it up so effectively that we convince even ourselves. Dan Ariely talks of why we are so good at lying in his new book The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone – Especially Ourselves

The Elephant itself consist of many small parts of the brain that is in constant “conflict” with each others on what decisions to make. David Eagleman explains this great in his book Incognito.

The Rider is there to guide the Elephant where to go and what decisions to make but the Elephant and it’s many parts are in charge.

Intuition comes first and Strategic Reasoning second

Reasoning has evolved to help us engage in arguments, persuasion and manipulation in the context of discussion with other people. It helps us look good in the social context of the group and help further our reputation and agenda withing the group. But it also help us defend our group and it’s moral beliefs. All this has been a key to our survival and success here on earth.

“We are obsessively concerned about what others think of us, although much of the concern is unconscious and invisible to us”

We as individuals are very good at finding evidence that supports the view and standpoint we are already holding, mostly for intuitive reasons. That’s why it’s so hard to look to the other side and find evidence against your own point of view. Other people do us this favor so much better for us, as we do for them. This is why we should always be vary for individuals ability to reason. It is much better done in a group. But not just any arbitrary group.

It’s important that any group whose goal is to find any truth or make any important decisions to have an intellectual and ideological diversity.

If you want to change another group or individual the easiest way is to change the path the Elephant is traveling on not the Elephant itself. This is discussed in the book Switch in more detail. Many of advice found in the book How to Win Friends and Influence People from 1936 are still very good advice into how to change another group or person:

1. Become genuinely interested in other people
2. Smile or even better Hug!
3. Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
5. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely

Building a better world together

What steps can we take make use of this knowledge and build a better world together?

1. Understand Sacralization
If you want to understand another group follow their sacredness. Recognize that they have something sacred that you don’t really understand and that they will defend with blind faith.

2. Talk to the Elephant
If you want to change someones mind talk to the Elephant first. Start by bringing up some points of commonality and establish some way of trust. Then when you bring up matters of your different Moral Matrices. Begin by giving praise or give a sincere expression of interest. Then build on from there to a more common ground.

3. Moralize Demonization
Stop demonizing another group for their believes and sacred values. We are all prone to fall victim to the myth of Pure Evil. Where we self feel “Victim” to some form of injustice. So when you see or hear someone demonizing something, politely remind them that they are demonizing and that doesn’t lead anywhere.

4. Groupishness must be Managed
It’s easy for our groupish behavior to get out of control. Therefore we must help each other to monitoring our behavior so that it applies to a Moral Matrix we all can agree on.

All groups that seeks out some form of truth or affects other groups in any way must have both intellectual and ideological diversity.

5. The Earth Tribe?
Is there a way to unite all humanity on earth as to create a global human tribe? The only way we see this happening is by us being under attack from a common enemy like a global virus outbreak or some other global catastrophe.

In the meantime all we can hope for is a new emergent network society with many small groups pulling in the same direction. Here Social Media comes out a as great tool for bringing all those groups together 🙂

Moral Matrix of the Mind

We are deeply intuitive creature whose gut feeling drives our strategic reasoning. This makes it difficult – but not impossible – to connect with those who live in another Moral Matrix of the Mind. This is exactly like in the movie The Matrix. We live in different worlds in our minds.

/Michael Sillion
Follow me on Twitter: @LordSillion

We are all stuck here for a while. So let’s try to work it out


Jonathan Haidt from TED 2012

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