Continued from Part 1.

While liberals can play an important role in encouraging the adaptation process, not all liberals who don't want to follow traditions are trying to make society better. As a child of the 60s and 70s, I know something about indulgent liberals. I grew up at a time when the motto was, "if it feels good, do it." The desire was to have a good time with little concern about the consequences to the larger society. This is why traditionalists often see liberals as a lot more indulgent and a lot less interested in social progress than they may claim. 

And, liberals shouldn't feel too smug about not having traditions and being, therefore, creative free thinkers. The truth is there is a lot of "politically correct" orthodoxy (i.e. traditions) on the liberal side of the political equation.

There are other ways in which groups are structured in order to increase group cohesion.  One is a formal authority structure like, for example, the rigid hierarchical structure of the Department of Defense. Many elements of society have clear authority structures and if you violate the commands of the authority then a wide range of sanctions can come into play. 

There are also an informal authority structures, that I think are even more important. If you do something that your group disapproves of, you will quickly find yourself looked down upon by your friends and associates. If you persist, you are likely to find yourself ostracized or worse. 

There is also a sense in which individual thinking and decision-making has a kind of two-tier level to it with rational and non-rational / emotional components. A metaphor that often is often used to describe this is the rider and the elephant. When everything is in harmony (rational thought largely agrees with emotional thought) everything works pretty well and the rational rider is seen as effectively guiding the elephant. But, if the two ways of thinking are not in harmony, one will quickly discover that the elephant is much stronger and the rider is powerless. In this case, nonrational emotions tend to drive behavior. 

Psychologists have identified a wide range of cognitive biases that outline the many different ways in which people don't follow the rational model (Benson). If you look at these, a pretty high percentage involve situations in which deeply ingrained psychological biases privilege the group over the individual. If you look at social evolution from a group perspective, these biases start making a whole lot more sense. 

Over the course of the seminar we have spent a lot of time thinking about the importance of social adaptation. Unfortunately, based on the above discussion, it's clear that the group-focused, rather than the individual-focused, decision-making slows a group's ability to identify and make much-needed changes. While this may prevent the making of ill-advised changes, it also tends to slow the adaptation process by contributing to social and cultural lag.  This presents serious obstacles for those trying to help society make much-needed changes. 

At this point, you can be forgiven that thinking that the many problems associated with group-oriented adaptation and "power-with" social problem-solving make the situation hopeless.  This, fortunately, is a case where a corollary of Kenneth Boulding's "First Law"  comes into play: "if it exists, it must be possible." There are people who are very good at getting large and complex social groups to think the way that they want them to think. (For instance, effective politicians and adertisers are examples of this.)  Unfortunately, their model is sometimes a whole lot closer to the "power-over" vision of George Orwell and an updated version of 1984 than the sort of "power-with" social adaptation that we have been trying to promote. 

A key insight into the nature of the problem is raised by George Lakoff in an interesting interview.  I think that Lakoff is one of the most interesting people writing on the broad topic of nonrational thinking. In this interview, he asserts that Democrats who want to go into politics tend to study policy and think in terms of the rational model. Republicans who want to go into politics tend to specialize in marketing and related fields.  This focus, not on policy, but on the messy heart of selling of policy, gives them an enormous advantage in our complex, nonrational world. 

Over the course of the seminar we are going to spend a lot more time talking about the various propaganda (political advertising) techniques that have been developed for working in this environment. We will look at the ideas of George Lakoff and Harold Lasswell and lots of other folks to show how you can manipulate the psychological biases and group dynamics in ways that get people to act in desired ways. We just need to figure out how to do this in the service of efforts to promote "power-with"  democracy, rather than in the in the service of "dark side," "power-over" efforts. 

At this point, I want to offer a couple of very quick examples. "How Capitalism Created Cool" offers a window into how marketers get us to believe that a particular product or service is something "cool" that we just have to have. The truth is, it's the marketers who really know how to navigate the complex way in which large groups of people actually think. 

At the risk of putting something into this slideshow that may quickly become outdated, I'd like to highlight this article, explaining the cognitive bias the President Trump understands (and knows how to manipulate) better than Democrats. 

There is also this article from Time magazine that explains how Russia's social media-based efforts to influence the 2016 US election were able to place fake peer pressure on US voters by sending messages from fake Twitter accounts (representing people supposedly like them) and asking them (using subtle bias manipulation tactics) to think and act in ways that favored Trump.  If true, this is obviously a big political scandal. Even if it isn't true, somebody else, in the not very distant future, could certainly do something like this with devastating implications for democracy. 

This is all a bit of a wake-up call. Those who have figured out how to work in the realm of social and psychological complexity are taking society down the path toward a "power-over" future. If we want a "power-with" future, we've got to figure out how a social and psychological complexity-based strategy can be adapted to serve the common good!

Guy Burgess is a Founder and Co-Director of the University of Colorado Conflict Information Consortium. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology and has been working in the conflict resolution field, as a scholar and a practitioner, since 1979. His primary interests involve the study and management of intractable conflicts, public policy dispute resolution, and the dissemination of conflict resolution knowledge over the Internet. He is one of the primary authors and creators of the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflicts, and is the Co-Director of CRInfo -- the Conflict Resolution Information Source. Dr. Burgess has edited and authored a number of books and articles, the most recent being The Encyclopedia of Conflict Resolution (with Heidi Burgess, ABC-Clio 1999).