There are certain myths that we cling to despite endless amounts of proof that shows that what we believe is not real. One of the reasons that we do this is that mythology allows us to place something within a context and understand it. It also gives us a surety in that understanding that creates a feeling of safety. For example, hearing something go bump in the night and having absolutely no context to put it in can create overwhelming feelings of stress and fear – paralysis sets in because what choice of action do you have when you have no idea what you are acting against? The myth of the boogeyman, the monster under the bed, the absolute evil killer allows us to have something that is defined, has limits and allows for us to choose a path of action in reaction to them.
Yesterday was a hard day. Not so much for anything specific that happened, but because I kept crashing against assumptions, presumptions and hard and fast beliefs that were based in myths – stereotypes.
It would be easy, and the use of another myth, to now continue on about the necessity of getting people to overcome their belief in stereotypes and to move (with a smooth, politically correct gait) into a place of universal love and acceptance. The myth buster here is that all stereotypes are based in truth.
Baumeister pointed out that we have a very limited capacity for self-deception despite popular belief. However, if we have a kernel of truth to base self-deception on, we can build a world of illusion and cling to it because when the going got tough and the perception is challenge, we fall back on that kernel for proof.
How we use stereotypes and their base kernel of truth is never so evident then when it is nearing time for a Presidential election. Stereotypes allow for members on all sides to use a kind of emotional shorthand to get voters moved to action. The goal of candidates, pundits and the media has long ceased to be voter education and has become a purely emotional appeal. The last thing any of those three want is for someone to use their reason – their Adult state – as Transactional Analysis would term it, where one questions what one is told against the reality of what one sees.
And therein lies another problem with stereotypes. The kernel of truth is most often anecdotal – it is based upon what was witness or interpreted based upon a very limited encounter. The myth buster there is that one person’s experience does not define everyone’s experience. But because it is has the truth of an encounter and carries the emotional charge of reaction, it is a powerful kernel to possess indeed.
It is why statistics are so important and studies are not. Statistics tend to look at a broad data set while studies will look at a very small representational population. But statistics tend to be very dry and unemotional, they require work to interpret. Studies create solid-seeming conclusions based upon the experience of a small population or study group and provide interpretation. Statistics provide data to be weighed against prejudices and experience. Studies offer prejudices. The former talks to the Adult State and the latter brings one back into the Parent/Child state. Prejudice, by the way, is simply the adoption of rules to predict behavior that is seen as applying at all times and in all situations. It is not reality based guidance, but memory based. Memory, which is always corrupted by emotional experience and therefore not an accurate assessment of an event.
I was reading about the slow return of measles to America yesterday. Since the myth of vaccines causing autism (and it is a myth, the Doctor who did the study admitted to falsifying all the data and no subsequent work shows any percentage of relation between vaccines and autism) more and more parents have opted out of vaccinations or chosen to delay them. Like finds like and statistically there are pockets of parents who are of like mind, creating elementary schools with high populations of unvaccinated children. What is happening is that measles is being contracted and spreading in these environments. The concern is that measles can be fatal to children and cause permanent damage. One of the people who were doing the analysis pointed out that Measles has been gone for so long from American society that we have aged out of the memory of what the epidemics were like and why people of our grandparents age (and back) feared these diseases. Measles is also highly contagious and fatal to the elderly, infants and persons with compromised immune systems. Types of people one typically finds in doctor’s offices and ERs. Places where parents who are worried and not understanding of what is going on with their child bring them for treatment.
To be able to point at a source for autism and better yet, have a boogeyman to blame (the government, big pharm) makes bearing the reality of autism easier. The kernel of truth lies in the fact that there is strong proof that these boogeymen have a history of sacrificing people’s well-being for profit. That, in this instance, is most likely not the case – doesn’t stand a chance of being believed because it puts everyone back into the painful state of having the great unanswered question hanging over their heads of “why?”
Another instance is the myth of the Welfare Queen. We love the Welfare Queen (and King). The Lexus driving, iPhone wielding, baby factory welfare queen. Ready to do anything to get those benefits and avoid working. Her consort, the professional panhandler who makes more money than you do.
The kernel of truth? There are people like that.
The myth buster? There are exceedingly few people like that. Welfare fraud is typically not found in the recipients, but within the managers and organizations that provide the benefits. There are more instances of fraud from people serving the vulnerable population then there is from the vulnerable population.
But we love the myth. It excuses us from having to deal with the reality of welfare and poverty and its impact on our economic recovery and stability. It allows us to see the impact only in regards to money spent providing services and not where it has its greatest impact, the existence of poverty itself. It allows us to feel morally justified without any real attempt to understand the moral threat. It allows us to exit the Adult state for the less challenging ones of Parent and Child.
It’s funny; the bit about the iPhone has been brought up time and time again. But the reality is, you can get an iPhone for very little these days as part of a commitment to a long-term contract. It would be a different story if it was a direct purchase phone. Heck, I have a blackberry but did it cost me $200+ to get it? No, $25 and a contract plan.
Our welfare and benefits system to create and sustain a culture that does make it easier to stay within the system. There are few bridge programs to help someone recover from poverty or more preferably, help them avoid reaching that state. Even the vaunted welfare to work programs has proven a failure because they were not thought through with any regard to reality. Add in a recession and it is just a mess. Add in a social service culture that is rooted in the belief that the poor are in some way “unfit” and “less than” and abuse is endemic. That culture is one of the reasons why you find the most people, who fit the definition of evil, seeking career roles. Power, control, and cruelty are easy when among a vulnerable population.
A population made even more vulnerable by the myth they are seen as embodying by the communities that surround them.
c.2011. Cassandra Tribe. All Rights Reserved.