Blog of Sara Jakša

Perpetrating the Status Quo

I have right now (in a preparation for my cognitive science master thesis) read the article about collective conservatism. As any economical article, it had a respectable amount of math, but it was not math, that was interesting to me. It was the main idea.

It talks about, how ideas and institutions are retained in the society. Even though, these ideas/institutions can be without any positive effect anymore. And it mostly touches on the majority of people, that are not actively lobbing for any position. These have an effect, but they are not the reason, why the ideas stay like this. There were a couple of religious examples in the text, but I have a more modern one. Most people use phones. And they will continue using phone, without there being any activists or authority convincing to forcing them to do this. Or maybe email or social media would be a better example, as some people at least think that we could have ended up differently there. But that just means, that maybe it is more further along.

The status quo gets reinforced in steps. On the beginning, multiple alternatives are tested. People, activists and non-activists alike are checking multiple ways of how they could approach the situation or the problem. But eventually one idea wins out, for some reason. Normally, it is because it that moment, it seems like the majority is supporting it. Then this idea becomes accepted in the society, and people that go against it are usually punished. It can be by actual punishment, or just social disciplinary action. These social consequences came out of non-advocate majority, who perceive some potential punishment, if they don't comply with what the majority wants (I am reading the Elephant in the Brain right now, and this reasoning would go right along with it). Can you see, where I am going with this?

Well, the social norms and social pressure is there, even if the preferences of the people change. So eventually, in order to keep themselves consistent, the cognitive dissonance kicks in. And people really start believing that this is the right and only way.

Kind of reminds me of the group of monkeys, who were punished, when they tried to reach for the bananas. When the newcomer came in, and tried to reach for the bananas, they beat them up. And this trend continued even after all the original monkeys were gone. We humans are doing the exactly the same thing, except with more abstract situations.

What is the solution? The article itself mentions one, and this is to tell our real (or private) opinions. This can be done by changing the human nature or by changing the infrastructure of opinion gathering. Anonymous voting is better for this than raising hands, for example. Or maybe we can just wait for the environment to kick us in the butt.