A conflicted Society – Cognitive Specialization

Cognitive Specialization

A search of my blog for the character strings “cognitive damage”, “and cognitive “, or just “cognitive” will produce results pretty consistently. It’s a central tenet of mine, of course:

“The cognitive damage associated with abuse and corporal punishment is a result more of the repetitive nature of a very limited number of punishments that are provided as effects for a world of different possible causes, the true effects of which, while possibly painful at times, are all things that human beings need to learn, and the earlier the better. The cognitive damage is the direct effect of these missed learning opportunities at early ages, blah, blah, blah . . . “

I’ve said that many, many times, but it wasn’t until recently, within the last year when I started to allow the reverse side of that concept to creep into my thoughts. I thought of this post and forgot it again several times over the last year; thank goodness I happened to be home sick, sitting at the computer when I thought of it this time. Personally, I think I’m afraid to pursue it because I’m afraid it may be the bane of my entire edifice. I can’t wait to see how far I may have to stretch myself to cover this additional bit of information.

But you know, here goes. Of course I don’t have to publish. Ha.

If all those chances to learn real things about the real world are being missed – aren’t we still learning something, even if it isn’t how hot the stove really is, or why you shouldn’t punch your friends? Of course there are more conventional answers to that, even ones I like and agree with – but also these:

  • We learn our first versions of ‘might is right’
  • We learn a list of our parents’ likes and dislikes
  • We learn the basic principles of punishment, which are, we’re supposed to bring some sort of pain or deprivation to people who behave in ways we do not like, and that pain and deprivation are good for us, that we deserve them
  • We learn that it is standard practice for the large and powerful to bring pain and deprivation to the small and weak
  • We learn that pain and deprivations are the preferred tools for manipulation, for getting people to do what we want

That’s all somewhere in the realm of the normal, I’d say, but that last entry, is that not slightly more nasty and objectionable? We learn manipulation? And is that some generic-sounding code so that I can say ‘manipulative,’ a much more loaded and powerful word, without actually saying it? It’s a fair cop. I was hoping to make an argument to get us from the one to the other.

So before I get into other things, what sort of result would you imagine, what sort of person might we expect that education might get us if it takes, if that is the sort of lesson we get possibly far more often than we get a chance to learn something about the real world? Well, yes, the aforementioned cognitive damage of course, the life of missed learning opportunities, but what about all the time, all the focus, the opportunities to learn in depth about our families’ quirks and psychoses, and the fine arts of manipulation, and Pavlovian conditioning? Surely those sorts of hours pay off. Surely we are all specialists. Like the Reindeer people know their animals, like the Sherpa know the wrath of the mountain – that’s how we all know this world of the human social animal, with its complex hierarchies and its sometimes random mix of rules, deterrents and punishments. All of us are Subject Matter Experts – both in support of the system, dealing out our own share of the discipline, as well as in avoiding the penalties we deserve if our own disciplined subjects deserved theirs. Degrees all around, generally confirmed about the time our first child turns three, but sometimes, thank goodness, some of us argue with the professors and the department heads because we think we know better – and wind up tenure-less. Early retirement, which in this case can mean irrelevance.

Seriously, navigating our modern world – a social group of millions, even billions in some senses, interacting with any number of different authority structures and agencies at once, at least three levels of government and all three with a suite of bureaucracies. After that, international law, the hierarchies at work, church, and any clubs or associations . . . and all that arrayed against us in adulthood. In childhood, it’s pretty much every adult on earth that we must navigate. As an example of the general level of expertise, we can perhaps note that navigating our teen years, the time between child and adulthood, the period that we finish as adults, this time during which even most of the most sheltered do most our growing up – this, generally must be accomplished on the sly. Practicing to be a grownup, love, sex, relationships, learning about adult temptations like alcohol, drugs, crime, and gambling – all this is supposed to happen on the other side of ‘the law’ so to speak, teens are not encouraged to ‘grow up’ in this way. We are, however, expected to know all about it all by the time we’re adults. What I’m saying about our expertise, about how much of our plastic and modular brain is allocated for this sort of thing, is, somehow we all still manage to get through it, on our own, in the black market where we’re not supposed to be. That’s kind of impressive, considering that we aren’t all perhaps running on all eight cylinders upstairs.

So this is maybe our scenario, that we are to some degree denied a lot of learning at an early age when we are able to absorb it the best, but that we are all a species of savant as regards living our lives among an endless bunch of social structures some of which are downright hostile to us, and even half of the friendly ones of which would punish us, hurt us to keep the social order. And still we somehow live our lives, because we were raised in this system, we’re street-smart. Hardened. So, continuing with the analogy, then.

If we are all lettered, then what may become of the top of the class, the best and brightest? If we are all steeped in the system, dyed in the wool, then who are the standouts, the pound-for-pound best in this field where everyone has been at it their whole life? I don’t have to name names, of course, but suffice it to say that there are some big jobs for those who are able to manipulate a population of lifelong manipulators, great, unreportable rewards for the con who cons the cons. So yes, we’re talking about our leaders, the super-rich, our politicians and the spin doctors, the PR kingmakers and all of the types who rise to the top of a society built on manipulation and force. This is not an aberration that these manipulative psychopaths are our leaders; that is the system and they are the best. As long as this is our system, they are our rightful champions.

Nothing is going to change for us by simply rotating through different faces and names, when sociopathy is in the job’s list of prerequisites.

It explains a lot, looking at things this way, which of course is the test of a hypothesis, a theory: does it explain more, can it account for previously unexplained phenomena. It explains the power of advertising, and it explains an important piece of the whole Equality Bias and Confirmation Bias phenomenon for starters. It seems to make some sense that if I am invested with an idea of my own rugged, western individualism and independence then maybe I wonder at the advertising industry and that the dollars spent on it seem to always bring returns, when I am not swayed by it. Ignoring that some clever somebodies sold this person the American Dream at some point in his life, this person may theorize about some two kinds of people, the impressionable and the not so, but we may find that our wonder over the effectiveness of advertising and media is lessened if we consider that manipulation is what we do, that it is perhaps the most highly developed discipline that we have.

Similarly, regarding Equality and Confirmation Bias, I personally found the ideas counter-intuitive and I wasn’t sure I believed them, but again: if I think my social group is not bright and/or undirected in their social pressure to think like they do, then yes, it seems unlikely. If, however, I recall that even my relatively uneducated social group have a lifetime’s knowledge and experience in the manipulative world of the most manipulative species’ most ubiquitously manipulative time and place . . . well. It’s not so strange after all.

Plus, it explains even more.

My thesis here, that we are real-world stupid, that our connection to the real world was not made during our early years, and that we are conversely, social and manipulative geniuses may explain how so many clever people can focus on elections and high-powered corporate careers with incredible acumen and success, and yet fail to worry about what their social and political successes may wreak in the real world. Veritable virtuosos in the field of the human mind, social networking and politics – but unable to make the connection we need with the real world.

This is how ‘the economy’ always trumps the Earth and the environment. That social and political construct we can understand, we have evolved a massive organ to deal with it – but our brains’ ‘real-world’ lobe, that is going undeveloped, ignored in early childhood and stunted through life and it is atrophying, becoming vestigial.

We need to broaden our minds beyond ourselves, and start worrying more about the real world. In a real way, dedicating so much of our brain’s real estate to one another and to social concerns at the expense of our resources to process real-world things is analogous to an individual being in arrested development, trapped in the dynamic of their nuclear family and dysfunctional outside of it; the concerns of the social group have grown beyond their proportions. The real, physical world needs some time in our thoughts too, or it may become increasingly inaccessible and therefore even more at risk.

First we need to grow up.

Then we need to clean up our room.

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