The Rational Case for Social Consciousness
By Cobus Rossouw
I wrote this article from the space of my eyes being opened to new realities after doing my NLP training, and ways of thinking that were coming to me anyhow, yet have been accelerated and now supersize!
In The Matrix, Neo complains that his eyes hurt and can’t see properly. Morphious replies “because you haven’t used them before”. In NLP we talk about Distortions, Deletions and Generalisations that filter our perceptions of reality that are received via the senses. These “filters” then result in misrepresentations of reality within our conscious mind. In behavioural science, these filters are called cognitive biases. Here is a long but handy list: List of Cognitive Biases, Wikipedia).
I regard it as indisputable that our conscious mind contains mechanisms that protect us from information overload and that these mechanisms more often than not result in skewed perceptions.
Research consistently shows that these biases are real and that we are all prone to them. To anyone proclaiming their own rationality it should therefore be obvious that everyone, even those who claim the most rationality, will have these biases. It also follows that these biases will influence our decisions in daily life and especially our interpretation of others. So we will be more likely to conclude that others’ “failings” are due to an inherent flaw in that person (“people are stupid”) while we may interpret our own failings as a product of environmental factors that are out of our control (“I have bad luck”). From this comes the biblical advice: “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (New International Version).
Socially we are guilty of the same distortions, deletions and generalisations. We tend to see those that are similar to us, or hold to a similar creed, as more just, moral, capable, intelligent, industrious, while we lament the failures of The Other. Over history, these biases have evolved into ideologies, the most rancorous of which, to my mind, are sexism and racism.
Adults teach these ideologies to children through their behaviour and as the children grow up cognitive bias reinforces those ideologies. This process is insidious and unconscious. Even in circumstances where there is no intention to harm the other it often results in harm through discrimination. As an example, numerous studies show that employers judge job seekers differently if they are of another race or gender. I am of the opinion that, as a society, we should do more to actively address this discrimination, but for the purposes of this essay I want to advocate a smaller and simpler, personal act. When we talk about consciousness, whether as a political act or as one of elevating the senses, we talk about a deliberate process where we acknowledge that our perceptions are flawed and actively address those flaws.
Therefore I, as a white, middle-aged male must make myself aware that I may be prone to viewing others, especially those who differ from me, negatively. This is not a deliberate process, but it is still happening in my mind and I must take responsibility for this and make an effort to correct this.
The only way to address this is to act consciously, taking into account the biases that may influence my reflexive reaction and adjusting for those biases. This is the basis of social consciousness, recognising those biases and their influence on the unconscious and elevating them to a deliberate investigation and adjustment.
You can contact Cobus on [email protected], or 082 464 0688