The human need to assign blame
Assigning blame in that fashion has a very definite advantage. It helps us cope and deflect from ourselves. We can pretend to “understand” the world and have a “sovereign” judgment.
But (ab)using globalization in that manner is a cheap shot. It actually distracts from our own inability to live up to our responsibilities.
In that sense, the guilt-trip referral to globalization is just the latest manifestation of earlier forms of guilt-tripping – whether called “capitalism,” “the state” or “society.”
In the end, what we cannot fess up to is human imperfection and our collective inability to comprehend an ever more complex world, with ever more stakeholders, stake claimers and challengers.
Abbreviating the universe
We all live by myths and legends. They abbreviate the universe for us. That is a crucial contribution to maintaining the emotional and mental stability that allows us to function.
Neuropsychologists remind us that the brain is a refined instrument for discarding stimuli, forgetting disturbing facts, selecting what is useful from a flood of information. Some of this is programmed by nature, some we program ourselves over the course of a lifetime.
This sifting process occurs at all levels. It is not restricted to the mundane practicalities. It operates as well in regard to the meanings we attach to persons, things and events.
This last faculty is at the heart of what enables us to form societies and to create the cultures integral to them.
Selecting and categorizing the perceptions of our senses and conscious mind sustains our core understandings of what we are. It also gives meaning of our existence along with our relationship to the order of things.
At the same time, a very large number of people function with extreme mental myopia. That is to say, the world around them looks fuzzy — except for persons and things close to them.
Signals emanate from their surroundings, but they lack clear definition. They are received serially, either as discrete bits of unfiltered data or placed unconsciously in a crude framework of explication.
We tend to stew in a rough amalgam of half-baked ideas, simplistic versions of some ideology and salient personal events. The net effect may well be that most people are not much different from their fellows in earlier ages.
Individuals at sea
On the plus side, we are literate, have access to infinitely more sources of information and personally encounter more aspects of the social universe. That said, our mental apparatus, as well as our emotional resilience for making sense of what we encounter has not improved commensurately.
Moreover, the desire to more fully comprehend may be weak for reasons stemming from the assault on an ever-fragile sense of self by a plethora of stimuli.
Hence, the compulsion to insulate oneself from a complicated, confusing environment is strong. So is the inclination to order it in narrow, stereotypical terms as necessary.
We find it far easier to recognize and accept fresh insight into others than into ourselves. “They” are part of the external world than we can objectify to a degree.
How much affect we feel toward others does have a bearing on our openness to better understanding of who they are and our confidence evaluating their conduct.
Capable of self-examination?
Dispassion about our own identity and qualities is a completely different matter. After all, self-examination requires us to be at once subject and object.
The essence of our being, and the pivot of our behavior, falls into existential doubt. The very act of reflection, of inner scrutiny, by itself changes who we are in some way, to some immeasurable degree. That is discomforting.
We are designed to forget as much as to remember — for good reason. Among the brain’s functions is to sift what is relevant and useful from the rest. If we did not routinely do so, our mind and emotions would be overwhelmed by a kaleidoscope of data, ideas and images.
Purposeful behavior would be impossible. This filtering process does not necessarily involve insulating ourselves from the world around us. However, a narrowing of the aperture through which it registers on our consciousness does occur.
It is reinforced by the multiple processes of socio-cultural conforming. Often, it is related to aging. In a world like ours, there is an incongruity between the extraordinarily numerous and varied stimuli and a steady narrowing of the slit through which they enter our awareness.
A cultivated insularity is the cause. An insularity that has little if anything to do with introspection as self-reflection.
The genius of organized society lies in sustained accomplishments that are far beyond the capacities of the flawed and limited individuals who compose it.
Vital to its doing so are similar ways of understanding the environment: social, physical and cosmological. This shared ‘truth’ about the world and how it operates underlies the shared norms and expectations that govern routine social intercourse.
The individual and the collectivity are both served. The latter achieves necessary coherence and congruence among its members.
Individuals acquire a set of meanings by which to make sense of a universe that they have very little native ability to comprehend. They also are blessed with the solidarity of their fellows that reinforces learned truths while succoring them.
Only truly exceptional persons can find adequate intellectual and emotional sustenance without being deeply enmeshed in social relations. That is to say, to depend on society for no more than the meeting of practical needs.
The consequences for how we experience ‘truth’ are far reaching. One is the central place of social institutions — formal and informal, comprehensive and parochial — in mediating between the individual and his surroundings.
Encounters with reality
We are not free agents in our encounters with reality. We lose that agency through the course of our socialization and acculturation.
Some regain a portion of it by way of the arts and intellectual exertion. Even in those domains, we remain prey to fad and fashion, to the seduction, encouragement and validation of schools, tendencies or movements.