Sunday, January 22, 2012

Making sense of it all.


Which side are we on?

I spent most of my career life as a professional communicator in the advertising business and thus employed certain principles, which continue to be standards for guiding advertising practices. Central to that business is to know your current and potential customers and the more precisely you understand that the more successful you are. It is impossible to conduct this awareness without wrestling with the issue of how people understand their identities. For that reason advertisers spend a lot of time and resources carving up their market in various ways. One of those ways concerns demographics. Another is psychographics.

Demography is defining people by surface structures such as age, race, education, income, occupations, geographic clusters and so forth in order to zero in on where, when and through which media to reach their audience. Psychographics goes a step further and says, OK within that demographic framework what can be determined about lifestyle issues, in other words how people actually conduct their lives. After all of this carving up it then becomes a matter of designing messages that best appeal to the demographic and psychographic nature of people and all of that has one thing in mind: To sell you something.

A couple of days ago I wrote about the issue of groupthink and I did so within a political context saying in essence that sadly we seem to gravitate toward this tendency to jump on board band wagons characterized by what is at heart herd mentality. It has more than likely been something we’ve been doing for eons, perhaps all the way back to the cave days when it became clear that two of us together could do what a single person couldn’t by themselves.

Nevertheless this tendency is a two edged sword. On the one hand it is true that when birds flock together there is strength in numbers. On the other hand no two birds are exactly the same so inevitably conflict arises within flocks, not to mention beyond the flock boundaries to other flocks. As we advance as a human culture it is becoming clear that something new is occurring that hasn’t been a prominent factor before now.  And perhaps this new thing is due to the Internet. Before now it wasn’t possible to know that significant dissenters even existed and the old assumptions are starting to crumble. I’ll give you an example:

Every day of every week I, and I imagine millions of others, receive solicitations to contribute to one worthy cause or another. If I was independently wealthy I still couldn’t contribute to them all so I have to be selective, as I’m sure is true for everyone. The ones I send quickest to the circular file are those that make inappropriate guesses about my views and conduct. I don’t like any label because no label perfectly defines me and I resent being pigeonholed. This past week I received a solicitation to make a contribution to several democratic candidates and the organizing theme of these candidates was that they all professed to align themselves around the pro-choice issue. That one sailed into the trash quickly because I don’t endorse giving people the license to kill their own progeny. Yes I know this is a hot button and far from clear. I happen to think that whatever law we create exceptions need to be allowed. For that reason I neither endorse nor repudiate abortion knowing full well that we don’t create sensible laws. Instead once created the laws become iron-clad and I think it is bad policy to lump everyone together under a single inflexible roof.

You might think that I’m drifting here and wonder where this is going. The answer is identity and inflexible allegiance to group dogma. In a certain sense it doesn’t matter whether the issue is abortion, immigration, the economy or any other conceivable issue. The point is how we identify ourselves and the assumed limitations of any and all defining characteristics. In my book the Non-Identity Crisis I suggest that our problems today are made significantly more difficult to address and solve because of these “Me-against-the-world” boundaries and the assumptions that arise because of them. This is squarely a matter of how we understand ourselves, either as naturally alienated individuals of antagonized differences or as a united human family. The vast majority seems inclined to choose the former, which inevitably leads to violence against non-flock members. Few indeed choose the latter.

Most of my writing occurs under the rubric of spiritual matters and this further defined as Buddhist or Gnostic Christian but frankly it isn’t important to me how you identify me. What is essential however is whether or not what I have to say makes sense and how (if at all) it contributes to fostering peace, harmony and a better world. If I can accomplish that, it’s been a good day. 
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