Sunday, 31 July 2011

Two basic societal set ups.

OK I'm still on about:

'The Spirit Level - why equality is better for everyone' by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

I do love a bit of evolutionary psychology.

Off I go....
So there are egalitarian societies and those full of inequality. The book gives endless reasons for why the former is preferable (by demonstrating correlations between inequality and overall higher rates of: poor physical and mental health, mistrust in society, teenage pregnancy, violence etc etc) and giving reasons for why this might be so.

Then as the book gets really juicy (in my books that means more theoretical) towards the end it delivers this....

We have the strategies to deal with very different kinds of social organisation. At one extreme, dominance hierarchies are about self-advancement, status competition and 'kicking' people lower down in the pecking order to maintain this status. In this society, individuals have to be self-reliant and other people are encountered mainly as rivals for food and mates. (This was in evolutionary terms the pre-human state of play - survival of the fittest etc.)

At the other extreme is mutual interdependence and cooperation in which each person's security depends on the quality of their relationships with others and a sense of self worth comes less from status than from contribution made to the wellbeing of others. Rather than the overt pursuit of material self-interest, affiliative strategies depend on mutuality, reciprocity, fairness and the capacity for empathy and emotional bonding. (It is suggested this was an evolution that happened later and was demonstrated well by the very egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies that existed for thousands of years where fairness was paramount and social structures ensured it was perpetuated. It was farming that brought the opportunities for some to gather more wealth than others.)

The book goes on to state that as both of these strategies are part of our evolution as individuals we can 'access' both. It also provides biological evidence that shows stressful pregnancies and early childhood wire a child (via hormones and genetic adjustment) to be geared up for a self interested society (this type of child has less ability to empathise and is more prone to being violent etc). Consequently in a very unequal society (where low social status and/or exclusion causes great stress because of humans' fundamental need to connect with others) children are far more likely to be born ready for the unequal society - therefore perpetuating many social ills we experience today. For me it links to the idea that when we are stressed our higher thinking brain functions are disabled and we revert to very basic instincts.

So equality is better for all - for those at the top and those at the bottom - if a harmonious society is what we are aiming for.

OK so who do I write the letter to?

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Self esteem clarified for me!

I am reading this book.
I am only on page 40 something but it appears to be a consolidation (backed up by extensive research) of all hippie lefty values and social ideals. Cool - some welly to wiffly waffly gut feeling about what is right!

Anyway, as I said, it's early days for me and this book but it has already clarified something for me: self esteem is still a good thing. I was a teacher when the first wave of the self esteem movement was underway. Then, the definition of self esteem seemed pretty straightforward: it was your genuine self worth, your resilience in the face of life's difficulties and criticisms. And for a long time people thought this was developed just by praising children. The understanding developed and it was realised that it was more about actually finding opportunities for children to achieve and feel an internal sense of pride etc. This definition was in no way linked to being egotistical as it went hand in hand with a genuine understanding of ones own strengths and weaknesses. It meant your self identity was comfortably accepted by yourself and it was based on good and realistic self-knowledge.

Then I remember reading the first wave of anti-self esteem articles. These cited that you could have too much self esteem because it made you arrogant and feel superior to your fellow human beings. This kind of self esteem could be linked to racism, homophobia and anything the Daily Mail endorsed really. I knew this was talking about something different and I held firm to the original idea that healthy self-worth is still a good thing.

And this book has elucidated this issue for me by defining two types of self esteem. The first is much like my original understanding. The second is demarcated from the first and described as 'insecure-self worth' (or even narcissism). Research has shown that this second type has increased in the last few decades. It is simply about needing to present a fantastic image of yourself to others because your self-image is so completely dependent upon how others see you. This self esteem is fragile and needs to be perpetually fed to be maintained. This kind of self esteem IS about feeling you are better than others and can consequently damage relationships (and ultimately disband communities - with individuals all vying for top dog status).

The book goes on to describe how this fragile self esteem is linked to people's need to improve their social standing and make constant comparisons with others. It also states that this 'narcissism' has probably increased because we no longer tend to be in a solid and settled community where our self-definition is stable and fully understood by those around us.

I just know which of the following two encounters I prefer:

1) A person that name drops, tells you all about their achievements and appears to have no ability to show an interest in you (fragile self esteem) AN UNCOMFORTABLE UNEQUAL CONNECTION


2) A person that gives you the opportunity to ask them questions. They turn out to be very interesting and have achieved lots but modestly only share the bits you have shown an interest in. They also ask you questions and shown genuine interest in you. (genuine self esteem) A PLEASANT AND EQUAL CONNECTION

There are cultural differences of course but in more equal societies like Japan, modesty rules whereas in more unequal societies (UK and USA) declaring your own brilliance in an attempt to make others feel inferior is on the increase!

Bish Bash Bosh. Now to read more......