Social Isolation

This one is tough (and long, but they all are), mostly because I don’t even know where I stand on such a complex issue and because I cannot even offer a hint of a solution to the problem.

If you haven’t recognized the deepening fractures in our political system, I would like to be the first to say “Welcome back! How was your hibernation?” I want to look at some of the mechanisms that have driven us to this point. I can think of a few our media keeps highlighting: echo chambers, fake news, Twitter. But all these things are a smokescreen and the enemy is hiding. I think the core of it is isolation.

So in a cult, there are a few (4 that I know) reliable indoctrination techniques. One is isolation. In a small scale, the cult leader or group encourages a person to separate him- or herself from their family and friends. This makes the individual more reliant on the cult. In our society, for whatever reason, a sense of isolation is more and more prevalent. Heroin addiction is on the rise across middle America and the now proposed cause of addiction is social isolation. I have seen the current political turmoil, maybe not split, but definitely fracture families from each other. Loneliness is even supposed to play a large part in obesity. Social Media seemingly has a hand in this effect, but I suspect the issue is multi-faceted.

Another indoctrination technique is deconstructing one’s identity. On an individual level, breaking and reforming and individual’s identity cements their role and place within the cult. In our macroscopic view the rise of so-called Identity politics and culture wars, I believe, has a similar effect. Part of this, I think, is that there is a huge flood of information and no one could ever hope to be fully informed of every issue. So, we tend to look to individuals whom we’ve agreed with in the past to see their view, and tend to find that reasoning sound and adopt it. This also fosters a sense of dependency, especially from the media. Who else am I going to get my news from? Which also reinforces addictive behavior, i.e. the Skinner box of the Feed.

Love-bombing is also a large portion of indoctrination. One-on-one, cult members reinforce a targets social standing by accepting every thought, complimenting generously, and placing the target on a pedestal. In our context, I would say that our equivalent is our echo chambers. Every retweet, like, share, follower, whatever is our isolated circles love bombing the hell out of us. I clearly am jonesing for my hit now (Ha ha, jonesing, Jonestown, see what I did there? I’ll let myself out now…) You probably know this, but your results on Google are influenced by your previous searches, so you cannot even research without reinforcing yourself in your own BS.

The final technique that I know of is polarization. In a cult, it’s the cult vs the world. In our society, it’s Red vs. Blue. And I’m not trying to speak to the politics of either side, I’m trying to draw attention to the fact that this is happening. I think in a hunter gather society there were probably only really three systems of governance: cults, direct democracy, and communism. The issue is “can these structures scale?” and I think we are seeing it in real time.

Social media deserves a special mention. Have you heard of Sesame Credit? It is the Chinese state instituted social media that assigns a score based on how good of a citizen you are. So say you say something against the Chinese government – your score lowers. But more heinous is that your friends’ scores lower. This incentivizes your friends to cut ties with you. The funny thing is that we in the West managed to do this organically – isolating, polarizing, reinforcing our own beliefs, etc.

I don’t know why I am writing any of this or my previous posts or anything at all. If you are still reading, thank you. I think part of it is that social media is like watching the news with your friends and what I am trying to do is turn to you and say “This is weird, right?” I don’t really know how to unring this bell if what I am saying is true (it might not be, hopefully). There is the idea of exit counseling to facilitate victims away from cults and of course addiction counseling, but I have no idea how to extend it macroscopically as I have tried to do with these cult/politics connections.

One thought on “Social Isolation

  1. That was an interesting perspective. The isolation part does stand out. In a society like ours, that is undeniable. Johann Hari discusses it in terms of addiction and individualism. And definitely this has everything to do with social control.

    Like

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