Mattering to each other. Series 5.2.

In this series, I lay out some “bones” for thinking about the way — the why and the how — the people we depend on for our survival, delectation, and companionship (our peeps) help us navigate the world. And we them. You might pick up these bones, if you find them interesting, and bring them back to your peeps for inspection. The collection and inspection of information is one of the things we do as members of peepdoms, Hey, did you see/hear/know…what do you think, here’s what I think…you should read/listen to…oh, don’t listen to him…I wonder if…etc….

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“Our social set consists of those who figure as people in the phrase “people are saying”; they are the people whose approval matters most intimately to us.” (27)

Walter Lippmann. Public Opinion.Dover Publications, 2004. (Original: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922.) 

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“We only care what opinion is held of us because of the people who form that opinion…the people before whom we feel shame are those whose opinion of us matters to us.” (Ch. 6, p 73 & 74)

Aristotle. Rhetoric. Trans. W. Rhys Roberts. Dover Publications, 2004.

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“As early as their first year of life–far earlier than, until recently, most psychologists would have thought possible–human babies exhibit concern with what someone else not only thinks but thinks about them. For example, babies obviously bask in what can only be described as personal pride when they sense that they are approved of, and they act shamed or embarrassed when they sense that something they have done is not okay with their caregivers.” (116 & 117)

Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. Mothers and Others: the evolutionary origins of mutual understanding. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2009.

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We’ll think twice about lying if we value the trust and affection of the person who now might think a little less of us for doing so. And she knows, and we know she knows, this is so. It’s curious why we have this ‘display and detection system’. Even more curious the role our peeps play in this system. Here are my thoughts.

Humans are social organisms. Duh! And most of us have an intimate core social group, a peepdom, who are instrumental to the acquisition, distribution, and maintenance of information therein. The kinds of information admitted or rejected, for example, will be strongly influenced by our peeps. And we’ve some well-known mechanisms, such as punishment and reward, that make this regulation and constraint of information efficient. A frown can discourage someone from pursuing one idea as much as a smile can encourage the adoption of another. We might conceptualize these mechanisms as analogous to a voltage regulator, maintaining equilibrium within the peepdom.

By equilibrium is meant balance or stability, which within our peepdoms is strongly associated with prediction and control. Why? Survival. Hence information that poses an incorrigible threat to this equilibrium is not only more likely to be rejected by members of the peepdom, but also more likely never to be admitted for consideration in the first place.

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Studies such as Naomi Eisenberger, et al’s “Does Rejection Hurt? An fMRI Study of Social Exclusion,” suggests “that social pain is analogous in its neurocognitive function to physical pain, alerting us when we have sustained injury to our social connections, allowing restorative measures to be taken.”    

Eisenberger, Naomi I., Matthew D. Lieberman, and Kipling D. Williams. “Does rejection hurt? An fMRI study of social exclusion.” Science 302.5643 (2003): 290-292.

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Kirsten Weir reports that “It’s remarkably hard to find situations in which rejection isn’t painful.” Weir says research suggests that our sensitivity to social rejection is so great, we even feel the pain of social rejection from people we don’t like. In one study, says Weir, Williams “found that African-American students experienced the same pain of rejection when they were told the people rejecting them were members of the Ku Klux Clan.” 

Weir, Kirsten. “The pain of social rejection.” American Psychological Association 43 (2012). http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/04/rejection.aspx

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This pain is a call to correct our behaviour – or else! Get back into line! And, for the largest part, we do. As Aristotle observes, we’re motivated to alleviate or avoid this social pain by moving toward the pleasantness we experience as “a natural state of being.” Hence we say sorry, or kiss and make up.

Aristotle, Rhetoric, Trans. W. Rhys Roberts. Dover Publications, 2004. p 40.

Pleasure and pain are mechanisms which help ensure the stability provided by prediction and control.

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Prediction and control within our peepdoms allows us to know not only that we can rely on each other, but also more specifically who we can rely on for what. My bestie knows that I am deathly allergic to nuts, and i)I know she knows of my allergy and ii)I trust that she’ll take great pains to keep me safe. Or, iii)I know my bestie is forgetful and so I never fail to bring my own lunch to her home, and iv) she knows I know she is forgetful and is never insulted that I do. I know that Ron can fix my car in much the way that Ralph can’t. And I know that Ralph can help me with formal logic in much the way that Ron can’t. If I couldn’t count on all of these things, I might respectively die, get stranded on a lone stretch of highway, or fail my course.

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Michael Welbourne: Part of what it is to be a member of a community of knowledge is to be able to rely on largely unspoken, unarticulated assumptions about other people’s knowledge. Only when we enter a strange community or a stranger enters ours does this reliance become apparent. 

Welbourne, Michael. “The community of knowledge.” The Philosophical Quarterly (1950-) 31.125 (1981): 302-314. p 303

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Prediction and control helps establish and maintain equilibrium within a peepdom, but it can be damaged, even lost, by times of change and strife. However, weathering rough spells together can, and often does, make our bonds even stronger. So prediction and control isn’t the whole story. We hold on to each other through chaos, through whatever storms come our way. And we learn how to respond to these new situations together, adjusting and restoring equilibrium. So in our peepdoms there are also mechanisms, such as trust, that contribute to group resilience, to increase our chances for survival by keeping us together. I have your back, you have mine. You’ll tell me what I need to hear or bite your tongue until it bleeds for my sake. And I for yours. You’ll speak well of me, and I of you. You’ll give me the best information you have, and I will give you the best of mine.

The high degree of trust shared among peeps helps explain the devastating emotional consequences and sense of betrayal felt when this trust is breeched. I’ll think the shady mechanic who jerry-rigs my brakes with a cheap product then charges me full price a douche-bag. A close friend who does the same is no longer a friend. If ever he was. I’ll lose sleep wondering what happened, what I failed to see. I’ll try to make sense of the situation. If he needed money, why didn’t he ask. I’d have given it to him, surely he knows. Worse, It’s not the money. Why would my good friend risk my life with sh***y brakes?! Anger mingles with disbelief, amalgamating into a leaden burden of grief. My friend, my friend, why? When I see my erstwhile friend across the way, or hear his name in conversation, I feel empty. And if ever I meet his eyes, I miss the joy of recognition. I don’t know him anymore.

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Who are your peeps? Name them. They’re with you all the time, patterned into billions of your brain cells.

What’s in a Name? A face, a voice, laughter, habits …. Series. 5.1.

The names of the people we love are like beads on a Rosary, well-worn worry stones oft-fondled for comfort and reassurance. Pam. 2019.

I would know you anywhere, dear one. I even know your shadow.

See also, Just a thought.11.



Categories: Rhetoric and Epistemology, Series

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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  1. Survival. Series 5.3. – pam-mentations.com
  2. What’s in a name? A face, a voice, laughter, habits….Series 5.1. – pam-mentations.com

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