Friday, December 1, 2017

Etiology of Social Dementia - 18

Once upon a civilization
I. Individual Dementia Pales In
Comparison To Group Dementia

This post declares that The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump is not as dangerous as the group dementia that produced him is.

The simple argument supporting that declaration is that he is only one person.

He is an individual who is a member of a group of about 62,984,825 people who, in varying degrees (0-100), have the same group dementia.

One thing that has happened to most civilizations is something that has been fatal to each and every one of them.

That something is the dementia that produces and ends up in 'suicide':
"In other words, a society does not ever die 'from natural causes', but always dies from suicide or murder --- and nearly always from the former, as this chapter has shown."
(A Study of History, by Arnold J. Toynbee). There is no cure for the final symptom of that group dementia (there is only prevention by way of avoiding it altogether in the first place).

The components of that group dementia were pointed out in an encyclopedia article concerning the historian quoted above:
"In the Study Toynbee examined the rise and fall of 26 civilizations in the course of human history, and he concluded that they rose by responding successfully to challenges under the leadership of creative minorities composed of elite leaders. Civilizations declined when their leaders stopped responding creatively, and the civilizations then sank owing to the sins of nationalism, militarism, and the tyranny of a despotic minority. Unlike Spengler in his The Decline of the West, Toynbee did not regard the death of a civilization as inevitable, for it may or may not continue to respond to successive challenges. Unlike Karl Marx, he saw history as shaped by spiritual, not economic forces" ...
(Encyclopedia Britannica, emphasis added). The show stopper (in terms of remedy, in this type of group dementia) is that it is a contagious dementia.

That form of dementia is contagious whether individual dementia is or is not contagious (see e.g. The Red Hot Debate about Transmissible Alzheimer's, Can Dementia Be Contagious?).

Group dynamics, in this context, are contagions to those who become ideological members of a demented group within a society.

Applying that to current society, we can easily recognize the rampant nationalism and militarism in our culture.

Focusing on the third factor ("tyranny of a despotic minority") tends to be much more difficult.

So here are the numbers concerning the minority we are talking about:

(Federal Election Commission). A minority consisting of some 62,984,825 people voted for President Trump (but it was a smaller subgroup within that group who cast the 304 electoral votes that actually won the election for him).

II. On The Meaning of 'Despotic' and 'Minority'

The historian Toynbee (quoted in Section I above) identified the suicidal characteristics of the despotic minority group as nationalism, militarism, and tyranny (Reeling From Flynn Deal, Alex Jones Issues Civil War ‘Red Alert’—for 15th Time in Two Months).

The 62,984,825 voters are a minority, and the 65,853,516 are a majority by definition (a slim 2.09% majority).

Moving on to 'despotic,' we find that in that violent insurrection oriented group sense, it is associated with despotism:
... societies which limit respect and power to specific groups have also been called despotic.
(Wikipedia). There need not be a dictator or other autocratic individual in order to meet Toynbee's description set forth in his study, especially in the sense of the description "the tyranny of a despotic minority."

In this sense, a minority means a group composed of a population less than the majority of a society (but wielding substantial directional influence).

Note that this would not be possible in the United States if it was a democracy rather than a constitutional republic with an Electoral College that can elect presidents without a majority popular vote (as in the 2016 election of Donald Trump).

To fit into the Toynbee description, all that is needed is that the group be despotic in nature, which is to be 'authoritarian' (a synonym).

This type of authoritarian despotism requires two fundamental characteristics:
Authoritarianism is something authoritarian followers and authoritarian leaders cook up between themselves. It happens when the followers submit too much to the leaders, trust them too much, and give them too much leeway to do whatever they want -- which often is something undemocratic, tyrannical and brutal. In my day, authoritarian fascist and authoritarian communist dictatorships posed the biggest threats to democracies, and eventually lost to them in wars both hot and cold. But authoritarianism itself has not disappeared, and I'm going to present the case in this book that the greatest threat to American democracy today arises from a militant authoritarianism that has become a cancer upon the nation.
(The Authoritarians, book by Bob Altemeyer, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada, PDF). Put those two together (leaders and followers) in a group with despotic ideology and we have a structure matching and composing a despotic group of the type that historian Toynbee wrote about.

But, in this case the despotism is "soft despotism" to wit:
"Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people.

Soft despotism gives people the illusion that they are in control, when in fact they have very little influence over their government. Soft despotism breeds fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the general populace. Alexis de Tocqueville observed that this trend was avoided in America only by the "habits of the heart" of its 19th-century populace."
(Soft Despotism, Wikipedia). The way the despotism is maintained by a minority has been explained by "the father of spin" (The Ways of Bernays).

III. The Current Soft Despotism
Is Hardening Into Tribalism

The concept of tribalism is probably easier for us to understand, because it has been engineered to fruition in our time:
"But then we don’t really have to wonder what it’s like to live in a tribal society anymore, do we? Because we already do. Over the past couple of decades in America, the enduring, complicated divides of ideology, geography, party, class, religion, and race have mutated into something deeper, simpler to map, and therefore much more ominous. I don’t just mean the rise of political polarization (although that’s how it often expresses itself), nor the rise of political violence (the domestic terrorism of the late 1960s and ’70s was far worse), nor even this country’s ancient black-white racial conflict (though its potency endures).

I mean a new and compounding combination of all these differences into two coherent tribes, eerily balanced in political power, fighting not just to advance their own side but to provoke, condemn, and defeat the other."
(America Wasn’t Built for Humans). The group psychology at work forming our minds and thoughts when tribalism prevails is enmity towards "the other."

Recent scientific papers have pointed out that our culture, and in some cases our subculture, is "remodeling" our brains all the time:
"Beyond such internal mechanisms of variation, environment-driven plasticity lends yet another layer of complexity to the brain. The brain is capable of remarkable remodeling in response to experience. Signals originating from the environment can cause both widespread and localized adaptations. At the level of individual cells, structure and function are continually changing with the environment in a dance of lifelong brain plasticity, and some experiences, such as stress or physical exercise, affect the growth, survival, and fate of newborn neurons in neurogenic regions of the brain.
Traditionally, cells are defined by the tissue to which they belong as well as their particular functional role or morphology. This classification represents a developmental trajectory that begins early in embryogenesis and is hardwired into each cell. But other differences among cells are more subtle. Multi-dimensional analyses of gene expression and other metrics have revealed remarkable heterogeneity among cells of the same traditional “type.” Cells exist in different degrees of maturation, activation,plasticity, and morphology. Once we begin to consider all of the subtle cell-to-cell variations, it becomes clear that the number of cell types is much greater than ever imagined. In fact, it may be more appropriate to place some cells along a continuum rather than into categories at all.
Brain cells in particular may be as unique as the people to which they belong. This genetic, molecular, and morphological diversity of the brain leads to functional variation that is likely necessary for the higher-order cognitive processes that are unique to humans. Such mosaicism may have a dark side, however. Although neuronal diversification is normal, it is possible that there is an optimal extent of diversity for brain function and that anything outside those bounds—too low or too high—may be pathological. For example, if neurons fail to function optimally in their particular role or environment, deficits could arise. Similarly, if neurons diversify and become too specialized to a given role, they may lose the plasticity required to change and function normally within a larger circuit. As researchers continue to probe the enormous complexity of the brain at the single-cell level, they will likely begin to uncover the answers to these questions—as well as those we haven’t even thought to ask yet."
(Hypothesis: The Cultural Amygdala - 5). We know more about some of those dynamics than those previous civilizations did, civilizations that went down by "suicide" (self-destruction).

Will that superior scientific knowledge we have be sufficient to make us aware of ways to avoid the suicidal fate that engulfed previous groups (which we call "civilizations") recorded in our written history?

IV. Conclusion

The previous post in this series is here.


  1. "One-Third Of Americans Agree With President Trump That Media Is 'Enemy' Of The People" (link)

    The despotic minority ?

  2. "Racism, fundamentalism, fear and propaganda: An insider explains why rural, white Christian America will never change" (RawStory)