Simon Says: The Syndrome of the Modern Follower

The reality, it seems, is that if everyone jumped off the cliff, you would too.

In a Ted Talk, Yuval Harari discusses how humans are the only species on Earth with the ability for mass-coordination as well as flexibility. They are discernible traits in animals that determine their social capabilities. More simplistically, they can be referred to as the hive-mentality and the family-mentality. As Harari mentions, termites and bees have the capability for immense complexity on a collective level but are useless individually. On the other hand, family-oriented animals like mammals are flexible and often smarter but lack the ability to coordinate themselves in large numbers. What is most interesting is when Harari goes on to explain that such a duality in humans is made possible through the spreading of ideas — that although we are family-oriented, we are able to coordinate through ideas like religion, democracy, and most notably, money. I would add that on an even deeper level, we are only able to spread ideas through our ability for “true language,” which is also unlike any other species.

In Psychology 101 you learn that multi-tasking is impossible for the brain — that doing multiple things at once actually just means that you are dividing a limited amount of attention and effectively spreading yourself thin. The interesting thing is, this phenomena applies justly to our duality of both large and small numbered thinking. In fact, they are actually two separate approaches to the same thing.

One approach is that in which the individual allows themselves to be controlled by their environment, and the other in which the individual allows their environment to be controlled by them. This is the classic question of whether we control society or if society controls us. The answer is both. However, we as autonomous individuals who also happen to be the authors of our modern world get to chose which approach we take.

There is a conspiracy theory that surrounds this topic, that the entertainment industry is actually purposed as a distraction to lower the public’s involvement in political affairs. While such a claim is empirically shaky, it is not entirely unrealistic. Maybe it was merely an unintentional outcome of what was already desired. The point is, if we chose not to play a significant role in our communities, the only other reality is one of individual powerlessness and one in which we are controlled by our environments.

In October of 2015, a movie was released entitled Experimenter: The Stanley Milgram Story. It is based on the true story of Stanley Milgram, a social psychologist who in 1961 conducted a controversial experiment designed to test the ordinary human’s willingness to obey the orders of authority figures, even at the expense of another person. One of the key themes of the film is Milgram’s interest in how it is possible for genocide to take place on a systemic level.

This is still absolutely relevant today, especially in an election period. Questions often arise regarding the individual’s political power and as such, advocates of change are forced into a battle of re-convincing the apathetic. For 2016, the election has attained radical front-runners on both sides making this arguably one of the most unique election periods in recent history. A prominent sideshow is the media itself and the way in which it has become it’s own force in the election process. Candidates have exploited the concept that “all press is good press” and although we’d think bigoted speech, previously thought extinct, would result in a total public outcry, it has polemically garnered it’s own support while it’s opposition sits with popcorn and a sense of humorous denial. It is a sign of the times, illuminating the ways in which media has molded a modern form of chronic followership.

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