There are two kinds of people in the world, those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don’t.
– Robert Benchley
There are a zillion ways to classify people, and one of the most important is by mental elasticity.
Most of us like to know what’s what. If the picture of the world in our head is a good map to what (and who) goes where, that makes us feel secure. Some of us can tolerate a fair bit of bending, twisting and horizon expanding. Some can’t stand much at all, and have a strong need for the world and their place in it to stay simple and consistent.
And some people, of course, want systems and structures and hierarchies to stay put so they can keep their position at the top of the heap.
So when people start talking to each other from anywhere to anywhere, and cross-fertilising ideas, and doing business by going round established institutions, that generates resistance. It comes from people who rather like the old ways of doing things: clear hierarchies (especially with themselves at the top), people divided into distinct communities, and uniform ways of thinking.
The changing world rubs against their worldview and produces reactions of fear and anger. And they respond by trying to create greater control.
The fact that the world is changing creates cultural forces to enforce structure and lock in vested interest.
In some parts of the world there’s a balancing act because you don’t want to appear too unpalatable while taking power and resources from the populace. In other parts they’ve just gone for it.
It takes lots of forms. In the UK we’ve seen government actions to disempower disadvantaged people and cement the power of the private sector (especially financial companies). Elsewhere religious fundamentalists have strengthened their grip, and insecure states have become more dictatorial. People trying to solidify a fluid world are extra-sensitive to anything outside what they see as normal.
Lots of us like order in at least some corners of our lives, and impose different degrees of structure at different times. What I’m talking about here is a need to project one’s own worldview out on to the world that overrules compassion and other human virtues.
When you look at what these forces of control are doing, it’s pretty scary because they are large and effective. Often they are driven by people entrenched in the old machinery, who have access to money and influence, and can draw on perceptions of authority that still attach to that.
Can the controllers succeed?
They still have a lot of power though, and a fondness for blunt instruments. They could hold out for a long time, and cause a lot of suffering in the process. Looking at the big picture is limited comfort when you know it’s made up of individuals in pain.
In many cases, the control mindset contains the seeds of its own defeat. People who think that way are often less likely to see and understand new ways of doing things, like the web and social media, making them slow to respond and prone to mistakes. And sometimes their instinct to keep holding on and defending generates a counter-reaction far greater than if they were able to engage with people at a level of genuine understanding.
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