Childhood trauma and its consequences
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 Post subject: Just think
PostPosted: Fri Dec 03, 2010 5:42 pm 

Joined: Sun Dec 02, 2007 6:20 pm
Posts: 106
Location: USA
"Cafe" to me implies "casual conversation", and for me that's important because I'm a layperson in every respect. Frustrating at times, there's not enough energy or spare moments in a day to learn all I'd like about something to even eventually argue something 'authoritatively'. (Though it takes no education to know innately that beating kids is first: wrong, and second: stupid.) Experience with my own work shows that most efforts aren't even worth beginning unless I take whatever time I need to attempt at least a reasonably good job of whatever I'm trying to do. So for the record, due to time poverty (kind of a good thing in a way, if you stop and think, so long maybe as it doesn't get too extreme) I'm aiming only for casual, reasonable goodness with this post. I've said a little about this before but have new knowledge and thoughts about it.

Years ago for one reason or another I stumbled onto an article on my Encarta encyclopedia CD on social psychologists Muzafer Sherif's "Formation of Social Norms". The thing stopped me in my tracks for several reasons. For one (this was before I knew of Miller et al), I'd never found myself having particular loads of respect for many of the softer scientists I'd heard of or become much familiar with. But I believe his basic experiment (asking people individually then in groups to estimate--no measuring allowed--the distance a light was moved toward them) could be repeated by anyone, anywhere, any time and deliver identical results. Which if true makes it "good" science.

I was struck by people's apparent readiness to change their position--lie to each other, basically--in what looks like an effort not to hurt somebody else's feelings--combined with that person's own probable desire not to be "left out". Once a "common perception" has been reached this group has then found it's own set "truth", and everybody's happy. (People continue changing their answers over time until they all "agree"--though whatever perception is finally "agreed" upon is essentially always wrong since the light in this experiment is never moved at all.)

It's easy to see how somebody with "the nerve" to stick stubbornly to their original estimate or even to repeatedly insist that they just "don't know" (really the only honest answer possible) could be ostracized or scapegoated.

I never got out of the "Gee that really seems like somethin'!" phase with all that information, though, except maybe to become even more skeptical about what I guess might be called "group think"--which in itself of course covers a lot of territory.

And then a month or so ago I came across Sherif's paper for real, put up online by Brock University in Canada.

Wasn't able to get far with it--the first few paragraphs grabbed my attention too much: did this well-done work provide the foundation for the now much-discussed concepts of cultural relativism and it's political counterpart, multi-culturalism? The idea that it's improper to in any way criticize any culture but one's own? I'm not convinced at all that's what Sherif hoped would come of his effort. But here's some salient parts:

Whatever society we take, no matter how primitive or developed, simple or complicated, we find standards, norms, conventions, customs, and values regulating to a great extent the conduct, and shaping the mentalities, likes and dislikes of its members along economic, aesthetic, social, moral, political and other lines.

The individual acquires a certain set of norms from childhood on, no matter whether he wishes to do so or not, and whether he is conscious of the fact or not. Sapir has given a subtle analysis of this point in a recent symposium (37). These norms determine to a considerable extent the individual's ideas of good or bad, right or wrong, beautiful or ugly, and likewise his perceptual tendencies; e.g., which aspects of a field of stimulation he will accentuate and which he will ignore. For instance (to use the illustration cited by Sapir), a foreigner looking at the activities of a "primitive" group will often single out certain aspects that will be passed unnoticed by ( 6) the natives as unimportant, or he will fail to notice certain parts that will be in the foreground from the point of view of the natives.

The norms may vary from society to society and from time to time. These variations may be comparatively slight within a given range, as is the case with societies belonging to the same culture (e.g., Western culture), or they may be astoundingly great, as is the case with societies belonging to different cultures. The variation in norms and in perceiving, thinking, and reacting, may be so great that the norms appear stupid, and contrary to all notions of "common sense," to a person whose thinking and behavior are regulated by norms of a different culture.

I think that at least by children, cruelty is universally recognized. Tolerance is a wonderful thing, no doubt about it. But there have to be limits to what civilized people will accept.


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