Sunday 17 May 2009

By their deeds ye shall know them

We are aware of our conscious thoughts but not more. The subconscious processes continue regardless of any filters that may be imposed later. Their hidden nature and sheer volume makes them powerful determinants of our actions. Evidence suggest these are in fact more powerful.

Thoughts, seen as functional dynamics, can be scaled up to wider society where ideations become its members and entire thought structures represent what has been called cultural memes. In principle the affinity relationships causing customs to grow or to shrink hold at the lower as well at the higher end of the spectrum. Underneath it all the subconscious still reigns.

Since filtering by the conscious mind leaves so much unseen, can its counterpart be identified nevertheless? As its very nature precludes direct observation we need to ascertain its presence and from that deduce an influence.

The first step focuses on the act of filtering. If the end result is in harmony with the remainder, what has become visible holds no surprises. On the other hand, if the filtering prevents contrary sentiments from coming to the fore, there is a dissonance between what is seen and what is not. In most cases the complexity of ideational constructs virtually ensures the latter.

At the higher end of the scale suppose certain people perform some actions over a period of time with intermediary results. Because cognitive processes do not stop, an ongoing evaluation takes place which includes the subconscious. Nor will the subconscious have disappeared if the results are in line with the original intent. Which begs the question, what do those outcomes really tell us about their initiators? Let's consider three examples.

The Australian government imposed what has been called an 'alcopop tax', raising the price of pre-mixed alcoholic beverages supposedly to stem teenage binge drinking. Critics dismissed it as mere revenue gathering and predicted an increase in alcohol consumption. A few months into this policy and security firms and nightclubs do in fact notice more intoxicated behaviour. Spirits are now consumed straight. If drunkenness had been a problem before, it is even more so now.

What were the policy makers thinking? The general public reads about their intent, but they all are aware of the result. Our conscious, well-behaved mind tells us letting your hair down is bad. Yet our subconscious toys with the idea of breaking rules. As we mature (for want of a better word) our memories hark back to a wild youth, chuckling as we tell each other those stories. The alcopop tax - catharsis for our rulers.

Second example. Speed limits on our roads are lowered on a continual basis. Accidents due to speeding (actually, due to insufficient skills at higher speeds) are with us as ever, and the much-touted government line "every k over is a killer" sits comfortably with our abysmal record in science education. The lower the limit the more frustrated drivers get, the more likely they are to break the law and the recriminations keep coming. At the same time no-one facilitates the raising of skills.

Who doesn't get a thrill from speed? The more confined you are the more you want to break out especially if you play the role of supervisor. From carnivals to roller coasters the escapes are there for all to see. Speed limits - another candidate for a catharsis.

The third example is the age-old bugbear of puritans, pornography. Whether ever so reluctantly revealed from the ruins of ancient Pompeii, or certain paintings behind thick drapes in monasteries, or the modern-day offerings on the internet, erotic visuals have always sent delicious tickles tip-toeing down the spines of the suppressed. The moralists' response? Censorship.

Rather than removing the exuberant nastiness from this world, naked humans kept coming. All censorship ever did was to push the purveyors towards more bullet-proof schemes to circumvent the restrictions. It always has been an art form, if not in execution then certainly in delivery. Not even the most cantankerous denier could fail to spot the relationship. So much so that the heavier the cloak of righteousness the greater the opportunity to practice one's black art underneath.

Judge people by their deeds, not words - it's nothing new. And the more deeds there are, the better to judge them with.

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