Tuesday, April 19, 2016

9. The Human "Chimp to Bee" Switch

Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind continues. I've blogged on:

1. Introduction
2. Intuitive Dogs and Rational Tails
3. Elephants Rule
4. Three Domains of Morality
5. Taste Buds of the Righteous Mind
6. The Moral Foundations of Politics
7. The Conservative Advantage
8. Morality an Evolutionary Advantage

Today it's chapter 10: "The Hive Switch."

1. Haidt's basic hypothesis in this chapter is that while we are mostly chimps who look out for our own individual interests, we have a switch of sorts that puts us into bee mode, where we fight for our group. "Human beings are conditional hive creatures" (258). Under the right conditions, we can enter the mindset of "one for all, all for one."

Haidt links this switch to the religious dimension of human existence. He mentions what happens when a group is involved in an ecstatic group dance. Later he will mention the raves that took place in Britain in the 80s. He has mentioned earlier in the book when soldiers are marching together. Following Emile Durkheim, humans are homo duplex, who exist not only as individuals but as members of larger society. The second dimension of human existence is not reducible to the first.

2. He gives three examples of how to "flip the switch" on a human being to this euphoric sense of oneness with something bigger, the flip to a sense of the sacred. Nature, he suggested, can switch us to a sense of awe and of oneness with creation. Drugs are a second. Raves are the third.

3. The next part of the chapter dives into the biological basis for the switch. He suggests two possible contributors. One suggestion is the chemical oxytocin. In experiments with an oxytocin spray, groups becomes more unified, especially in the face of other groups.

A second candidate is the mirror neurons we have. These neurons imitate in our brains what we see. They help us empathize. [As an aside this is an argument against watching certain things or playing certain video games. Our brains do what we see, which is part of the thrill we get at certain movies. Jesus' statements about already doing in our heart things we fantasize about also seems to fit here.]

4. It was the last part of the chapter that was more interesting to me. He talked about the difference between transactional and transformational leadership. The previous treats people as self-interested individuals who are all homo economicus and motivates with personal consequences. Transformational leadership plays into people's propensity to unite with something bigger than themselves. People want to give for the good of the hive, not just themselves.

Fun to see intersections with leadership theory and the church growth movement in this sections. He mentions Dunbar groups, for example (434 n.46), groups of 150. We only seem to be able to know everyone within a group of this size or smaller, which is why this is a typical church size. A single pastor cannot handle a church bigger than this size without additional staff of some kind. Some churches plant another congregation when they hit this size and megachurches might think about facilitating sub-groups of this size or lower.

5. He mentions the homogeneous principle (although he doesn't name it). You won't have the switch (or perhaps slide, he suggests) to a higher group unity unless there is some strong sense of similarity. Of course he is not arguing for racial segregation. But he is suggesting that our differences need to be drowned in a sea of similarities if we want to experience this higher level of group cohesion. [My old colleague Bob Whitesel once cleverly suggested that multiculturalism in itself can be a basis for this sort of group bonding, if everyone in the group loves multiculturalism as a value!]

Another component of human bee hives is "team spirit," synchrony, group rituals that the group does together, chants, slogans, etc. Finally, healthy competition between smaller teams. Soldiers die more for their squad, not for their country. Basic training unites the soldiers, not the drill sergeant. So fraternities and sororities bond university students even more than university spirit in general.

So a thriving organization will not only make people feel part of a whole greater than themselves, it may also have smaller sub-units in healthy rivalries with each other.

6. Some people create these dynamics as a second nature. They are the cheerleaders. Where they need to be careful is in intergroup rivalry. "In group" enthusiasm can go too far in its attitudes and treatment of "out group" individuals.

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