Two last things before I leave Julian Jaynes’ thought-provoking book, The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind.
The first thing is…
Almost in passing, Jaynes makes what I found to be a profound remark about emotional stress. If someone had asked me, before I had read Jaynes, what causes emotional stress, I would have probably responding with something like this: stress occurs when we are fighting a deadline, or trying to juggle many things at once, or forced to make tough, life-altering decisions… something along those lines.
What Jaynes points out is that it is not actually the making-of the tough decisions that stresses us out… It is the time between making the decision and finding out if we just ruined our lives or not. Jaynes calls this stressed out zone “the pause in unknowingness.”
I think that –sometimes—this is very true. I would only amend this Jaynesian insight by stretching the Stressed Out Zone farther back in time… Sometimes we see a big decision coming and dread facing it, and it is this time spent in hair-pulling contemplation and fingernail-biting dread of the approaching decision that can be the most stressful time. Often, once we make the decision, it’s actually a relief. It’s a load off—even before the results come in.
I’ve worked in environments where I had to make a series of rapid-fire decisions—and it was often actually invigorating. There was no time to worry. On the other hand, the time before the period of rapid-fire decision-making could be quite stressful.
I think it was Coach Shula (look Pa! me! making a sports reference!) who said that the way to reduce the pre-game Stressed Out Zone is to do two things: 1) “drill for the skill” (let the mechanics of the situation become automatic), and 2) once you’ve prepared all you can, RELAX… Be confident. As the wise Coach said, “Skill plus Confidence equals Success.”
The second thing is…
Jaynes believes, after eons of taking orders from the “god side” of our bicameral mind, we humans have been conditioned to accept and follow authoritative commands. If true, this might explain why populations seem so inclined to follow the dictates of authority figures, even when those dictates are just plain silly.
Notice also: under this explanation of human behavior, it is not actually a herd mentality we witness when we see the masses so readily adopting the opinions of the taste-makers… It is something different, of a different origin and evolution. It is something more akin to a genetic predisposition to turn The Other into a god.
This ties in too well with a recent post on Sartre’s philosophy of Hell Is Other People [here], not to refer you to that entry if you’re interested.
To (at least somewhat) combat this tendency of ours to obey The Other, Jaynes says we have learned to reduce our estimation of The Other’s prestige by judging them— and judging harshly– with the aim of finding something negative about them, something that will make them appear less overpowering to us. The hope is that, if we can just drop our estimation of The Other a peg or two, maybe—just maybe—we can convince ourselves that The Other is not actually a god.
“Why are we forever judging, forever criticizing, forever putting people in categories of faint praise and reproof?” asks Jaynes. The answer: so we can rate them lower in our esteem. Jaynes says that by establishing these “often ridiculous status hierarchies” we are attempting to regulate The Other’s control over our lives.
Want to reduce the power people have over you? Easy: Think less of them.
And why not? When you look at the people we let ride our shoulders as our taste-makers and self-esteem-dictators, they’re often just well-coifed mannequins with microphones, or airheads with too much money and time on their hands.
Unlike bloggers. (Okay, maybe I do have a bottle of hair gel lying around some place)