There are many things in life that require us to conform. These commonly accepted rules allow society to function with a level of decorum. They come in the form of social contracts, lines that must not be crossed and words that must remain locked in our mouths. Many rules keep us alive, like obeying traffic lights and not sticking metal objects into electrical sockets. Other rules maintain friendships, business and family relationships. For example, husbands and boyfriends all know that the answer to the question “do these jeans make me look fat?” is always no. Employees know that their bosses must at all times believe that they are infallible and exceptionally brilliant, even in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary. These are examples of the no-brainer rules that make our lives safe and pleasant.
On the flip side, following rules blindly without discretion or analysis, can have dire consequences. Human beings have a remarkable ability to justify and support their own belief systems and sadly, they can be so entrenched, that their conviction can influence others. People who are prone to accepting dogma without question, may go as far as dying trying to defend their beliefs; even if the evidence to the contrary is irrefutable, authenticated and even scientific.
This trait is alarming in itself, but when it is applied to man made constructs, it is downright scary, especially if the masses subscribe like drones in a beehive. While there are many clear cut examples of mass manipulation of unthinking individuals (like cults) there are a host of more insidious ones that are equally, if not more, subversive. I may not win the congeniality award after this but it is definitely going to get you thinking.
First we need to explore the nature of a belief. A child only has the cognitive ability to discern fact from fiction around the age of 6 or 7. They are like sponges, soaking up everything they hear and see and most of the information is processed as fact. This is why it is easy to get a child to believe just about anything you feed them. While it can be cute to get a child wound up about the Tooth Fairy, you are unwittingly setting them up to accept fiction as fact later in life. Due to the fact that they do not have the cognition to discern, the information gets stored in their brains and sits in their filing system unquestioned. When the child hits the age of 7 or 8 they start to catch on that the fat man in the red suit handing out presents sounds and looks like dad. They also start to question the logistics of Santa getting around the world at warp speed with a bunch of lame reindeer. This is a good thing.
However what about all the learned beliefs that do not present themselves for scrutiny and analysis? The conversations they hear about religion, race, prejudice, wealth, health and success all stick in the corners of their minds and create patterns of thinking that can be very difficult to change.
Marketers know this and have exploited the masses with enormous success. We unthinkingly go along with the flow hoping that no-one shouts “stop the bus I want to get off” because it will mean changing the beliefs that we have steadfastly justified our entire lives.
A particularly good example of this is the multitude of traditions and festivals that humans subscribe to; Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s day, Mother’s day, Father’s Day and I ask you with tears in my eyes who thought up national cleavage day? There is nothing real about these events and protocols, they are simply manifestations of one, or a few individual’s ideas or personal agendas.
Christians celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th. The concomitant hype that surrounds the event defies explanation. Being the product of a non-secular education I have a fair knowledge of the bible. It expressly says that thou shalt not worship false idols. However Santa Clause seems to have been given a stay of execution. Please don’t argue that it is “different” it is not. There are far more effigies and statues of Santa in homes than nativity scenes. And children definitely do not get up at three in the morning to wish Jesus happy birthday, they are in it for the toy stash. Retailers created the Commercial side of Christmas and everyone happily obliges by spending a month’s salary to grow their coffers. Year after year people put themselves into debt and suffer mental anguish all in the name of Christmas and then see no harm in passing down the “tradition”, aka belief system to their kids so they too can become embroiled in the Christmas debt trap.
The Easter Bunny-really? If Santa doesn’t make your hair stand on end, the Easter Bunny should at least get a raised eye-brow. Who woke up one morning and said “let’s create a bunny that wears lederhosen, can walk on two legs and carry a basket with chocolate eggs?
Other man made holidays are blatant exploitation by marketers. They are multi-billion dollar industries and we keep lining the pockets of the retailers. Why should business dictate to us the day on which we celebrate our relationships with partners and parents? It is ludicrous that we cram ourselves into crowded malls and restaurants with inflated prices to show our loved ones we care. We have a 365 days a year to do this in our own time and fashion.
There are many other examples of mass manipulation and the corresponding sheep like behavior we subscribe to today. We need to wake up and smell the reality. We need to start questioning practices and beliefs that make us twitch with cognitive dissonance while assaulting our pockets. We are slowly making the shift from blind compliance, to self-awareness but it is a painfully slow process. So forgive me if you are not on my Christmas list or invited to Easter revelry, I would rather take an indulgent trip to the Maldives or pay for a child’s education, than subscribe to someone else’s notion of caring and commitment. The Grinch was a wimp.