Furthest Right

Negativity Bias

You might have a similar experience to this one, since the type of writing here tends to select a certain type of audience: college-educable, stranded in the middle classes above the median, believes life is good, finds the rest of humanity generally appalling, confused, disorganized, and venal.

These are the people who build and maintain civilizations. They have enough processing power in their brains to figure out that there are advantages to civilization, so instead of having a tantrum against it, we should enhance it and benefit along with everyone else.

Such people can often be found sitting on the executive board at a local church. Imagining this board, we can visualize it as three people who are publicly devout believers with private doubts, a half-dozen atheists who are invested in church as a social function, and three inspecific believers.

The inspecific believers go to their church because it is the local form of worship of the divine, but would be equally at home in another religion, organized or not. To them church is a social center, and God/gods is something unknowable but derivable, or most likely true but forever mysterious.

Such people would not be Unitarians, since Unitarianism tries to make a religion to contain all other religions just like diversity makes a shell of anti-culture to include all cultures, but are parallelists who look for a core of similarity between religions to find what is most likely true:

But under all this confusion of tongues and myths, of local histories and particularist doctrines, there remains a Highest Common Factor, which is the Perennial Philosophy in what may be called its chemically pure state. This final purity can never, of course, be expressed by any verbal statement of the philosophy, however undogmatic that statement may be, however deliberately syncretistic. The very fact that it is set down at a certain time by a certain writer, using this or that language, automatically imposes a certain sociological and personal bias on the doctrines so formulated. It is only the act of contemplation when words and even personality are transcended, that the pure state of the Perennial Philosophy can actually be known. The records left by those who have known it in this way make it abundantly clear that all of them, whether Hindu, Buddhist, Hebrew, Taoist, Christian, or Mohammedan, were attempting to describe the same essentially indescribable Fact.

At the core of the Perennial Philosophy we find four fundamental doctrines.

  1. The phenomenal world of matter and of individualized consciousness — the world of things and animals and men and even gods — is the manifestation of a Divine Ground within which all partial realities have their being, and apart from which they would be non-existent.
  2. Human beings are capable not merely of knowing about the Divine Ground by inference; they can also realize its existence by a direct intuition, superior to discursive reasoning. This immediate knowledge unites the knower with that which is known.
  3. Man possesses a double nature, a phenomenal ego and an eternal Self, which is the inner man, the spirit, the spark of divinity within the soul. It is possible for a man, if he so desires, to identify himself with the spirit and therefore with the Divine Ground, which is of the same or like nature with the spirit.
  4. Man’s life on earth has only one end and purpose: to identify himself with his eternal Self and so to come to unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground.

Similar conceptions are perfectly compatible with Christianity and have in fact been entertained, explicitly or implicitly, by many Catholic and Protestant mystics, when formulating a philosophy to fit facts observed by super-rational intuition. Thus, for Eckhart and Ruysbroeck, there is an Abyss of Godhead underlying the Trinity, just as Brahman underlies Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Suso has even left a diagrammatic picture of the relations subsisting between Godhead, triune God and creatures. In this very curious and interesting drawing a chain of manifestation connects the mysterious symbol of the Divine Ground with the three Persons of the Trinity, and the Trinity in turn is connected in a descending scale with angels and human beings. These last, as the drawing vividly shows, may make one of two choices. They can either live the life of the outer man, the life of the separative selfhood; in which case they are lost (for, in the words of the Theologia Germanica, “nothing burns in hell but the self”). Or else they can identify themselves with the inner man, in which case it becomes possible for them, as Suso shows, to ascend again, through unitive knowledge, to the Trinity and even, beyond they Trinity, to the ultimate Unity of the Divine Ground.

Inspecific believers know this stuff intuitively and tend to be the least versed in the specifics of various religious sects because these things are either obvious or layers of interpretation that conceal the obvious. It is better to be able to see the obvious, because so few can.

Perhaps the most dangerous group are those for whom participation in the church is pure symbolism. For them, the church symbolizes their personal goodness, and therefore they tend toward fanatical activities, showing again how fanaticism is a defensive camouflage for vast unstated doubt.

Some might say the atheists do not belong at church, but of course, most of the people who go to church are atheists secretly hoping for that one satori moment when suddenly they have proof of God and can stop worrying about aging, insignificance, and death.

They miss the point that if God were obvious, none would be filtered by taking the leap of faith, and so the usual yes-men and bean-counters would dominate the religious sphere. We already see this with the bearded hipster influx, something that just becomes more embarrassing as they age.

Our cynical side says that if you are a tattooed, bearded hipster in your forties who still collects rare video games and studies avocado toast recipes, it is time to end it all. Gun in mouth, bap! splat!. The compassionate side says these people are struggling with bad Boomer parenting (the norm).

In any case, the church council provides an object lesson in The Human Problem, namely that whatever rises gets pulled down by a group formed of the self-interested who are disconnected from the whole, including both cause-effect and goal, which includes transcendentals like goodness and excellence.

All human groups succumb to The Human Problem, although the organizations (companies, societies, HOAs, church councils, rock bands, hobo camps) that suppress THP the most tend to be of the highest quality, lowest cost, and greatest simplicity and therefore enjoyment of that quality.

If we design the ideal church experience, for example, we want something with low overhead cost so it is effective, that meets the needs of its audience, and does so with simplicity so the experience hits as an integrated whole and provides the joy of being both easy and sensible.

In a group like a church council — this provides as neutral an example as any — we see all of the pitfalls of human logic come to the fore. People defer to the group so that they may advance themselves, and thus the purpose of the group decays like the meaning of symbols over time.

This gives rise to The Committee Mentality, in which people deliberately dumb down what they want and focus on special interests in order to achieve a sense of consensus, so that the group can experience collective reward and therefore be unlikely to revolt.

We know about Surviorship Bias, but few understand Negativity Bias. Survivorship bias is best explained by the WW2 story: armorers studied the damaged planes that returned from battle to see where the most damage occurred, but a statistician suggested they were studying the wrong planes.

He pointed out that the planes which did not return would tell them where the fatal hits were, and the ones that managed to return were showing them non-fatal wounds. The armorers had been measuring the planes they had, not the ones they needed to see.

Negativity Bias would occur if all of the planes that got shot down somehow managed to show up in the church lobby and then come up to the service window, one after one, to offer their complaints. In committees, keeping order through the appearance of consensus keeps the committee in practice.

Even worse, the planes which did not get shot down would show up to weigh in with their viewpoints, so soon the committee would face two oppositional groups. Its only possible course of action would involve a compromise, so each group gets less armor than it needs, and in the wrong places.

In our hypothetical church group, the church has a dozen visitor parking spaces out in front of the chapel itself. These are always parked up, and this means that when friends of several of the council members come on Sundays, they have to park far away in the regular lot that parishioners use.

For some reason, this becomes the most-discussed issue during the year. People have proposed towing cars, having a ticket system, even license plate number readers. This is a contentious issue that splits the committee directly down the middle.

One could say that half of the time in half of the meetings of the council revolve around this issue. As soon as someone talks about security, it gets connected to the parking issue. If they talk about money, people get wild ideas about fining parking violators. And so on.

In this case, the damaged planes have come to complain. The core of the issue is simple: there is no one around who is going to observe who parks there. No one has the time. So no matter what rules they write or services they hire, they will not be able to do anything about the parking problem.

Even if the council gave itself the power to execute parking-spot free riders on the spot, it would never happen because no one will be there all day to see who comes and goes. No one on the council has any idea who these people are. They may even be legitimate visitors.

This is negativity bias. The issue that hurts comes back to haunt the council, and in pursuing it, they blow off bigger issues like planning for the leaky roof to get its next fix in five years, fixing the fence near the playground so pedos do not sodomize the little children, and son.

In fact, at this council like most others, there is an elephant in the room: as the city grows, fewer people are coming to church, so it has to find some way to be more appealing to more people. Most of the council will admit after two beers that this means more lifestyle centers and events.

However, the committee cannot come to agreement; this will change as soon as the problem comes crashing down and they are near bankruptcy, at which point they will slam the barn door extra hard since the horse is in the next county. But for now they will do nothing.

You could say that this is one of the fundamental issues. The church needs to find a way to have an audience in a time when fewer people attend church, and the answer does not seem to be adding rock bands, television screens, and a prosperity gospel. People will just get that elsewhere more easily.

Instead of acquiring new audience, in the grand tradition of Moscow and Newark, the committee has decided to double down on squeezing every last cent out of its wealthy donors, which requires that each sermon be dedicated to the special interests of a donor, resulting in an incoherent message over the year.

Add together the declining audience, the leaky roof, the unwieldy budget, and the four rooms that no one has entered for a decade because they are packed with old records, and the church has no shortage of stuff that it must do, but it is stalled on talking about parking.

In human groups, because of presumed unity and the need to hold the group together, we dedicate most of our time to managing problems and problematic people. We sacrifice our best people, best hopes, and concept of what is real for this, dodging elephants to address special interest details.

This ultimately makes any group depressed, and from that, you get Dark Organizations. In the church already, a clique is planning to take over and make it into one of those New Age or Unitarian type things. They may get it, too, because they are unified and their opposition can agree on nothing.

Humans desire certainty, and they associate that with the tangible, or something their big brains can grasp and handle like an object held in our sweaty grimy mitts. We like things that do not bring surprises and instead can be easily manipulated for our personal gain.

Even more, we like safety. We fear evolutionary events like the two stags locking horns in the woods. Only one can prevail; the other loses face, then drops in social rank, and has less of a chance to mate well, eat well, and have a successful life. This is why humans adore pacifism.

Utilitarianism, pluralism, egalitarianism, and tolerance all flow from this. If we neuter the herd, it will not lock horns with us, we reason. We will never lose because conflict will no longer exist. That way, we can bullshit our way into positions of power and win without struggle.

What a dream! It joins compulsive gambling, alcoholism, wife beating, sex addiction, heroin habits, and eating whole family-size pizzas in one sitting as known human failings. It is a compensatory act. When we are depressed, we turn against the organization and pity ourselves, therefore act for ourselves alone.

A dark organization occurs when a clique of people start acting for what they want not what benefits the organization, reality, and the goals of the org. This is parallel to tyranny, crime, and being the type of bad manager that lets a council keep discussing parking instead of its shaky funding.

Humans fear conflict because they fear losing because to lose is to have guessed wrong about how the world works, which makes you look weak and less desirable, at which point you are a worse option to other better options like the guy who won.

Consequently humans desire certainties and, in order to make those “real,” that the group enforce them with violence. Hilariously, the paradoxical use of violence to enforce non-violence is typical in human groups. We do not tolerate the intolerate. We harm those who do not agree to our pacifism.

The certainties we desire are agreements from the group about what is real and what is not. That way, even when we are wrong, we get rewarded for having upheld the group belief, and can claim like Jesus Christ or a suicide bomber to be the true champions of our people. In losing, we win, that way.

For your daily high colonic of raging realism, consider that there is almost no certainty in life except the negative. You will defecate, you will suffer, and you will die. Physicality seems real or at least has consistent consequences. Some of your dreams will be shattered.

But life has mostly mysteries, mainly because its complexity can barely be described much less mapped, and this leads us to a lack of belief in the idea of certainty. However, we can point to two things that actually exist:

  1. Consistency: sometimes called “fact” or “truth,” this refers to the parts of the universe that we can describe which are consistent and therefore can be anticipated, like releasing a ball above the earth causes it to drop. Mostly true, sometimes misleading.
  2. Coherence: logical fact may be better than epistemological fact because by its nature it is abstract, therefore a broad container that can apply in any situation to limit the potential results we think are likely. Usually iron, but harder to read.

To get out of the negativity bias trap we do not need blind faith; we need a critical balance that always orients toward the positive by orienting toward the real and seeing what is left. The parking is not real, since no one is paying attention; the roof, budget, and audience are real and necessary.

Once we get over our fear in accepting those, we can start to do things. Those four old rooms are the basis of a community center if we toss out the crap in them or even stash it in one of those orange garage door storage centers where stuff goes to be forgotten and auctioned after the bill is forgotten.

We need to stop worrying about the complainers. Accepting someone as having an important point because they are a victim is the germinal form of egalitarianism. We can accept them as people without believing them literally at face value, and can instead address the emotional need they are expressing.

Most people draw attention to themselves through bragging or victimhood since both motivate the group to take notice. If someone comes to you needing attention, find a way that they can get attention by finding activities they can participate in through which they can make a positive contribution.

For example, one church council, under the influence of one rogue general believer, convinced its group to set up a small community center. All it did was make decent coffee and hand out bad grocery store snickerdoodle cookies. But it brought people in.

Something friggin’ magic happened at that point. The complainers, who were really lonely and mad at their insignificance in life and shattered dreams, started going there to talk to people, and found a way to talk about positive, fun stuff instead of the usual darkness.

Not everyone could benefit. A certain portion of the population will always be dedicated to misery, death, and failure because they are embittered at life and have become defensively fatalistic and thus narcissistic. To them, only they are victims, and everyone else is guilty and must burn.

You cannot fix or help these people. Like heroin addicts, they either help themselves or they die by blessed natural selection which we sometimes call the brilliant unconscious hand of God. Those who do not contribute to the beauty of life are best left in silent timeless nothingness.

If you want to make something rise, exalt the functional, beautiful, healthy, sane, intelligent, and normal. Look toward the future and what non-existant things can be reified there and made into great things. Fix the bloody roof and open a community center. Tackle the real problems.

Your heart rate goes down after you have faced your fears. Committees hate doing that because they can lose by tackling an issue and failing or worse, generating complaints. No one gets voted off for being the seventh council of a seventh council to take a strong meaningless stance on the parking.

You can tut-tut over all of the sad, bad, weak, and ugly if you want. You can offer tea and sympathy. You can even tell people that you are sorry for their loss. But at the end of the day, what they really need is for you to show them something they can do which will give them purpose and a chance to shine.

What you cannot do is to legitimize their suffering as an identity. This makes them depressed, and then they turn on the organization and cannibalize it. You can lift up the good, make more good, and then push the bad to the back of the room (or out into the street, if you can pull it off without looking mean).

You cannot let the sickness take root. People who identify with sickness self-destruct. The sick must die; this is the order of nature. What is falling, push; this way, you can put in something functional instead. One cannot have light without darkness, but fetishing either leads to sunblindness in the dark.

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