Inciting Incident Blog #5 – The Tabula Rasa and Change

Consider for a moment the concept of the Tabula Rasa.

If you don’t know what I mean by that, I’ll do my best to explain it without any anthropological jargon. Essentially, our minds and our concept of awareness begin being inscribed into our consciousness from the moment we reach the stage of taking in information. While people are always learning, there has to be a foundation, a set place, for these experiences to be transmitted and transcribed, and that is on our Tabula Rasa. You can’t have an iPhone before you have an operating system, and that’s what our Tabula Rasa is, basically. It’s the bedrock for guiding our perception, and 80 percent of it has been completed by the time we’re five years old, and most of it is gathered from learned behavior. That’s what culture is.

We all learn that the law of physics holds true in various forms: for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. Think of this in a cultural form, and it holds true as well. Someone comes out as gay. There’s internal conflict that leads to the public proclaiming; in this case, the need to be open outweighs the fear of those consequences. There are also the outside reactions. Some welcome them in, some cut them from their lives.

But no matter who we are or where we come from, we can’t perceive anything without our method of framing, and that is always connected to our Tabula Rasa. We place millions of things, moments, ideas, and reactions into a supercomputer within our own minds, and it determines how we react on everything. No decision is made without it. It doesn’t mean people are incapable of change, it only means that we’re programmed to react certain ways to stimuli, and that can be difficult to overcome.

Now, consider the culture in which we live. We’re taught that everyone is special, unique, and an individual. We’re taught to be a community, to work together, to find answers to problems. But what we aren’t taught is to change who we are. Think of how many different memes like that you’ve seen. “If you can’t accept me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best.” “You are you, never change.” “Always be who you are and never apologize for it.” Yes, these are conventions set forth to allow people to be who they are naturally, but they’re also barriers to being able to change and adapt, and that’s likely a trait that’s evolved within the species over time.

Further referencing and reading Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, he postulates that tribalism, the need to be social and local within a community while also having an other to fear and fight, was a selective trait that evolved in early human societies. Having people to rely on for certain tasks, being part of a team that promotes loyalty and reverence; we can’t have those things without having an other against which to compare. A baseball team cannot measure their abilities against only each other; it only matters once they step onto the field in competition that it counts.

What we’ve seen in the last few days is an explosion in tribalism, and that’s likely due to baser instincts being triggered and utilized for that very purpose. Trump’s platform was “to be great again, all these other people have to be put in their place.” Various other groups have fought for their rights against that very same other, to be who they are without fearing or risking their lives to do so.

I’ve heard many say that polarization is worse than it’s ever been, and I disagree. We’ve always been this polarized, it’s only magnified and on display now because of our access to instant information. When communication wasn’t insulated, our communities were more based on local cohesion, and that had the very same effect. The outsider was questioned, tested, and then decided if they were welcome within or to be kept out. Now we have those very same behaviors inscribed in our brains, only it acts on a more theoretical level. We can filter the information we get to hear, because we’ve categorized within ourselves what’s to be true and what’s not to be trusted.

Is it any surprise that things have turned out the way they have?

If you tell someone for two years that a certain group of people is responsible for all those problems, upon achieving a victory, is it any surprise that that group has reacted unfavorably and even violently toward them? As I wrote in my last blog, the appeal to emotional concepts runs much deeper than the logical. “It’s all their fault, and now that we won, I need to put them in their place.” And it’s happening, quicker than anyone would’ve expected, but it cannot be a surprise when that was the overarching narrative to the entire election.

If we’re going to get through this, we have to learn to adjust our Tabula Rasa, to not filter people, information, and concepts on our baser instincts. If we become a nation that responds immediately based on our emotional reactions, it’s going to intensify because there’s nothing to challenge it. We have to learn to be aware of our instincts when it comes to how we react and treat people, or our filters; literally and figuratively; will further divide us and exploit our inner basis of tribalism.

And I have no interest in finding out just how far down that road we could go before it comes to a head.

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