Movements, Labels, Dogma, and Emotional Contagion

We human beings are very interesting creatures when we’re placed together in groups. We can do great things or very bad things. We can conquer polio or after a sporting event (as happened in Tuscon Arizona among other places) we can overturn cars and set them on fire.

The psychological element that allows this behavior (both good and bad) is called emotional contagion.
Emotional contagion is the process that occurs when we catch other peoples emotions and mimic their behaviors. A large part of our culture is created by it. Think about it, where did the stereotypical “Valley Girl” come from?

We should recognize the influence of emotional contagion. Sometimes it’s a very good thing, but sometimes it can be extremely destructive. Movements almost always cultivate emotional contagion through the use of labels and dogma. People get caught up in the propaganda that ensues and are no longer able to think logically or rationally.

Often organizations use labels to attack enemies. The Church of Scientology for instance labels its enemies as “Suppressive Persons”. These people are considered very bad. In politics labels are often wielded without regard to their true definitions. Conservative, neocon, liberal, communist, capitalist, and socialist are all often used by political movements to attack members of opposing movements.
Often a label that the particular group in question finds offensive will be placed on a proposal, person, or another movement. The placement of this label then will cause the groups members to disavow all logic concerning what has been labeled because of the association that is placed on it.

While I believe that its okay and sometimes great to get involved in movements, I strongly believe that we should not throw away our ability to question and critically analyze ideas and concepts. This is exactly what people do though. The label socialist can be slapped on something and suddenly it’s terrible. People often don’t realize that we are a socialist democracy. Yes we have lots of social programs in place. Think about libraries, fire departments, the FDA, and the USDA. These are all things we do together as a society. These are all socialist. The label though means nothing by itself. After all, if everyone started calling purple blue, would blue change or just our name for it. It’s the substance of what we do that really matters, not the movements, labels, dogma, and emotional contagion that surround what we do.

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