Years ago, Alexandra Erin, a political commentator on Twitter, observed that people’s beliefs about “human nature” under crisis are self-reifying: what you believe will influence how you act, and in turn, may validate your belief.
To wit, if you’re trapped on a desert island with a planeload of other survivors and you believe “People are good and we’re in this together,” you are likely going to share the resources you find. You are unlikely to be defensive. By sharing, you’ll also reinforce this notion for others.
But if you believe “People are greedy and selfish, and there’s not enough to go around,” then you’re likely going to hoard things. You’re going to be hostile toward others who wish to share. You’re going to act greedily and selfishly. In doing so, you’ll reinforce that notion for others, pushing them to also be greedy and selfish.
Everyone For Themselves
Fear tends to make people more defensive and cognitively rigid, less open to new beliefs. And American culture has been pumping out the idea of rugged individualism, “every person for themselves” for generations. More recently, we’ve seen an entire media apparatus spring up to convince half the country that they’re perpetually under threat. They’re taught to be afraid, to see the world through the lens of scarcity. And through that lens, sharing is a liability and weakness.
I think we could begin fixing this if we could demonstrate to our neighbors that we are actually stronger when we pool our resources and take care of one another. This is why mutual aid networks are so important! But right-wing politicians and media have used the boogeyman of socialism/communism to poison the public imagination against anything even remotely resembling mutual aid.
They Are Projecting
Anyway, I think it sometimes goes beyond the simple “they’re all projecting” analysis many of us are familiar with. For some of them, it’s because they believe they’re constantly under threat, and that’s causing their individualist beliefs about “human nature” to reify. In their minds, they’re acting defensively.
Lord knows, that’s not to excuse them, nor is to say it’s always the case–there’s definitely the sociopathic power brokers, conspiracists, and supremacists, as well, and there’s plenty of overlap between all the groups. (For many, for instance, the perceived threat is one of “replacement”, which causes them to get defensive while also being real racist.) But I’m just… I dunno, hoping to add an extra dimension to our analysis. Also hopefully in the coming months, by projecting kindness, we can all come together.