[PAX] - Polarisation and 'Cultural Animism' | INFJ Forum

[PAX] Polarisation and 'Cultural Animism'


Deleted member 16771

I need to write this down somewhere before I forget.

Essentially I have a hypothesis about the causal links between social polarisation and the cultural tendency to impute ‘animus’ to causes and objects. In short that, the greater the social polarisation in a given society, the greater the cultural tendency towards ‘animist’ thinking (i.e. good effects come from ‘good people’ and good intents, bad effects from ‘bad people’ and/or ‘bad intents’, &c. That objects are imputed to have such ‘intent’ and ‘animus’, &c.) will be exhibited by that society; with a reflexive or bidirectional causality between both of these features.

To explain things a little more, what I’m suggesting would be a unity of ‘attribution theory’ and ‘social balance theory’.

‘Social balance theory’ (Fritz Heider > Dorwin Cartwright and Frank Harary > Antal, Krapivsky and Redner) contends that social networks tend towards ‘structural balance’ in one of two dimensions: unitary utopia (everyone likes each other) or a ‘bipolar state’ (two mutually antagonistic cliques). There is no stable tripolar or multipolar arrangement – everything either tends towards utopia or bipolarity.

This can essentially be reduced to the adages that ‘a friend of my friend, as well as an enemy of my enemy, is my friend’, and ‘a friend of my enemy, as well as an enemy of my friend, is my enemy’ [T. Antal, P.L. Krapivsky and S. Redner, ‘Social Balance on Networks: The Dynamics of Friendship and Enmity’, Physica D: Nonlinear Phenomena 224.1 (2006), p. 130.], and thus networks tend to naturally self-organise into bipolar states. The underlying psychological principles tending towards ‘structural balance’ are those of ‘consistency theory’; that human beings prefer to avoid cognitive dissonances and prefer psychological ‘consistency’.

The usual given example is the case of a triad of wife, husband and friend. When they all get along, the triad is balanced under the utopic condition, but in the case of an unamicable divorce, the friend is placed in tension and the network becomes imbalanced – the tendency will be for the friend to side with either ex-husband or ex-wife to bring the network back into balance under the bipolar condition.

Social polarisation cascades throughout larger networks in the same way, attempting to ‘balance’ the entire network into one of the two conditions, and the process tends to carry a lot of momentum.

Also key to polarisation is the fact that ‘balance’ is not restricted to relationships between individuals, but also involves relationships with ‘objects’ (things, ideas, &c.). This is what Piaget referred to as ‘animism’ – the tendency to impute agency, intent and ‘animus’ to inanimate objects. We should marvel at the fact that something like a ‘pickup truck’ has such ‘animus’ – that we can partially discern the ‘alliance’ of an individual based upon how they relate to pickup trucks; that what is immediately brought to mind are things like ‘redneck’, ‘country’, ‘Republican’, ‘White’, &c., and this in itself exerts a force upon us to side either ‘with’ or ‘against’ ‘pickup trucks’. Some are resistant to this, of course, since pickup trucks have an actual tool value independent of their symbolic cache, but this is just an example.

In highly polarised networks, therefore, the tendency is for everything to become subsumed under either of the bipolar categories; the whole material and conceptual universe becomes drawn into this process of ‘structural balancing’.

Such psychological animism is coloured by the positional loci of a person or object within the bipolar structure, by what Heider called the ‘alter level’:

The interpretation will, of course, depend also on forces acting on the “alter level”, that is to say, on the value level of the other person within our life space. If we are inclined to disparage him we shall attribute his failures to his own person, his successes to his good luck or unfair practices. But disregarding these forces, there probably exists a tendency to be “intropunitive” in regard to other persons, that is, to see them as the cause of their successes and failures in their personal characteristics and not in other conditions. [Fritz Heider, ‘Social Perception and Phenomenal Causality’, Psychological Review 51.6 (1944), p. 361.]

‘Animism’, in other words, refers to a general tendency to impute intent to causes in this sense.

My contention, therefore, is that the greater the level of polarisation within any given social network, the greater the cultural tendency towards animism. That because ‘animism’ is key to the progression of polarisation/structural balance (it doesn’t ‘work’ without it), that it becomes a more and more necessary a feature of the culture. The causal ordering of this process is complex and undoubtedly reflexive, but it’s worth noting that, in highly polarised networks, animism becomes necessary not only to perform the work of social balancing, but also to ensure the survival of the individual, since they now exist within a hostile environment where knowing one’s bipolar allegiance is critical.

Personally, I’ve noticed anecdotally that Americans have a much greater (almost overwhelming) tendency towards animism. For example, if I explain that my behaviour, position or an idea I have is based upon a certain general or abstract principle, this will be rejected in favour of an animist explanation of my personal biases or, essentially, imagined location within the broader bipolar political structure; motives and intent will be imputed almost universally (e.g. Twitter cancellations. Can also be reduced to the formula of 'you believe x because you are y [identity category]'). I used to think that this was due to a high prevalence of PTSD and associated hypervigilance, &c., but it seems like a broader cultural phenomenon (or maybe the culture itself imparts a kind of trauma if the fundamental mental processes are the same). That polarisation essentially hardwires people for animism, and ‘climbing down’ from this – ‘stepping out’ of the bipolar structure – to entertain non-polar explanations of causes is exceptionally difficult because such a cultural mode has become paradigmatic. This is not unique to the United States, of course, but their position as one of the most polarised societies of the developed world makes it particularly noticeable.

What do people think of this? The causal links between socio-political polarisation and animist thinking. Agree? Disagree?

P.S. There is no subtext in this post. No animism necessary, lol.
I found this really fascinating. Without analysing deeper, yes I'd agree this is true. Both the premise stated by Fritz Heider and your extension of it. It matches my personal observation, and I feel also explains some personal affects in my life.
It wouldn't surprise me if Americans, in general, suffer from anxiety or stress disorders. That being said, would saying that Americans are prone to be animist because they're polarized, be an animist explanation? I'm not sure if I might've misunderstood something here or not.
  • Like
Reactions: grt$5vb