I’ve been trying to find something to say regarding the Occupy movement but have struggled to find a voice to contribute to the discussion. After seeing people’s responses to the Occupy Oakland General Strike yesterday, I decided I had a small contribution. It is not substantial, or even original, but here it goes anyway.
I believe that we bring our previous preconceived notions about economics, politics, and protests to our analysis of the Occupy movement. Surprise! This should be expected and some people may think it does not need to be stated, but take a moment and really think about it.
Without getting super technical, I’m going to throw out three concepts: biosemiotics, intergroup bias, and confirmation bias.
1. biosemiotics: From the International Society for Biosemiotic Studies website, they define biosemiotics as “the study of representation, meaning, sense, and the biological significance of codes and sign processes, from genetic code sequences to intercellular signaling processes to animal display behavior to human semiotic artifacts such as language and abstract symbolic thought.” I’m not an expert by any means on biosemiotics, but I think it could bring something to the conversation, bear with me.
2. intergroup bias: From a review article in the Annual Review of Psychology, “Intergroup bias refers to the systematic tendency to evaluate one’s own membership group (the in-group) or its members more favorably than a nonmembership group (the out-group) or its members. Bias can encompass behavior (discrimination), attitude (prejudice), and cognition (stereotyping) (Hewstone, Rubin, and Willis, 2002).”
3. confirmation bias: From ScienceDaily, confirmation bias “is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions, leading to statistical errors.”
Now let me attempt to briefly put these topics into conversation with one another. The ability to interpret signals and signs probably proved to be a very useful adaptation for organisms. However, the interpretation can lead to a large amount of information that needs to be classified. Knowing whether someone is a part of your “group” could have helped keep early hominids alive, but in today’s pluralistic and global society, group membership is different. It should not be surprising though, that the space between identifying and identification with is not very far. People who part of my “inner circle” are important to me and I want to see them flourish, so I will help them, or play down their mistakes, etc. It is even possible to seek out information that holds these bonds together, especially if it becomes harder to identify who is in and out.
So now I will bring it back to the original topic of this post, the Occupy movement. I know people who have participated in Occupy assemblies and protests. I also know people who think it is a terrible idea and wish it would go away. I know people who support certain aspects of the movement and some who think it will not result in any meaningful change. When I see people I am close with discuss the events of the past weeks in status updates, tweets, conversations, and in the sharing of links, photographs, videos, and articles, I cannot help but think about other conversations we have had in the past.
Some explain away the vandalism and violence, some lift that up as an example of what is wrong with the movement. The truth probably is somewhere in between. Regardless of whether they have a job or not, regardless of one’s income, regardless of which political party you support, regardless of religion, race, gender, age, or even favorite sports teams, everyone is capable of looking past these affiliations and seeing others for who they are, people just like them, imperfect, trying to live their lives, taking care of the things and people they value. I don’t care which side you are on, if you even have one. 1%, 99%, Democrat, Republican, Texan, Californian, we are all on a small planet, in a galaxy that is far, far away from a great deal of the universe. We need to find ways to live together.