Who makes your mind up for you?

by Sunny Bindra on May 4, 2014 · 2 comments

in Sunday Nation

Who makes your mind up for you? That would be you, right?

Of course we all want to believe we are independent spirits and free-minded souls; that we think for ourselves and come to our own conclusions. Sadly, for most of us that is just a delusion. Our minds are being made up for us, every day, and we don’t even know it.

Most people only think they have a say in their own lives. The hidden strings are being pulled by others. It is nonetheless important for the human puppets to not know that they are puppets; being human, they need the illusion of being in control of their lives.

Perhaps you’re already bristling at this suggestion. Perhaps you see yourself as a forceful character, a leader of men, a pace-setter, a trail-blazer. More news for you, from Lord Byron: “And when we think we lead, we are most led.” In my experience, the most confident leaders amongst us will often be the most emphatically led.

So what is it we are being led by? The first force is the crowd. Yes, the very thing we think we lead is the one that leads us. For the politician, the validation of the crowd is paramount. If the crowd will want something, no matter how destructive or insane, it must be provided. The politically minded spend their whole lives watching every twitch of the crowd, because their votes must be won.

It is not just politicos who are led by the crowd they purport to lead; it is every leader in every arena who seeks validation and popularity. And it is not just leaders either: followers also find great safety and comfort in being in the bosom of the crowd. The mass, be it ill-educated and ill-equipped, decides most things. So don’t kid yourself that you’re leading; you’re mostly just pandering.

The second force that’s driving your decisions is conformity. Most humans are at their most peaceful when they are fitting in, being like the rest, doing as others do. The need to conform is more powerful than we think; it prevents bold decisions from being made and untested strategies from being attempted. We don’t do things unless most people do them. And so the stuff we really need to do dies at conception.

The third ‘c’ that’s making our minds up for us is covetousness. We almost never see ourselves as absolutes; we only value ourselves relative to others. That pair of jeans you’re wearing (because, you know, crowds and conformity) felt just fine to you until you sat amongst a few jean-clad friends and your pair suddenly felt shabby and not up to the mark. You were delighted with your pay-rise, until you found out a peer received more. After that, your once-healthy raise felt measly and, in fact, insulting. You now suspected tribalism, favouritism, nepotism and many other ‘-isms’ you had not perceived before.

So many of our consumption decisions are made simply because we want to induce envy in others. Our homes, cars, phones, clothes, holidays are rarely about us; they are most often about making a positional statement: I’m here, you’re not. Or why else are our newspapers full of people willingly showing off their possessions, in remarkable detail?

Sad, isn’t it? And I didn’t even have to mention any spiritual or natural forces that drive our behaviour. Most of our lives are ruled by the needs thrown up by just coexisting with other humans: the need to belong, the need to be popular; the need to have others envy us.

And so we are led a merry dance by those who know how to use these basic tendencies. Most of us are just eyeballs and wallets being assembled for commerce to occur. The only way to cut the invisible strings making us dance is to see them attached to our limbs.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Economist Gilbert Tochi May 4, 2014 at 5:03 pm

As a salesperson I encounter this alot. A client promises to buy a product only to later on decline just because she’s been talked out of it by a clueless calleague/housband. If only we could rely on our own research, I think we could be miles ahead. Dr Wale puts it correctly: we are stagnat because we are more of critics of new ideas rather than carriers of new ideas. Kenya has very few patents compared to the rest of the world and this is because…well, we are always comfortable being led.

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2 fredmanglis May 4, 2014 at 6:14 pm

For some reason, this resonated (in my mind) with a post I’d read earlier (http://gawker.com/black-people-are-cowards-1568673014).
It is a difficult thing to trully make up your mind without giving ground to society, and that is the basis of our cowardice. Those who do, are variously ostracised, killed, labelled blasphemers etc (reminds me of Gallileo and the Church).
I have had to deal with this in myself (and continue doing this) and failing many times, but one has to keep getting up and trying harder, maybe even content oneself with a life ‘uncharted’; different from what society expects. . . now, if only I was an eccentric billionaire :-) people are more easy-going on the weirdnesses of rich people (Stereotype alert!)

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