Saturday, September 23, 2017

334. Crossing distance or crossing it out

In this blog, and elsewhere, I have discussed the benefits and problems of what I called ‘cognitive distance’, variety of thought. Too much distance makes collaboration difficult, too little distance can yield boredom and stagnation. Therefore, there is ‘optimal distance’: large enough to make contact potentially interesting, but not so large that this potential cannot be realised. Crossing distance requires effort and experience in dealing with people who think differently. As this ability grows, one can deal with greater distance.

One of the problems of present society is that people isolate themselves in segregated groups, with different group identities, as discussed in the preceding item in this blog. They become unable and unwilling to engage in reasonable debate, giving and assimilating constructive criticism, and see difference as an assault on their identity. Rather than crossing distance, distance is crossed out.

This due, in part, to the development of the ‘filter bubbles’ created by internet companies (Google, Facebook Amazon, ….) who tailor information, in the form of news, gossip, and product offerings, to the profiles of people constructed on the basis of past choices and contacts. People get served with what they are used to. This reduces cognitive distance.

Partly, the development is due also to people seeking their identity in culturally homogeneous groups, as discussed in the preceding item of this blog.

The romanticism of being nested in a culturally homogeneous group, with shared blood, soil, and national mythology, wins out from the romanticism of transcending boundaries and engaging in adventures of the new.

The process becomes a vicious circle, with lack of trust and understanding further tightening the noose of cultural identity, and people nestling deeper in their cultural cocoons. .

Lacking practice in dealing with people who think differently, at larger cognitive distance, one unlearns how to cope with it. People neglect to learn to give and absorb constructive criticism. Differences of view condense and harden in differences of identity, which are less open to compromise and negotiation.

This cultural entrenchment is to the detriment of both individuals and society. Individuals suffer from a narrowing of perspective that stints intellectual and spiritual development. Society loses its ability for reasonable debate, to reconcile different views and interests in peace and trust.

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