Friday, January 31, 2014

The Good That Comes From Gossip

The conventional wisdom has it that gossip is bad. After all, we are seriously enlightened deep thinkers. We want to talk about ideas and principles. Gossip is beneath our great intellectual capacity.

The conventional wisdom also has it that ostracism, as in shunning and shaming people, is bad. Since shame feels bad, it must be bad.

Of course, you know better than to trust the conventional wisdom. Now, a psychologist and a sociologist from Stanford bring us a more accurate and intelligent assessment.

In contrast to the conventional belief that gossip and social exclusion are malicious and should be avoided, researchers found sharing “reputational information” could have a positive effect on society.

Gossip can help social groups to reform bullies, encourages co-operation and stops “nice people” being exploited, according to the study, published in the journal Psychological Science.

Dr Matthew Feinberg, a researcher at Stanford University in the United State who co-wrote the study, said: “Groups that allow their members to gossip sustain co-operation and deter selfishness better than those that don’t.

“And groups do even better if they can gossip and ostracise untrustworthy members.

“While both of these behaviours can be misused, our findings suggest that they also serve very important functions for groups and society.”

No one gossips about ideas. We gossip about other people. In so doing, we exchange what the authors call “reputational information.”

We offer each other information about the character of other people. When we gossip we are telling each other who is more likely to work well with others and to respect others. Perhaps more pertinently, we are telling each other who is self-involved, self-absorbed and selfish.

When people discover that someone is in it for himself and that he shows no group loyalty or concern for other people, we conclude that he is more likely to exploit others and we exclude him from our group. Like it or not, it's the rational thing to do. 

There is nothing wrong with judging someone by the "content of his character."

The Telegraph continues:

The researchers found that when people learn about the behaviour of others through gossip, they use the information to ally themselves with those deemed co-operative.

People who have behaved selfishly can then be excluded from group activities based on the gossip.

This benefits the whole group as the more selfish types are no longer able to exploit more co-operative people for their own gains.

The researchers suggest that the threat or the reality of social exclusion motivates people to overcome what we may call their narcissism. It’s worth emphasizing the point, as I have done on many other occasions, that ostracism or the threat of same can be therapeutic.

The Stanford researchers discovered this:

When people deemed selfish suffer social exclusion they often learn from the experience and reform their behaviour by co-operating more in future group settings, the team found.

As is well known to those who participate in chat boards or who leave comments on blogs, when people can hide behind the mask of anonymity, they tend to indulge in anti-social behaviors:

In contrast anonymous groups, such as many internet message boards, lack accountability allowing anti-social behaviour to thrive.

When people have names, they are putting their own reputations at risk, and thus are less likely to use gossip to lie and slander. Anonymity is not a normal or natural condition; it is an artificial contrivance that produces bad behavior.


Anonymous said...

It is always remarkable when such massive majorities of social scientists look at human beings as a gaggle of irrational, amoral, horrid morons. Usually it is that everyone else is irrational, but they (the social scientists and others of analytical intellect) are beyond being tempted by such low, shallow diversions. They have real work to do, which is criticize human behavior with their favorite (fellow analytical) friends. At least the Muppets' Statler & Waldorf sat in the balcony and provided entertainment value!

So yes, exemptions from criticism are par for the course, and hence we get academics, intellectuals and journalists... those with the power of the pen, the scientist's lab coat, and the self-awareness of a squid. Oh, and then we get their suggested social "remedies," which they typically exempt themselves from, or wield despotic power to unilaterally impose their value system (or lack thereof).

Gossip is a human universal. It is present in every human society, and any that have occurred since man became conscious... when he realized others were different, and felt a need to criticize their behaviors and motivations. Yet this has two sides... It may make him feel smug and self-righteous on an individual level, but may simultaneously provide the benefits of social cohesion on a collective, communal level. Nature creates nothing in vain. Nor does God.

As William F. Buckley said, "I had much more fun criticizing than praising."

Alas, the human condition. Yet those who claim we have evolved as an improvement to the ape cannot recognize that many of these "undesirable" quirks may be social adaptations that could help with individual and community survival. What the modern Left cannot reconcile is their romantic notion that a human being should we free to do whatever he chooses, while simultaneously demanding that we collectivize the financing of remedies for such antisocial behavior.

Nuts, says I.


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