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  • Rick Bonetti

Self-uncertainty in Times of Rapid Change

The September 2019 Special Issue of Scientific American is devoted to Truth, Lies & Uncertainty: Watching for Reality in Unreal Times. Donald Trump was in the White House then so people were still looking for answers to understand how people could be so gullible to believe his lies. How did people get caught up in misinformation and conspiracy theories leading to fear, anger, violence and lawlessness.

Michael A. Hogg emphasizes in his article The Search for Social Identity Leads to ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’, "We are now in what is perhaps a time of unprecedented uncertainty. The early 21st century is characterized by rapid and overwhelming change: globalization, immigration, technological revolution, unlimited access to information, sociopolitical volatility, and automation of work and a warming climate."

This uncertainty may lead to a profound sense of personal, "self-uncertainty" where people are unsure of who they are, how to behave and how social interactions will unfold - how to fit in to a rapidly changing landscape.

To avoid this uncomfortable feeling people often compensate by finding identity and security in polarized social groups. This makes them vulnerable to "assertive, authoritarian, even autocratic leaders who deliver a simple, black-and-white affirmational message about 'who we are' rather than a more open, nuanced and textured identity message... Perhaps most troubling is that self-uncertainty can enable and build support for leaders who possess the so-called 'Dark Triad' personality attributes: Machiavellianiam, narcissism and psychopathy."

Self-uncertainty in other words, seems to fuel populism.

Cable television opinion channels spew inflamatory political rhetoric that pit insiders tribes against outsiders. Add to that, the internet and social media, which are an ideal place to decrease the discomfort of self-uncertainty. Confirmation bias is reinforced by algorithms that feed and amplify lies and misinformation, thereby creating a fragmented and polarized society.

"People want to be surrounded by those who think alike so that their identities and worldview are continuously confirmed - increasingly homogeneous echo chamber that confirm their identity." ~ Michael Hogg

"The greatest threat/danger to our democracy and freedoms is not radical islam or china or socialism or immigrants, it is the rising tide of white christian nationalism facilitated by the GOP, Fox News, InfoWars, and all the other purveyors of hate." ~ @matthewjdowd

A positive, self-confident worldview is that everything in life is interconnected.

"As our civilization careens toward climate breakdown, ecological destruction, and gaping inequality, people are losing their existential moorings. The dominant worldview of disconnection, which tells us we are split between mind and body, separate from each other, and at odds with the natural world, has been invalidated by modern science.

~ Jeremy Lent, Author of The Web of Meaning


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