Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Normalcy Bias VS Sanity

There's something that's been bothering me for quite a while that I never could account for until recently. It's the fact that people don't seem to remember anything. Have you noticed this?
Here are some examples.
1. In 1972, one person with an ordinary job could support a family of five. Twenty years later, in 1992, that had become unrealistic. Today, most households, even those with two incomes, are accumulating credit-card debt to cover their basic living costs. The generation now coming of age can't afford to leave their parents' homes, and many are staying in school just to buy time. We also have the phenomenon of "working homeless", that is: people with jobs who can't afford a home.
And yet, we believe that the economy is cyclical. We believe that the down-turns are followed by recoveries. I haven't seen a real recovery yet. What I've seen is 3 steps back, then 1 step forward. do that 3 times and you've gone back 6 steps. that isn't a cycle; it's a downward spiral. Next stop: austerity. (You should look up the meaning of austerity if you don't know it.) Notice how no one is asking how long this austerity will last. I'm guessing, until the sovereign debt goes down. So, never.
2. Chem-trails.
They weren't there 30 years ago, I promise. And we did have planes back then.
3. Computers.
PCs were invented in the '70s but you had to be able to program them yourself. According to Wiki, in 1981 an "attractively priced" PC sold for 1,795. US dollars. So, few could afford one. I got my first PC in 1990, a rebuilt, second hand one. It had a monochrome monitor, and ran in DOS. That's only 21 years ago, and PCs have transformed our lives completely.
4. Privacy.
When I was a kid, my parents would say to us, "go outside and play." So we did, and we'd be gone for hours. Our parents didn't know where we were or what we were doing, and that was normal. I loved the freedom and privacy I had as a child. Today, if you dared to do that, someone might call the police and you might have trouble getting your child back. Now, children expect to be watched 24/7. I think that's sad. We used to value our privacy. Now we believe if we're not doing anything wrong, we shouldn't object to being watched. Tell that to the Bilderbergers, I say.
5. Food.
I can remember when fruit-scented soap didn't smell more edible than actual fruit. I remember when tomatoes tasted like something. I remember when egg yolks were bright yellow and chickens were not obese. And I remember when there were no such thing as safety seals. We just assumed our food and medicines were safe. Imagine that!
6. Mass drugging.
It's difficult to find out how many people are on some sort of mood-stabilisers, like antidepressants or anti anxiety meds, but I'd guess its at least 20%. Why do so many people now need drugs in order to function in society? We're even drugging our children now in huge numbers. We don't seem to care what its doing to their developing minds and bodies. My heart goes out to those kids. We're destroying their futures, just to avoid admitting that everything is not OK. I had ODD when I was a child, still do. Thankfully, they didn't have a cure for it back then, or I wouldn't be talking to you today. Something to think about perhaps. The sad truth is, the people who are being drugged, and the ones sprawled on sidewalks, stoned out of their minds, are some of the sanest of us. They're the ones who couldn't adjust to crazy-world.

Hopeful this snapshot of "now and then" proves that the last forty years have been a time of great and accelerating change. I can remember it, and I'm hardly the oldest person on the planet.

Something is ruining our memories. I'm going to make a case that the culprit is normalcy bias. I looked up normalcy bias on the internet, and the only definition I found, repeated in several places, was, in my opinion, unsatisfactory. So let me propose a more useful definition of normalcy bias:
"A bias in favour of normalcy".
Normalcy means: a state of being that is typical.
Bias means: unfairly prejudiced, for or against.
So normalcy bias should be defined as: unfairly prejudiced in favour of a state of being that is typical. I know that's not official, but I want to talk about bias in favour of normalcy and I don't know what else to call it other than normalcy bias.

Our ability to foresee the future depends on our ability to remember the past. If we could remember anything, we'd know where we're headed. If we could remember our own pasts, we'd realise we've been lied to. Normalcy bias works both ways in time. It impairs memory, as much as it does foresight. It is definitely not based on previous experience or it's lack. If it were, then normalcy bias should lead us to expect massive and accelerating change, and continuously worsening quality of life, since that is what we've actually experienced, right? But we don't. We expect an endless and unchanging repetition of the perceived present. Why is that? And if normalcy bias isn't based on past experience, what is it based on?

Well, I think there is a direct and inverse relationship between sanity and normalcy bias. For the sake of clarity I'm going to define sanity as: a mental state, free of erroneous belief. If you are sane, you believe what is true and not what isn't. An individual or a society that bases it's values and behavior on erroneous beliefs is insane. The farther a society strays from sanity, the stronger normalcy bias becomes. Because, if it's norms were based on true beliefs (sanity), then bias would not be needed to maintain them.
Given the actual state of the world, I think its safe to say our civilisation is insane. I propose that normalcy bias is a psychological defence against the realisation of this very unpleasant fact. None of us should assume that we are sane, given the fact that we were raised in an insane society. All hope isn't lost though. If we could face our predicament, we could start to become sane. Insanity is caused by erroneous beliefs, so the way back to sanity is to start challenging those beliefs. One of our best tools for doing that is memory. Have the forecasts that were based on our normative beliefs been proven accurate? If you believe there will be a full economic recovery, is that expectation supported by your past experience? If not, you must either question your normative belief or forget your past.
Its not an easy choice, I know. Any step towards sanity is a step away from normalcy. We are hard-wired to want to belong. I miss feeling that way, even though I never really have. That's part of being human. But, the more people who find the courage to take those steps toward sanity, the easier it will become. Those who have already begun are here to support you, no questions asked. If we don't do this work of becoming sane, we will destroy ourselves and most won't realise what we're doing until its too late. On the other hand, if we choose to, we could make sanity the new normal.