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It seems every time I associate with a new group of people there are new expectations placed on me. Also, as a group holds together for a while, a group identity forms and a political process develops within the group where individual people form closer bonds with some individuals than with others. The expectations are rarely stated, but if you choose to observe them they are easy to see.

Within one of my social groups, there is a stated deprecating of all judgments but especially of social judgments. We are not allowed to proclaim any person as being better than another person in any way. There is a complete flattening of all social value within this group. With this procedure in action, we all get along quite well, even though there are wildly different opinions on almost every subject brought to the floor.

In this group, people will say diametrically opposite things from one another with a complete equanimity of emotion. We all respect each other so much that we anticipate that if there are twenty people in the conversation we expect for there to be twenty different opinions. Every person speaks with a complete expectation that what they say will be accepted and we build upon what is being said.

This form of conversation is rather like the stage technique called improv. The primary principle of that technique is to simply say “yes-and” to every statement your interlocutors make. No matter how absurd their statement is, our responsibility is to agree with them and add some appropriate dialogue and commentary. It is the interlocutor’s responsibility to promote the conversation and not to improve the intellectual quality of the other person’s statement. The assumption is that every statement is perfect as it is and our responses will be perfect too.

That procedure has been a problem for me because I spent fifty years in various groups at Berkeley where everything is challenged and improved upon. The operative attitude is a qualified yes-but, and then a clarification of the errors you so obviously overlooked. That qualifying statement is obviously wrong, of course. It is too generalized or too specific, or missed the point altogether and it too needs clarification, and thus an endless cycle of correcting each other’s mistakes continues. It does occasionally end with an important discovery and a new understanding, but the air is inevitably filled with contention, hopefully, friendly contention.

My point is that social groups seem to create their own laws and conventions automatically. It appears there is an inherited tendency to generate social conventions. This behavior is like the capacity to learn a language, it’s innate. There is a problem because creating these conventions automatically generates an out-group. Those other people are outsiders and automatically, by definition, somehow different and, being different, automatically inferior. That statement is vehemently denied – we are not judgmental! – those people are just different. Separate but equal in every way! But, it seems they protest too loudly!

All men are equal, until they meet.

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