THE POWER OF FORM
By Roland Watson
Earlier in the series, I discussed how subtle social influences can be. This is the reason why you need to be extremely sensitive to them. However, in many situations the imposition of form is overt - and backed by force! For example, in political and religious dictatorships, it is backed with arrest, torture and death. You will do what they - the sources of the form - want.
The tactics of form
What this illustrates is that the individuals and institutions that seek to manipulate you use a variety of tactics. One thing they all have in common, though, is that they prey on your needs. Your needs drive your behavior. The sources of form understand this, and target your needs in order to change your behavior.
They do this by changing your perception of your needs, actually changing what you think your needs are, into the needs that they have for you, which are the needs that will cause you to behave is ways such that their needs are satisfied.
The most powerful forms focus on, and seek to influence, our most powerful needs. The foremost of these are the needs for security, and sex. Our need for sex is actually quite broad, and includes the need to give and receive love, the desire to procreate, as well as the desire for the physical stimulation and enjoyment that the act of procreation causes.
In what is perhaps their most fundamental tactic, sources of form attempt to cause us to feel fear, such as for our security, which fear they then tell us will be eliminated if we do what they want. For sex and love, society inundates us with messages about them, so that we want them - and are afraid we won't get them, and also - for sex - gives us conflicting messages, so we feel guilty about wanting it. You only have to look at television ads. The vast majority of them use a fear or a guilt element, or both, in their persuasive design.
I think it is interesting that for all the things we are told to be afraid of, we are never told to fear missing out on life - at least on a lifestyle that doesn't require oversight and control.
Also, another thing that we can see is that there are varying powers or magnitudes of form. Some forms cause you to buy products, and others to kill. Indeed, one of the most powerful forms of all, that of religious cults, can lead groups of people to commit mass suicide.
The strongest forms are those that cause us to give up, and not fight to survive. This type of form is so powerful that it counteracts our will to live.
Similarly, the form of society can be so strong that it undermines what was once considered to be an immutable truth of life: the love of a mother for her child. Nowadays, the messages and values that women are subject to are so powerful, that they lead some individuals to reject their maternal instinct.
Of course, this can be viewed two ways. On the one hand, the freedom to choose is positive. It is not the manifestation of a new form, but rather the defeat of an old one. What I mean by this is that an instinct is also a form. But, there is nothing to commend in the now regular occurrence of mothers who discard their newborn children, with their own mothers, or even in a dumpster.
It's not just women, though. Men are abandoning their partners and children in larger and larger numbers. This is actually one of modern society's most powerful forms: The number of families that are now run by single mothers. Many single moms do a great job, but there is no denying the fact that parenting is a tough job for one person - it's difficult even for two - and many children are having problems as a result.
For traditional societies, a similar form, with all manner of negative consequences, is the wide prevalence of arranged marriages. Young people are told that they have to be with someone, for life, and love has nothing to do with it. Asking a loveless marriage to be good, is asking a lot!
As a side comment, when I referred to instincts, and with them I would also include other genetic traits, what I wanted to illustrate was that in our efforts to combat form, to achieve our freedom from it, we must confront all of our deterministic influences: both nature and nurture. However, in most cases in these articles when I use the word "form," I will, as I hope the context will make clear, be referring to social influences. In addition, it is important to understand that form includes all of the social "architectures" from which such influences derive.
The demand for obedience
The greater the power of a form, the more obedience it requires. For example, consider the military. Soldiers are given the right to kill. But, for this right not to be abused, the situations where they can kill - their rules of engagement - are very carefully limited, and, they are required to be completely obedient to this.
As another example, the phenomenal work-ethic that many young people have, certainly in America, the incredible levels of competition that they reach, which supposedly is driven by a quest for excellence, for merit, in many cases is really about demonstrating obedience to the system. When young people become workaholics, to get good grades and high scores, to participate in many, many activities, and to get into the best schools, it is not because they are pursuing the fulfillment of an internal drive to accomplish everything of which they are capable. Rather, it is to demonstrate that they will do anything, make any sacrifice that the system demands of them, and that they will do it better and more diligently than anyone else.
They are being good little soldiers for the social machine. And people wonder how we got Nazis? You get Nazis when society as a whole assumes far too much importance relative to the individual.
What this also shows is that while some forms are localized, many spread until they are "institutionalized," and become part of the generally accepted social conformity.
Further, the fact that some forms are more powerful than others means that they are more difficult to overcome. One might contrast the difficulty in recovering from the psychological effects of a suicide in your family, with that of dealing with an overbearing brother or sister.
As a second example, you could compare the difficulty of having parents who travel a lot, with having a father or mother who is in prison.
How susceptible are you?
A final factor with form is that there are variations in both our exposure and susceptibility to it. For exposure, all societies require some degree of conformity from their members, and engage in conditioning to achieve it. However, the number of behavioral rules that they have, and the required strictness of observation of them - and the punishments for deviation therefrom - vary widely.
One such contrast is a liberal and open society, like Sweden, with a closed and intolerant one, like the Taleban areas of control in Afghanistan.
There also appears to be a difference in susceptibility for individuals. There may even be a genetic influence. Some of us seem to be born followers, who think: Take care of me, and I'll do anything that you want. Others are born leaders, or rebels, who say: Don't tell me what to do. I'll do what I want!
For the latter group happiness depends more on having personal freedom, and for the former on successful integration into a social group. One might also wonder if susceptibility to form varies by such factors as class background, race, sex and age, and, conversely, what personal characteristics serve to protect you from it.
The influence of class background can work in a number of ways. If you are poor and struggling to survive, buying fancy, materialistic items will be a fantasy, of no practical concern whatsoever. You could, though, be particularly susceptible to the form of politicians who promise to improve your life, and also to army recruiters!
For the upper classes, there may be greater susceptibility to the form of status, and the material accoutrements thereof, as well as to politicians - and the police - who promise to protect you from the poor.
As to susceptibility by sex and race, it is hard to say, although the preponderance of women's magazines and websites that promise to assuage fear and guilt is a disturbing sign. Actually, regarding gender, I don't believe either sex is innately more susceptible to form. Being different, having some different needs, exposes us to different forms. For instance, men are attracted to, and manipulated through, such things as sports, machines and war. Men are supposed to aspire to machismo, to being real men.
For age, young people are ignorant of form and stereotyping, and hence highly susceptible to it. Also, your susceptibility may or may not change as you get older, but the messages that are directed at you certainly do, in line with your changing needs.
For protection from form and your personal characteristics, other than a genetically based need for independence, having a high degree of harmony in your family when you are a child, and strong educational accomplishments, are really helpful. With this type of background, it should be easier to fight off social influences and to be free.
If you haven't been fortunate to have this nature or background, though, don't give up hope. We all have what it takes to counteract form, particularly if you follow my advice in the next series of articles.