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Monday, September 5, 2011

Compartmentalization And The "Low-Information" Voter

Puzzle Brain
Image from iPhoneDroid
In my last post, I made a passing reference to Mike Lofgren's passing reference to "the mental compartmentalization that occurs in most low-information voters." This is not a swipe at Mr. Lofgren's descriptive shorthand (he did introduce the clarification of "misinformation" in his article), but compartmentalization and "low-information" (ignorance, in the colloquial sense - although the actual meaning of the word is quite interesting in this context) are two different things entirely. While the former will more likely than not reinforce ignorance (in both its popular and actual meanings), it is more properly an act of will, rather than a lack of knowledge.

I bring this up because there is a lot of trafficking in the concept of the "low-information" voter as being a problem in our democracy, such as it is (for the sake of this conversation, I am going to ignore the various and despicable ways and means that are inflicted upon the public in order to minimize the impact of the vote.) While it is true that the contemporary American public is woefully under-educated, I'll take an illiterate and ignorant individual over the most highly-educated scholar every time, if the latter suffers from compartmentalization.

Compartmentalization is the process whereby one, depending on the circumstances, applies different criteria for analyzing information and consequently acting quite differently. For purposes here, I am narrowing that definition down to exclude the self-aware. Self-awareness coupled with compartmentalized behavior is quite simply evil, a rare enough thing in a reasonably settled social milieu, and despite the sharply dysfunctional environment we find ourselves in today, it lies outside the scope of my thoughts here.

Compartmentalization that lies beyond the grasp of self-awareness manifests in many complex ways, but they are all of a pretty simple mechanism. It is a habit that must be picked up at a formative age, and it is the child's way of dealing with conflicting input from the adults in his/her world, to whom he is incontrovertibly dependant upon for literally everything, including the building blocks of the analysis he needs in understanding the world. It is important to keep in mind (and to close your eyes and remember) just how awesome and terrifying adults are to the emerging human being that is a child. When children are confronted with conflicting narratives and behaviors from these mighty beings - a chronic condition of the human race that ebbs and flows throughout history at this point in its maturity - they must not only internalize habits and feelings to complement these stories as harmoniously as possible, but they must hide these conflicting stories from each other. Compartmentalize them.

Those that fail to hide conflicting thought-systems from each other will find themselves somewhere in a continuum: From enlightened being, to neurotic, to deviant or truant, to insane, all in varying in degree of likelihood. Enlightenment being somewhat of a rarity in children, it follows that howsoever one prefers the company of the well-behaved, one might well beware the "healthy" child. Sadly, due to our unfortunate predilection for eternal adolescence and downright infantilism (a subject I touched upon in this post), this admonition applies to the "well-adjusted" adult as well, more often than not.

Taking up that last point we, as adults, are not children. The issue of compartmentalization within ourselves becomes a matter of willfulness, to a more or lessor degree depending upon our self-awareness, which can be worked on. It is, in the adult, merely a habit, and a particularly puerile one at that, that should be warily observed. Indeed, I would posit that this is an imperative for the individual, with any integrity, who becomes aware of the fact of this condition his or her self. Of course, "integrity" itself is a pointer towards a decompartmentalized, "integral," state. Without getting too esoteric here, awareness of compartmentalization within oneself should result in a rapidly cascading shattering of the barriers between each thought-system. This process can be traumatic, for example with the more pathological individual, whose self-definition may be overly-identified with a compartment or compartments that are on the "losing end" of this realization.

Most of us are not in that crippled of a condition, however. Most of us are quite capable of airing our preconceptions with ourselves, and seeing the connections and disconnections therein. It is our responsibility to ourselves and the people around us to take these mature steps.

Short of going through the hard work of divesting ourselves of pre-existing compartments, we at the very least should endeavor not to adopt new ones in the service of preserving the old ones. This, too, goes on all too often, and is self-damaging, anti-social, and utterly inappropriate for a mature adult.

I am tempted to lay out some examples here, but they are scattered about the landscape, and also because compartmentalized people are extremely defensive by nature, and it is really up to you to discover these problems in yourself and do the work. Plus, I've gone on long enough here as it is.

OK - one example. Do you use the word "but" a lot in conversation or writing? You may be surprised at what the awareness of that word's usage can reveal. That single word is one of the primary tools of the mind that dodges about, excusing and hiding from itself. Mechanically eliminating that word from the vocabulary, in the "fake it until you make it" way, has a surprising effect on thought processes.

Are you decompartmentalized?

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