The Collective Consciousness

snow shovelIs the collective consciousness disappearing, or simply morphing into a destructive force? I wonder this as I wander through my daily life, receiving small dings of infuriation from the growing discourtesy and poor behavior of the people in my city.

Example after example:  In the YMCA I patronize, dirty towels litter the locker room, showers and steam bath, despite signs reminding people to pick up after themselves. . .following blizzards, an increasing percentage of residents fail to shovel their walks, notwithstanding city ordinances that require this as well as the danger and inconvenience to the elderly, handicapped, and parents burdened with babies. . .doggies dump hither and yon (usually on my lawn) although both common courtesy and laws push owner pick-ups.

The collective consciousness is a set of shared beliefs, ideas and moral attitudes between members of a group as large as a nation or as small as a clique in a school. Often unwritten and unspoken, the collective consciousness can convey cultural values, unify people, and focus efforts and activities toward a goal, even if no one can say what that is. While some, especially the touchie-feeling philosophers among us, may think the collective consciousness is on the upswing, what with the internet, instant messaging, smart phones, and all for the good, I beg to differ.

There’s no denying collective consciousness may be destructive or bad. It might consist of a rush to erroneous judgment, crucifying a suspect in murder who turns out to be blameless. Or it may be the opposite, like those who sympathized with Lance Armstrong’s battle to maintain his innocence, only to learn he was guilty all along. It can be as petty and stupid as a mass vote for a reality show competitor (whether that person’s despicable or admirable).

When it comes to practical application of collective consciousness, the simpler the concept, the better. The bigger the group, frequently the lower the common denominator to reach its members. That master of mass movements, Hitler, said, “All propaganda has to be popular and has to accommodate itself to the comprehension of the least intelligent of those whom it seeks to reach.” As for propaganda, he felt the larger the group you’re trying to influence, the simpler the messages should be.

The dichotomy of today’s technology is that movements along and within it are massive: millions following a Tweeter, billions signing up to win a sweepstakes, thousands searching for the same job. At the same time, its focus is minute; you can create an in-group of two or three, even fewer if you’re dealing with your own fantasy. So can we achieve individual accountability at the same time we push collective responsibility?

But enough theorizing. What I really want to know is how to get people to pick up their towels, shovel their walks, and collect their doggy droppings. Or does the new collective consciousness, apparently based on “who gives a damn” and “I can’t be bothered” and “I don’t care if other people are inconvenienced” promise to triumph?

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