Skip to content

As the world turns…

Today's topic is 'dilution of the perception of self', commonly known as lemming syndrome.

Dilution of self perception is what happens when a person changes their usual habits to conform with the group around them; a loss of self.

This can commonly be seen on the highway; where people who would never do something as reckless as drive 90mph in heavy traffic do it all the time simply because everyone else around them is. Their perception of 'right and wrong' have skewed based on the observations of everyone around them.

Of course this is self perpetuating as the more people who drive that way, create more people who drive that way. Where you get extremely high population densities, the effect is escalated to the point that the State Patrol just tries to stay out of the way… Places like I-95 here in Virginia are a vehicular war zone.

What makes this malady so interesting is that the affected don't even realize they were doing it, and once confronted they attempt to rationalize the action the best they can, and simply cant. Often shrugging it off as a 'spur of the moment' action or a momentary lapse of reason… It's not, it's evolutionary wiring that makes you conform to those you are in close contact with. It's a stone age survival trait that is hard wired into the lowest parts of your brain; to do as others do and thereby form a group faster. It also lowers the level of ostrication as being cast out was usually a death sentence and to belong to a group was survival.

This behavior also holds true in normal day-to-day life where the people you associate with have a great bearing on your perception of self and therefore influence your actions.

College and University councilors, as well as military trainers, see this all the time and there are mountains of books describing ways to confront the dilution of self that comes with being thrust into a communal setting. The difference between the two is that the military actually uses this low-level programming to make a cohesive unit out of 30 kids from various parts of the country; often leaving military personnel exceptionally prone to being 'followers' later in life.

The same loss of self perception that causes a typically good student to suddenly be involved with some hazing situation or public disturbance is also responsible for military personnel waking up one morning with a new tattoo. The functionality is quite the same and it stems from the basic thought of “they are doing it, so I can too” but usually on a subconscious non conceptualized level.

A recent example of this was the cast from the Tolkien movies all getting their fellowship number tattooed somewhere on their body, yet every one of them said in interviews that it was truly odd as they would have never done such a thing if everyone else hadn't been doing it.

We've all heard, “If everyone jumped off a bridge would you do it too?” Well, actually, the chances are yes…

In essence, if everyone you associate with has bolts installed in various locations of their body the chances of you ending up with bolts too increases dramatically, even if you had previously stated that you would never do such a silly thing, simply because your perceptions of 'self' have skewed in the direction of the group. And there is a very good chance you won't even notice this alteration in your perceptions.

It happens, it's a fact of life, and it's at such a low level of your psyche to do so that you don't even see it happening.

I assume the old adage of 'you are judged by the company you keep' stems from the observation of this behavior.

So it falls upon the individual to evaluate their company objectively and ask themselves, “Do I wish to end up there?” Because with enough association, you will, whether you like it or not.