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Beemer

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Peer Pressure [Mar. 10th, 2005|11:43 am]
Beemer
I was having a mental argument (which is the best kind, since they always turn out in your favor) with somebody (nobody reading this) this morning and I had a thought that seemed New and Interesting™. I think there are two kinds of peer pressure: positive, which says "you may", and negative, which says "you must".

In other words, with positive peer pressure, you observe your social surroundings and realize that something you had thought was forbidden is actually acceptable (at least to some people). What's interesting is that positive peer pressure only matters if it was something you were thinking about anyway. For example: I get lots of peer pressure telling me it's okay to go to a sports bar, spend lots of money on alcohol and bad hot wings, and watch hours and hours of college basketball. But since I have no inclination whatsoever to do that, the peer pressure is totally irrelevant. Likewise, when I was in high school, I experienced a lot of positive peer pressure with regard to various drugs. I never smoked any pot, but many of my friends did, and that was okay. I did get drunk once (while underage, gasp!), and that was okay, too.

Negative peer pressure, on the other hand, tells you that you must do something you'd rather not do or face social disapproval. You have to do something or you won't be socially accepted. Now, this shows up all over the place in very mild form having to do with "what's cool" in clothing or entertainment or whatever, but the really significant instance that springs to mind has to do with religion. I remember attending church (mormon) in middle school with my dad's family and feeling compelled to get up during fast and testimony meeting and say some nice things about the church. I did it with lots of mental caveats and unspoken reservations, but I did it because it was clear that that's what was expected.

It seems to me that whether positive peer pressure is good or bad depends entirely on the thing it's giving permission for. Negative peer pressure, on the other hand, is inherently a little bit bad, because it's coercive in nature. That can be counteracted by the moral quality of the action it's encouraging, but the negative peer pressure itself is, well, negative. For me, that's an interesting refinement of the messages we all got in school in the 80s, which was basically All Peer Pressure Is Bad (AndDon'tDoDrugsBecauseThey'reReallyBad).

I thought that was an interesting distinction, and I don't believe I've ever seen it made before.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2005-03-10 11:58 am (UTC)
This seems like a useful distinction.

I would also add the case of peer pressure that prevents you from doing something (as in, "abandoning your wife and children is WRONG!" or "stealing money from your friends is WRONG!").

Which I guess you would say is "inherently a little bad, because it's coercive in nature". I'd be inclined to disagree, personally, but I know where you're coming from here.
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[User Picture]From: drdeleto
2005-03-10 12:14 pm (UTC)
Right. It seems like maybe the best way to draw the distinction is between permissive and coercive social pressure (although "pressure" kinda implies the coercive type, but nevermind). Both, it seems to me, can be good or bad, depending. This is a very useful distinction, though, because the permissive (positive) type is subtle and goes largely unrecognized/unaddressed. I guess this is what people mean when they talk about some practice "sending the wrong/right message"?
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From: toosuto
2005-03-10 12:56 pm (UTC)
I guess this is what people mean when they talk about some practice "sending the wrong/right message"?

Exactly. At least I figure that's what people mean as they dig me out of the pile of bottles that I can't seem to get out from under of, as CPS is talking in hushed tones on their phone in the corner holding my baby.
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[User Picture]From: drdeleto
2005-03-10 01:04 pm (UTC)
Bah. You can't send the wrong message to infants! They're like little passive potatoes, and don't start learning anything until you tell them to. (We started way too early with Andrew. I'm not going to let the new baby start learning until kindergarten. Why should I teach my children? That's the teachers' job!)
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2005-03-10 01:23 pm (UTC)
you might do better to wait until their early 20s.
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[User Picture]From: drdeleto
2005-03-10 01:25 pm (UTC)
Well, someone has to teach them to walk before then, or they won't leave the house promptly at 18.
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2005-03-10 01:27 pm (UTC)
UPS is good for that.
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[User Picture]From: drdeleto
2005-03-10 01:37 pm (UTC)
Ooo. Hadn't thought of that. A little expensive, but I'll take it out of their college fund (also known as my spare change drawer).
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2005-03-10 08:21 pm (UTC)
Well, a negative action is still an action -- so that's just negative peer pressure saying "you must (not abandon your family)". Or positive peer pressure can say "it's okay to (not watch the superbowl)".

The coercion present in the pressure not to steal from your friends is, indeed, a little bit bad. Of course, the not stealing from your friends bit is a whole bunch good, so in the net it's still very much good.

Heck, all of civilization is coercive to one degree or another -- it's just that the benefits so vastly outweigh that little bit of badness that it's definitely worth it and far superior to the alternatives.

But yeah, we're basically in agreement.
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2005-03-10 09:28 pm (UTC)
1) If you consider avoidance-pressure a "you must X" instance, then your initial claim that unlike "you may X", "you must X" applies even if you weren't already considering it needs to be phrased more carefully. That is, "you must (not kick your dog)" is meaningful only if you wanted to.

2) What's bad about coercion?
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2005-03-11 09:19 pm (UTC)
1) Hmm, that's a good point. Probably worth splitting out must-nots as their own category, then.

2) A fine question, indeed! I should probably answer it sometime.

Half-assed answer: it's disrespectful of other people's worldviews, which is un-Golden-Rule-ish and therefore bad. I could elaborate more, but that's the core of it, I think.
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2005-03-14 10:41 am (UTC)
It's unGoldenRulish only if I don't want people trying to coerce me. If I'm OK with mutual attempts at coercion there's no GR-violation.
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2005-03-14 10:51 am (UTC)
I think that if you're okay with it, then by definition it's not really coercion, is it?
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2005-03-14 11:06 am (UTC)
Well, maybe I don't understand what you mean by coercion... which perhaps underlies my failing to understand why you consider it a bad thing.
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2005-03-14 09:19 pm (UTC)
Getting somebody to do something by force (or threat thereof)?
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2005-03-24 08:09 am (UTC)
Hurm.
Well, in that case, I simply disagree with the statement you made at the start of all this, that "peer pressure [is] coercive in nature."
Peer pressure, whether negative or positive, rarely involves force or the threat of force.

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