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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: thedragonweaver
2005-03-10 04:34 pm (UTC)
I would argue that the mental copies of other people are not reflections of yourself but rather portions of that other person that you understand.

To give an example, I had the most wonderful discussions with a co-worker during which we rarely agreed, but I was able to understand a little bit about his priorities. I understood that he put one value (i.e. safety) above another value (i.e. freedom) and that a lot of his view of the world stemmed from that. Now, in that example, I would put freedom above safety, which meant that in many political discussions I was coming from a different viewpoint.

If I were to have mental discussions with him, I could use that understanding to construct his answers. They might often be incorrect, but I would be working from an understanding rather than a sharing— and often, would be a POV I completely disagreed with.
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[User Picture]From: bryree
2005-03-12 09:52 pm (UTC)
Actually, I tend to fall in your camp, but the more I think about it and experience my self, the more weight I put on the idea. Not that those parts we disagree with are the whole of or even primary parts of our 'self,' but that something in me "gets it."

Example (that I don't much like to admit): When working at a golf course with several guys from Mexico, I would occasionally find myself (usually when I was very tired from being up too late and then getting to work at 5:30 am) grumbling about "why did I have to (pick up trash, work out in the rain, etc.) when those Mexicans have less education than me, etc., ad nauseum."

I will argue with my family and anybody else about overt/subtle racism and elitism toward the under-educated. I believe firmly that they are Not Desirable Things. I signed on for the same job they did. But when it comes right down to it, there is in me some echos (or perhaps some honest-to-goodness expressions) of both of those things I hate. Or to use your example, but not put words in your mouth, I would tend to value freedom over security (not sure what 'ratio' I would be comfortable with, but that's where I would land), but there is something in me that agrees with your co-worker and thinks that it might like security more than freedom, even if it is just the part of me that fears the unknown. Perhaps I only share a piece of it, but it is shared nonetheless.

Not saying it's true in every case, just that I notice it more than I'd like in myself.
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