Let's Prehend
A Manual of Human Ecology and Culture Design

FOCUS GROUPS, FOGS, Group Think, absence of mind

FOcus Groups, FOGs, are used to find out and check out what ideas words and phrases express the mood of people and appeal to their felt needs, i.e., get their support or approval. However, they actually illustrate and cultivate cultural and political pathologies.

The dominant mode of the group is high consciousness and intense group awareness. Thus, those thoughts and feelings in the high intensity range, usually anxiety, anger, insecurity, resentment - the cortisol emotions - are apt to dominate over the more expansive emotions of empathy, caring concern and broader and deeper identification.

The problem is especially serious given the lack of development of political discourse. Most people, even those highly involved enough to be selected for a focus group, have minimum political participation. Their information sources are extremely limited, perhaps extending to TV news programs, local newspapers and national news magazines. But their political experience is essentially receptive and passive, with decreasing interpersonal discussion and exchange. Exceptions include an assortment of groups, mostly on the `religious right', who gather to discuss and take modest political action.

Consider the underlying assumptions widely accepted in the focus groups: The individual acts and votes in his or her own self interest, and to a lesser extent in the interests of some group, real or fancied, that he or she identifies with, ICEs (p.236, 241).

In spite of the increasing disparity between rich and poor and the deep isolation of individualism, America is implicitly assumed to be a `collective'. People seem to identify with the national economy as if it were their personal economy. Their reaction to the hoopla about the federal deficit is not to invest the four dollars per day per person which is their share, but simply to complain, perhaps insist on budget cuts. Yet these budget cuts are part of the legislative lobbying system that can only decrease spending on the more powerless groups. "Millions for defence but not one cent for tribute."

Medical reform is a case in point. Fee-for-service medicine fuels rapid inflation. Medicare and Medicaid transfer public funds into private medical services. These services are well lobbied by medical, hospital and pharmaceutical organizations and therefore cannot be expected to cut back. But the recipient of medical services is essentially unrepresented. As a result, the HMO's proliferate. They slow the inflation of medical costs by careful rationing of medical services and on the other side, squeeze the lower echelons of the medical industry with tight contracts. While inflation of medical costs slows from perhaps 15% to 5%, the contracts decrease the HMO costs by perhaps half, resulting in massive profits for the HMOs and their stockholders. To the patient, this may be some advantage, as explained in the essay, NOTAM, p.209.

Their increasing anxiety over current trends such as lower wages, increasing job insecurity are accepted as necessary developments requiring increasing personal effort, courage, discipline, self denial. Many are encouraged to increase their image advantages in the labor market place through education and training, presumably so that they might displace some other over-qualified individual.

Concern for the national economy such as attention to the GDP, the unemployment rate, the trade surplus, the national deficit and debt, have become a liturgy in the media, repeated among the populace without regard to the quality of life and culture. Life and culture is dissociated from public concern and consigned to one's self or small personal group. This dissociation of economic concern from quality of life and culture might be called a Political Neurosis, PN because subjective attention does not relate to objective concerns. An auto accident or massive catastrophe manifest as positive economic statistics, regardless of their negative contribution to the quality of life. A neighborhood garden or similar collective effort, even though it offers modest sustenance to an arid culture, actually decreases the flow of money in the economy.

Patriotism, the modern projection of ancient tribal loyalty, expresses loyalty to one's country and flag. Issues such as flag-burning express this parameter from the far-right demanding loyalty to this tribal symbol, through the libertarian-individualist tolerance of expression no matter how abhorrent, through the mass center of indifference, perhaps as a passing whim one way or the other, through conflicted feeling for and against the flag, the government, and even the electoral system, and finally for those extremely few who, for a variety of interesting reasons, choose to make and issue by burning the flag.

Social psychologists, spin doctors, political scientists, ideologists, and people like that try to make better sense of people's opinions with *Q METHODOLOGY, devised by Wm *Stephenson in the 1930s. [Q METHODOLOGY is summarized in *Barry and *Proops' article, METHODS - Seeking sustainability discourses with Q methodology, in *ECOLOGICAL ECONOMICS, March 1999, and at qmethod@listserv.Kent.Edu and www.rzunibw-Muenchen.de/~p4bsmk/qmethod/] Q's six stages begin by identifying the "discourse" and population, 2 sampling and analyzing statements, 3 selecting crucial statements, 4 testing and ranking responses, 5 statistical analysis to extract parameters, and 6 disclosing objective versions of subjective `world views'. Q seems to assume that people have rather static `positions' rather than organic group-driven MEME images, p.183. Reductionism is inherent in our DIM minds. We can only make the best use of these analytical techniques and expand them as best we can.

The organic development of political discourse is in opposition to the anomic, alienated individualism of the HOGs, p.281. Organic Political Life, OPL p.98, needs a LETS PARTY, p.258, a developed world view of integrated images, an organic ideology, p.252.

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