Friday, August 02, 2013


Gasset wasn't the first to notice the phenomenon of mass-man. Marx recognised his type in the lumpen-proletariat and Mencken saw his middle class equivalent in the booboise. Jesus called them his sheep. Orwell, in talking about the proles, his idea of mass-man, probably gave the best description of them:
Inner and Outer Party members are under constant telescreen surveillance in both private and public; by contrast, proles' quarters are generally free of telescreens, since they are not expected to understand their exploitation as cheap labour by the Party, and thereby unable or unwilling to organize resistance. Their functions are simple: work and breed. They care little about anything but home and family, neighbour quarrels, films, football, beer, lottery tickets, and other such bread and circuses. They are not required to express support for the Party beyond mild patriotism; the Party creates meaningless entertainment, songs, novels and even pornography for the proles—all written by machines except for pornography, which is compiled by members of the Outer Party and accessible only by workers in Pornosec. Proles do not wear uniforms, may use cosmetics, and have a relatively free internal market economy. Proles also have liberal sex lives, uninterrupted by the Party, and divorce and prostitution are permitted. Despite these personal freedoms, the Thought Police plant agents among the proles to spread false rumours and mark down and/or eliminate any individuals deemed capable of causing trouble. Prole quarters consist of rundown apartment buildings, shops and pubs. Though trade between Outer Party members and proles is nominally prohibited, all Party members participate, as proles are the only source for certain minor necessities
Unlike the others, Gasset recgonised--rightly in my opinion--that the prole mind had infected all strata of society. For Gasset, much of what made up the society's governing technocratic class; such as doctors, lawyers, professors were nothing more than highly skilled proles.

Gasset and the others were easily dismissed as elitist, but unfortunately for their detractors, cognitive science has verified their understanding of humanity.  The mind of mass-man is the mind of the cognitive miser.

To understand what cognitive miserliness is, it's first important to understand the Dual Process Theory of human cognition.* Briefly, human cognition can be considered as two separate types of thinking.  Type 1 thinking; which is instinctive, reflexic and emotionally influenced and Type 2: which is slower, deliberate, effortful and analytic.

Now it's important to recognise that many people live most of their lives in the type 1 zone. It's best to think of type one thinking as our habitual thoughts and manners and our innate preferences. It's surprising just how successful people are by just working in this zone. Think of a high level function such as driving a car. Once proficiency in the task is mastered most people run on "autopilot" afterward. Likewise, navigating our modern comfortable and non-challenging life means that for many people life is just simply "going through the motions" i.e habitual and pre-learned responses.

Life for the cognitive miser is less about thinking and reflection but more about doing "what works" to get by in life. Short term solutions which deliver results but which are  ultimately destructive are favoured over long term ones in which reward is delayed. Practical issues dominate over the abstract and things which are emotionally congruent with beliefs are reinforced. Responding more than understanding is the order of the day.  What works now is more important than what will keep on working indefinitely.

But this same type of automatic thinking can also influence our higher order intellectual functions.
For example, most experienced doctors are able to diagnose a disease not due to complex reasoning but simple pattern recognition due to habituation.  Rare diseases which are similar to common ones are frequently missed for this reason. What's saved my hide more than once is strict adherence to diagnostic protocol instead of going with "my gut".  You're quite capable of appearing professional whilst operating on autopilot, professional qualification being no guarantee of deliberative thought. This is also why Hi-IQ is no absolute protection against outstanding stupidity.  The Hi-IQ may do better in life because their solutions may be relatively better than the solutions of others but they may not be the solutions which are optimal.

The other facet of the cognitive miser is of the importance of emotion on their "thought". Cognitive misers are strongly influenced by their emotional states and the rationalisation hamster is strong in these individuals. But more on this in another post.

The problem, as Gasset recognised, is that when these cognitive misers are given control of a complex system--Modern American Styled Democracy--is the system falls apart simply because the governing element lacks the cognitive capability to maintain it. The slouch toward Gomorrah ensures.

*Note, Stanovich convincingly describes a tripartite model of cognition which I think is more functionally rather than biologically relevant.


asdf said...

I think its important not to think of type 1 thinking as "inferior". Type one thinking leads to plenty of very good outcomes, while type 2 thinking is very risky (can end in outcomes far worse then type 1). After all, a prole could never come up with a Krugmen or a Caplan.

Personally, I think truth has to draw on all our faculties. Reason, experience, research, faith, intuition, etc. No one should be raised to far above the others. And even if we marshall all our faculties perfect knowledge is impossible for fallen man, so we must approach the search humbly.

The Social Pathologist said...

Wow, that was quick.

I agree.

I want to do a future post on the virtues of Type 1 thinking. I think the conservative love of the "local" has its foundations in the virtues of type 1 thought.

Bob Wallace said...

They said very close to what Aristotle defined as rhetoric (emotion-based) and dialectic (reason-based).

Jonny said...

Jesus has nothing to do with this analysis, so the "sheep" don't fit in either category, but run the gamut of human types. Unless you are prepared to say men like Galileo and Isaac Newton were mindless and unreasoning.

There are a lot of ironies in this topic.

toomuchlove said...


Pray tell, what mental mountains are you moving during the day while the rest of us poles are chuckling at "ow my balls" videos on the toilet. That is, besides the great intellectual effort you go to to enumerate the ways you would like to think separate you from the mouth breathing proles.

About 90% of the time these posts come off as the conceits of a teenager who just finished reading the fountainhead, with some supplemental reading in advanced derision to flesh it all out.

Get over yourself.

Sid said...

I think there is a certain class of people who are so predominately Type 2 in mindset that they have difficulty performing mundane, everyday activities, all of which are completed from Type 1 thinking. For example, Chesterton found it nearly impossible to navigate through town, and would often get a lot of his writing done by writing whenever he missed a train ride.

Intellectual and artistic geniuses have been known to be failures in daily living: both Plato and Confucius were given administrative posts, according to tradition, and did pretty dismal jobs running their cities. Schopenhauer had a wealthy merchant for a father, and Schopenhauer spent almost all of his life living off his inheritance, because he found practical work to be insufferable. I am sure other readers could share with me dozens of examples of men who were failures in their day to day lives, or in making sure that things worked properly, who were also geniuses of superlative quality.

A genius may very well be someone whose Type 2 thinking gets in the way of their day to day lives, and largely need other men to assist them monetarily and women to prop them up emotionally to produce their intellectual work. Wagner could only finish Siegfried, Twilight of the Gods and Parsifal once Ludwig II paid off Wagner's debts and living expenses, for example.

The Social Pathologist said...


I honestly get the impression that Jesus wasn't too impressed with the intellectual capabilities of the average Joe. That's why he said "feed my sheep", not debate with my moral philosophers. Reading the New Testament, I get the feeling that there were quite a few Facepalm moments.

Secondly, you've gotta remember that Christ was killed after a democratic vote. Pilate gave the crowd a choice between a criminal and the Son of God: the crowd chose the criminal. Reflect on that..........deeply.

Loving your children is not incompatible with having a low opinion of their intelligence. I would have died for my kids but I wouldn't trust them with filling out my tax return.


New to this blog?

I'm sorry I offend your prole egalitarianism....nah....actually I'm not. You see, I like civilisation and the benefits in brings; water, penicillin, electricity and am keen to preserve it. I'm sick of your type taking control of the reactor with no idea or no interest in wanting to know how it operates, yet fundamentally asserting its right to do so.

If you want to know what is ailing western society go look into a mirror.


I agree with you, but you're thinking in dichotomies. Both the hyper-intellectual and the sentimental moron are mutations of the ideal human type. The Renaissance, or cultred man is the ideal. The basic intuitions that so powerfully influence our type 1 thought are what give us our humanity but they don't protect us against error.

Valkea said...


there are culpabilities in all corners of society, but most of it belongs to the elites. Where elites lead the massess, most of the massess go. The only half-rationality, common sense and tattered culture that is left is among populist movements, which oppose the politics of elites. Power framework of the system operates in the following way (Damon Vrabel, the lecturer, is a Harvard educated ex-Wall Street insider):

The negative processess we see in our societies have all happened before:

50 largest banks control directly or indirectly 1/3 of the wealth in the world. 250 largest companies control directly or indirectly 1/3 of the wealth in the world. 6000 superrich largely control the mentioned banks and companies, but among them 1000 wealthies have the preponderant deciding power. The said banks and companies are heavily crosswise owned. Thus these together have a deciding power over how society is organized (large complex bureaucratic organizations, both public and private); what work is done and what is not; what is culturally acceptable and what is not; what is politically possible and what is not; what is legal and what is not; what is approriate in public discussions in media and elsewhere, and what is not; what are suitable customs and manners and what is not; what are fashions and what is not; etc.

"Rationality" of liberal society (from Bruce Charlton's liberal days):

Valkea said...

That video of the first link has been removed. Here is the same video in operation: