Collective Action – A Global Pipe Dream

Artwork By Malak Abouelenein

We (the western world) live in a society that pushes for communal effort while hindering the community. 

The idea of the community is, in my view, a pipe dream. As pessimistic as this may sound, I’m starting to believe that the world we have created is suppressing our very primal and intuitive need to be supported by a social group, another word for a community. 

I feel there is an atmosphere at this point in time where the ‘group effort’ proposal is trying to be pushed (keyword trying) into modern propaganda, in politics and sociology alike. We know we thrive in groups, we’ve seen the research and the theorists who confirm this. 

Then why does it feel like every opportunity we have to come together to not just make a change but to thrive, is seemingly inhibited? 

Collective action is a buzzword in the world of climate change academics. There are studies, affirmed by our beliefs, that if we all come together and commit to collective action, we can make a change. And this is true, yet hopeful. I strongly believe that unity and support from a community can move mountains – and there is history to back this up. The Vietnam war, the war on drugs, global warming, the feminist movement, gay rights activism – all of which are examples of seeing a community with a shared belief come together to fight for a change. We have done it in the past, and we can do it again. 

The worrying, in my case, and fascinating aspect is that it is becoming increasingly hard to do what we have been doing for years – coming together against a cause. Specifically in recent years, can you, personally, name a time in which a supposed ‘community’ came together in agreement on an issue and fought successfully for change. This is controversial because of course, we cannot deny the massive successes that so many groups in society have accomplished – but I can’t help but think about the polarization that is so clearly prominent, not only between groups but within the groups themselves. 

It almost seems purposeful. 

Stop being a cynic – I can hear the devil’s advocate in my head. But really, is it not too difficult to see how successful this tactic is for the people in power? To keep them in wars to sweep the real issues under the carpet? To keep the media and the people preoccupied with conflict that we fail to recognize humanity? It seems that what sells nowadays is exactly that – conflict. It is everywhere, on the news, on the media, in our personal and work lives. 

I recently took a step back to really think about this, and it took its toll. I found myself shocked as to how there is such a lack of unity – of community. Sure, we all ‘belong’ to a certain community but how much do you feel like you actually do, belong? No matter how people band together, there is some societal structure that is tearing us apart. For example, climate change. An easy and less personal issue to raise. But why? Why is it less personal? Why are we not looking around at each other and wondering why no one seems to be actually doing anything? There are many psychological biases that come into play, namely the bystander effect and the confirmation bias amongst others. The bystander effect has been studied in regards to climate change, suggesting that people feel less responsible for climate disasters or global warming when the issue is not on their doorstep. We suffer from a bias that allows us to live in blissful ignorance – ‘someone will do something’. But they won’t – unless we all realize our collective responsibility. Confirmation bias affects not only climate change but so many other social issues. No matter what ‘side’ you are on, you are inclined to look for information that already aligns with your beliefs. This is a huge factor that results in our inaction. If we truly believe there is no immediate problem – why would we stop our lives and do something to help? 

But this is not a psychological study. This is real life, and it’s happening right now before our eyes. A real, global problem that has an effect on every single person on the earth. A social issue unlike no other – sparing no one. Surely, this must be the one thing that we all unite on – but it isn’t. 

Sources:

Marshall, G. (2014). Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change. Center for Climate Protection.

de Vries, G. (2020, April 1). How the bystander effect can explain inaction towards global warming. LSE Business Review.

Chekroun, P. and Brauer, M. (2002), The bystander effect and social control behavior: the effect of the presence of others on people’s reactions to norm violations. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol., 32: 853-867.

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Collective Action – A Global Pipe Dream

Artwork By Malak Abouelenein We (the western world) live in a society that pushes for communal effort while hindering the community.  The idea of the community is, in my view, a pipe dream. As pessimistic as...

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