The Major Challenge of the Occupy Movement: Out-Group Bias

Mixed Reaction to the Occupy Movement

As the contagious Occupy movement spreads around the world and grows in stature, there seems to me a markedly mixed reaction to its existence. The movement is protesting, among other things, the enormous and ever-growing gap between the super rich and the rest – labelled the 1% and the 99% respectively. But despite its conspicuous intent to be the representative of the overwhelmingly large majority, the movement is inadvertently and ironically creating a burgeoning gap between the proponents and opponents within the 99% that is threatening to seriously undermine its credibility, which is vital to its success.

The negative reactions from many belonging to the “99%” elucidate psychological factors that have deterred them from embracing this movement, even though its success would be favourable to them, at least in theory.

An example of out-group bias

Division Caused by Out-Group Bias

One of the psychological factors is a pervasive and almost unavoidable by-product of the information age: out-group bias. In the comment sections of several internet articles or videos about the movement, there seems to be a trend of labelling the protestors as either one or a combination of these: hippies, hooligans, university kids, unemployed, dirty, lazy, brats, whingers, cry babies, marijuana-smokers, and so on.

This pigeonholing is borne out of unconsciously selecting a few eccentric members of the movement and generalizing the viewer’s perceptions of these types of people to all the participants of the movement. The generalization is, of course, an inherent human trait that serves to put a whole information piece into a distinct compartment of either good or bad. And it is another human trait to label that which is similar to oneself as good and that which is different as bad.

Consequently, the now well-established profile of the average protestor as being a young university student or recent graduate, liberal-minded, and ardent, which often is the antithesis of the more conservative and security-minded profile of an older individual, has the majority of the older demographic categorizing the movement as bad. Similarly, even a lot of younger people who have unconsciously attached a hippie face to the average protestor and who subscribe to the social ostracizing of hippies have adopted a stance against the protests. In addition, there is also wide-spread belief that most protestors are unemployed and the stigma attached to being unemployed automatically disqualifies the movement for some.

The Reality of the Movement

The aforementioned out-group bias is a very powerful psychological barrier to overcome. Evidently, even an out-group protesting fervently in your interest is to be treated with utmost suspicion. However, the truth is in fact quite different from the specific labelling of protesters as unemployed or as hippies, or even as only students.

Often, because detached visual information on television and internet stimulates sensitive emotional nerves and readily engenders various out-group biases, information presented in statistical numbers can give much better judgment of the movement and can be digested in an unbiased and rational manner.

There was a survey collected at the Occupy Wall Street site in New York in regards to the demographic of the protestors that visited the site and participated in the protests. The numbers, in stark contrast to the rumours and selective reporting and commenting, illuminate the reality of the movement and reveal that participants cannot, in fact, be simply categorized into one distinct group but rather resemble more closely the diversity of the 99% it claims to represent:*

  • While the sample is relatively young, one in three respondents is older than 35 and one in five respondents is 45 and older.
  • 26.7% of respondents was enrolled in school and 73.3% was not enrolled in school.
  • 50.4% was employed full-time and an additional 20.4% was employed part-time.
  • 13.1% of the sample was unemployed.
  • 2.6% of respondents was retired, 1.3% disabled, 2.6% homemakers and 9.7% were full-time students.
  • 47.5% of the sample earn less than $24,999 dollars a year and another quarter (24%) earn between $25,000 and $49,999 per year.
  • 71.5% of the sample earns less than $50,000 per year.
  • 15.4% of the sample earned between $50,000 and $74,999.
  • The remainder 13% of the sample earn over $75,000 with close to 2% earning over $150,000 per year.
  • 27.3% of respondents considered themselves Democrats, another 2.4% said they were Republican.
  • Interestingly, a very large proportion of the sample, close to 70.3%, considered themselves Independents.

The numbers clearly discredit the seemingly widely-held belief among the detractors of the movement that most of the protestors were unemployed and lazy trouble-makers looking for an easy way out. The percentage of unemployed roughly resembles the actual rate of unemployment in theUnited Statesat the moment.

While most protestors are young, there is significant participation from those in their middle age and beyond as well. The income level of the protestors is also representative of the diversity of the middle class.

I am Better than Them

What the glaring discrepancy between the reality and the constructed beliefs about the Occupy movement demonstrates is that, in these times, the mistrust in humanity and the constant urge to assume superiority over others is far more prevalent and compelling than the desire for unity and the betterment of society achieved through it. Many would much rather consider themselves better than others and deride the efforts of others than come together and join forces for real progress. Interestingly enough, these traits of individualism and competition are not only the pillars of capitalism but also traits that have been created by capitalistic philosophies of fending for oneself and beating others for rewards.

Conclusion

There are very strong challenges for the Occupy movement to overcome if it is to achieve its goals of unity and equality. The most important challenge is to bring those that readily assign out-groups into the in-group called humanity.

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*http://www.scribd.com/doc/69603228/The-99-Movement-Comes-From-and-Looks-Like-the-99

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About fliqside

This blog is called back to evolution because it is partly influenced by evolutionary psychology as a tool to explain human behavior in the modern world. It is also influenced by the belief that nothing should be taken at face value and everything should be challenged. Most importantly, it is inspired by the possibility of understanding the human psyche in order to promote the well-being of our global community as a whole. - Hridesh Gajurel
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