Monday, September 26, 2011

Default Positions and People

Some things are easier than others, some things are obvious while others are not. Humans usually choose the obvious and the easy over the non-obvious and the difficult. Because what is easy and what is obvious can be known, human behavior can often be predicted. I call these generally predictable behaviors "default behaviors." This post briefly explores, and gives evidence for the existence of such default behaviors with specific attention given to how these default responses can and do affect character formation.

The most famous study which shows the existence of these defaults was done on organ donation in Europe (a now famous lawsuit regarding Internet Explorer's installation on Windows machines in Europe is another example) and it shows quite clearly the power of the default position. Here's a graph from that study:
In the graph above, the countries that have consenting to organ donation as the default option hover around 100% consent while the countries that have not-giving consent to donate organs as the default option average under 20% consent. While this shows that default behaviors certainly exist, I think that this graph also contains information which strongly suggests the existence of a default position for human character. It may seem like a bit of a stretch to claim that a study on organ donation can be correlated to character formation; and of course I agree that significant differences exist, but I don't think that these differences invalidate the correlation to character in principal. One objection to this assertion could be that specific differences in how the information is displayed around the opt-in/opt-out boxes could constitute a difference that breaks the correlation, for example if the tick box was inside a bold red square and labeled "TICK THIS BOX OR WE"LL SLICE OUT YOUR KIDNEY AND STICK IT IN A STRANGER WHEN YOU DIE" you would likely get a higher percentage of people ticking the box than you would with a more conventionally labeled box so this sort of manipulation could have altered the above graph causing it to show information that is atypical. I would actually guess that this kind of difference (though not so extreme) explains Sweden's deviation from the mean. In response to this objection I would say that I can think of no good reasons to believe that sufficient information manipulation took place in this study to invalidate its results, indeed the results of this study are, to my knowledge, universally accepted as valid. This argument could then be aimed at the other side of the correlation in a claim that the information regarding character formation in our culture is causing atypical results. I agree that the information an individual has regarding character formation will affect his development, but to avoid there being a default position, the information influencing the individuals would have to be both strong, and random. If it were strong and uniform, then uniform(default) reactions would be expected. If it were random but weak then the default would be weaker but still present. In any case I see no reason to think that the information regarding character formation (in western culture) today is so strong and so random that it prevents default positions from emerging. Another criticism could be that apathy regarding organ donation is completely irrelevant to apathy regarding character formation, this may be the case for certain individuals but I doubt it is the case for a majority of individuals. In fact I think the choice of pursuing character change or not pursuing character change is, at least today in western culture, almost never as clearly forced into the consciousness of an individual as is the choice of ticking a box on a form or not. Because character is not something that is easily and definitively identifiable (the phrase "you can't legislate character" comes to mind) it is something that I think rarely rises to the top of an individual's consciousness and thus is unlikely to stray from the default state. Assuming that you accept the existence of a default state of human character, the obvious question to ask is "what is that state?"