Society is an incredibly fascinating place and often times when I’m out and about in central London I observe some interesting things about the citizens of London. Recently I’ve encountered something which I find totally fascinating and somewhat concerning at the same time.
It reminds me of a story I read about in Malcolm Gladwell’s book called Outliers. It’s the story of the descendants of the Appalachian Mountains which discusses the importance of learned behaviours from ancestors.
It’s quite a long story so I won’t recount it all, essentially what it concludes is that we all have behaviours and attitudes within us, that were taught to us at the unconscious level, that have been within our own families for many generations.
It’s saying that you do some of the things you do, because your great great great great great great grandfather used to behave that way.
At the time of reading it intrigued me, however I do remain sceptical, until I came to a realisation myself of this after running my own experiments.
analysis and waterloo
I was one day walking through Waterloo station a few weeks back when I suddenly became aware that I would move out of peoples way more often than people would move out of my way. These days I’m very self aware, it’s the fastest way to learn how to improve oneself if one is hyper self aware.
So I wondered, was I moving through choice, or was it something I just did naturally? Did other people have a choice or were they moving naturally and behaving as they would normally?
To test, I decided to walk through Waterloo a few times over, each time I did I would feign being distracted by the departures board or by something else, such that it was obvious that I wasn’t looking where I was going. This is in an attempt to get the other person to move first out of consideration, in realisation that I was otherwise distracted.
I was somewhat surprised by my findings, on the whole people would wait until last minute before getting out of my way, even though I looked distracted, and the result is that they brushed or barged my shoulder as they walked past. In some cases the other party was also distracted, however in most cases, they were clear in the direction they were heading and not distracted.
My questioning and observation went deeper. I asked the question, was it me or was there something else going on here?
To get an answer I decided to conduct a more extensive experiment. I sat down on a seat at Waterloo and I then asked the question, “so who gets out of who’s way when two people are walking directly towards each other?”.
It was simple, I just observed and noted all the differences between people walking headlong towards each other and when you watch a few hundred encounters, you begin to see a pattern emerging and this lead to a disturbing yet altogether not so surprising answer.
I call it the hidden hierarchy in society,
because what I observed was that there was a clear hierarchy in terms of who moves out of who’s way, that reflect in a way the perceived ethnic hierarchy. People aren’t doing it at a conscious level, hence I wonder how aware people really are of their own behaviours. People are also behaving like this because they don’t know any better, learnt as a result of observing in their own environment and their ancestors environments, the way to behave for them.
So what I observed was that there was a clear racial battle happening at the unconscious level. Once again, I must reiterate that there is no racism going on here, just pre-programmed behaviours that for the most part it would seem 98% of people are totally unaware of.
The white man wins the battle of not moving. Let me also point out, incredibly this move behaviour was not gender specific, it was happening at an even deeper level than that. Asians, Indians and generally people from the east would move out of the way of western white people, men and women. I am taking just generalisations because of course there’s a lot of other nuances involved so the observations are clearly at a generic level as opposed to a controlled experiment.
Age didn’t matter, women with children didn’t matter, perceive class status also didn’t matter, nor did physical size, the only thing that seemed to matter was the matter of race.
This was the point I remembered about Gladwells story, and I began to think about what society was like during periods of history when segregation and racism was still prevalent in society. I realised that though we’d like to forget all those years of unjust discrimination, it really wasn’t that long ago that it was still around. I mean even as I was growing up in the late 70s in a somewhat upper class area of south west London, there was still verbal abuse to my parents.
Discrimination was a way of life and certain governments even passed laws regarding how general society should behave in regards to the different races. Of course we have to accept that this is part of all our history, and at the conscious level, most people aren’t racist at all, however at the unconscious level, there are still quite a few racist behaviour patterns existing in society that people are generally unaware of, but are still acting out.
The part that I’m concerned about is this. As I brushed past people, making them move out of my way through consideration and courtesy, I would get from most of the Caucasian people, a small gesture of displeasure, either through staring, or a grumble.
Did they know that they had a choice to move just literally one or two steps sideways to move out of my way earlier? Or were they so pre-programmed in their ways that the thought simply didn’t occur to them to move?
This is a very small example at the most trivial levels of society that shows this racial discrimination is still within society, only now, it’s hidden and more subtle.
Today I challenged you to become more self aware, and to become aware of your behaviours and patterns towards other people and ask yourself, was there any other way you could have acted in order to be more conscious of yourself?
Of course these are just my opinions and observations, but I do think if an academic controlled study of this was done, it would reveal similar truths.
Next time you walk through a station, just observe and see for yourself, the hidden hierarchy in society.