From the original definition of Social Intelligence (SI) by psychologist Edward Thorndike in 1920 — "the ability to understand and manage men and women and boys and girls to act wisely in human relations" — to Daniel Goleman’s 2006 clinical approach ("Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships") that humans are designed for sociability and constantly engaged in a “neural ballet” that connects us brain to brain with those around us — this term and its evolving uses has been, well... "thorny.” We need explore the SI phenomenon because in today’s Politically Correct world it’s becoming the standard for testing students’ social quotient (SQ) rather than intelligence quotient (IQ). It routinely guides qualification standards for academic, business, and government employment-training and constitutes the core curricula in leadership seminars, so it is highly operative in important ways that affect all of us.
Skipping countless academics/psychologists who fussed and discussed it for nearly 100 years, let’s focus on the beginning — Thorndike — and the end — Goleman — to dig into fundamentals of SI and assess them.
Note Thorndike’s selection of the words “manage” and “wisely” in his definition. One is authoritarian or manipulative and the other subjective. This is relevant because although terminology changes, these concepts have remained central to SI behavioral testing, training, and communication skills.
Goleman attempts a scientific exploration of SI by affirming that dopamine — the brain’s pleasure drug — is released chemically when a human is delighted by what is seen, heard, and touched by. Among other neurological functions, dopamine physically enhances emotional feelings of love, empathy, and cooperation. This immediately implies that if we learn to press the right buttons of another person’s psyche to cause pleasure and release dopamine, we can “manage” interpersonal relationships “wisely.”
SI training/testing teaches (1) if we ask questions directed not to an individual’s outward personality, intelligence, knowledge, or abilities but to their private, inner, subconscious self, (2) listen carefully to the answers, and (3) learn to read body language astutely, we can determine what really makes them tick by coming to understand their emotional vocabulary. On the positive side, this knowledge can be properly utilized as commonsense social etiquette that helps smooth interactions at work, with family members, and in every interactive discourse and behavior. The negative? It provides a surreptitious communication channel for manipulating people without their realizing it because emotions are the expressive, “feeling language” of the contents — the values — that comprise the unconscious (subconscious) psyche.
All humans have a conscious value system and an unconscious value system. Our conscious value system — the metaphysical, epistemological, ethical, political, and aesthetic concepts we hold as the intellectual basis of our identity — constitutes who we “know” ourselves to be. The unconscious value system refers to that aspect of the mind about which we are not fully aware but still influences our actions and feelings. The values located here are not known intellectually but felt as emotional responses to psycho-sensory stimuli (including spoken-written-body language) that are processed in the brain and stream directly throughout our entire mental and physical being. The unconscious value system may or may not reflect the conscious value system. If these two aspects of our mind coincide and our values are the result of reasoned thought that accords with existential reality and human nature, we are an integrated person and our thoughts and emotions will be triggered by the same stimuli; thus, we cannot be manipulated. Those who reject reason as a primary and “live” on their unconsciously acquired emotional values, however, are vulnerable to manipulation and management because they, themselves, do not understand what makes them tick; they just “feel” it.
Although vastly simplified for the purpose of this article, it’s crucial to grasp that because emotions are a bundle of values held unconsciously, they can be tapped by savvy people adept at SI. Neurologically, emotions are interwoven with memory, attention, cognition, and decision making in our brains but, unlike reason which is a conscious process, they are activated by external stimuli that result in automatic responses. During interpersonal communications, we perceptually identify images (like facial expressions) or listen to sounds (word intonations and laughter) via our senses, but instead of examining the input objectively by employing reason we intuitively (through lightning-fast neural transmitters that integrate its content) appraise its value as to how it relates to our inner subjective value system positively or negatively. This automatic internal process produces instantaneous mental pleasure or pain that (again automatically) stimulates bodily changes like, among others, the release of dopamine. Unconscious psycho-somatic neural activity occurs so rapidly it feels impossible to separate perception, appraisal, and emotional-physiological responses, but this is actually what happens within human brain-body hardwiring.
Thus, employers can decide which individuals are best for their company’s agenda by attending to the SI adeptness of candidates rather than to their quantitative knowledge or qualitative abilities. SI interpersonal skills also hone accuracy in being sensitive to other’s “sensitivities” lest undesirable negative reactions are provoked. It also acts as a powerful methodology for affecting wide-ranging social change because by avoiding negative reactions and reinforcing positive responses that suit a larger purpose, vulnerable people are manipulated into action via their emotions rather than by reasoned judgment.
What do sensitivity training courses and real-life authoritarian demands proliferating in America — corporate “Diversity hiring,” college “Free speech zones,” court-dictated wedding cake baking — accomplish other than social engineering for Political Correctness? What is Political Correctness other than a vehicle to create artificial but malleable “identity” groups (and group-think) by race, gender, etc. How does PC accomplish this? By appealing to irrational, insecure, or aggressive emotions and “educating” vulnerable people into perceived victimization that must be protected from or privileged over individuals not of their identity tribe. Protected or privileged by whom? By the social change organizers, of course, who then gain power over us all.
Precaution to avoid “management” by the “wisely”? Beware of SI dopamine dealers.
Alexandra York is an author and founding president of the American Renaissance for the Twenty-first Century (ART) a New-York-City-based nonprofit educational arts and culture foundation (www.art-21.org). She has written for many publications, including "Reader’s Digest" and The New York Times. Her latest book is "Adamas." For more on Alexandra York, Go Here Now.
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