Not a lot truly scares me. By nature I am not an alarmist nor a dystopian critic of modern culture. I love change, in particular technological innovation.
However, there is an oft occurring social phenomenon that scares the living hell out of me. A phenomenon that transcends any particular political, religious, socio-economic, gender, or ideological lines.
It is called Groupthink.
Groupthink is defined a number of different ways, each with particular nuances. Psychology Today defines it as occurring when, “a group values harmony and coherence over accurate analysis and critical evaluation. It causes individual members of the group to unquestioningly follow the word of the leader and it strongly discourages any disagreement with the consensus.”
ANY group is susceptible to Groupthink no matter how worthy the cause or how much integrity a group and its objectives possess. Of course depending on the cause, size and nature of the group, Groupthink can cause varying amounts of social damage and leave innocent people permanently scarred or worse.
In certain rare contexts, Groupthink is a necessary component to achieving successful outcomes. The military, for example, is an authoritarian dictatorship, of sorts, in which free and independent thought would do nothing to move forward its militaristic objectives. However, outside of organizations that need unquestioning loyalty and adherence to function effectively, Groupthink is rarely a positive aspect of any social movement.
Yes, I could play the Hitler and his Third Reich card to exemplify the worst of all Groupthinks in history, albeit acknowledging so much of Groupthink does not have such disastrous and widespread results. Whenever I experience any group or movement that frowns upon those who might question the merits -or even minor aspects of the movement- to the extent that those who do so are considered part of the problem, my Groupthink antenna goes off the charts.
Enter #metoo. I could go on and on about the wonderful merits of this movement. Any movement that is going to right a centuries long wrong of sexual harassment and wrong doing while contributing to end the institutional oppressive power of the powerful, is a movement I support. However, I would encourage any supporter of any movement not to lose sight of the potential pitfalls and cautions that must accompany such a movement without fear of repercussions or accusations of being part of the problem.
I have been warned not to speak out against the movement period -after all, I am admittedly a white, “privileged” male.
And, believe it or not, I completely understand this objection. There is a time to speak up and a time to shut up and listen. There is a time to act and a time to be passive and wait. I understand that any group needs their day in court, as it were. However, if we encourage the voice of caution and negation to be repressed, we are creating a firestorm of potentially far greater unintended social injustice consequences.
If we encourage any movement that discourages the staunchly undemocratic notion of “guilty until proven innocent,” and if we jump to believe accusers regardless of any potential contrary evidence, our culture is in a world of hurt as ANY person is potentially the victim of a media-induced witch hunt that has never, and will never, serve humanity well.
I am not interested in HER truth or HIS truth -I am interested in THE truth.
Be it the actual witch hunts in the 1600’s, the aforementioned Third Reich, the horrific Communist hunt called McCarthyism, ie. the Red Scare in the 1950’s, drinking the cool-aid in the Jonestown jungle of Guyana, the MacMartin Preschool fiasco (google it) or a Duke LaCrosse team accused of gang rape in the early 2000’s, it absolutely AMAZES me that normally rational and reasonable human beings can turn on a dime and be part of a mob whose core doctrine is guilty until proven innocent. And, in some cases, when proven innocent, still remain guilty in the eyes of the Groupthink faithful.
We must not only WANT dissenting voices contributing to any movement, we must realize they are absolutely ESSENTIAL in creating an environment that is interested in what is right, moral and rational.
And so I conclude with another unfortunate Groupthink fiasco that has resulted in a misguided vilification of a professor at the “progressive” Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. However, whether you believe the accusations against the professor as misguided or not, based on the horrific Groupthink behavior of the mob of students at Evergreen, we shall never know with certainty since Groupthink discourages a rational dialectical approach to truth.
Nutshell: Biology Professor Brett Weinstein refused to join a movement that required and/or strongly encouraged all the white faculty professors leave the college for a day in support of the traditional school observance of a “Day of Absence,” in which traditionally minority black students optionally left the campus. A new school president switched the skin color of those who left the college to observe this day -whose goal is keeping the issue of institutional racism in the campus cultural narrative alive and well.
Professor Weinstein apparently had no problem with any group that engaged in a voluntary activity, one in which folks would remove themselves from the campus in the name of social justice; however he did have a problem with forcing someone to remove themselves from campus based soley on race, thus he stayed and refused to leave.
As a man of Jewish descent, one cannot blame him for being reminded of the atrocious precedent of selecting a group for a deportation, of sorts, based on race.
Agree with him? Disagree with him? Either way, that is not the point.
Just Youtube, “Weinstein Evergreen College Students” (or better yet hit this link) or something of the like, and you will find Groupthink in full engagement. You will find Professor Wienstein pleading with the mobbing students to engage in a rationale and reasonable dialectic to address the core issues for discussion. The response of the Groupthinking students was to shout down the professor with a series of profanities and insults, screaming at him while refusing the professor’s invitation of healthy dialogue.
Really? This is higher education? This is critical thinking? Since when does refusing to listen to an opposing argument constitute education? It is the antithesis. In fact, it is the epitome of ignorance.
Professor Weinstein was eventually forced to resign his position.
History teaches us that the human being has a hard-wiring to embrace a Groupthinking mob mentality with little to no prompting when the confluence of the correct contextual factors come into play. Perhaps it gives us a renewed sense of personal meaning or fulfills our basic human desire to be a part of something much bigger than ourselves…in a very quick and convenient way.
It may even appeal to our baser and darker instincts to delight in watching the pain and suffering of others (google “Stanley Milgram” kids).
No matter the reason, I do believe Groupthink could eventually be the root cause of the end of humanity as we know it; not today, tomorrow or even this century, yet, in any case, when we fail to question and go against the prevailing notions of what appears to be right and just, we all eventually end up the victims.
Not a lot truly scares me. Groupthink does. As it should all of us.