Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Principles of Group Think

The Principles of Group Think

What are the causes of group think?

Alienation and disconnection provide an initial condition from which group think can arise. Individuals feeling alone and lost may crave participation in a group, a community.

Of course, in our culture, alienation and disconnection can also lead to extreme individuality and narcissism. We see people like this all around us. And we see whole social movements devoted to these behaviors: The Tea Party. Further in our present recession, we see the rise of a kind of survivalism where individuals feel the normal rules of social interaction are suspended, where survival is the prime necessity and thus ethics, caring, social consciousness is obsolete. These persons have assumed that no common solutions are possible, only individual solutions, and they have assumed there is a limited amount of joy in the world for which they must ruthlessly compete – when in fact the amount of joy in the world can be raised by social unity and action.

Whether a human being goes in the group think direction or the self absorbed direction depends on disposition and personal situation, and very importantly on what social forces are working on the individual – media, advertising, politics, community etc.

Mixtures of extreme individualism and group think do occur, and it is quite common. One can be a devoted cadre of consumerism and see one's self as part of some elite group, and at the same time you can be wholly selfish, a dedicated careerist and opportunist. Thus you would be sustaining the values of two primary institutions: consumerism and corporate life.

Consumerism is a powerful force. Marketing creates its own form of group think attempting to fit millions into simple little demographic boxes, where people share the same lifestyles. One product is sold to millions, thus millions are tagged with one identity. Individuals without identity, lonely and lost find something to join. They lose their true individuality in the group and adopt the group identity. And if the trend dies, they latch onto the next trend.

A phenomenon that drives this peculiar form of group think is rooted in adolescence. Teenagers experiment with identity by first joining cliques. Entering some select group is an experiment in individuality. Here we have dress, language, symbols, style, likes and dislikes, rituals and activities. The point is to separate one's self from the mass, the mainstream. It is a transitional step toward self awareness from the childhood state of little awareness. It is transitional because on the one hand it is aiming toward a self identity, and on the other hand, the identity is a group.

This contradiction is broken when the adolescent eventually makes her or his way into full individuality brought on by the conditions of living alone, being independent. Then the cliques naturally seem silly and make no sense. But this would be a natural process in a natural society. However, in the modern age of the 21st century, marketing, advertising and consumerism interrupt this process. They try to extend the clique think of adolescence indefinitely preventing the assumption of true individuality and prolonging teenage group think into the senior rest home. The group think of consumerism is nothing more than adolescent behavior in the realm of material things and commerce. And here is one reason that advertising stresses youth, not simply that youth represents the "new" (trend or product) but that youth is emblematic of youthful behavior, namely, clique think.  Youth is a memory cue that regresses us to earlier, more confused days.

Another major force of group think is politics. Political parties offer even fewer boxes than marketing!

In the two party system of the U.S. we have Republicans and Democrats which have managed to address all issues in a dialectical way. For every position of one party, the other party takes the opposite stand.

From a long list of column A or column B we decide the fate of the country. Of course what is missing is other points of views, other solutions, individuality, diversity and most of all creativity. Further, the two parties being big machines fueled by corporate money are able to dominate the intellectual landscape suppressing, as a monopoly does, the innovation of other ideas, of new ideas. So while group think abounds in the other realms, in politics it is most severe.

The education system offers another variation of group think. It prepares the student for a life of group think by not teaching him or her the methods of creativity, critical thinking, Further it does not teach the themes and methods of living a life as an individual, as an independent human being. Though this clashes with the surrounding clique think, the education is necessary to push the student forward, and must continue through into college.

Also, education does not give youth a basic understanding of their psychology and emotions, and this leaves them open to marketing manipulation. For if they had stable and healthy psyches and were alert to the mechanisms of consumerism, they could protect themselves. But education unfortunately appears to have the mission of delivering every year millions of innocent babes into the grips of marketing and advertising.

Another major source of group think is fear. The Nazis were skillful at this -- fear of communists, fear of Jews, fear of trade unionists, gays, Gypsies, Slavs and many more groups. Today we have fears of terrorism, Muslims, immigrants.

It is interesting that the advocates of extreme individualism in the far right are at the same time promoting fear which leads to group think. One wonders if this is really a movement of individualism or a movement of group think or groupism. For example, the views on illegal immigrants – isn't this
actually a movement toward group think for a certain segment of Americans and Arizonans.

We may ponder that if one's "individualism" IS group think, if our individual views are for group think, THEN we have a harmony of the two?

And we have to wonder when these people get into power will an age of libertarian freedom descend or will we get something else? Is the real goal the freedom of the views of leaders against the rest of us – a group think required by the extreme individualist. In a 50s movie, "Born Yesterday", William Holden is explaining democracy to Judy Holliday, he notes:  "Sometimes selfishness even gets to be a cause, an organized force, even a government, then it's called Fascism."

Besides systems or institutions, there are conceptual errors about society that enhance group think.

We are taught that history is powered by certain sociological factors:  Forces, organization, bureaucracy, technology, economics, systems, states, elites, power and so on.

In none of these notions is the idea of the individual prevalent. This particular sociological view stresses institutions, groups and the force of things and processes.

History is not made by individuals, but is made by anything else but, by things and powers bigger and more powerful than mere people. This excoriation of the individual is done purposely by certain powers to weaken a population, to retain their power, to promote apathy and despair in regards to the march of history.

But the fact is that individuals make history not things or forces or elites.

People invent things, people create new ideas and new paradigms.

Cultures are distinct around the world because individuals made distinct contributions. Religions are distinct because the founders had unique ideas. Scientists and leaders make their individual marks.

History is an accumulation of individual creativity. Culture does not primarily flow from predetermined laws or even genetic or ethnic behaviors as some think. History is free, innovative and unpredictable.

Further, people can reduce the impact of technology or economics if they wish, they can
choose other values, they can create new institutions and practices. The state, technology, money etc. can be deemphasized. We can do that. Elites can be removed from power. We can do that.

The great forces that run history, that determine "progress" can be changed. If individuals choose to do this, then all can change, and we can redefine progress.

The point is that people create history. But if we are trained to believe it is driven by forces beyond us then apathy and passivity will arise.  The agents of these "forces" rule and they must downplay the worth and power of an Individual.

The result of this is the ascendancy of group think. For if you as an individual have no effect on society or culture or history, then why be an individual?  Throw in your lot with a group, and preferably an elite and see what you can gain.

The state is also a source of group think and this is well known from the experience of the 20th century. We don't have to elaborate much on that here. When the state becomes the primary power in society, then the individual must join the group, and the state becomes the only individual – the group and individual trade places.

Those who occupy the state have a natural tendency to stress the role of the state, it is understandable, since that is their job. So even amongst politicians in a democracy, in free times, we have a spontaneous tug toward state thinking, state power, state development. This is why we need direct democracy to check these tendencies and keep the role of government in proportion, and keep the stress on civil society, market economics, social movements and individual actions and creativity.

In a critical period the state is needed to play a decisive role. Today in the U.S. the government needs to play a strong part in restarting the economy – for example, action against the big banks to resolve the foreclosure problem and stop the slide of house values, which is crippling the economy. The trick is to increase government action when there is a need, and to decrease it when the need is gone.

There are other important causes of group think, another very important one should be mentioned.

Individuals may not think in terms of difference and diversity, they may think in the mode of "iso-thinking", that is, thinking in terms of isolation, of isolated causes – this behavior always seeks the one source, one reason, one rule, one goal, one strategy, one paradigm etc. Naturally people in this track of this perception will gravitate toward group think, one-think.

Let's look at fully developed group-think systems.

But we must point out an irony: Technically there is no true group think because it is always produced by an individual, an elite, a sectarian group, a class etc. True collectivism of this sort does not exist. Group think is a sham created to hide the selfish interests of some small demographic. An individual or sect speaks in the name of the group, acts in the name of the group, feels in the name of the group, symbolizes the group, ritualizes for the group.

The leader of group think is in fact acting in self interest, thus, it is behaving individually and individualistically.

Group think or groupism are a shell game. The shells are the various forms of the group, underneath one shell is the true identity of the group, but one can never find it, because it is artfully hidden by the quick hand of ideology. The prestidigitation of veneration is difficult to spy because it inverts social relationships. The group icon is not himself, it is you. He represents you, suffers for you, thinks like you. The group think system thrives on a big lie, a great double think.

The irony is that the true group is not collectivist at all; it is a COLLECTION, a collection of individuals each exercising her or his free choice. The core element of the real group is the individual.  This is inseparable from direct democracy, and inseparable from the behaviors of diversity, multiple perception, multiculturalism and directness.

The group is not a monolithic, singular entity. It is a vast collection not a collective; it is varied and contradictory and dynamic. And it has no "leader" in the old sense of past civilization.

When these group-think authorities are removed the group think dissolves. Because no longer are the customs and tricks maintained.

Also, note that systems are not monolithic.  They are staffed by individuals, if a person no longer is deluded by the dogma of collectivism, she or he will stop maintaining and defending the machine. Then the group-think psychology collapses. Ultimately, the individual is the true agent, not the group, and when the fog is lifted then even professional automatons can see the naked truth, and finally the evil hand that grips their minds lets loose.

Comprehensive group-think systems function through the elements of mythology, theology, philosophical paradigm, thought methods, law, political and economic class, symbols, rituals, worship and more. They come in many forms in history.

Ultimately, they are aided by bodies of armed men and economic compulsion.

These systems use shame and praise, criticism and tribute, smiles and scowls, adulation and repulsion, punishment and reward, the giving of love and the withholding of love, invitation and ostracism.

Now let's look at types of personalities.  Here are a few but not all of course.

The externally repressed personality is the one that is primarily affected by external institutions such as law, myth etc.

The external repressor is obviously the "system" and its agents and ultimately the central icon. When the external repressor is removed, normal behavior eventually returns, though remnant perceptions may remain for a while until they are worked through.

The internally repressed are another matter. This type of behavior is more sophisticated and more "efficient". In this mode the individual represses herself or himself taking much of the burden off of the state.

Mythologies have been developed which the population has embraced that require obedience, sacrifice and even suicide. Stories have been created where this kind of suffering is actually spiritually transcendent. There is a profound joy in self repression, in the struggle to eradicate personal identity and personal need.

Removing the external repressor in this case may not be enough. In this condition, the internal repressor must be vacated by challenging the entire inner mythology of self deprecation.

A third persona is neither externally or internally related. These people are in many ways Unconscious. They are simply unaware, unknowing and asleep. "Unconscious" refers to individuals and cultures where there is little to no self awareness of one being an individual.

A person of this type does not see herself or himself as unique or different. When she or he looks in the mirror she or he sees others, sees a group.

In this condition everyone is the same, all are expressions of the same group persona. These people identify strongly with teams and communities. They find joy in them. And find pain when they are excluded.

This type is easiest to manipulate into group think, as there is no resistance because the individual is not an individual. The external repressor does not have to overcome the normal everyday momentum of individuality. It can simply put itself at the top of the pyramid and sanction all groups. And the machinery of group think does not have to work as hard because the population has a natural affinity for it. It becomes a matter of installing the leader who can manipulate for his interests and reap from his good fortune.

The Unconscious might be someone (or a culture) caught in a transitional phase of development, like clique think, where the individual is still in the stages of group association.

So these are three personalities that appear in group think systems.

Hopefully, this article is helpful to you in understanding the mechanisms of group think in fully developed systems and those only partially developed.

Cage Innoye

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