We live as blind beasts in a universe of infinite dimensional complexity, and we navigate our lives using a continuum of micro-assumptions. If we did not do so, life would be nigh on impossible to live since we would be constantly checking everything.
When you walk down a road, you are doing so in the belief that the ground beneath you will not open up and devour you. In the morning, you take for granted that the sun will bring daylight. Much of what we do is done through faith based on empirical reasoning and interpretative assumptions. The truth is, we really know so little about so much. Most of what we do and know is reliant on an unconscious faith in what we believe reality to be.
Nearly all of our knowledge is dependent on what others tell us either by word of mouth or through books, newspapers, TV or schools. However, much of what we are told, especially in social sciences and politics is based on subjective opinion, so how do we know what is reality and truth and what is propaganda and lies?
Hopefully, there are perhaps at least a small number of people who have gone beyond rejection and thoughtless acceptance of what they have been told and, by using the evidence at hand and whatever logical powers they command, have adopted a different way of looking at the question.
In this piece, I am deliberately avoiding the issue of religious faith except to say that whether a person chooses to believe in God or not is a binary one. You either believe or you do not. However, your choice either way is inevitably dependent on what your concept of God is and how you have been socialized to accept it or not. You have to have an image of what you believe God to be in order to either accept or reject it.
Self Truths, Shared Truths and Interpretation
It is the subjective interpretation of both self-truths and shared-truths that can lead to the collective beliefs of group think. In its malignant form and intelligent people are very much prone to it.
Our existence is about existing at a ‘Now’ moment in time and we move through time from one ‘Now’ moment to the next. However, it is not as if we move from one point to another like moving from one dot to another, it is done smoothly.
At each of these ‘Now’ points we experience and interact with the world about us. Each of these momentary experiences are self-truths in that they are events that happen to us personally. They are realities and thus personally objective to us.
Most self-truths are uneventful, but occasionally exciting and memorable things do happen and when they do they act like navigational beacons. These help give us bearings to the reality of existence of which we are part. How we interpret what we experience is subjective and is affected by many factors such as emotion, physical and biological circumstance, prior knowledge and social influence.
If we experience an event at the same time as others, that is a shared-truth. A shared truth is a collection of self-truths by all those who experience it. Again, it is an objective reality to all those who experience it, but each person will interpret the meaning of that shared-truth subjectively. Hence, that is why there is often a diversity of accounts over a shared event.
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Symptoms of Group Think
It is the subjective interpretation of both self-truths and shared-truths that can lead to the collective beliefs of group think. In its malignant form and intelligent people are very much prone to it.[gallery ids="46430,46431,46432,46433" type="slideshow"]
Irving Janis (Social Psychologist) identified eight different “symptoms” that indicate group-think:
- Illusions of invulnerability lead members of the group to be overly optimistic and engage in risk-taking.
- Unquestioned beliefs lead members to ignore possible moral problems and ignore consequences of individual and group actions.
- Rationalizing prevents members from reconsidering their beliefs and causes them to ignore warning signs.
- Stereotyping leads members of the in-group to ignore or even demonize out-group members who may oppose or challenge the group’s ideas.
- Self-censorship causes people who might have doubts to hide their fears or misgivings.
- “Mindguards” act as self-appointed censors to hide problematic information from the group.
- Illusions of unanimity lead members to believe that everyone is in agreement and feels the same way.
- Direct pressure to conform is often placed on members who pose questions, and those who question the group are often seen as disloyal or traitorous.
A number of factors can influence this psychological phenomenon. It tends to occur more in situations where group members are very similar to one another and it is more likely to take place when a powerful and charismatic leader commands the group. Situations where the group is placed under extreme stress or where moral dilemmas exist also increase the occurrence of group-think.
Benefits and Dangers
Group-think can have some benefits. When working with a large number of people, it often allows the group to make decisions, complete tasks, and finish projects quickly and efficiently.
However, this group-think is not without danger. The suppression of individual opinions and creative thought can lead to poor decision-making, gross inefficiencies, stubborn mindset and aggressive tendencies towards non-conformists.
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