How did we get here? That’s what I’ve been wondering, as I’ve followed the U.S. presidential election drama in the media. This country faces complex problems and issues that run deep and have been festering for decades. How, in a country built on the notion of representative government, have we become saddled with parties incapable of doing anything except bang the drum of their simplistic platforms and continue to ignore reality.
We can’t get where we need to go with these methods.
I figured out why we are here, in this mess… groupthink, to be specific – dueling groupthink combining with cognitive dissonance.
Dictionary.com defines groupthink as:
- the practice of approaching problems or issues as matters that are best dealt with by consensus of a group rather than by individuals acting independently; conformity.
- the lack of individual creativity, or of a sense of personal responsibility, that is sometimes characteristic of group interaction.
Let’s consider the power of groupthink (before we tackle the idea of dueling groupthink).
Why is it that locations like Wyoming are so entrenched in the blue party and areas like Massachusetts so decidedly red? Well, because groupthink encourages this in two ways.
People will actually change their location to a place where they feel more comfortable. Not having like-minded people around you is painful! A friend of mine told me about a conversation she had with some friends in New York. Her friends in New York were surprised that she even knew people who voted red, much less associate with them. You may need to imagine that kind of peer environment. But chances are, you are in an environment like that now. Either way, consider how you might be influenced to avoid challenging the consensus ideas among your peers if that was the case. Uncomfortable, right? Maybe even social suicide.
Maybe moving isn’t convenient. What are your choices? Conform or resist? If you aren’t aware of the power of cognitive dissonance to change the way you think, I suggest you check out Robert Cialdini’s book – Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion and pay careful attention to the section on brainwashing. In a nutshell, cognitive dissonance influences the way you think by the pressure to make it line up with the way you act. For example if you choose not to disagree with something said in a social setting because it would lower your status, you will convince yourself that you really don’t believe it that strongly anyway. It’s frightening how far that will take you one tiny step at a time. It’s real; look into it. Many case studies and experiments prove it out. It is even at work on you, every day.
These forces turn us into a nation divided, and (in many cases) divided along artificial boundaries. We have grown accustomed to presenting issues as though there is only one solution to a problem and only two approaches can even come to the debate. Philosophy, the art of thinking clearly, calls this a false dichotomy. We are a nation divided by dueling groupthink. On every issue up for debate, our society is trapped in a prisoner’s dilemma and won’t admit it.
Game theory illustrates clearly, that results (in making decisions where opposing agendas are in play) can only be optimized when parties cooperate. If you honestly examine the problems in our society now, I believe you will also conclude that if we don’t learn to cooperate, the problems we have now will continue to get worse, the way they have for decades.
Some of you may recognize the source of the title for this bottle message to readers – this soapbox. And yes, the bottle I’m using for the message is labeled – Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps – Certified Fair Trade “ALL-ONE”. It isn’t a commercial for the soap, but I use the product, and the peculiar label did make me do some research on Dr. B. who spent his life trying to convince people to come together using the concept of Spaceship Earth.
Yeah, I certainly don’t consider myself a convert to his religion, but I do agree with his conclusion about life on this planet, and he made me put away despair for long enough to write this. We don’t all have to agree, but we do need to come together to chart a course. Earth is fragile and nobody can immigrate away yet. We have limited resources, and without pulling together, we may never get to the point where it becomes an option. If we don’t, we are only going deeper into the black hole. Maybe we aren’t at the event horizon yet.
So, thank you Dr. Bronner.
Thank you for trying.