The Price of CooperationThursday, July 26, 2012 at 07:19 PM
We are, by nature, social creatures. Except for the occasional outlier, the herd instinct runs in us, and being part of social groups is almost as vital to us as food, water, air, or shelter. This was great evolutionarily, as living within social structures helped us immeasurably to grow and develop, but it also betrays us in some sneaky, underhanded ways. I'm referring to a phenomena known as groupthink.
If you don't know what groupthink is, allow me to briefly elucidate you. Groupthink is a psychological event in which members of a group begin valuing group synergy and protection above all else, including basic morailty. We see this in extreme cases when small groups of people do terrible things and seem to think that they're well-justified. Groupthink relies not only upon the slavish dedication of each member of the group to the idea and protection of the group over all else, but also upon the wonderful phenomena of rationalization. Many fiascos have been attributed to this, such as the Bay of Pigs, which history buffs will recall as a stupid idea. But it's not reallt the big things that should ultimately worry is, it's the fact that the potential for groupthink is present in every one of us. In our social circles, we believe that each person is a unique and interesting gem, worthy of any biography. Conversely, we believe that others outside these circles tend to be drab, dull, boorish people who aren't nearly as interesting as us. But think: each of us believes this. We can't all be interesting if some of us are blase, and vis versa. We can blame Dunbar's Number and other such psychological effects, but we have to acknowledge groupthink in action. It's what we live and breathe. Look at the party system in the United States: many Republicans unquestioningly follow the Republican politicians while despising the Democrat ones, and many Democrats do the same in reverse. Intolerant religions follow this same pattern. It's a methodology woven in human existence, and there isn't any way to avoid it, we all fall prey to it.
Does that make it justified?
Yes and no. Valuing group cohesiveness and the opinions of others within your circles is a good thing. We are social animals, and being social helps you live longer, so that's always a plus. However, here's what's not justified: discounting others. I know I seem to stray away from form here, but you should always try to look at things from an outsider's perspective, and try to recognize the inherent humanity in others. Does that stop them from being moronic, or boorish, or wrong in situations? No. But learn to recognize when people are actually wrong, versus when you're simply discounting their opinions because they're not part of your elect. When you surround yourself with people whom you always agree with, you seldom learn where you may be flawed.