Monday, April 12, 2010


Isn't this interesting?

Highly cohesive groups are much more likely to engage in groupthink, because their cohesiveness often correlates with unspoken understanding and the ability to work together with minimal explanations (e.g., techspeak or telegraphic speech). Vandana Shiva refers to a lack of diversity in worldview as a "monoculture of the mind" while James Surowiecki warns against loss of the "cognitive diversity" that comes from having team members whose educational and occupational backgrounds differ. The closer group members are in outlook, the less likely they are to raise questions that might break their cohesion.

Although Janis sees group cohesion as the most important antecedent to groupthink, he states that it will not invariably lead to groupthink: 'It is a necessary condition, but not a sufficient condition' (Janis, Victims of Groupthink, 1972). According to Janis, group cohesion will only lead to groupthink if one of the following two antecedent conditions is present:

  • Structural faults in the organization: insulation of the group, lack of tradition of impartial leadership, lack of norms requiring methodological procedures, homogeneity of members' social background and ideology.
  • Provocative situational context: high stress from external threats, recent failures, excessive difficulties on the decision-making task, moral dilemmas.

Social psychologist Clark McCauley's three conditions under which groupthink occurs:

  • Directive leadership.
  • Homogeneity of members' social background and ideology.
  • Isolation of the group from outside sources of information and analysis.
Hmm. Pretty much like what I have said about clericalism and seminaries.
To make groupthink testable, Irving Janis devised eight symptoms indicative of groupthink (1977).
  1. Illusions of invulnerability creating excessive optimism and encouraging risk taking.
  2. Rationalizing warnings that might challenge the group's assumptions.
  3. Unquestioned belief in the morality of the group, causing members to ignore the consequences of their actions.
  4. Stereotyping those who are opposed to the group as weak, evil, biased, spiteful, disfigured, impotent, or stupid.
  5. Direct pressure to conform placed on any member who questions the group, couched in terms of "disloyalty".
  6. Self censorship of ideas that deviate from the apparent group consensus.
  7. Illusions of unanimity among group members, silence is viewed as agreement.
  8. Mind guards — self-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting information.
Wow. It's eerie how much this describes the crisis of innovative leadership and thinking in the Church...
According to Irving Janis, decision making groups are not necessarily destined to groupthink. He devised seven ways of preventing groupthink (209-15):
  1. Leaders should assign each member the role of “critical evaluator”. This allows each member to freely air objections and doubts.
  2. Higher-ups should not express an opinion when assigning a task to a group.
  3. The organization should set up several independent groups, working on the same problem.
  4. All effective alternatives should be examined.
  5. Each member should discuss the group's ideas with trusted people outside of the group.
  6. The group should invite outside experts into meetings. Group members should be allowed to discuss with and question the outside experts.
  7. At least one group member should be assigned the role of Devil's advocate. This should be a different person for each meeting.
Of course, they even got rid of the Devil's Advocate for canonizations, let alone anywhere else. It's top down decision making, "dissent" is discouraged (even on issues which aren't dogma), the clergy mainly consults with each other, possible alternatives are dismissed a priori to any experiment with them, easily deconstructed cookie-cutter answers and explanations are given for certain practices, and neoconservatives are lauded for not questioning, for toeing the party line, for automatically defending the status quo.

This is exactly why "free-thinking" is one of the qualities I list for a Renegade Trad.

The current crisis is immense. The media is discussing the arrest of the Pope as if it were a real possibility (it's not), as if this were a totally unsurprising idea. Do I really fear the Pope will be arrested? No. But the fact that it is being discussed so matter-of-factly is a sign of how outraged people, and shows how people are being radicalized (in both directions) by this all:
Attitude polarization, also known as belief polarization, is a phenomenon in which a disagreement becomes more extreme as the different parties consider evidence on the issue. It is one of the effects of confirmation bias: the tendency of people to search for and interpret evidence selectively, to reinforce their current beliefs or attitudes. When people encounter ambiguous evidence, this bias can potentially result in each of them interpreting it as in support of their existing attitudes, widening rather than narrowing the disagreement between them.
This is a problem! They need to take some game changing actions to shake up the whole debate, that can bring people together to bridge this widening gap, or it is going to keep getting worse. Unless there is a total paradigm shift, we have probably gone past the point of no return in terms of closing this gap. And the more radicalized they get, the more likely something like this is to really happen. Those on the liberal side are much more numerous and powerful, the moral outrage is justified and not going away, and it is time for action.

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