Sunday, May 20, 2012

Shut-up Stupid Sunday: Allies and Enemies

There is a video that went viral going around the Internet of a lady at a town hall meeting on gay rights spouting out crazy things. She had a reason to spout out crazy things. She was a delusional schizophrenic who was off her meds. Her children told reporters that she was under their care and couldn't live alone. She had just wandered off and walked into the town hall meeting while they were looking for her.

She has a good excuse. The other people at the meeting, not so much. If you look at the audience only two guys seemed to notice that there was something wrong. They started passing notes back and forth grinning.

The looks on the faces of the rest show what is wrong with politics today.

The Progressives in the crowd just rolled their eyes and thought, “It's the same old shit. Hillary Clinton was a lesbian and the gays are working with the Bilderberg Group to control the media.”

The Conservatives just nodded and thought, “Well I hadn't heard that, but it doesn't surprise me.”

Humans are social animals, that means it is instinctive to choose sides and stick with the people on your side. No matter how bat-shit crazy they are. But we also have the ability to think for ourselves. But we tend to forget that.

I've posted before how I hate the “both sides do it” argument, but in this case it is true.

I am on both the oil industry and the nuclear industry's watchlists because of some of the things I've written on this blog. You would think that would put me high up on the environmental bloggers lists. Except they hate me.

I've blogged about how some environmentalists are talking about a 18 to 22 degree warming, which is nonsense. The real projections are bad enough. The myth about how organic food that is shipped in from other states is better (it's not). And a few other sacred cows of the environmental movement.

Back in business school (in the 80s when it was about production and reaching consumers, not just how to move money around) we had a word for this Groupthink. Going along with the group becomes more important than the reality.

The cause for most man made disasters can be traced back to Groupthink. In the last century millions have died because of it. Hitler invaded the Soviet Union because his Generals told him it was a weak economic power. They excluded any one who studied military history and invaded the exact same way Napoleon did and got the same results. LBJ invaded Vietnam because his advisors said a bunch of peasants couldn't stand up to the biggest military in the world. George W Bush's main advisor Karl Rove called his critics, “The reality based community” and actively scorned people who pointed out the reality of the situation. We can see how that turned out.

The problem is, as social animals our brains are wired to reward those who go along with groupthink. In the case of the delusional schizophrenic speaking at the town hall meeting. The Progressives who met with their friends afterwards and said, “Man those conservatives are really crazy.” Got rewarded with by having his friends agree with him. The endorphins flowed through his brain making him feel good to be one of the crowd.

If that same Progressive questioned the weird rantings and approached the Conservatives after and politely asked, “Do you really believe that the gays and the Bilderberg Group control the media?” He would probably get some embarrassed looks and they'd say, “Well that's a little extreme.” He'd go back to his group and they'd all be bummed they didn't have something new to pick on the other group for.

On the other side, if one of the Conservatives asked, “That lady was way out there right? Nobody believes that.” He would bum out the whole group. By saying nothing the next time they heard something a little less crazy they would think, “Well they do control the media with the Bilderberg Group.”

The way the human brain is wired, it's hard to go against our friends, or reach out to our enemies. When I write this series and I correct people who support an issue that I support, but are wrong on something, I feel bad. Worse, I often run across bloggers who I respect and consider friends who repeat a debunked myth and I post about it.

However I have studied some history and the worst disasters come, not from peoples intentions but, from people ignoring the critics.

Penn Jillette outlined his approach to a strategy session, “Write it down, and shoot it down.” Come up with an idea and look for all the flaws in it. Go with the idea that has the fewest flaws. If you don't, you treat everything equal and you can have a delusional schizophrenic speaking for your group.

Normally I end posts in this series by saying, “Shut-up Stupid...” (it is the title after all.) But this time I'm going to end it by asking people not to shut-up. If you feel something someone said, ally or foe, is wrong, speak up. If I'm wrong about something, I often am, let me know. The human brain maybe wired against criticizing people on “our side” but that pro-social behavior can lead to more harm than outright anti-social behavior.

By Darrell B. Nelson author of I KILLED THE MAN THAT WASN'T THERE


Stephanie Barr said...

I've been caught up in a new anime recently so I haven't been keeping up with blogs. Too bad, because this is a great post.

I think you know I'll correct you if I think you're wrong or I see a different perspective. I certainly hope you'd do the same for me. I'd rather be corrected than be assumed right when I'm in error.

Your willingness to address controversial issues with your unique perspective is one of the reasons I read your blog, including older posts.

Ironically, though I've disagree with you and vice versa, we've never gotten nasty with each other. And, in fact, it rarely happens with any of the other thinkers I know about, even when we disagree. In my experience, the more knowledgeable people are, the less likely they are to resort to petty namecalling, fingerpointing and badmouthing.

Which says volumes about politics today.

By the way, I think "groupspeak" was coined by George Orwell in "1984" (Wikipedia agrees with me). There were quite a few other pertinent phrases from the book as well.

Darrell B. Nelson said...

The business term, Groupthink, is an extension of Orwell's "groupspeak". A scarier phrase from the book was the goal that O'Brien was after, "Doublethink" where a person could hold two conflicting ideas in their head simultaneously and believe both to be absolutely true. Unfortunately I'm seeing that a lot. Both in politics and with just general matters. It's impossible to talk to someone who both agrees and disagrees with something at the same time.
BTW: Glad you're back.