09 January 2008

Abuse and Groupthink: The Game [Part 1 of 3]

Abuse affects both memory and cognition.

Burks studied individuals who had been abused in cultic environments, and looked at the impact of group abusiveness on individual persons; but individual abusiveness can also affect the cognitive abilities of entire groups.

In the following 'case history', someone whose behavior struck me as abusive appeared to manipulate a number of people, all of whom had - yet seemingly chose to ignore - multiple opportunities both to see the manipulation and abuse, and to resist them.

The events I am describing are events I witnessed, and the perceptions and interpretations of these events are my opinions only. I have changed minor details of some events, [e.g., spilling coffee on a dress vs. wine into a Gucci bag], but the core events are not changed. I believe that this situation provides a clear illustration of abusive processes affecting the ability of a group of people to remember and think, and I want to focus as much as possible on that effect, not on any actual persons.

In the main event I'll examine here, the Person I Considered Abusive [whom I will call "Pica"] engaged in behavior that I saw as resembling cult recruitment based on 'enemy creation'.
'Enemy creation' is very important to gangs, cults, and cliques, for two primary reasons.

First, the 'norms' of such groups are negative - they do not stand for something so much as they stand against something, and the easiest something to stand against is almost always Someone. Think of the Crips and Bloods, the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Maoist China, the Stalinist Purges, or any ethnic-purity-based hate group as extreme examples; think of a middle-school 'mean girl' clique hounding a chubby girl with braces until she attempts suicide, as a common daily example that is really no less extreme. [And how horribly callused are our souls, that this type of event is common; that some of our children can be bullied to death by others of our children, and we, as a society, neither notice nor care?]

Second, "War is a force that gives us meaning." Hating The Enemy Other allows cliques, cults, and gangs to gloss over frictions within their own ranks. Group cohesion is strengthened, and a sense of belongingness and shared superiority is created.
In this specific Enemy Creation scenario, I perceived a large number of red flags. I've noted them throughout my description of the episode.

To begin with, Pica publicly accused [flag 1] a person whom she refused to name [flag 2] of saying terrible things to her in private [flag 3]. She produced isolated but inflammatory words from the alleged communication [flag 4], but refused to disclose its verbatim content [flag 5]. This was ostensibly because, as she told her audience [flag 6], she was kind and sensitive [flag 7] and didn't want to upset them with the full details [flag 8].
Thus, none of the people to whom Pica complained were given any access to facts to compare to her allegations. This also created an interesting dilemma for the unnamed target [if that person even existed]. The public revelation and denouncement by Pica - without actual disclosure of names or details - made it awkward for the target [if they existed] to stand up for himself [or herself] without looking both paranoid and self-obsessed (i.e.: you're so vain, you prob'ly think this song is about you). And the greater the gap between Pica's story and the actual facts, the more difficult it would be for the target to be certain they were, in fact, the target. [This, by the way, is an excellent example of 'gaslighting'.]
Pica then praised herself [flag 9] for her kind, forgiving nature [flag 10] in the face of such cruelty [flag 11], solicited praise from onlookers [flag 12] and praised them for praising her [flag 13].

Even allowing for some variation in individual perspective and analysis, there are 13 red flags here, in one event. And even allowing for that individual perspective, the red flags seem obvious...

Yet, in my assessment, the group responded to Pica with:
a virtual mobbing of the unnamed, unspecified, unproven, quite possibly invented Enemy,

multiple, very similar, expressions of uncritical support for Pica,

and some rather unsettling [to me] expressions of paranoia [a belief that spies and conspirators were lurking within the group].
This fear of conspirators and spies seemed to become a regular motif in group communication from that point. I found this disturbingly reminiscent of the Two Minutes' Hate rituals from the novel "1984".

What I found even more disturbing was the fact that
not one person targeted in this process, apparently, understood how important it was that they had only Pica's word about the alleged 'private offense' committed against her. They had no word from the 'enemy' being created - they didn't even know who that 'enemy' was, and had no objective proof that either the person or the offense actually existed.
All anyone saw were histrionics, a story that could be a total invention, and Pica laying on self-praise with a trowel. But, apparently, this was all that was needed to solidify a 'groupthink' mentality.

[Part Two follows immediately.]

1 Comments:

Blogger Stormchild said...

Thank you for your message, Anonymous. You ask good questions. I'm answering you in a comment to the first post in the series, so others might see the information as they start reading here.

First: it doesn't matter who Pica might be. The point is to see how one individual can create a climate of groupthink, in the right setting. There are other situations I could cite as examples, but this one seemed most 'complete' to me, in terms of time involved and extent of activity. It touched upon the key elements of groupthink creation as I understand it, and the major groupthink cognitive effects as I understand them.

Second, you are absolutely right - these are only my opinions and interpretations; I've said so myself. I would welcome alternative opinions and interpretations - with the stipulation that they address all the points I've included and interpreted. A cogent and complete alternative POV, in other words; with the understanding that it, too, is only someone's opinion and interpretation.

Third - there is a fine line between describing a situation in such a way that you don't identify people and places, and changing so many details that you end up with fiction. I tried to anonymize accurately, if that makes any sense.

Plus, the most common descriptions of groupthink are geopolitical ones like the Cuban Missile Crisis - and I think that people use that fact to persuade themselves that groupthink only happens 'out there somewhere'. I personally believe it happens all the time, potentially anywhere, and until we fully comprehend that, it's going to continue happening. To get that point across, it's necessary to use an example of 'living room' [or 'water cooler'] groupthink.

Fourth - no, I think this covers the topic. I do want to describe the differences between a group, a team, a clique, a gang, and a mob, and show the continuum between them, but that won't require specificity. Basically, IMO, they all lie along a continuum of increasing groupthink and increasing negative norms, but I want to explain that in more detail.

Actually I prefer to be as nonspecific as possible in these posts. But then I get email asking why I generalize so much... which is a nice example of a double bind, come to think of it ;-).

Thanks again for your thoughts.

17 January, 2008 15:35  

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