10 January 2008

Abuse and Groupthink: Preamble

This post precedes [in concept] and follows [in time] a three part post on groupthink and the impact of abusive behavior on group cognition and memory.

In reading that post, the following key concepts should be kept in mind.

1. Passive, spontaneously arising groupthink is, in my opinion, quite rare. I believe that most groupthink is actively established, and as such it doesn't actually start out as 'group' think. Where there is groupthink, in my experience, there is usually one individual, or a small number of individuals, who profit directly from having the group, as a whole, in 'groupthink' mode [while they themselves operate in 'enforcer' mode, which is something quite different].

2. Groupthink is easiest to establish and maintain among people who believe [emotionally, but also intellectually] that they need the group, and its dominant members. Whether this is a social need, a felt spiritual need, an emotional need, a cognitive need [please tell me what to think, Leader] or a political need, the key is need. The stronger the dependency that can be created, the more powerful the groupthink will be. This in turn creates a situation in which the group will spontaneously enforce its own groupthink [don't think/say/do that... we need each other...].

3. "Enemy creation" in a groupthink environment is an expedient way to silence and discredit doubters among the ranks. This punishes them with group rejection, and by branding them negatively, reduces the likelihood that their doubts [their thoughts] will reach other group members. Those individuals who are ejected by the group [or step away from it] may not, in fact, find this ejection to be punitive at all, if they are sufficiently healthy and independent. However, such rejections, particularly when savage, are powerful deterrents to the active group members. [Transgress, and you shall meet a similar fate...]

4. There are many reasons why groupthink may be actively established. Pyramid schemes and other financial scams work best when there is a 'cult' component to them. Religious cults establish power over the thoughts and finances of their members far more easily than non-cults can [a non-cultic faith will not even desire such control]. Certain types of emotional predation are also far easier in a surrounding of obedient acolytes, who can be 'tapped' at will for narcissistic emotional supply, and also manipulated as a shield against any group member or near observer who understands the dynamic and might interfere with the game. Usually, several of these reasons are operating simultaneously in any groupthink situation.

5. "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." There have been few 'benevolent despots' in human history. The more temporal power a leader exercises in a groupthink situation, the more negative the group norms are likely to become. Unfortunately, this does not guarantee a quick and merciful end to the group or the despotism. Cult thralldom is strong, and when groupthink becomes self-reinforcing, it is difficult, even dangerous, to contest it.

The most important point I can possibly make, after all the above, is this. I am not talking only about Stalinist Russia, the Gestapo, Stasi, ethnic hate groups, Pinochet. I am not talking only about powerful religious cults, massive fraud schemes, Enron. These principles apply to groups as small as two individuals. They apply to the emotional and physical abuse and domination of children by parents, battered spouses by their batterers, students by teachers, schoolchildren by cliques of other schoolchildren, office subordinates by superiors and by 'watercooler gangs'.

What keeps people on the Karpman triangle? What prevents all the children of an abusive parent from recognizing and rejecting the abuse when one child finally breaks free? What drives a woman to marry and divorce one alcoholic man after another? At least part of the drive to remain a victim, or to revictimize oneself, comes, I believe, from the power of unbroken groupthink.

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