The Group Think Trap, by Doctus

The world is falling apart around us.  The economy is in shambles and the moral fiber that once made this country great has been reduced to nothing but tattered rags.  The once individualistic American who mistrusted government is now willing to give everything over to government for a modicum of false safety.  The entrepreneurial and innovative American has been boxed in by tough regulations and taxes.  In short, the American spirit is being snuffed out by the modern progressivism that has taken hold of our once great country.

Amidst all this doom and gloom and with little prospect for a bright future, I decided to go back to school and get a certification to do what I’ve discovered is my life’s passion.  My thought process was simple, if I’m stuck in the American hand basket and our final destination is some hot place other than the beaches of Miami, why not make the most of the time left I have living in the world as we know it before I am faced with the end of the world as we know it.  If someone is willing to pay me to do what I enjoy doing…why not be certified to do it?  Who knows, maybe my grim outlook is wrong and I will have all the advantages that my parents and grandparents had to build a good life, although I highly doubt I’m wrong.

One of the classes I took this past semester was a communications class.  Despite my already completed BA, I was expected to take a rudimentary communications class that was populated with hard working immigrants who were barely able to speak English.  Despite the obstacles of the class, the professor communicated very well and actually taught some really valuable information.  One communications theory we learned and spent a significant amount of time discussing was a communications theory called Group Think.

Reaching consensus in a group is often confused with finding the right answer”. – Norman Mailer

Group Think, in a nutshell, is a theory which states that, in an effort to make decisions without conflict, the various viewpoints held by individual members of the group are conformed to the general viewpoint, thus stifling debate.  In theory it sounds true; practically we’ve all experienced it.  When was the last time you made vacation plans with several other families or tried to organize a church fundraiser with a committee of people?  The classic example of Group Think we discussed in class was the decision by NASA to launch the space shuttle Challenger [on January 28, 1986].  Some scientist at NASA presented the team with objections and advised the decision makers to postpone the shuttle launch.  Facing another embarrassing delay, the NASA decision makers succumbed to Group Think and seven astronauts lost their lives. Conflict is avoided and the best course of action is not always the course of action actually taken. 

Group Think can arise from three different sources: group cohesiveness, structural faults, and situational context.  Group cohesiveness is the force that binds the group together, whether it is an emotional glue or common task.  Group Think can arise from structural faults in the group.  These faults can be, but are certainly not limited to, the insulation of the group, lack of impartial leadership, or the similarity of the group members’ social backgrounds and ideology.  Finally, the situational context of the group can lead to Group Think within the group.  Again, this is not an exhaustive list but some external situations include highly stressful external threats, recent failures, excessive difficulties on the decision-making task, and moral dilemmas.  Group cohesiveness, structural faults, and situational context all put pressure on the group and could cause Group Think to set in. 
How do you know if your group is falling victim to Group Think?  Irving Janis, the leading researcher who developed the Group Think theory, observed eight symptoms of group think.

  • Illusions of invulnerability; creating excessive optimism and encouraging risk taking.
  • Unquestioned belief in the morality of the group, causing members to ignore the consequences of their actions.
  • Rationalizing warnings that might challenge the group’s assumptions.
  • Stereotyping those who are opposed to the group as weak, evil, biased, spiteful, impotent, or stupid.
  • Self-censorship of ideas that deviate from the apparent group consensus.
  • Illusions of unanimity among group members; silence is viewed as agreement.
  • Direct pressure to conform placed on any member who questions the group, couched in terms of “disloyalty”
  • Mind guards — self-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting information

How do you avoid Group Think?  This question is debated among the various experts and psychologist who study Group Think.  Seven different ways of avoiding Group Think have been devised.

  • Leaders should assign each member the role of “critical evaluator”. This allows each member to freely air objections and doubts.
  • Higher-ups should not express an opinion when assigning a task to a group.
  • The organization should set up several independent groups, working on the same problem.
  • All effective alternatives should be examined.
  • Each member should discuss the group’s ideas with trusted people outside of the group.
  • The group should invite outside experts into meetings. Group members should be allowed to discuss with and question the outside experts.
  • At least one group member should be assigned the role of devil’s advocate. This should be a different person for each meeting.

Why should the readers of SurvivalBlog be interested in a communications theory?  What does this theory have to do with prepping?   Have you organized a mutual assistance group (MAG)? Then expect to see some Group Think.  Many articles posted in this blog describe different methods of organizing a MAG and what exactly are the requirements for their specific MAG.  I remember one article not too long ago that had very harsh and unbending rules in order to be a part of this particular MAG.  After learning about this theory of Group Think, I would be concerned about being in that guys MAG. 

So, how does one form a MAG and avoid Group Think.  It seems that some of the methods outlined above violate some of the cardinal rules of prepping.  Secrecy is king in the prepping world.  To give any indication to non-preppers the type of prepping you and your MAG are doing would make you vulnerable and potential targets.  So the directions to consult outside experts wouldn’t really apply.  Or would it?
Differing opinions in a group is a necessity when setting up a MAG.  Sure there needs to be the common purpose and even a common religion.  But each member of your MAG must have a different background.  The different backgrounds assure diversity of thought.  To take it one step further, expert consultation must also be a part of your MAG’s modus operandi.  How do you do this and still maintain your secrecy?  While we still have the internet, one could use some of the many discussion boards to seek other preppers opinions.  You maintain anonymity and get outside advice. 

There must be a devil’s advocate in your MAG.  Or better yet, have each member of your MAG cultivate the devil’s advocate spirit.  As Glenn Beck constantly says, “Question everything.”  Developing your ability to think critically helps you assume the role of devil’s advocate.  When your MAG meets, don’t take things or a certain opinion as a given.  Try to examine all sides of the coin.  Question your conclusions.  Ultimately, the questioning has to stop somewhere and a decision has to be made.  To avoid Group Think, I would recommend excluding the MAG leader from the discussion and debate process.  After discussion and debate, come up with possible solutions.  Then present the possible solutions to the MAG leader.  By doing this, the MAG leader will have an unbiased opinion of the solutions, untainted by the discussion and debate.  He/she will be able to see the pros and cons of each solution and will make a decision without the pressures of Group Think.

Another practical application to the Group Think theory is applying it to the prepper theory in general.  It is accepted wisdom on that one needs to prepare for a grid down situation.  While I agree with the grid down threat, it seems to me to be a small threat and certainly not the only threat that needs to be examined.  What real world experience makes one think that we are going to lose all electricity and be thrown back into the dark ages?  Standard reading for the prepper crowd is Patriots; my compliments to the author.  While the story is great fiction, will the world collapse as Mr. Rawles has written it?  Will the American government totally collapse?  Will electricity go out and technology cease to exist?   What is the likelihood that we will have to walk around in our BTUs with a battle rifle flung over our shoulder?  Have survivalblog readers become subject to Group Think? 

Consider the fiction of 1984 or Brave New World or Atlas Shrugged.  None of those books have complete societal collapse as the end state. (Atlas Shrugged sort of does, but not in the same way as Patriots.) Rather, these famous dystopias present a world where government is all knowing or all intrusive.  Is there any prepper out there who has prepared for Big Brother watching you?  Recent stories in the news have the government moving in the direction of 1984; a mileage tax where the government installs a GPS on your car and taxes miles driven; nationwide text message alert system that gives the government access to your phone and number; Drudge refers to Sec. Janet Napolitano as Big Sis. 

What preparations are you making to contend with an all-knowing government?  One can hope society and government collapses under its own debauched weight as Rawles’ fictionalizes.  In some ways life would be easier without government and electricity than life with all an all knowing tyrannical government. Personally, I would rather plow fields with a horse and wooden plow than contend with Big Brother.  So what if government doesn’t fail and Big Bother is watching you?  Then what?  Have you prepared for that situation?  You have the battle rifle and the thousands of rounds of ammo.  But in order to travel to and from work, you have to pass through check points.  Carrying your gun is a definite no-no?  How will you protect yourself?  What weapon will you carry?  These are just some of the questions I have when thinking about prepping for a tyrannical government.

My preparations have taken a different course as of late.  I’ve become convinced that the dark powers directing the destruction of our country will not allow things to totally collapse.  They will maintain control and I will have to learn how to survive in a more tyrannical world.  I’m challenging the common wisdom with my questions, but am I hoping that by doing so, I’m avoiding falling into Group Think.   I’m trying to look at thisof the normal preppers box and come up with ideas.  But I need help.  I would like to throw out the topic seek outside advice. 

How does one prep to live in a world with an all intrusive government?  What preparations need to be made if we are faced with a Big Brother situation?