Groupthink

Groupthink

Feb 28, 2023

A society, large or small, built on the pursuit of critical inquiry is a precious thing. Where there is a collective hunger for the genuine exchange of ideas, of testing and evaluating what and how we think and how we as humans approach or address major questions and issues—this is all exciting and stimulating when it exists.

Unfortunately, as human beings, we have a too ready spirit for groupthink. Whether politics, religion, education, or science, groupthink is destructive.

Groupthink is entirely negative.  It's the inclination of people to flock together so that all say and do the same things, almost always under some kind of compulsion and apart from rational thinking, yet in the name of rational thinking.

Wikipedia  (which does not escape accusations of such) defines it like this:

Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Cohesiveness, or the desire for cohesiveness, in a group may produce a tendency among its members to agree at all costs.

A similar description is found in Psychology Today or other such outlets.  Another way to define groupthink is ducks walking lockstep, each duck quacking like the others.

Virtually no one will admit to being a willing party to such an odious thing. Religious or political groups are most often accused of (and guilty of) this, but it's just as easily found in corporations of all sizes, and, of all places, universities.

Universities are supposed to be, by definition, places of critical thinking, where healthy debate and the open consideration of ideas are championed. When that happens, it is not always comfortable, but it creates an invigorating atmosphere. Even so, groupthink can be be found in these halls as well, hiding behind words like "education," "learning," "scholarship," or even "science."

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Another way to define groupthink is ducks walking lockstep, each duck quacking like the others.

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To be overly clear, I am not condemning universities (I have several university degrees for which I worked very hard, and I found my experience very rewarding; and I have taught at several schools, and spoken at others). Instead, I am condemning groupthink in a place like a university, where it is an especially insidious, stifling, and shameful thing, and which causes the institution to rot from the inside out.

An illustration of this would be universities where particular views of science are so forced that a truly open and energetic discussion of competing scientific ideas are not allowed. Whether a university is conservative or liberal, or religious or secular, makes no difference. The stifling of the pursuit of ideas in the name of some groupthink agenda is a betrayal of the very nature of what a "university" is supposed to be.

Following are three lengthy videos that illustrate this problem.

The first two videos (from October 2022 and September 2017 respectively) are about scientific ideas by highly qualified scientists (just as qualified as any other) that are not allowed on the stage in many places as a result of highly prejudicial and groupthink reasons among some of those who call themselves scientists. The point I'm after here is not whether the ideas in these videos are correct or not (obviously, scientists are free to disagree about such things), but about whether discussion is or should be allowed and about the quality of that discussion. For when groupthink sets in—in any setting—it nearly always betrays an inherent weakness in argumentation and positions held, and it always retards the human endeavor to consider and evaluate ideas.

The third video (from February 2017) is a commendable examplea model to followof a truly open debate/discussion between atheist Richard Dawkins and christian John Lennox, both of Oxford University. 

All three of these videos are well worth watching. For an interesting chronological approach, you might wish to watch them in reverse order (from the bottom up).  Whether you agree or disagree with anything in the videos, or with whom, is not the point for my placing them here. The point is, what kind of atmosphere do we want in the pursuit of important ideas?

The following live interview/panel discussion occurred in October 2022:

The following was published September 2017:

The following debate was held February 2017 and is a model for open, respectful, and worthwhile discussion.

Of all the people on the planet, Christians should be among the most energetic to represent the spirit of Jesus in the pursuit of knowledge and open discussion.  

Free in Christ,
Gary D. Collier
Director
IABC