It’s amazing to me, that in a country that prides itself, at least publicly, on its encouragement of individuality, that the idea of group-think could ever be thought of as anything other than evil or dangerous. But, if you look at the way things work in reality in the U.S., it shouldn’t be surprising at all. Look at pop culture in America. We have “reality” TV, loudmouth AM deejays, Britney Spears. Why is any of this stuff so popular. Because, the overwhelming majority of Americans are too stupid or too lazy to fight “the group.” We’re told that we like these things, so we continue to buy into them. Group-think is the antithesis of what a true, rugged, individual American should strive for. And, yet, here we are.
When I first heard the term “group-think” it was relatively new and was generally applied to the business world. Though the term was about a decade old, at the time, I was first hearing about it in the early 1980’s, when I was still a business major in college. Even then, professors in the business world were saying it was a dangerous mindset. The meaning of the term, at least when I first learned it, was the classic Hollywood vision of the board room. Where the chairman (or, whoever’s in charge) comes up with an idea, and everyone in the room agrees, no matter how ludicrous the idea. In the business world, this kind of wrong-headed thinking can make a corporation come tumbling down, and make a whole lot of once wealthy people, not-so-wealthy. In the real world, the consequences can be even more grave.
We all have a sense of needing to belong. And, there’s nothing wrong with that. But, one of the dangers of trying so hard to belong can be agreeing with things you wouldn’t ordinarily agree with. For example, as a child coming into your teenaged years, you may get talked into doing things you don’t want to do – smoking pot, committing petty crimes, etc. These are probably all things we did as youths – not proudly, perhaps, but we all did a few things we wish we hadn’t. However, if you don’t develop the nerve to stand up to your “friends” at a young age, and become a classic example of group-think, you could take it way too far. At the local level, group-think can lead to the desire to join a gang. At the national level, this kind of thinking can lead to the wrong kind of nationaliism. There’s nothing wrong with patriotism, but when it evolves into nationalism, the true danger begins. If you don’t believe that, just read your history books and look at Germany circa the 1930’s through the middle 1940’s. This is group-think at its most dangerous.
Does group-think lead to Nazism? Of course it doesn’t have to. This is one of the most extreme examples of the dangers of group-think. But, just because this is an extreme doesn’t mean that group-think is a good thing. At some point in our lives (ideally, when we are younger), we all have to stand up against the crowd and become true individuals. When you know something is wrong, you must say something to the group. Lest, you end up in a world where Britney Spears is considered important.