I'll start this essay with some generalizations about some basic principles with which I think most people of good will agree. Namely, our overall understanding about the meaning of living in a constitutional democracy, under the rule of law.
I would assume that in the U.S., most voters understand the democratic process as one where people vote for (mainly) two major political parties, and we elect a government (both at the state and national levels). These public officials are supposed to be answerable to the voting public, which expect them to legislate in favor of the common good, and not of special interests.
I would also assume that when it comes to the socioeconomic system, people expect to have a leveled playing field, with proper regulatory framework designed to prevent monopolistic predatory practices; to avoid extreme income inequality; and to ensure average people have an opportunity to move up the economic ladder.
That's just a very high level overview of what I think most people would agree with. Now, I and most readers are fully aware that nothing is perfect; we know that there have been problems related to Wall Street, income inequality, and the latest revelations about the NSA spying.
But here's where I believe the groupthink phenomena may present a real problem.
Let me explain... First, I'd like to do away with the often propagated idea that complicated issues can be reduced to either-or, black-and-white choices, or what I like to call false dichotomies, which I believe are the result of propaganda techniques; I will talk about that later.
You see, one can fully participate in the political system as it is right now, regardless of what one thinks of it. In other words, one person may feel it is totally legitimate and on the up-and-up, and another person may feel it is corrupt to the core, but both could end up participating in it, fully. The former may put more hope in the system, believing it is legitimate. The latter may see it as a compromised system, which may lead that person to believe that more needs to be done in addition to participating in the political system, and that additional effort could social justice activism.
The problem with the false dichotomy fallacy is that it insists on presenting only two choices (which is a propaganda technique): Either believe that the system is totally legitimate and put all (or most of your efforts) in it, or equate the questioning of its legitimacy to extremism, or being dogmatic and unrealistic.
The problem with this insistence is that it then morphs into the groupthink phenomena, which in the final analysis is extremely dangerous and harmful to a democratic (or any) society, because it purposely and actively prevents dissent, or the careful examination and understanding of the root causes of corruption within the system.
Before I continue, let me share the official definition of Groupthink:
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 incorrect or deviant decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.The emphasis is mine
Loyalty to the group requires individuals to avoid raising controversial issues or alternative solutions, and there is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking. The dysfunctional group dynamics of the "ingroup" produces an "illusion of invulnerability" (an inflated certainty that the right decision has been made). Thus the "ingroup" significantly overrates their own abilities in decision-making, and significantly underrates the abilities of their opponents (the "outgroup").
I argue that the reason this type of groupthink dynamics is particularly dangerous now is because we are in the age of Neoliberalism, which is helping bring about a next step, which is proto-fascism.
Here's how Rob Urie describes the issue, in an article published at counterpunch: "Barack Obama and the Neo-Liberal Coup:"
What is missing from most political analysis around these policies is their trajectory—Mr. Obama’s time in office comes several decades into the ascendance of neo-liberalism. While many on ‘the left’ object to neo-liberal policies such as ‘free trade’ and ‘deregulation,’ what is usually left unsaid is that it is a fundamentally totalitarian form of political economy that is well into being used to restructure most of the Western world. Few if any of the hundreds of millions of people whose lives have been re-arranged by neo-liberal policies were asked if they favored them. And the super-secrecy around TPP negotiations is designed to assure the voices of those affected by it are excluded. The only plausible reason for the exclusion is that enough is known by the negotiators about the views of the public for them to assume we would object en masse if the details of the agreement became public. When viewed in conjunction with the surveillance state Mr. Obama and NSA officials continue to aggressively cover-up and lie about  the consolidation and subsequent dissemination of the data collected by it across government agencies the precise point in the trajectory toward corporate-state coup becomes clearer. Tie in the public-private partnerships used by the surveillance state to circumvent domestic laws and the relation of neo-liberalism to totalitarian strategies and tactics is evident.The emphasis is mine
Now, here's the point about that quote... Let say that you as the reader completely disagree with that assessment. Let's say that you view Mr. Obama in a completely different light. So based on that, would you feel comfortable enough to claim that you are absolutely sure that the situation is not as described by Mr. Urie? Would you not allow for the possibility that your assessment may be wrong? And, either way, would you not only assert that only your assessment is correct, and then insist that others do not engage in the examination of these issues because by doing so the results may be to demoralize the voting public, or give somehow give advantage to the opposite political party?
Here's another account of the same issue by Chris Hedges:
Corporations write our legislation. They control our systems of information. They manage the political theater of electoral politics and impose our educational curriculum. They have turned the judiciary into one of their wholly owned subsidiaries. They have decimated labor unions and other independent mass organizations, as well as having bought off the Democratic Party, which once defended the rights of workers. With the evisceration of piecemeal and incremental reform—the primary role of liberal, democratic institutions—we are left defenseless against corporate power.What he's describing there is the effects of Neoliberalism... Before I proceed, I also recommend this article at naked capitalism: "Fixing Old Markets With New Markets: the Origins and Practice of Neoliberalism"
And here's the main challenge: If it is true that there is a major disconnect from what a large segment of the voting public believes, and the reality of the situation (i.e., Neoliberalism / Proto-Fascism), then it is the role of the social justice activist to help bridge that gap of understanding; and that's usually done by following the social justice movement approach, as prescribed by Bill Moyers in: "Doing Democracy: The MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements"
Social movements involve a long-term struggle between the movement and the powerholders for the hearts, minds, and support of the majority of the population. Before social movements begin, most people are either unaware that a problem exists or don't believe that they can do anything about it. They believe the powerholder's societal myths and support the high-sounding official policies and practices, all of which seem to be consistent with the culture's deeply held held values and beliefs...Getting back to the issue of Groupthink, I argue that these are precisely the type of questions it seeks to suppress:
The strategy of social movements, therefore, is to alert, educate, and win over an ever increasing majority of the public. First the public needs to be convinced that a critical social problem exists. Then it must be convinced that policies need to be changed. And then a majority of people must be mobilized into a force that eventually brings about an acceptable solution.
Loyalty to the group requires individuals to avoid raising controversial issues or alternative solutions, and there is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking.The emphasis is mine
This issue about the suppression of "independent thinking" was also approached by the 1930's Institute for Propaganda Analysis:
The Institute for Propaganda Analysis (IPA) was a U.S.-based organization composed of social scientists, opinion leaders, historians, educators, and journalists. Created in 1937 by Kirtley Mather, Edward A. Filene, and Clyde R. Miller, the IPA formed with the general concern that increased amounts of propaganda were decreasing the public’s ability to develop their own critical thoughts. The purpose of the IPA was to spark rational thinking and provide a guide to help the public have well-informed discussions on current issues. “To teach people how to think rather than what to think.” The IPA focused on domestic propaganda issues that might become possible threats to the democratic ways of life.The IPA ended up issuing seven common propaganda devices:
Now, why do I bring this up? I already stated that I believe there is a major disconnect between what our government is telling us, and the reality of the situation, which I interpret as a condition where a very dangerous alliance between government and corporation is working to undermine democracy in favor of Neoliberalism-induced totalitarianism, and if so, then just like in any age, propaganda would be a major tool of deception.
Let's make the same point with some comedy...
There is plenty of evidence that the U.S. government is engaging in propaganda against the American people. Here's what the Washington Post reported about this subject: "Obama pick for NSA review panel wanted paid, pro-government shills in chat rooms"
The Obama administration is reportedly proposing Cass Sunstein as a member of a panel to review the surveillance practices of the National Security Agency (NSA), among other former White House and intelligence staffers. Sunstein was the head of the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs until last year, when he returned to teaching at Harvard Law School.Here's more information about Sunstein's paper:
As one of our intrepid commenters pointed out yesterday, while at Harvard in 2008, Sunstein co-authored a working paper that suggests government agents or their allies "cognitively infiltrate" conspiracy theorist groups by joining "chat rooms, online social networks or even real-space groups" and influencing the conversation.
Sunstein and Vermeule also analyze the practice of recruiting "nongovernmental officials"; they suggest that "government can supply these independent experts with information and perhaps prod them into action from behind the scenes," further warning that "too close a connection will be self-defeating if it is exposed." Sunstein and Vermeule argue that the practice of enlisting non-government officials, "might ensure that credible independent experts offer the rebuttal, rather than government officials themselves. There is a tradeoff between credibility and control, however. The price of credibility is that government cannot be seen to control the independent experts." This position has been criticized by some commentators, who argue that it would violate prohibitions on government propaganda aimed at domestic citizens. Sunstein and Vermeule's proposed infiltrations have also been met by sharply critical scholarly critiquesThe emphasis is mine
In closing, my argument is, again, that the in the final analysis, the government is pushing a Neoliberal agenda; that the public is being lied and deceived about it; that propaganda is being used as a deceptive tool; and that these dynamics help bring about the dangerous phenomena of Groupthink, which is contributing to the entrenchment of a Corporate State Totalitarianism.
And I argue that that type of Groupthink is shutting down the voices of those who are trying to expose what is essentially government malfeasance, and that that desire for harmony and conformity is likely to result in an incorrect or deviant decision-making, all of which further erodes our democracy (or whatever is left of it).
In a Time of Universal Deceit — Telling the Truth Is a Revolutionary Act----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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