The flip side of ‘consensus’ is groupthink

Group-think rules…

Group-think rules…

Christopher Booker, writing in the UK Telegraph, examines the flip side of ‘consensus’:

Some time back, a reader drew my attention to the book in which, 40 years ago, a Yale professor of psychology, Irving Janis, analysed what, with a conscious nod to George Orwell, he called “groupthink”. It is a term we all casually use (which even he derived from another writer), but he identified eight symptoms of groupthink. One is the urge of its victims to insist that their view is held as a “consensus” by all morally right-thinking people. Another is their ruthless desire to suppress any evidence that might lead someone to question it. A third is their urge to stereotype and denigrate anyone who dares hold a dissenting view. Their intolerance of “independent critical thinking”, as Janis put it, leads them to “irrational and dehumanised actions directed against outgroups”.

Of course, there is nothing new about this. Hostility to heretics and dissenters has characterised the more extreme forms of religious and political belief all down the ages. But as someone who tends often to come to views differing from those held by many other people – what Ibsen called that “majority” that is “always wrong” – I am quite sensitive to the power and prevalence of groupthink in our own time. It is particularly evident in views widely held on several subjects I regularly write about here, from climate change and “renewable energy” to everything its acolytes like to describe as “Europe”. It is their groupthinking intolerance that prompts them to stereotype anyone daring to disagree with their “consensus” as “deniers”, “flat-Earthers”, “creationists”, “xenophobes”, “homophobes”, “bigots”, “racists” or “fascists”.

But another characteristic of groupthink that Janis doesn’t fully explore in his book is that those caught up in these mindsets have never actually worked out their thinking on the subject for themselves. They have taken on their belief-system, and the reasons for supporting it, ready-made and wholesale from others. That is why it is impossible to have any intelligent dialogue with, say, zealots for man-made climate change or the European Union, because they have not really examined the evidence for themselves but have come to a set of opinions that are skin-deep and second-hand. They can only parrot the mantras they have picked up from others.

That is why, as we see illustrated on every side (not least in much of the output of the BBC, or, for that matter, the online comments below this column), they cannot tolerate or offer rational arguments, or explore the three-dimensional truth of a subject. They quickly resort just to dismissing anyone who disagrees with their beliefs as an “idiot”, “hopelessly ignorant”, “wildly inaccurate” or “anti-science”. Or they appeal to what Gustave Le Bon called “prestige”, citing supposedly respected authorities, such as the reports of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which are only voicing the “consensus” views of other adherents of the same groupthink.

More on Irving Janis here.


  1. luisadownunder says:

    It’s not only group think.

    As Daniel Boorstin summarized: “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.”

  2. anyone interested in Groupthink shoudl read that paper by Roland Beabou on Mutual Assured Delusion
    Groupthink: Collective delusion in organizations and Markets

    the sad conclusion is that groupthink start from rational commitment to facts, then after a change in informations, if the group members are too much dependent on others delusion, they support the groupthink.
    the more they suffer from the others groupthink, the more they support it.

    another fact is the nearest the truth is in the data, the more violent is the group against the data, and the dissenters.

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