Monday, July 7, 2008

The Dangers of Groupthink

    Do you consider yourself an individual or a member of a group? "I'm an individual, of course," you answer. Well, it might surprise you to find out that according to most social scientists, as well as many policymakers in positions of great power, you're a member of a group first and an individual a distant second. This is not only a wrong-headed way of looking at people, but it is extremely dangerous; it produces horrific outcomes, and has resulted in the deaths of untold millions of human beings.

    Let's get one piece of tedious terminology out of the way right off the bat. It's a great nine-dollar term that you can throw around with your friends next time you're have a few beers with them. It is methodological individualism. It means that in any discussion of people—of societies, cultures, nations—the individual human being is the proper unit of analysis, not the group.

    Recent history is full of examples of what we could call "group-think": considering groups to be the proper unit of analysis rather than individuals. Adolf Hitler practiced group-think. He thought of Aryans as the Master Race, not as individuals but as a group. And he thought of Jews as another group. He never thought of them as individual human beings, but as a sub-human group fit only for liquidation.

    Joseph Stalin felt the same way about the Kulaks, the small land holders of the southern Soviet Union. They were a group, or to use Marxist analysis, a class, that stood in the way of achieving the Communist paradise that Stalin wanted. He wiped them out, perhaps as many as fifty million of them according to the figures that Russian historians are turning up in their archives.

    No one seems to know how many millions Mao Zedong murdered in his quest to remove undesirable "groups" from Chinese society during his Cultural Revolution.

    There are plenty of lesser, but no less horrible, examples. In Rwanda in 1994, the Hutus slaughtered eight hundred thousand Tutsis not as individuals, but as a group. Serbs killed Bosnians as a group during their ethnic cleansing. Pol Pot of Kampuchia reputedly murdered anyone who wore glasses because they were members of a group of intellectuals rather than being workers. Women in the Islamic world suffer all sorts of injustices because they are members of a group. We could go on and on.

    Then there is the question of racism. The United States is not immune to group-think. Since the first slave was imported into this country, and continuing to this very day to some extent at least, black Americans—individual human beings—have been treated as an inferior group, first to be literally owned as property, and later to be discriminated against.

    Linguists, anthropologists, sociologists, economists, political scientists—you name it—all keep stacks of books in their ivory towers that are full of technobabble supposedly justifying a "group" vision of the human race. Watch out for them. They are teaching this dangerous junk to your children. Especially watch out for politicians who want to make you a member of a group rather than to consider you as an individual. They are either stupid or malicious. If elected, the policies they produce will either be failures or worse, they will threaten your individual liberty.

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