Groupthink

by Don Boudreaux on November 29, 2015

in Myths and Fallacies, Terrorism

A danger of collectivism of any sort – from formal collectivism such as state-imposed communism to informal and less-obvious forms of collectivism, such as gathering statistics on a nation’s “balance of trade” – is that it clouds thinking.  Collectivism not only masks differences that distinguish individuals who comprise whatever group is constructed, in whatever fashion, into some collective, it also causes people too easily to attribute thought and action to the group rather than to the individuals who make-up the group.

Last night at dinner the discussion turned to the hideous Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado.  My close and wise friend Lyle Albaugh observed that many “Progressives” tend to lump together into a fictional collective all people with some anti-government views.  So when a middle-aged white male violently attacks an institution, such as Planned Parenthood, that is an icon of the “Progressive” left, left-wing commenters, along with others with left-wing sympathies, often lump all limited- and anti-government folk together into some fictional group that is feared to be especially prone to commit violence of the sort that occurred last week in Colorado.  (Remember how, just after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in Tucson in 2011 Paul Krugman blamed right-wing ideology for the crime?)

But Lyle’s point was not to criticize the groupthink of the left (although he is, of course, wisely critical of it); it was instead to criticize the groupthink of the right.  Lyle – a white, middle-age, entrepreneurial, upper-middle-class, straight, former-Marine, libertarian American – lamented what he imagined many Muslims (and even people who appear to be Muslim) are surely suffering today in the West.  “They” (say many on the right) did this terrible thing to “us.”  So all “they” – all people who practice a particular religion or who appear to be kinda, sorta like people who practice a particular religion – are lumped together by many, especially on the right, into a group and demonized.

Groupthink is so easy.  And it makes relatively easy ‘solutions’ appear – but such appearances are mirages, for the group itself is a fiction.  (“Some individuals espousing what they call Islam commit horrible crimes” = “Islam bad.”  How is this illogic different from “Some individuals espousing what they call limited-government commit horrible crimes” = “Limited-government ideology bad”?)

Of course there are ideologies and religions that inspire particular beliefs and actions.  No one denies this reality.  But Lyle’s wise point – made to people who, as a group (!), are decidedly on that part of the political spectrum commonly called “right” – is that people on the right who are content to overgeneralize about Muslims and Middle-Easterners have no right to gripe about “Progressives'” frequent wrongheaded overgeneralizations about people on the right.

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