Friday, October 01, 2010

Bonanza Column 205 - Groupthink

My column last week on the possibility of starting to listen to each other drew some interesting responses. One frequent commenter whose comments I've found to be pretty thoughtful more often than not, took the occasion to challenge me to have my column not be a "collection of talking points" but to present both sides of issues and initiate a dialogue.

Others were, to be charitable, not so thoughtful. One demonstrated severe tunnel vision by picking up on the brief mention I made of IB in a list of controversies to (yet again) voice tired old arguments against that program. Others replied that since I am a progressive and a Democrat, that disqualified everything I'd said – I belong to "the party of lies," am like Joseph Stalin, and "the Democrats are a party of vile hateful and divisive people." Really? Democrats have a corner on that market?

OK, let me try again. First of all, I'm not sure what "talking points" are, but as near as I can make out, they are anything someone you disagree with says. What you say, on the other hand, is considered discourse. So I can't promise that my reader won't hear what I say as talking points – in fact, I can guarantee that they will. One dictionary defines a "talking point" as "A specific topic raised in a conversation or argument which is intended as a basis for further discussion, especially one which represents a point of view." This is a political column and an opinion piece, so hopefully talking points are exactly what I'm raising.

I do try to get my facts right. I'm often accused of having them wrong by those who disagree with me, but they rarely give any evidence that I'm incorrect – when they do (and they have) I think I've been pretty reliable about correcting myself, in print, and in a timely manner. So to that correspondent, here's what I can promise: I will "represent a point of view" – specifically the Liberal/Progressive point of view, which often corresponds to the Democratic Party's view, though not always. I'll do that, to the best of my ability, in a way that is fact-based, and will provoke discussion. I know that that is what my counterpart Jim Clark intends as well, from the other side of the political spectrum.

To the other respondents, I can only say again "Really?" I do not deny that Democrats, particularly during the Bush administration, said some nasty things. Some Democrats also said nasty things during the Vietnam War about Lyndon Johnson. And Republicans said nasty things about Clinton, Gore, and Kerry. In both cases, some of the things were true and some were not, and some persist. The Tea Party folks are particularly prone to say some really vicious things, many of which have been proved to be patently untrue. So when you say you don't want to listen because the other side are liars and vile and hateful and divisive, presumably you feel we don't owe you the courtesy either.

More importantly, and back to the real message of the column, as long as we don't have to listen to each other, we will continue to see only our point of view. Now if you're convinced that your point of view is absolutely right and any other point of view therefore absolutely wrong, that will work out just fine. And you will be a fool. Nobody – not Republicans or Democrats, not Liberals or Conservatives, not Sarah Palin or Barack Obama – has a lock on the truth. If there is a smartest person on Earth, that person is not as smart as he or she would be if they thought together with another or others. That's not my opinion, it's scientific fact.

Groupthink, defined as a process of reasoning or decision-making by a group, especially one characterized by uncritical acceptance or conformity to a perceived majority view, has proven time and time again to result in really bad decisions, whichever side of the political aisle is engaging in it. The Bay of Pigs was a disaster due to Groupthink (that's where the term originated) and Groupthink was identified as a root cause of the Challenger disaster that cost the lives of seven Astronauts. Apparently my correspondents think this is a good thing. They will not be surprised to hear that I don't agree. Hopefully you don't either.

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