Groupthink, Reason, and Conspiracy Thinking

  • An apology/defense of groupthink;
  • My thoughts about how religion undermines the ability to reason;
  • A Republican who believes globes are a global conspiracy;
  • How Republicans take advantage of laws they voted against;
  • And how they’re trying to disappear gays and lesbians

This first item is interesting because I can’t tell from the title and subtitle what the claim is, exactly, and wonder how what it seems to claim might be true. Is the “in partnership with John Templeton Foundation” (a group that rewards those who conflate science and religion) shown under the byline a clue?

I did see recently the idea that seeing conspiracy theories is a feature, not a bug, because it’s better to seem paranoid than to be dead. That was in Shermer’s CONSPIRACY (reviewed here.)

Also somewhere, that social cohesion is maintained by groupthink… that’s where religions come in. But at the expense of becoming unable to distinguish reality from fantasy. I have provisionally concluded, and recommended, that independent thinkers who *are* interested in what is real should avoid situations where crowd mentality overwhelms personal integrity. Popular music concerts, sports stadiums, church congregations, political rallies. *That’s* where you become a sheep, part of the herd.

Big Think, 26 May 2023: Groupthink is for mindless pawns, but group thinking will push humanity further, subtitled “‘Groupthink’ gets a bad rap. In reality, we need groups to focus our thinking and to build on the ideas of others.”

The summary:

There is a paradox in the way society approaches “groupthink.” On the one hand, groupthink is praised when it applies to artistic movements; on the other hand, it is condemned when it applies to politics and religion.

In reality, we need groups to focus our thinking and to build on the ideas of others. From science to society, groups allow those on the margins to challenge the mainstream.

The problem arises when groups isolate themselves. To make the world a better place, disagreeing groups must be in constant communication.

From the article:

We tend to think that the existence of artistic movements is a good thing. In contrast, in non-artistic contexts, shared worldviews and ways of thinking elicit suspicion. This suspicion is often captured in accusations of groupthink. We can see this in criticisms of Twitter mobs, religious cults, and partisan political polarization. In all these cases, participants are charged with the sin of groupthink and then summarily dismissed.

This raises a puzzle. A social group where members think in the same way arouses suspicion. In contrast, the shared worldviews of artistic movements elicit praise. Why this distinction? And should we continue to draw it?

Er, already I’m uneasy. Artistic movements are not answerable to reality; they are by definition individualistic subjective expressions, even within broader “movements” of shared values, values often deliberately in opposition to earlier values. And politics and religion are the topics one doesn’t discuss at the dinner table because they, too, are collections of opinions not grounded in evidence or reality.

The writer does make a semi-valid point here:

To learn and think about the world, we are dependent on others for anything beyond what we can see with our own eyes and infer from it. People who share beliefs with others around them aren’t failing. Doing so is just part of being a limited agent.

Yet the trouble here is that, as we’ve discovered, our everyday perceptions and our reliance on “common sense” can be misleading or downright wrong, given what we know about the complexities of the world through systemic investigation (i.e. science).

I think this piece merely muddies the waters. The danger of groupthink is that it too often reinforces nonsensical beliefs that in other circumstances, viewed plainly and soberly, would be rejected out of hand. It’s too easy to go with the flow, than actually think and reason.


In fact, here’s my latest notion about religion and its affect on rationality. I’ve gathered from years of reading about conspiracy theories, and the wacky ways people defend what are obviously nonsensical claims, that many people simply don’t understand the relationship between evidence and conclusions. And I wonder if this goes back to fundamentalist religious thinking. You read the Bible (for example), which if read closely is rife with contradictions and implausibilities, and if you’re told, repeatedly, that the Bible is the inerrant word of God (as some denominations and even academics at religious colleges supposedly believe), then your sense of reason necessarily corrodes away. Your sense of apparent contradictions and implausibilities can’t be valid, if everything in the Bible is absolutely true. And so your sense of reason corrodes away as well, and you feel comfortable making any wild claim you can think of, without thinking any kind of evidence is needed to support it. Assertions without evidence, as we’ve seen increasingly from the right.


For example.

Facebook, Brian Tyler Cohen, 24 May 2023: Top Georgia Republicans says she is a flat-earther and thinks “globes” are part of a global conspiracy: “All flat earth evidence points to a creator”

Clearly, this person has no understanding of “evidence,” because there isn’t any for what she claims. She’s grown up believing in the Bible and will contort anything she sees in the real world into supporting what she thinks the Bible says. This is the essence of motivated reasoning.


Couple other items.

Salon, Amanda Marcotte, 18 May 2023: Lauren Boebert’s divorce exposes the dark little secret of red state life, subtitled “Lauren Boebert’s divorce is funny — it also reveals why GOP men are doubling down on the misogyny”

Her key point is this:

But it’s also a window into an aspect of red state life that hasn’t been much discussed, one which is likely fueling the ugly surge in misogynist rhetoric and policy being pushed by Republicans, especially the men. The dark little secret of red state life is there’s a lot of Lauren Boeberts out there: Conservative women who disavow feminism, but, when given a shot at more independence for themselves, gladly use hard-won rights like divorce and abortion. Republican men are getting increasingly angry about even this minor loss of control over women.

Republicans take advantage of laws that they voted against. We’ve also seen this in recent claims by red states for disaster aid, despite their voting against such packages of disaster aid in Congress.


And now Republicans are targeting retailers who don’t follow their party line of trying to disappear gays and lesbians.

Mediaite, 26 May 2023: Shops at Target Because Store Decided to ‘Wage War’ By Selling Pride Merchandise (Via)

The Via link, concerning Se. J.D. Vance, has the following Twitter reactions (sic).

sen. vance doing an excellent job representing the biggest, blubbering babies on the planet, whose scream and cry that they’re being attacked when they see a few t-shirts at the big box store

The goal of the right is erasing the LGBTQ community from society. They know the non stop drumbeat of attacks on the LGBTQ community will incite hate crimes–at this point we have to assume they want such violence.

Remember kids, selling clothing that their customers want to buy is the exact same thing as “waging war”…
only if you’re a pathetic snowflake loser who gets his panties in a bunch at the notion of someone else doing something they want that has no effect on your life whatsoever.

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