Steve G.

Posts Tagged ‘political party’

Groupthink as a Political Mental Illness (Part II)

In Congress, Corruption, Democracy, Democrats, Health, Libertarian, Libertarian Politics, Local Politics, Military, Minorities, Personal Responsibility, Politics, Republican, Science, US Government on June 30, 2009 at 1:56 pm

From the studied literature on groupthink, there are a few points which merit mention here.  Smith and White say that:

Fantasies about invulnerability, and about the persecutory intent of external enemies and collective rationalizations of group actions could be understood as a system to help allay the unconscious anxieties of the group-as-a-whole.

A phenomenological approach to what Janis describes as groupthink indicates that a group overwhelmed by internal conflict may gain a great deal of relief if it can locate or create [emphasis added] a strong external enemy (Coser, 1986).  Internal dissension can be seen as trivial in contrast, thereby enabling the displacement of within-group tensions into the relations among groups (Smith, 1982b). In this regard, such internal properties of the group as illusions of unanimity and invulnerability, which may be views as pathological from one perspective, may in fact serve a valuable social function by providing a particular cognitive set to enable a group to “create” an enemy.

(Smith & White, 1983, p. 71)

Anne Gero tells us that:

In a consensus [emphasis in original] decision process, subjects expect [emphasis added] more cooperation and friendliness and less disagreement that they would anticipate in [a] majority decision process.

(Gero, 1985, p. 487)

And that:

I would again emphasize the importance of disagreement to the outcome of group decisions… members may approach a consensus process with anti-disagreement norms.  Preventative or remedial measures should be taken to encourage members to disagree in the consensual process.  If disagreement is suppressed, the conditions of groupthink may develop and threaten the quality of the group’s decisions.

(Ibid., p. 498)

Finally, Callaway, Marriott & Esser mention that:

Highly cohesive groups provide support to their members that reduces conflict and disagreement and hence the stress inherent in decision-making.  However, this stress reduction is achieved at the price of suppressing critical inquiry.

(Callaway, Marriott & Esser, 1987, p. 949)

And that:

In groups of low-dominance individuals, perhaps the assignment of the roles of critical evaluator and devil’s advocate) prescribed by Janis, 1972, to counteract groupthink) must involve personal responsibility in order to overcome the natural reticence of such individuals.

(Ibid., p. 952)

There is one other study which should be mentioned here, although, by title, it does not actually deal with the groupthink phenomenon, and that is a paper by Thomas J. Scheff called “Shame and Conformity: The Deference-Emotion System”.  In the introduction to his paper, Scheff informs us that:

… exterior constraint has become a basic premise for modern sociologists.  Yet, an adequate model has never been conceptualized, much less proposed in an operationally definable way.  Conformity poses a central problem for social science not only in its normal, but also in its pathological form.  What gives rise to excessive and rigid conformity?  This is the question posed by many modern analyses of bureaucracy and authoritarian forms of social organizations.

There is wide consensus that conformity is encouraged by a system of sanctions: we usually conform because we expect to be rewarded when we do and punished when we do not.  However, conformity usually occurs even in the absence of obvious sanctions.  Durkheim’s formulation [the idea that the force of social influence is experienced by individuals as exterior and constraining [emphasis in original] (Durkheim [1987] 1951)] refers to the ubiquity of conformity.  The reward of public acclaim and the punishment of public disgrace rarely occur, yet the social system marches on.  Formal sanctions are slow, unwieldy, and expensive.  In addition to the formal system, there must be a complex and highly effective system of informal sanctions that encourage conformity’

A clue to this puzzle can be found in Goffman’s treatment of interaction ritual (Goffman, 1967).  He notes that the emotion of embarrassment or anticipation of embarrassment plays a prominent role in every social encounter [emphasis in original.  In presenting ourselves to others, we risk rejection.  The form the rejection takes may be flagrant, but it is more frequently quite subtle, perhaps only a missed beat in the rhythm of conversation.  Depending on its intensity and obviousness, rejection leads inevitably to the painful emotions of embarrassment, shame, or humiliation… when we are accepted, as we present ourselves, we usually feel rewarded by… pride…

(Scheff, 1988, pp. 395 – 396)

Scheff also says that he feels that we should be aware of Helen Lewis’s theory of shame since it is a direct opposite of Goffman’s.  Whereas Goffman viewed shame as an external influencing factor, Lewis dealt only with the internal process of shame.  Scheff used an analogy to a metaphor about a contagion between people and pointed to what Lewis called a “feeling trap”, or an inner contagion.  In Goffman’s analysis, one becomes ashamed that the other one is being shamed, w, who, in turn becomes shamed, which increases the first person’s shame, and so on – an inter-personal feeling trap.  In Lewis’s analysis, one becomes ashamed that the one is ashamed, an inner loop which feeds on itself – an intra-personal feeling trap.  However, unlike Goffman, Lewis does not separate her analysis of shame from her analysis of anger.  Instead, she postulates, an affinity between the two emotions, with shame usually being followed by anger.

Scheff explains to us that the reason he has introduced us to these two different concepts of shames and its relationship to anger is the he believes that if we combine Goffman’s ‘social’ analysis with Lewis’ ‘psychological’ one, it is possible to convey the extraordinary of what he calls “the deference-emotion system”.  He believes that this system occurs both between and within interactants, and that it functions so efficiently and invisibly it guarantees the alignment of individuals with mutual conformity and respect leading to pride and fellow feeling, which, in turn, leads to further conformity, which then leads to further positive feeling in a system which seems virtually automatic. (Ibid., pp. 396 – 397)

Scheff next delves into the biological and social sources of shames, with a great deal of emphasis on the work of Charles H. Cooley.  Some of what Cooley goes into is almost frightening in its implications of how deeply Man, himself, and society, as a whole, is built upon a foundation of shame of and a need for pride.  He includes the following to illustrate the power of what he calls “social fear”:

Social fear, of a sort perhaps somewhat more morbid, is vividly depicted by Rousseau in the passage of his Confessions where he describes the feelings that lead him to falsely accuse a maid-servant of a theft which he himself had committed. ‘When she appeared my heart was agonized but the presence of so many people was more powerful than my compunction.  I did not fear punishment, but I dreaded shame: I dreaded it more than death, more than the crime, more than the world.  I would have buried myself in the center of the earth: invincible shame bore down every other sentiment: shame alone caused all of my impudence, and in proportion, as I became the criminal, the fear of discovery rendered me intrepid.  I felt no dread but that of being detected, and of being publically and to my face declared a thief, liar and calumniator.

(Ibid., pp 399 – 400 [emphases added by Scheff])

Scheff uses this episode to make a point he wants us to understand before telling us that:

In modern societies, adults seem to be uncomfortable manifesting either pride or shame.  The emotions of pride and shame often seem themselves to arouse shame [emphasis in original].

(Ibid., p. 400)

Scheff also emphasizes the 1956 conformity studies of Solomon Asch, who testes the hypothesis that;

“Given the kind of task demanded, a majority of the subjects will find group standards compelling, even though they are exterior and contradictory to their own individual standards.

(Ibid., p. 403)

Asch’s conformity studies give a considerable insight into the outer workings of conformity and found that only one-quarter of the test subjects remained completely individual throughout their involvement in the study.

Even though Asch did not design his tests to examine the effects of emotions upon his subjects (he was focused on the ‘what will happen’ of the tests rather than on the ‘why it happens’) and, while he did not ask his subjects about their emotions, he found that many of the responses to his post-study interviews suggested that emotions played an important, if not critical part in how his subjects reacted to situations during the study.  Among the subjects who had yielded to the majority views at least once, he found that many of them found the experience of being in the minority extremely painful.  They felt a negative view of themselves from the point of view of the others.  They were dominated by their exclusion from the group, which they took as a reflection of themselves, and were unable to face a conflict which threatened, in some undefined way, to expose a deficiency in themselves.  Asch also found that the responses of the yielding subjects suggested a denial of conflict, and of the feelings resulting from that denial.  Some of the responses were of complete denial, some were slight, and some were evasive about it.  Some of those subjects also granted to the majority the power to see things correctly, which they came to believe they could not do, and had allowed themselves to become confused so that at the critical point in the study, they adopted the majority judgments without permitting themselves to know of their activity or shift [emphasis added]. (Ibid., pp. 403 – 404)

As for the subjects who had remained completely independent throughout the course of the studies, Asch found that they, too, felt that they were suffering from a defect, as well as their also being troubled by disagreeing with the majority.  They, like the yielding subjects, had felt deep internal conflict and overt shame; however, they persevered through those feelings of conflict and shame and responded according to their own personal perceptions, despite their strong emotional reactions and feelings of personal discomfort. (Ibid., p. 493) What’s more, during their post-study interviews, the independent subjects were apt to be open, frank and forthright about the feelings and doubts which they had experiences over the course of the studies.  One of Asch’s own summaries of these interview responses included the following passage:

“… independence requires the capacity to accept the fact of opposition without a lowered sense of personal worth.  The independent person has to organize his overt actions on the basis of experience for which he finds no support; this he can do only if he respects his experiences and is capable of claiming respect for them.  The compliant person cannot face this ordeal because he equates social opposition into a reflection of his personal worth.  Because he does so, the social conflict plunges him into pervasive and incapacitating doubt.

(Ibid., p. 404)

To bring Asch’s work into its place within his own theory about the role of shame in conforming behaviors, Scheff says that:

The subjects who remained independent, although they experiences shame, had sufficiently high self-esteem to act on their judgments despite [emphasis added] their feelings of shame.  Thos who yielded had low self-esteem and sought to avoid further feelings of shame by acting contrary to their own judgment.

(Ibid., pp. 404 – 405)

Since the yielding subjects had found it easier to deny and go against their own internal judgments that to go against the contrary judgments of the group, it would also seem logical to draw a conclusion that those subjects who had remained completely independent could later face up and admit to their previous feelings of shame and doubt because those feelings had not overwhelmed and conquered them and, thus, they had no further reason to hide from the or from openly admitting to them, while the yielding subjects later had difficulty owning up to their previous feelings of shame and doubt which caused them to conform to the judgments of the group because those feelings had overwhelmed and conquered them and for them to openly admit to having had those feelings would cause them to lose to those feelings all over again.

As a final note, which he makes on his own reactions to Asch’s findings, Scheff tells us that he found one particular remark, which had been made by one of the yielding subjects, to be “troublesome” and “baffling”.  That remark was about how the subject said that he had voted for Dewey in the 1948 Presidential election, even though he preferred Truman, because he thought that Dewey would win and was, thus, preferred by most Americans.  Scheff sums up his own personal reaction to this remark by saying that:

Apparently unacknowledged shame is not only invisible, but insidious.

(Ibid., p. 405)

Scheff closes his paper by postulating that:

If the deference-emotion system is universal, the theory would provide a unitary explanation of conforming behavior, the central problem of social science.

(Ibid., p. 405)

If Scheff’s theory were to be applied towards some of the on-going groupthink research, it could possibly help work out some of the variables which the various researchers have, as yet, been unable to confront or utilize.  It could be especially helpful in such studies conducted within the field of political science because the emotional needs and inherent fears and insecurities of people about their government seem to make them particularly susceptible to groupthink tendencies.

An awareness of what groupthink is, by political scientist, political analysts and commentators, and by ethical political leaders might help them to, if not prevent, then to make the public aware of occurrences of groupthink within political parties and ideologies, as well as in our various branches and levels of government.  Those who actively work to prevent or publicize groupthink and groupthink tendencies within their spheres of influence, interest or study might also find our political world becoming more responsive to the average citizens, as a result.  Those in all fields relating to politics need to make themselves more aware of the potential negative aspects of group dynamics within our political systems for; only by being objective and honest about our political systems and being open to criticism of their negative aspects can they effectively prepare for and combat those aspects.  Conducting groupthink research specifically within the political sciences field might provide the edge we so desperately need to keep our government vibrant and effective and, thus, able to properly serve our citizens better in the future than it has in the past.

Rhys M. Blavier

Romayor, Texas

Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all, Honor

© Copyright 1989 by Rhys M.  Blavier


Thank you for reading this article.  Please read my other articles and let me know what you think.  I am writing them not to preach or to hear myself think but to try to create dialogs, debates and discussions on the nature of our government and how we can build upon and improve it based on what we have seen and learned over the course of the 225 years of The American Experiment.

Groupthink as a Political Mental Illness (Part I)

In Congress, Corruption, Democracy, Democrats, History, Libertarian, Libertarian Politics, Politics, Republican, Science, US Government on June 18, 2009 at 1:53 pm

[When I was researching information for my Master’s Paper in 1989, I was looking into the subject of how Greek students being involved in student activities impacted the ability of independent students to be equally involved. What I quickly discovered was that, apparently, NO ONE had ever written anything about this. I was teaching myself how to use a computer while I was doing this and on-line research was rather limited back then. Never-the-less, in trying to find information which would even relate to my topic I discovered studies on groupthink, conformity and shame theory… three areas of psychology that I could also not find any evidence of having been studied together. I was creating my own database on the subject.

I had no knowledge about these things before I started doing my research but, one day that Fall, it all came together in my mind. When it did I was literally stunned and shaking in fright. I called a friend of mine in California and it took me around four hours of talking (pretty much me talking and rambling for four hours and him listening) for me to even calm down. These things haunt me to this very day. While I was doing my research with regard to application within the field of Student Activities and College Unions, I also immediately saw its implications within politics. My entire research paper was close to 90 pages long, but a year later I took a portion of it to create a smaller article to try to get published. Unfortunately, I never heard any response from any of the researchers or student activities / college union journals I sent it to. And so it was all put away in a box and carried around with me for 20 years.

Not too long ago, I found the box the papers were in (hard copies only, of course) and have been wanting to transcribe them so that I could have them computerized. I am starting with the shorter article and, because I reference it or base portions of other articles on what I learned for it, I have decided that I would post it on here… in two parts because it is still too long for a single article on here, and with references to student activities changed to ones about politics… to see if it can help others understand aspects of social psychology within politics that they might not be consciously aware of.  I sincerely hope that this disturbs you, the reader, as much as it has disturbed me.

P.S. — I also developed a method that I thought could successfully combat hazing in schools, especially in Greek systems but, when I would try to get ANY school to let me try them, once it was learned that I, myself, had been an independent student… mostly by administrators who, themselves had been Greeks, I was always told that since I hadn’t been a Greek then I didn’t have basis upon which to make claims to understand them. They would tell me that only other Greeks could understand their ‘culture’ or fix what was broken in it… a classic example of groupthink in action. I eventually let it go, as I did my career in student activities.

P.P.S. — After reading this, can anyone NOT understand why I hold the entire Bush Presidency and administration in contempt? I would like to see someone write a book about the Bush Presidency SPECIFICALLY as a study of groupthink and how it illustrates every indication of the phenomenon.]


In 1972, Irving Janis, in his book Victims of Groupthink, added a new dimension to the study of group behavior and group dynamics when he described “groupthink” as:

… a quick and easy way to refer to a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are involved in a cohesive in-group; when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative course of action… Groupthink refers to a deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment that results from in-group pressures.

(Janis, 1972, p. 9)

That single work seems to have had an immediate and almost historic impact on the study of group behavior.  Since the first publication of Victims of Groupthink, many researchers have been moved to study, to support, or to refute both Janis’s theories and the implications of groupthink.  Whatever has motivated any of these people, one thing is clear; that single work has been the starting point for many, if not all of these studies, and research on this phenomenon uniformly refers to Janis as the originator of the concept of groupthink, as well as its definer.

Early in his book, Janis gives the following story as an example of groupthink:

Twelve middle-class American men and women wanted to stop smoking, and attended weekly meetings at a clinic to discuss the problem.  Early in the sessions, two people stood up and declared that cigarette smoking was an almost incurable addiction.  The group agreed.  The, one man stood up and said “I have stopped smoking and, with a little willpower, so can the rest of you.”  Immediately, the other group members began to abuse him verbally, and the meeting ended in chaos.  The following week, the dissident stood up again and said that he could not both attend all of the required meetings and stop smoking; so he had returned to smoking two packs of cigarettes as day.  The other members welcomed him back into the fold with enthusiasm but no one mentioned that the original purpose of the group was to help each other stop [emphasis in original] smoking.  Their new aim was maintaining the status quo at any cost.

(Ibid, p. 9)

Janis illustrated his theories by using seven recent major historical events; five of which he labeled as fiascoes and the other two which he termed successes relating to the resultant outcomes of those events, based on the decisions that were made.  He argued that the decision making processes in the five fiascoes were faulty, regardless of the outcomes, and, likewise, the decision-making processes used in the successes were effective, even if the events would have not turned out positively.  He stresses that it is the processes used in a group’s decision-making that determines whether or not that group is a victim of groupthink and not the outcomes because bad-decision-making processes can result in good or successful results or outcomes, just as good decision-making processes can result in bad or unsuccessful results or outcomes. (Janis, fig. 10-1)

In his original work (Janis, 1972), Janis identified six major defects in the decision-making process which result I groupthink and which, in turn, result in poor quality decisions.  In the 1982 edition (Janis, 1982), he added a seventh defect to his list.  These seven defects are:

1.)    Discussions are limited to only a few alternatives without surveying all possible alternatives;

2.)   The originally preferred solution is not re-evaluated for non-obvious drawbacks or risks after its initial evaluation;

3.)    Alternatives which are initially discarded are never re-evaluated for non-obvious gains;

4.)   There is little or no attempt made to obtain information or advice from experts on alternative courses of action;

5.)    Where advice IS presented, selective bias on the part of the members is used to evaluate that advice and, thus, they use information which supports the group’s preferences and ignore evidence which is counter to the group’s preference;

6.)   Members fail to consider how groups external to the focal group might react and, therefore, fail to develop contingency plans for possible setbacks or failures; and

7.)    There is a failure to consult all members regarding the objectives to be fulfilled and the values implicated by their choice.

(Janis, 1972, p. 10; Janis, 1982, pp. 9 – 10)

Janis then went on to identify several antecedent condition which are necessary for groupthink to exist, and which relate to structural faults of the organization and the decision-making context.  The primary antecedent condition necessary for groupthink is a highly cohesive group.  The secondary conditions (which relate to the organization’s structural faults) are:

1.)    Insulation of the group;

2.)   Lack of a tradition of impartial leadership;

3.)    Lack of norms requiring methodical procedures; and

4.)   Homogeneity of members’ social background and ideology.

The tertiary conditions (which relate to the decision-making context) are:

1.)    High stress due to isolation of the group (usually for security reasons instituted because of perceived external threats);

2.)   Low hope of a better solution than the leader’s; and

3.)    Low self-esteem temporarily induced by the group members’ perceptions of:

A.)   Recent Failures;

B.)   Moral dilemmas; and

C.)   Excessive difficulty in current decision-making.

Finally, Janis postulates that the existence of these conditions generates eight symptoms of groupthink, which were evident in the fiascoes studies and which serve as the primary means of identifying the occurrences of groupthink.  These eight symptoms are:

1.)    An illusion of invulnerability that is shared by most members, which creates excessive optimism and encourages the group to take extreme risks;

2.)   Collective efforts to rationalize in order to discount warnings which might lead members to reconsider their assumptions before they recommit themselves to past policy decisions;

3.)    An unquestioned belief in the group’s inherent morality, which makes the members inclined to ignore the ethical and moral consequences of their decisions;

4.)   Stereotyped views of enemy leaders, usually considering them as too evil to warrant genuine attempts to negotiate, or as too stupid and / or too weak to counter whatever attempts are made to defeat their purposes;

5.)    Directed pressure on any member who does not conform to the group’s norms, who express strong arguments against any of the group’s stereotypes, illusions, decisions, or commitments, thereby making it clear to all that this type of dissent is contrary to what is expected of all loyal members;

6.)   Self-censorship of individual deviations from the apparent group consensus, reflecting each member’s inclination to minimize to him or herself the importance of his / her doubts and counter arguments;

7.)    A shared illusion of unanimity concerning the judgments conforming to the majority view (partly resulting from self-censorship of deviations, and augmented by the false assumption that silence means consent); and

8.)   The emergence of self-appointed mindguards – members who protect the group from adverse information that might shatter the group’s shared complacency about the effectiveness and morality of their decisions.

(Janis, 1972, pp. 197 – 198)

While Janis’ theories are not perfect, nor even necessarily complete, he has still provided a very strong starting point from which to begin exploring this issue.  Regarding the studies on groupthink which have been reviewed, there are some weaknesses which have been noticed in them, at least as far as their being of any potential benefit to the study of larger groups or political parties. Among these weaknesses are:

1.)    The studied laboratory groups are very small, usually three to five people (six reports studied).  These sized groups do not allow for the effects of internal cliques or sub-groups within a main group to be incorporated within the studies, or to arise independently over the course of the studies.  Thus, while there may be dissension (and / or other such factors) which is created / controlled by the researchers, or which arises independently, these studies groups are still small enough to leave individual subjects as each being a significant percentage of the entire group (33.3% — 20%) and, thus, more individually significant to the group.  Theories and research on ‘diffused responsibility’ indicate that when individuals are such a significant portion of the group, they are more likely to feel that they are more individually important to the group and are, even alone, able to have an impact on the group.  This generally means that they are more likely to retain their personal feelings of responsibility for the decisions and / or actions of their group, as a whole.  If there is dissent, etc., within the group, it can still be dealt with on a person-to-person basis.  In these small groups, if the ‘group’ puts pressure on dissenters, it cannot do so and ‘disguise’ the fact that it is made up of distinct individuals by their being a ‘force’, ‘it, or ‘them’ instead of ‘Mark, Jody, Bill, and Mary’, or ‘those four’. The group dynamic in groups within such a size range is dramatically different from the group dynamics within groups the size political parties, or even local communities.

2.)   There is little, if any, attention placed on what the members of the laboratory groups have to lose if they should feel inclined to dissent from the group’s decisions or actions.  In politics, we deal with the day-to-day lives of average citizens and, while citizens might be able to hide their personal discomfort levels when they are simply, for example, at work by leaving that ‘life’ behind them when they leave work for the day and enter back into their ‘outside-of-work social-life’, it is very difficult, if not impossible, for them to retreat from pressures and discomforts in their social lives in any way other than by withdrawing into themselves and isolating themselves away from inter-personal contact which causes them discomfort.  Therefore, if all that individuals risk losing in a study is closeness with others in that laboratory setting, are they more or less likely to risk that closeness and acceptance by retaining their individuality and dissenting from group pressure than they would be to risk being socially or professionally ostracized from, or losing prestige among their peers (prestige here can mean status but does not necessarily; it is more related to levels of confidence, respect and / or acceptance which an individual feels from their peers) if they should attempt to retain their individuality and dissent from the majority views in a social or political environment?

3.)    There is little mention mad of the emotional or intellectual comfort levels of the subjects when they are within the confines of their group situations.   It would seem to be obvious that these are important factors which need to be considered in such studies.  The more uncomfortable a person feels, or feels they will become if they take a particular dissenting decision or action, shame theory, as well as common sense tells us the more likely they are to do, say or go along with whatever they have to do in order to remain or to once again become comfortable.

4.)   Those studies which use dominant leadership as a factor or variable do not also use group leadership or dominance which comes about through the backing of, or support from, a clique or sub-group within the main group or even, as far as can be told by reading their studies, recognize it as being different from charismatic or personality-based leadership or dominance.  However, in real-life, such group leadership or dominance is a common occurrence, such as the promotion of those who are incompetent to lead or manage, or a ‘puppet’ leader put in place so that those with real power can stay behind the scenes.

5.)    While some of the studies try to create artificial cohesive in-groups in some of their laboratory groups, there is no mention made of the effects which real social relationships between group members has on their responses within a group setting.  For example, if group members do not know each other from outside of their group environment prior to their joining it and, thus build any in-group cohesion, friendships or inter-personal relationships with other group members, are they more or less likely to be a strong group member, concerned with the greater good of the group, than are group members who know each other from outside of the group, or who were friends with or colleagues of other group members prior to their becoming a member of the group?  Are group members who know other group members or are friends with them before becoming a member of the group, especially those who join the group BECAUSE they already know, or were friends  with other members (in fact, who might have been specifically recruited into the group by friends, etc. who are already group members), more or less likely to be conscientious group members who are willing to dissent from or even question the group’s decisions or actions (since their outside acquaintances with other members can be affected positively or negatively by their own personal words or actions within the group) than are group members who became acquainted with other group members only through membership in the group?  What about those who know other group members outside of the group and have pre-existing animosity of them, or who become a member IN SPITE OF members they already who they dislike or who try to keep them out of the group?  What about those who join for social acceptance by people that they know outside of the group?  These possible variables are numerous and are important considerations within our political groups or organizations because a common way for new members to be brought into a group or organization is for them to be recruited by friends and / or acquaintances.  We need to know what effects such membership recruitment has on the very real functioning of those groups and organizations.

6.)   When a study makes ‘getting input from group members about possible decisions to be made or actions to be taken’ a factor or variable of the study, is there any assessment about whether or not there is any difference between input which is sought and / or received under a ‘glaring spotlight’ or in a situation of possible derision or resistance, and input that is sought and received in confidence and / or in a situation of respect and / or openness?  If not, have any of the researchers given any consideration within their studies to the effects that the manner in which input is sought has on the input that is received?

7.)    While Janis gives us examples of, and specifications about groupthink, it would be helpful if, to demonstrate the point that the presence of groupthink is determined by the decision-making PROCESS, itself, and not of the outcomes of that process (good processes can still result in bad outcomes and bad processes can still result in good outcomes), it would be helpful if examples were included of such good / non-groupthink processes which resulted in negative outcomes AND of bad / groupthink processes which resulted in positive outcomes. The theory is stated regarding this, but the case is never made.

(This Article will be concluded in Part II, which will include information on conformity studies and on shame theory)Rhys M. Blavier

Romayor, Texas

Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all, Honor

© Copyright 1989 by Rhys M.  Blavier


Thank you for reading this article.  Please read my other articles and let me know what you think.  I am writing them not to preach or to hear myself think but to try to create dialogs, debates and discussions on the nature of our government and how we can build upon and improve it based on what we have seen and learned over the course of the 225 years of The American Experiment.


In Activism, Civil Liberties, Congress, Constitutional Rights, Corruption, Courts and Justice System, Democracy, Democrats, First Amendment, Human Rights Abuses, Law, Libertarian, Libertarian Politics, Politics, Republican, Second Amendment, US Government on May 20, 2009 at 7:12 am

I have said many times over many years that I think that The Constitution of The United States is broken.  I have recently been asked to give specific examples of what I mean when I say that.  This is, of course, a very fair question to ask.  To answer it, however, I will both give some background information to help explain WHY I feel the way I do on this subject (which is the topic of this first part of this article) and, as I don’t think that it is helpful when people say what they think is wrong with something without actually offering any possible solutions to the problems that they see, I will also provide specific examples of WHAT I would specifically suggest to fix these perceived problems (which will be the topic of the second part of this article). I will do this by primarily suggesting how I think specific aspects or parts of The Constitution can be improved to better accomplish the goals of the founders.  Now, with my suggested changes, I will not be offering specific wordings for those changes.  I believe it would be pre-mature and a poor process to do so within the scope of this article.  I think that that there needs to be some agreement first about what changes should be made, then establish specific goals and objectives for those changes, as well as agreement on why a specific change should be made and what its purpose would be, and THEN, work on the actual wording to be forever enshrined in The Constitution.  For me, then, to actually propose specific wording changes at this stage in the process would be pre-mature.  In addition, I am rather… verbose… and I personally think that such wording needs to be as concise as possible.

Let me start by telling my readers why this topic interests me and why I feel I am qualified to write an article on this subject.  When I was a 16-year old kid in high school, I was able to get involved in several college student organizations at Texas A&M University.  This was a very unique period at A&M in the mid-1970s, which is what made this possible.  As a high school kid, I was still an outsider in those groups.  This allowed me to be an observer of the organizational group dynamics.  In one of the organizations, after I had been in it for a couple of years, there was a huge internal crisis which literally tore the organization apart.  This was the first time I ever got to experience what I came to call the ‘second generation effect’.

It was for this group that I wrote my first constitution, a 25-page thing that no one ever got to see because when I had completed it, it was stolen before I could present it.  In retrospect, it probably wasn’t very a very good constitution, although I do not have a copy I can read to verify that.  What writing it began for me, however, was hobby of designing fictional organizations and writing constitutions for them that lasted well over a decade.  I would do this in the same way that some people do crosswords or jigsaw puzzles and, to me, the process was, and is, very much a logic puzzle.   Along the way I have written five to seven actual constitutions for real organizations and, because of what I watched happen in those groups I was part of while I was in high school discovered a desire to help other people create better organizations themselves. I eventually earned a Master’s degree that would allow me to work as a student activities / college union professional, which also provided me with the means to collect constitutions from all kinds of organizations from many different locations to study.  This has allowed me to see many commonalities, both good and bad, among those documents and helped me to formulate a guiding philosophy for designing and writing constitutions for ANY organization.  That philosophy is:

You can NOT, by definition, plan for the unexpected… but you are a damn fool if you do not prepare for the predictable.

In case anyone is interested, by the way, I think that my next project along this line will be to try to incorporate a city in the unincorporated area in which I live and try to create an actual ‘laboratory of democracy’.

The second generation effect is when an organization which has been created by people with a common understanding of why they created the organization themselves begins to have people who were NOT part of the organizational creation process reach a level where they begin to have a greater controlling influence on the organization than those who did create it.

When an organization is created, those who created it usually have a common understanding of the principles and processes they expect the organization to operate by.  Because of this mutual understanding, they are generally very minimalist about what they put into the organization’s founding document(s) or constitution because they think that more is unnecessary for the very fact that all of the original members have a consensus about those principles and procedures.  As a result, they leave those principles and procedures unspecified in the organization’s founding document(s).  Even where these people have differences with each other, they are actually bound together by their mutual understandings about the organization.  They simply don’t see how others who will come along later will not share those bonds and will not view the organization in the same way that they do.  This is what results in constitutions and founding documents which are what I classify as the ‘we create this group, and we will do things and we will be friends’ category of constitutions and founding documents.  This is also what I call the ‘first generation effect’.

So, why are the ‘first generation’ and ‘second generation’ effects important concepts when talking about our Constitution?  It is very simple.  I think that the founding fathers operated under the first generation effect when they wrote The Constitution.  Their common experiences with the separation from Britain, The Revolutionary War, and The Articles of Confederation created a common bond which unified them on a subconscious level.  Even with their many disagreements and differences, they were still bound to each other by what they had experienced in common with each other.

This period saw one of the most remarkable collections of great men and great minds in one place and one period of time in all of human history.  I still can’t figure out if history gave us this moment and gathering of mental giants, or if the moment and gathering of mental giants gave us history.  Which one is responsible for the other, I frequently wonder?  The result of their gathering in Philadelphia in 1787, The Constitution of The United States, is an amazing and awe-inspiring document.  In fact, I think that it has single-handedly shaped where the world has moved since it was created more than any other single document, philosophy, event, or person since then.  The downside of what they did in Philadelphia is that they had no other real historical examples which they could study, other than their experiences under The Articles, to see what would work and what wouldn’t.  They pretty much only had theories and ideas to use.  They also came up with a minimalist document that left much more unwritten and which would rely on their common understandings with which to fill in the gaps than it actually specified about the operation of the new government which they were creating.

In 1991, I was hired for my first job as a Director of Student Activities at a small, private liberal arts college in Illinois.  At this time, the Student Activities Board was an unconstituted committee of the school’s Student Forum.  I decided that the SAB needed to be a separate organization with its own constitution and I created a committee of students, faculty and staff to help design the organization and help write it’s constitution.  The Forum’s advisor was also the school’s government teacher and ‘expert’ on the U.S. Constitution.  One day, in passing, she stopped me and asked why the document I was trying to create needed to be as long as it was.  After all, she pointed out, the U. S. Constitution was only 4,543 words long (honestly, I remember it with her saying it was only 1,458 words long, which is the length of The Declaration of Independence and not of The Constitution but I will give her the benefit of the doubt by assuming she said the correct total).  I responded by telling her “Yes, and it isn’t a very well written document.  She got very angry and, without allowing me to explain to her what I meant, she stormed off.  She never again spoke to me civilly and I was terminated at the end of the school year WITHOUT getting my SAB constitution ever publically discussed or voted on, much less passed.

When I said that The Constitution was not a very well written document, I meant no insult to it or to the great men who wrote it.  I meant simply that they didn’t have the advantages of history which we have upon which to base their document.  NOTHING is ever as good as it can be on a first attempt (look at how much better The Constitution was than The Articles were), and distance is needed to see how things work (or don’t work) as desired, and what can be done to improve it.  I think that this is a necessary evolutionary process in any long standing organization.  I also never got to explain to her my theory of the second generation effect or how I think it illustrated the fundamental flaws in the document.

I think that there are many reasons that more things were not spelled out better in The Constitution.  One of them was the first generation effect of common understanding and fellowship.  Another was that the Federalists, under the leadership of Alexander Hamilton, did not WANT things to be spelled out better so that they could use the ambiguities of the document to argue that it said and meant things that it clearly didn’t.  As is common in history, those of a more liberal ideology will concede things to their political opponents in order to create a consensus while those of a more extreme conservative ideology will simply take those concessions as wins for their side and an indication of weakness for the other side, and will then proceed to try to use that point as a baseline from which to further advance their cause at the expense of those they oppose.  A defining characteristic of a liberal personally is individualism and efforts to strive for common agreement and consensus, while a conservative personality is more commonly seen as wanting unification among those who agree with them for the advancement of their agendas, suppression of individual internal disagreement and accumulation of power for their group.  (Please look for a future article to be written by me on the subject of groupthink, conformity and shame theory to further explain this claim.)

By the 1820s, the first generation of those who created our American constitutional government was mostly gone from the scene and the second generation was in control.  As I have personally seen in all too many smaller organizations, the second generation, not having had a hand in giving ‘birth’ to an organization does not feel limited by the voluntary constraints by which the members of the first generation operated.  A key aspect of the second generation effect is the rise of members who are more interested in their personal power than in the greater good of the organization.  These power-seeking second generation members will also look for weaknesses, flaws, loopholes, omissions and ambiguities within the governing procedures and document(s) of an organization to see how they can be utilized to advance their personal power or parochial interests at the expense of the greater good of the entire organization.  I also do not know how to test it, but I theorize that it is the very weakness and flaws in an organization’s founding documents which ALLOW the second generation effect to occur.  The better that things are clarified, and potential problems identified and provided for, the longer an organization can go on with unity and consensus.  I believe that it is the failures of the first generation to study more closely when they create their organization and better provide for potential problems in the future within their founding documents that is the cause of the second generation effect, and not the fault of those in the second generation.

In American constitutional government, this was seen in the rise of a professional political class; party politics holding dominance in the elected branches of government; party and regional (state) concerns being held as being more important by those elected officials than the greater good of the entire nation; and a desire for gaining and using personal power bases in order to control the functions of government at the expense of those who do not help the person wielding that power.

One last aspect of the generation effects is a blurring of the lines between and the convergence of common misunderstandings of the differences between and meanings of both ‘power’ and ‘authority’.  Contrary to common belief, the two ideas do not have the same meanings and, in fact, are completely separate concepts from each other. This is why they are both used together… power AND authority, like assault AND battery.  Authority is the RIGHT to do something.  Power is the ABILITY to do something.  While power and authority might reside together in some cases, it is much more common to have an exercise of POWER by a person or group who do not have the AUTHORITY to do what has been done, or a group or person who has the AUTHORITY to do something but does not have the POWER to accomplish the desired action (much like when the Supreme Court ruled against Andrew Jackson regarding the Cherokee Indian treaties with The United States and Jackson, supposedly, commenting in response that “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.”)  Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay and John Calhoun are all classic examples of second generation personalities.

Part II of this article will deal with the actual flaws, weaknesses and omissions which I see in our Constitution and my personal suggestions for correcting them.


Rhys M. Blavier

Romayor, Texas

Truth, Justice and Honor… but, above all, Honor

© copyright 2009 by Rhys M.  Blavier

Thank you for reading this article.  Please read my other articles and let me know what you think.  I am writing them not to preach or to hear myself think but to try to create dialogs, debates and discussions on the nature of our government and how we can build upon and improve it based on what we have seen and learned over the course of the 225 years of The American Experiment.