Topic Tuesday #168 2015/10/06 "Groupthink"

Topic Tuesday #168 2015/10/06 "Groupthink"

Groupthink? You mean something like double-think from George Orwell's 1984? Though I enjoy the fascinating and terrible implications behind some "Orwellian" revelations, groupthink is a real concept in modern psychology. According to

Groupthink occurs when a group values harmony and coherence over accurate analysis and critical evaluation. It causes individual members of the group to unquestioningly follow the word of the leader and it strongly discourages any disagreement with the consensus.

Why is this important enough to be a Topic Tuesday? Well, we are entering election season in the United States and there are fewer groups more polarized by ideology than those of the two main parties here in the states. Groupthink essentially explains why certain ideologies like political leanings, religious tradition, and even gender identity become an intrinsic part of a person's identity. In the case of politics a person may become very offended if their chosen candidate or pet cause is undermined and attacked. In gender you get the "Boy's Club" or the "Sewing Circle" where the other gender has no place at all. Religious people tend to be very attached to their group even if they claim a personal relationship, they will still naturally ally with those of like mind and are typically unable to separate themselves from the concepts of their faith; this can be seen when they are confronted about an inconsistency or contradiction in their doctrine. They will almost universally take it as a personal affront to them and they will respond as if they are under attack, even if it was the idea and not them personally. 

Groupthink represents the exchange of personal identity. The ego of the group is overlayed on the ego of the individual group member and is adopted as being at least as important as their own identity. You may even hear people identify so closely with group as to announce they ARE the group/thing/idea. This can be a dangerous place to tread. 

This is a cautionary tale. We are all susceptible to the power of groupthink and should remain vigilant in our own self awareness and hold all ideas to rigorous scrutiny, especially the concepts we hold most dear. 

Topic Tuesday #132 2015/01/27 - "The Fermi Paradox - Where is Everybody?"

Topic Tuesday #132 2015/01/27 - "The Fermi Paradox - Where is Everybody?"

Once upon a time, man looked up at the Sun and felt the Earth beneath them as unmovable. We thought that we were the center of everything and that we were special because of it. Time passed, stories told, and the world explored. We now see deep into distance and time with our telescopes and know that we are not the center of the solar system, the galaxy, and certainly not the universe.

Enrico Fermi

Enrico Fermi

Mathematics combined with cosmology leads there are an estimated 200–400 billion (2–4 ×1011) stars in the Milky Way and 70 sextillion (7×1022) in the visible universe. Even if intelligent life occurs on only a minuscule percentage of planets around these stars, there might still be a great number of civilizations extant in the Milky Way galaxy alone. The math says that someone should have been noticed by now. Pondering this one day, as the story goes, Enrico Fermi asked his pals from the Los Alamos National Laboratory "Where is everybody?" 

This is a good question. It also creates other questions...

As we continue to peer into the abyss, we have found planets that orbit stars, not unlike our own. The most recent of those (at the time of this writing) is Kepler-444. Kepler-444 hosts five Earth-sized planets in very compact orbits. It is also 11.2 billion years old; the oldest star with earth-sized planets ever found. This is proof that such planets have formed throughout the history of the Universe. This star could be gone now. The planets engulfed by an expanding star, as ours is likely to do in another 5 or 6 billion years. If… If there were intelligent life in the Kepler-444 system, did they escape their planets demise? Will we? 

Arthur C. Clarke

Arthur C. Clarke

I am reminded strongly of a statement made by one of my favorite science fiction authors; it made my brain hurt.

“Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” - Arthur C. Clarke

What do you think?

Topic Tuesday #111 2014/09/02 "Conversation"

Topic Tuesday #111 2014/09/02 "Conversation"

The world we live in is filled with words and ideas, deeds and adventures, happiness and woe. The great thing about being human is that we do not need to personally have to go through every one of these emotions or circumstances to understand and empathise. We have language. We can tell stories and sing songs and even gesticulate along as if we ever figured out how to master charades. But all this is about communication, and that brings me to the fine, and sometimes lost, art of conversation.
Conversation follows certain protocol. This is another arcane phenomena, Etiquette. Now this etiquette is essential in keeping a conversation going to the desired end, or resolution depending on your aim. You must be mindful of your manners. Be courteous and appropriate. Essentially, a great conversation is one that is had in the bounds of talking to a beloved great aunt, whom you don't want to wash your mouth out with soap. 

Not all of us can put aside our heated emotions and just talk about things, for a really good conversation you still require some emotions to keep the fire stoked. Some conversations are very difficult to have. Even starting conversations can be a flustering nightmare of what if scenarios, especially if it is important. A boss, an interview, a first date - or worse, the icebreaker. 

Now... I am not a master of conversation and I can and will step on my own tongue if given the opportunity. What I am is patient. My brain can have quips flying pretty fast, but I have learned that I need to slow down a little, and to worry a lot less. You will worry more about the things you never got the chance to say than the conversation that you have because of it. Just keep in mind, that your opinions stink. So does everyone elses. Don't be too much of anything: be it boastful, proud, arrogant, ingratiating, forward, direct, terse, or quiet. The last one is tricky, since next weeks topic may just be active listening,  your homework will be to go have a conversation with a complete stranger, about something other than the weather, health, politics, or religion. Those are advanced topics that require care to execute properly, without getting into another topic, the fine are of arguing. 

Topic Tuesday #105 2014/07/22 "Orwellian"

Topic Tuesday #105 2014/07/22 "Orwellian"

Ingsoc   (English Socialism), is the regnant   ideology   and   pseudophilosophy   of Oceania

Ingsoc (English Socialism), is the regnant ideology and pseudophilosophy of Oceania

War is peace.

Freedom is slavery.

Ignorance is strength.

1984, written by George Orwell and published in 1949, is the quintessential dystopian novel. There are some fascinating political concepts that are critical to the work. Manipulation, omnipresent surveillance, perpetual war, historic revisionism. Thoughtcrime, as a concept, was not new to Orwell. Nor was the concept of Big Brother. It's easy to make parallels to historic events, people, places, and the story itself.  As we approach the 30th anniversary of this novel, we have sadly seen many of the concepts put into practice.

For instance, the NSA prevalent global surveillance efforts exposed by Edward Snowden.

We can look to North Korea for a Big Brother figure in their Supreme Leader.

The United States has technically been involved in a state of conflict (even if WAR was not declared, the body count sure continued to escalate), since it declared independence from Great Britain, with an exception during the extreme isolationism of the Great Depression in 1935-40. To be conservative, 21 years have had no "real" war like activities since 1776. Highly debatable. 

The working poor have always represented a form of indentured servitude in the world, especially when we look at fully socialized systems that Orwell was involved in. The wage slaves are free to make their narrow range of choices.

And the ignorance... Oh the ignorance... It is amazing how so many people believe whatever is served up by their favorite talking head pundit about world events, economics, and what to buy. It is remarkable how similar the world we live in now is to the Orwellian existence of  Winston Smith.

Don't forget the oxymoronic and yet fitting Ministry of Peace (War), Ministry of Plenty (Rations goods), Ministry of Truth (controls information and edits history), and the Ministry of Love (which monitors, arrests, and tortures/alters dissidents.) The theme is continued in the language of Newspeak combined with Doublethink and Doublespeak, where words have dual meanings that are not only contradictory but exist and are meant simultaneously. 

The work is so iconic, it took on a life of it's own in the term, "Orwellian". As an adjective it describes it's targeted noun with looming official deception, secret pervasive surveillance and manipulation of the facts by a authoritarian/totalitarian/all powerful state government/agency.

In a world (this one by the way and said in the movie trailer voice), where we can predict many behaviors (and may be approaching the ability to read minds) the godlike ability to read your mind and rout out "thoughtcrimes" becomes a real fear. When all your email is read, calls are recorded, movements monitored, and certain agencies rewrite history books for our children, it is not difficult to make comparisons and think that someone has been using the novel as a playbook, and not the warning that it clearly was to a rational person.

1984 has another great thing going for it. It has been on banned book lists and legally challenged for being "subversive" and "corrupting". This makes me smile, as it is ironic, given the content of the book.  

Remember kids, read your banned books!

Big Brother is watching.