One way to define the difference between a regular belief and a sacred belief is that people who hold sacred beliefs think it is morally wrong for anyone to question those beliefs. If someone does question those beliefs, they’re not just being stupid or even depraved, they’re actively doing violence. They might as well be kicking a puppy. When people hold sacred beliefs, there is no disagreement without animosity. In this mindset, people who disagreed with my views weren’t just wrong, they were awful people. I watched what people said closely, scanning for objectionable content. Any infraction reflected badly on your character, and too many might put you on my blacklist. Calling them ‘sacred beliefs’ is a nice way to put it. What I mean to say is that they are dogmas.

Thinking this way quickly divides the world into an ingroup and an outgroup — believers and heathens, the righteous and the wrong-teous. “I hate being around un-rad people,” a friend once texted me, infuriated with their liberal roommates. Members of the ingroup are held to the same stringent standards. Every minor heresy inches you further away from the group. People are reluctant to say that anything is too radical for fear of being been seen as too un-radical. Conversely, showing your devotion to the cause earns you respect. Groupthink becomes the modus operandi. When I was part of groups like this, everyone was on exactly the same page about a suspiciously large range of issues. Internal disagreement was rare. The insular community served as an incubator of extreme, irrational views.

This fascinating little article recounts what it was like to belong to the closed intellectual circle of a group of left-wing radicals. I’ve seen the same sort of phenomena play out on a lesser scale in insular religious groups. For my part, I’m often surprised by how often my opinions make me a horrible person.

One comment

  1. Good post. It makes sense. But I wonder, how does it get to this point? I think one of the underlying factors is a spirit of arrogance that elevates ones viewpoint too high or as your quote states “sacrosanct” or “dogmatic”. Going along with what you said, the outgroup must be inferior and violent to question the dogma. There is no room for controversy or disagreements that allows both groups to ultimately be dignified.

    And the internet amplifies a problem like this. Tack on hunger for drama and you get an blog like Violet Wisp. It draws intellectual arrogance, I suspect it provides a sort of positive feedback. Like when she writes a post like “Stupid Christians who can’t see their book is evil” and gets 10 “likes” and arrogant comments, this makes her want to keep going. Next step: draw in outgroupers and destroy them with intellect bombs to add some drama! When they can’t see the sacrosanct truth, they must be immoral or stupid! And, attacking Reason itself!

    Those are some of my recent thoughts on groupthink.

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