The Dim-Post

May 30, 2008


Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 2:22 pm

I came across the following excerpt from an article by Irving Janis in 1977; its an apt description of a well know contemporary political party:

Eight symptoms that are indicative of groupthink:

1. Illusions of invulnerability creating excessive optimism and encouraging risk taking.
2. Rationalising warnings that might challenge the group’s assumptions.
3. Unquestioned belief in the morality of the group, causing members to ignore the consequences of their actions.
4. Stereotyping those who are opposed to the group as weak, evil, disfigured, impotent, or stupid.
5. Direct pressure to conform placed on any member who questions the group, couched in terms of “disloyalty”.
6. Self censorship of ideas that deviate from the apparent group consensus.
7. Illusions of unanimity among group members, silence is viewed as agreement.
8. Mindguards — self-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting information.

The prominent political party that you think of when reading the list – ACT, the Greens, Labour under Clark, the Bush Administration in the US – are probably indicative of your own tendencies towards groupthink. It seems to apply equally to most if not all political movements across the ideological landscape. My impression is that its getting worse: I wonder if someday soon we’ll see John Key bringing in outside consultants from the CTU, or President Obama making Ann Coulter his Chief of Staff in some modish attempt to escape the perils of groupthink.


  1. I found this a thought-provoking post. I am going to take bits of it for my own blog I think.

    Like most guys, of a certain egotistical persuasion, I have thought about being a politician. Guys who think this have all kinds of models in mind. Mine is probably RFK. Anyway, what has always killed the urge for me is the idea of a political party. Actually, this is pretty similar to religion. I don’t think political parties work. I don’t think it is possible to have a fixed set of morally coherent beliefs about everything without being very simple-minded.

    The curious thing is that political parties are a modern idea in New Zealand. Before Richard Seddon and the Liberals the idea of political parties was alien to New Zealand politics. I would argue that “toeing the party line” is undemocratic and anti-intellectual.

    Comment by JY — May 31, 2008 @ 11:06 am

  2. Thank you for this post, Danyl.

    Is it necessarily indicative of groupthink to point out groupthink in others? Case in point: KiwiBlog’s universal shock at DPF’s suggestion that National and the Greens might – out of necessity – have to work together:

    DPF must be tearing his notional hair at his community’s bone-headedness on this issue. I think his argument has genuine merit, and it’s not even getting discussed.

    JY: One theoretical outcome of MMP is to make electorate MPs more independent of party lines, since party vote determines party representation, freeing voters to support the candidate who will best serve them regardless of party. I know one bloke, and nobody’s fool, who reckons electorate candidates should be nominally independent on the ballot for this reason.


    Comment by Lew — June 3, 2008 @ 10:07 am

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