Blog Post: Understanding Sociocentric Group Validation As a Primary Barrier to Criticality

Linda Elder
Jul 05, 2023 • 1y ago
Understanding Sociocentric Group Validation As a Primary Barrier to Criticality

{"ops":[{"insert":"Sociocentric thought and behavior manifests itself in many ways throughout human life. One form of sociocentrism is the perceived need to be validated by and within groups. Groups tend to see their way as the right way and their views as the correct views, even when they haven’t thought seriously about either. Group members implicitly tend to validate one another’s views, reinforcing group beliefs deeply held, beliefs perceived to be in the group’s interests, or beliefs the group just happens to believe are true.\n \nWe see this phenomenon throughout human life in every domain. For instance, it is commonly exhibited by sports players and fans— ”our team is the most victorious,” “our athletes are the biggest and most talented,” “our cheerleaders are the sexiest,” “our pitchers are the best,” “our quarterback is the greatest,” “our uniforms are the most colorful,” “our team has the nicest facilities and biggest stadiums,” and so on. We line up behind our team, and we cheer and root for our team. We can’t stand the other team. We always want the other team to lose; we always need to win. When we win, we played the best; when they win, the referees were biased in favor of their team. The way in which people refer to the team they support as “us” and “we” is telling. “We” missed the field goal. The referees gave “us” a bum deal.\n \nThis may seem a trivial example, but it helps us recognize the phenomenon of group validation in a common human activity. Unfortunately, this form of sociocentric thought isn’t at all confined to the trivial.\n \nTheoreticians have conceptualized the problem of group validation in different but often overlapping ways. In his article (Oct. 2008) on “mob mentality,” Laurence Gonzales targets a term psychologists call “groupness … the tendency of various animals, including humans, to form in-groups. When the in-group encounters individuals from outside the group, the default response is hostile. People protect their group from outsiders and from outside influences… If a group invests a lot of effort in a goal and succeeds, its boundaries become stronger, and it tends to become even more hostile to outside influences. This may not be overt hostility. It may simply be a subtle and unconscious tendency to reject anything from another group” (p. 28).\n \nSumner (1906; 1940) describes “folkways” as the socially perceived “right” ways to satisfy all interests according to group norms and traditions. He says that in every society:\n \nThere is a right way to catch game, to win a wife, to make one’s self appear … to treat comrades or strangers, to behave when a child is born. … The “right” way is the way which ancestors used and which has been handed down. The tradition is its own warrant. It is not held subject to verification by experience. … In the folkways, whatever is, is right. (p. 28)"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" \nJohn Stuart Mill (1859; 1997), in On Liberty, points out that all countries throughout history have tended to hold their views uncritically, while perceiving such views to be prima facie correct. He says that, when deciding on rules and laws to be followed,\n \nNo two ages and scarcely any two countries, have decided it alike; and the decision of one age or country is a wonder to another. Yet the people of any given age and country no more suspect any difficulty in it, than if it were a subject on which mankind had always been agreed. The rules which obtain among themselves appear to them self-evident and self-justifying. This all but universal illusion is one of the examples of the magical influence of custom …(p. 45)"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"In human societies, children are systematically indoctrinated into the beliefs of their culture and expected to accept those beliefs without question, i.e., to take them on blind faith. Children are taught to see the customs and taboos of the society as the right way to live, rather than as some ways to live among many possibilities.\n \nPeople often don’t know why they believe what they do. They haven’t objectively examined their thoughts. They haven’t considered other ways of looking at the beliefs they have been expected to accept uncritically. They have little or no sense of how their views are enmeshed in cultural beliefs passed down through generations over time. They cannot see that these views are largely arbitrary, based more in “the way we have always done things” than in well-reasoned perspectives.\n \nTrapped in narrow present-day views, people often lack the knowledge that can be gained through a broader historical perspective. They don’t see that there is frequently a more reasonable way of looking at issues, ideas, and situations than that which their culture expects or requires. At the same time, they often fiercely defend their beliefs (i.e., the beliefs of the group) as evidently reasonable.\n \nIn studying how children understand and relate to rules, Piaget (1962) uncovered the roots of this problem. He noted that children pass through the following three stages of development:\n \nStage one—the child, being fundamentally egocentric, does not see rules as obligatory, and basically does what feels good. Rules, when followed, are unconsciously received."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"Stage two—rules are considered sacred and untouchable, emanating from adults and lasting forever."},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"Stage three—rules are considered the result of mutual consent. The child believes that to be loyal one must “respect” the laws. Laws can be altered if you can enlist general opinion on your side. (p. 28)"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" \nPiaget considers the “collective rule,” the belief that everyone must follow the rules, to be initially external to the child. But over time, the child begins to see the rules as freely chosen, a product of mutual consent and an “autonomous conscience.” In other words, the child uncritically accepts the rules and laws of society, and yet sees them as independently chosen. This phenomenon is evident in adult thinking as well. Many rules of society are accepted without question, blindly, yet people believe they have come to their beliefs through their own good reasoning. Though they uncritically adhere to societal customs and taboos, still they see themselves as autonomous thinkers.\n \nIn 1993, Richard Paul, was one of the earliest philosophers to detail the connection between sociocentric thought and prejudice. He says:\n \nTraditional research into the nature of prejudice has these seven basic flaws:"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"1) Researchers tend to approach prejudice as an aberration, something abnormal or atypical, something outside the normal mechanisms of thought, desire and action … 2) They tend to emphasize the dysfunctional nature of prejudice. To ignore the many advantages in power, wealth, status, and peace of mind that come from prejudiced states of mind. 3) They tend to focus on negative prejudices, “prejudices-against;” and assume that positive prejudices, “prejudices-for”, are independent of negative ones and largely benign. 4) They play down or ignore prejudices against belief systems and ideologies, as though prejudices were only against people as such. 5) They fail to emphasize how prejudice is embedded in the pervasive problem of everyday human irrationality. 6) They tend to focus on the content of prejudices, rather than on the mode of thinking generating them. 7) They fail to recognize that significant prejudice reduction requires long-term strategies for developing fair and openminded persons in fair and openminded societies. (pp. 229-230)"},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":1},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"The problems Paul illuminates are directly linked to the human propensity to validate group beliefs. All such propensities are steeped in prejudicial thinking, in the rich sense of the term Paul elaborates. All humans are naturally prejudiced toward their group’s beliefs; they naturally prejudge situations and events according to what they already believe, and to what their group believes.\n \nThose who think critically are keenly aware of the fact that there are many problems caused by group validation in human life. They are on the lookout for this tendency in the groups in which they are members, and in the groups that would have them as members. Whenever they detect such tendencies in their own thought, they attempt to intervene in their thinking to avoid accepting group beliefs that fail the test of reasonability. When feasible, they point out this problem to the group and attempt to influence the group toward a more reasonable, openminded view.\n \n ---- \n \nNOTES:\n \n1. It is important to understand that whether and to what extent a group is engaging in groupishness must be determined case by case, using unbiased reasoning and evidence.\n \n2. And the extent to which someone is “inside of” or “outside of” a group may be a matter of degree. For instance, because of stratification that exists within groups, every larger group has potentially a number of smaller groups within it. Some of those smaller groups will get more of the “goodies” within the group than others. Thus, the larger group might pursue the goals of the entire group while at the same time privileging certain smaller groups of people within the larger group. This phenomenon is seen quite plainly within countries that seek to get resources for the larger population in the country (“more for our country”), but which dole out those resources lopsidedly, giving more to the ruling class or wealthy than to the people at large.\n\n---- \n\n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"References:"},{"insert":"\n \nGonzales, L. (2008, October). Deep survival: Mob mentality. National Geographic Adventure. Carmel: National Geographic Society.\n \nMill, J. S. (1859; 1997). The spirit of the age, on liberty, the subjection of women. Alan Ryan (ed.), New York, NY: Norton and Company.\n \nPaul, R. (1990; 2012). Critical thinking: What every person needs to survive in a rapidly changing world. Tomales, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking Press.\n \nPiaget, J. (1962). The moral judgment of the child. New York: Collier Books.\n \nSumner, W. G. (1906; 1940). Folkways: A study of the sociological importance of usages, manners, customs, mores, and morals. New York: Ginn and Co.\n\n----\n\n{This blog was adapted from: "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"Liberating the Mind"},{"insert":" by Linda Elder, Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019, pp. 17-20).}\n"}]}


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