Blog Post: The Deadly Riot at The US Capital is A Manifestation of Sociocentric Thinking

Linda Elder
Jan 13, 2021 • 247d ago
The Deadly Riot at The US Capital is A Manifestation of Sociocentric Thinking

{"ops":[{"insert":"As we continue to try to make sense of the events of January 6, 2021, people are asking questions like: How could so many people have been involved in the crimes connected with breaking into the Capital building in a bizarre attempt to stop the counting of electoral votes? Now that at least some of them have been located and will be held accountable, what did they think would happen when they flashed their smiling faces across the world as they raided the Capital - attacking, injuring and even in one case killing, law enforcement officers? Clearly the group was disorganized on the whole, and the people involved had different motives – with some of them willing to kill in cold blood, while others were simply following along, as naïve thinkers will do. What did the “leaders” of these groups expect would happen – that they would somehow actually stage a coup and take over our government? What did the followers expect would happen when they unlawfully entered the Capital spewing hatred across their shirts and out of their mouths? Were some there to harm or even kill elected legislators and leaders? Were some just following orders from group leaders, pushed along by the US president, without thinking through what they were doing and why? When we hear the actual complaints of these grumbling people, we hear things like, the left wing wants to bring us socialism, communism, Marxism (mimicking what they have heard from their president). But we rarely hear "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"reasoning"},{"insert":" about what is wrong, why it is wrong, how they have been wronged, what they fear about progressive ideas.\n\nSwept up in mass hysteria, which has been exemplified ad nauseam throughout history, many of these people were simply following along with a group that would accept them for their simplistic beliefs that, though out of touch with reality, were shared by the overall group. Collectively they validated one another and could “feel good, even exhilarated.” They thought of themselves as unique and special, a group standing together on principle.  But what principles? In the final analysis, sadly, we see, in essence, merely another gross contextualization of various forms of sociocentric thinking, which runs through human societies. In the following excerpt, slightly modified from my recent book, "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"Liberating the Mind"},{"insert":", ("},{"attributes":{"color":"#954f72","link":"https://www.criticalthinking.org/liberating-the-mind-elder"},"insert":"https://www.criticalthinking.org/liberating-the-mind-elder"},{"insert":" ), I detail some of the manifestations of sociocentrism. As you read this excerpt, apply the ideas to the insurrection of January 6, 2021 in the US Capital.\n\n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"People Tend to Blindly Conform to Group Rules and Groupthink"},{"insert":"\nLiving a human life entails membership in a variety of human groups. This typically includes groups such as nations, cultures, professions, religions, families, and peer groups. We find ourselves participating in groups even before we are aware of ourselves as living beings. We find ourselves as part of one or more groups in virtually every setting. What is more, every group to which we belong has some social definition of itself and some usually unspoken “rules” that guide the behavior of all members. Each group to which we belong imposes some level of conformity on us as a condition of acceptance. This includes a set of beliefs, behaviors, and taboos.\n \nAll of us, to varying degrees, uncritically accept as right and correct whatever ways of acting and believing are fostered in the social groups to which we belong. This becomes clear to us if we reflect on what happens when, say, adolescents join an urban street gang. When they do so, they identify themselves with:\n \n• a name that defines who and what they are,\n• a way of talking,\n• a set of friends and enemies,\n• gang rituals in which they must participate,\n• expected behaviors involving fellow gang\nmembers,\n• expected behaviors when around the enemies of\nthe gang,\n• a hierarchy of power within the gang,\n• a way of dressing,\n• social requirements to which every gang member must conform,\n• a set of taboos—forbidden acts that every gang member must studiously\navoid under threat of punishment.\n \nWhat we tend not to see is that these same principles, or slightly revised versions of them, are implicit in most group behavior, and are hence in no way confined to gang membership or “the masses.” For instance, consider college faculty as a group. They have names or labels, such as “professor,” “assistant professor,” “instructor,” and so on, each of which designates rank. When referring to ideas within their disciplines, they often speak with one another using specialized language that only they understand (and often write books for one another using this same type of specialized language). They invite one another to special parties and dinner engagements, and they exclude people not in their special “club.” They might invite a select group of graduate-level students, or students considered “gifted,” or in some other way considered “special” and therefore deserving of their attention. There is usually a hierarchy that everyone in the group recognizes and “respects,” often having to do with “rank” or seniority.\n \nThough this problem is not as dangerous as an insurrection that attempts to overthrow democratic process, it clearly stands in the way of progress in academia. And the more general point is that we all fall prey to these pathological ways of thinking, to a greater or lesser degree.\n \nFor most people, blind conformity to group restrictions is automatic and unreflective. Most people effortlessly conform without recognizing their conformity. They internalize group norms and beliefs, take on the group identity, and act as they are expected to act—without the least sense that what they are doing might reasonably be questioned. Sumner (1906; 1940) articulates the point well:\n \nWhether the masses will think certain things wrong,"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"cruel, base, unjust, and disgusting; whether they"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"will regard certain projects as sensible, ridiculous,"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"or fantastic, and will give attention to certain topics,"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"depends on the convictions and feelings which at the"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"time are dominant in the mores. (p. 114)"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" \nHistorian Howard Zinn (2003) exemplifies the problem of blind conformity through nationalism, which is, in the main, achieved through manipulation of the masses. Consider how people collectively beat the drums to war, lining up behind those in power: As always, in a situation of war or near-war, the air becomes filled with patriotic cries for unity against the enemy. What is supposed to be an opposition party declares its loyalty to the president. The major voices in the media, supposed to be independent of government, join the fray. Immediately after President Bush declared “war on terrorism” and told Congress, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists,” television anchorman Dan Rather … spoke. He said, “George Bush is the president. He makes the decisions, and, you know, as just one American, if he wants me to line up, just tell me where.” Speaking again to a national television audience, Rather said about Bush: “He is our commander in chief. He’s the man now. And we need unity. We need steadiness.” (p. xiii)\n \nAgain, conformity of thought, emotion, and action is not restricted to the masses, the lowly, or the poor. It is characteristic of people in general, independent of their role in society, independent of status and prestige, independent of years of schooling. It is in all likelihood as true of college professors and their presidents as it is of students and custodians, as true of senators and chief executives as it is of construction and assembly-line workers. Conformity of thought and behavior (or group submission) is the rule for humans; independence is the exception. If we, the people, are to cultivate fairminded critical societies, critique of mores and ideological convictions must become commonplace throughout the world.\n \nIn his classic text The Power Elite, C. Wright Mills (1956) examines the thinking and behavior of the powerful in America. He exemplifies groupthink as common among chief executives:\n\nWhen it is asked of the top corporate men: “But didn’t they have to have"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"something to get up there?” The answer is, “Yes, they did.” By definition,"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"they had “what it takes.” The real question accordingly is: the sound"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"judgment, as gauged by the men of sound judgment who select them. The"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"fit survive, and fitness means, not formal competence—there probably is"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"no such thing for top executive positions—but conformity with the criteria"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"of those who have already succeeded. To be compatible with the top men"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"is to act like them, to look like them, to think like them: to be of and for"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"them—or at least to display oneself to them in such a way as to create that"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"impression. (p. 141)"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" \nIn this example we see conformity coupled with validation of the group’s beliefs and standards— however arbitrary, superficial, or absurd—as primary criteria for success at the executive levels of management. These standards are validated within the group, and thus determine the extent to which given persons will survive in the power structure as well as how “successful” they will become. Critical thinkers learn to recognize and systematically critique these practices.\n \nGroup conformity in human life—the counterpart to group control— is so common as to be nearly undetectable by individuals engaging in it. People tend to automatically accept and follow the mainstream view. This phenomenon is connected with the largely unconscious need to feel accepted—to be validated within the group. Very few people are autonomous thinkers, since true independence of thought is so little valued in human cultures.\n \nConversely, conformity can be seen in almost every part of human life, from the way we wear our hair to the way we dress, from the food we eat to the cars we drive, and from the technological gadgets we purchase to the music we listen to.\n \nPeople are so busy conforming to group codes and conventions, while at the same time having no real sense of doing so, that the negative implications of group influence go largely unnoticed - until groups go too far.\n \nThese understandings only begin to explain the events of January 6, 2021. Until human societies take seriously the problem of group think or sociocentrism in human life, we cannot address, at a foundational level the problems that underly what happened at our US Capital. And until people counter lies and deception (which fit their world view) with truth (that will cause them to change their world view), we can never achieve "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"homo criticus sapien"},{"insert":".\n\nFor more on sociocentrism see "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"Liberating the Mind"},{"insert":" by Linda Elder, (Rowman & Littlefield 2019). \nhttps://www.criticalthinking.org/liberating-the-mind-elder \n"}]}


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Posted by: Joseph Halter

{"ops":[{"insert":"I enjoyed reading this blog since it is so relevant for the times but the timeless problems of sociocentrism prevails universally.\nI understand that humans are social creatures and it is our nature to conform with customs, traditions, mores and cultures. Many of these \"rules\" allow us to communicate and live with tranquility. The issues of lies and deceptions or lack of examination to harm others or self is the real problem. The intellectual traits are helpful especially autonomy, reasoning and courage.\nI grew up in the era of the Vietnam Conflict and remember the patriotic slogans and songs of the time, it felt it was our duty to preserve and protect our country against the foreign enemy. I think history has shown a sad period of American leadership and purpose for this conflict with lives destroyed on both sides due to sociocentric thinking then and continues today.\n"}]}