Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Tragedy of Consensus

What gets us into trouble is not so much our ignorance. It's what we know that just ain't so. -- Mark Twain
The regrettable reality is how many of us are susceptible to group think – the consensus understanding of anything that “everybody knows.”
We in the west like to think of ourselves as more civilized, more advanced and all that, but we’re just as capable of refusing to acknowledge reality and looking at facts placed in front of us. We’re not very different from the barbarians of old believing in potions, chicken bones and whatever hocus-pocus is shown to them. We’re susceptible to the same stupidity. -- Mathew in comment at Crusader Rabbit

I like Mathew's observation of our civility. Particularly our "intelligentsia" thinks themselves more civilized; they will see that there is hell to pay for anyone who dares suggest they’re not. Burn the evidence and the detectives who dared dig it up.

And it is not just our wannabe rulers.

Most of us react instantly negatively to anyone who dares violate our consensus. The reaction has been been described as having ones world turned upside down. Nausea is not an uncommon result.  So it is not abnormal when all of us, as a general rule, hate to fight the consensus we find surrounding us lest we find ourselves on the receiving end of that reflexive negativity and emotional outbursts. That is tragic; only made more so by those who exploit it. Sociopaths are tremendously successful in tiptoeing past that minefield while condemning most of the rest of us to the mines they themselves placed. Yet even the harshest of realities may never burst the illusions in some people. The proof of that is found in the reports of the last words of communist true-believers as they died in Stalin's Gulags: "If Stalin only knew [what a faithful comrade am I]." It is quite apparent that consensus and the fear of transgressing is so strong that, were zombies real, it would be manifest in its victims after death.

If I ever stop procrastinating I will complete the series of screeds I've begun about how consensus has been a terrible factor in why we are so divided in how we perceive our troubles and our enemies.

Although there are many national stories and news outlets and major talk show hosts who traffic heavily in fostering and maintaining consensus views, I have a couple of anecdotal examples of defense of consensus views. One is from the Left.  It is the rabbi with whom I differed over his new-age take on Genesis 22. He censored my rejoinders, and eventually deleted from his site that portion of our interchange he originally posted. However, his efforts are foiled by the wayback machine and copies of what he refused to publish. The second is from the Right. Tam did not delete our discussion, but her manner provides a fine demonstration of why the Right is no home for either principled conservatism or classical liberalism.

Neither example is of people influential enough to be considered significant members of the Downers. But their type sure as shooting aids the Downers by being so damned closed-minded and fearful of climbing out of the pit of despair and joining the Upsiders. That both will blindly continue what they've been doing and expecting different results is sad. That they are not alone is tragic.

More anon. Soon I pray.


  1. Happy Thanksgiving Pasc.
    May we have much to be thankful for, for a while.

  2. Thank you Ed. Same to you. And I always will be thankful for having just been alive no matter the frustrations that have confounded me. In a way, having experienced them has drawn me closer to my Maker than all the successes in my life. That may sound odd, but as a parent, you may understand why. When our children fail we find it hard but we often keep trying to help them even when they don't seem to want it. When they succeed, even for a little bit, it brightens our day and helps dispel all the rest. Has to make one closer. Certainly does me; and it doesn't even have to be my own children.

  3. Happy Thanksgiving to you. I wonder how many young Americans of today know what the celebration is all about?

    My wife and I were fortunate to have a visitor from the States stay over in 2008 during the week of Thanksgiving who cooked us a real Thanksgiving Dinner.

    Enjoyed every morsel!

    Your post this day says it all about the stupidity of group- think that most become beholden to due to what I believe is the gradual de-individualization of the person who just wants to fit in with those he/she believes reflects their own view or ideals.

    Problem is, those who allow themselves to become part of the 'consensus' and who at some point realize what is happening to them are then faced with a choice that many find too difficult to contemplate - do they remain part of the group-think knowing they have lost most of their ability to think freely and state plainly or do they break free of the group-think stranglehold and become ostracized, or worse!

    We are all at some point in our lives, and some more than others, faced with confronting the group-think, especially on those issues that we know are affecting us as sovereign nations, to which those befuddled by consensus choose to ignore.

    Islam is one of those issues which has got me into some fairly heated 'discussions' with my family and friends. It takes determination from a sense of being right which can only come from learning about those issues that affect us all before we are able to make individuals begin to think for themselves.

    I have been called a bigot, a racist and given other unsavory epithets for simply putting my knowledge out for those who remain ignorant to consider.

    Knowledge is power that 'consensus' diminishes.

    1. Knowledge is power that 'consensus' diminishes.
      I'm having a hard time grokking that.
      Are you saying concensus diminishes knowledge?
      Reduces it's status or power?

  4. Hope your Thanksgiving is full of family, food, and the knowledge that even as bad as things are now (and may soon becoming), we still have much to be thankful for.

  5. Ed, I should have included 'Collectivist' as part of 'consensus'.

    My point being, that when 'consensus' is of the 'collectivist' kind that demands everyone think and behave in an 'ideal' way, then knowledge that causes individuals to think apart from the 'consensus' is non-negotiable, and is therefore considered dangerous to the group-thinking crowd.

    A classic example of that kind of group-think is the religion of global warming whose fanatical adherents systematically verbally abuse the dissenters or thinkers who have largely taken their stance due to their own investigations, as 'deniers'.


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