Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Scientific American on groupthink

Following the Crowd: Changing Your Mind to Fit In May Not Be a Conscious Choice: Scientific American


  1. (Note, this got long, but I'm posting it anyway. People can ignore it if it's tl;dr.)

    I think that your various posts on the collective mentality of failfans are true in probably about 95% of the cases. Most people in the comments of a fail are part of the group, seeing someone go after something "bad" (racism, etc.) and not willing to question whether it makes any sense.

    However, I also think it's important to address the other 5%. I think there's a difference between joining the cult and forming the cult. And I suppose I'm accusing the Big Names of forming the cult.

    One theory: I've come to think,,recently, that there are people in the world looking for something to hate. These people will latch on to whatever is culturally acceptable for their upbringing and social class. If all of their friends don't like immigrants, these people will hate them with every fiber of their being. If their friends don't like the Yankees, these people hate them. And if one of these people is a liberal, upper-middle class college grad, and their friends don't like racism, well. . .

    The difference between these people and the crowd is that these people are actively hating, and will look for ways to hate. They'll look at everything that passes their way for a for something to project their hatred on. To use a favorite hate toy of the fail fans for an example, people who actually care about the gender and racial make up of an anthology will call for more female centric or POC centric anthologies, and attempt to publish or edit their own. Most people, who are just following, will never notice the number of men vs. women in anthologies. But people who hate will examine every one that comes out, which they had nothing to do with getting published, and go into attack mode whenever the chance comes along.

    Another theory: I read an interesting book once that spoke of the "imaginary jaguar." Basically, chimps have no set hierarchy until there's a threat. The book argued that human society resembles chimp society in this respect. So for humans who would be at the top of a hierarchy, that can only be cemented by inventing a threat. Convincing the rest of us chimps of an imaginary jaguar, as it were. It's possible that the Big Name Fail Fans found that they could invent some really good threats using racism and sexism on an already intelligent, liberal leaning audience. This cemented them as Big Name Fans, as long as they can keep everyone believing in the jaguar.

    A third theory: The benefit of the doubt. The Big Names actually believe this stuff, so fanatically that it can not be questioned. They somehow think that if the field of SF/F was representative of the population of the world, and never offended anyone, that this would make the world a better place. To that end, they actually think they must attack everything working against this utopia with all of their might.

    It's possable that each of these may be in play with different people. Kynn was basically accused of the first one several times during Kynnfail, with some variation on "I always thought she was just a bully using social justice as an excuse to attack people." What what I've read of coffeeandink, I'd put her there too. Bradford, I'd lean more towards the second theory (especially with how 'concerned' she often is about being seen as the leader of the social justice movement, while she leads it around by the nose.)

  2. Not too long!

    The three sound reasonable to me, and there's probably some bouncing back and forth among them for all the major players. My short take continues to be that they are honestly aware that something is wrong with the world, but they're not able to engage with the notion that privilege is based on wealth because then they're part of the problem, so they've seized their comfortable alternative, that it's all about race and gender. When they're able to comprehend that the privilege of a poor white man to sleep under a bridge is not greater than the privilege of a rich black woman to sleep in a mansion, it might be possible to talk with them.

    I kind of want a fourth category of Drama Queen seizing opportunity to be Drama Queen, but that's covered well enough in your second category. It's not that the jaguars are imaginary, though. It's that the failfans are only able to see the jaguars in the front rank, so they don't ask who the Jaguar Lords are.

  3. Emily, I think you've nailed down (some of?) the root factors, but I think there's a layer of interaction. Like this:

    Person A is prone to hating on things, likes to argue, whatever, "A" notices genuine injustice in the world, and seizes on it, doing a little yelling -- so far we have a bit of category 1 and a bit of category 3. "A" then gets positive feedback as a mob-let forms, sliding them in to your second category -- the jaguar was not imaginary, but "A" now feels like a bigger chimp, so the jaguar gets larger and multiplies. And so it goes.

    Your factors are an excellent slicing up of these aspects of personality and mob-think but I think they're all in play in varying degrees all the time, more or less.