Without realizing it, most people look to others for guidance on what to think. The world is too complex. This is a simple heuristic to make life easier.
This is a thought I’ve been having a lot recently as I look at all of the online culture creations and fads that are so prominent in our newfeeds.
Whether it be political ideals, the keto diet, or bitcoiners - you’ll notice that many of the followers all use the same words to describe their ideas and beliefs.
This isn’t a coincidence - it’s because as humans we generally look for someone or something to guide us. For a group to belong to, for something to change our lives, for something to share on social media and say that we are a part of.
And I think the future will show us that more and more of these ‘thought groups’ will continue to pervade our society and grow with online sharing.
If I was going to start a following today, the first thing I would do is come up with a code language for the things that we would do as part of our group.
‘Reading Books’ would be IKing (Improving Knowledge)
‘Working Out’ would be LLing (Lengthening Life)
‘Meditating’ would be CTMing (Clearing The Mind)
Everyday I’d IK, LL, and CTM. The group would be very focused as we would all talk about how much we’ve GE’d that week (Growth Expanded - a term for being better than you were last week).
The shared language of these groups is a part of what builds group cohesion. It creates a sort of in-group/out-group mentality which appears to be a part of the natural human mind.
This is all not to say that these groups are necessarily negative. I for one lost 35lbs on the keto diet and I also traded bitcoin back in 2013 and believed it was revolutionary.
The problem with calling out this brainwashing/latching on/group cohesion is that in-group members may feel that you are attacking them.
That’s not what people are generally doing when they bring up flaws in groupthink, but nonetheless you will find defenders of each ideology. This is a natural mechanism when you feel something that changed your life is under attack - but it is also a big problem for the believers.
When you feel your thoughts are under attack - you no longer listen to reasonable arguments. There’s a great book called When Prophecy Fails that basically showed that when peoples’ worldviews start to have cracks in them - rather than objectively realizing these flaws, often times people grow more adamant in their beliefs and fight back.
Logically this doesn’t make sense, but psychologically it can. For example - if you’ve told all your family, friends, and relatives that keto was amazing for your health, and then a study comes out that says it may lead to intestinal lining issues - your worldview is under attack. You’ve invested a portion of your personality into something that could have unintentionally hurt the people you love. This creates massive cognitive dissonance - and when we feel cognitive dissonance we begin to lose reason. Believers will attack legitimate studies and get thousands of retweets from fellow believers - even if objectively society would be better knowing the truth.
I don’t know that there is a solution for this other than educating our society, starting with children, on critical thinking and cognitive biases. This is why I spent a year or so reading tens of books on the subject - because I couldn’t understand why some things were the way they were or why people react or overlook things that seem objectively obvious. After immersing myself in it I feel I have a much better understanding now - but I do wonder whether society will ever adapt this knowledge on a wide scale. For now - check out Thank You For Arguing for a decent primer.