Tuesday, March 15, 2016
A recurrent theme in this blog is that one cannot understand repetitive self-destructing, self-defeating, or self-subverting behavior without reference to group dynamics. Because of the forces of kin selection, we are all biologically predisposed to sacrifice our own needs/ideas/happiness in order to fit into the various kin and ethnic groups to which we belong - although we can all override this tendency and face the consequences if we so desire.
Part of the way we fit ourselves into any group is to pretend to subscribe to the validity of the rules and ideas shared by the other members of our group: what is today called groupthink.
I recently came across an idea about a peculiar and almost paradoxical phenomenon which is one interesting manifestation of groupthink. It is known as the Abilene Paradox, first described by Jerry P. Harvey in 1974. It is similar to my idea about what is going on with members of couples embroiled in repetitive dysfunctional relationships. Members of such couples almost always assume that it's the partner, not they, who want and need their relationship to continue in its current miserable form (cross motive reading).
As described by Harvey, the Abilene Paradox is based on a personal experience in which his family all agreed to travel over 50 miles in extreme heat and in a non-air conditioned car in order to eat at a restaurant in Abilene, Texas. In reality, not a single member of the family actually wanted to take this trip when someone suggested it. However, every single one of them mistakenly believed that all the other family members were in favor of going.
And so they all went, and they all were miserable for the entire trip.
This is sort of the inverse of the situation in which an individual who has reservations about a group decision goes along with a group on some idea or project when the other members all, in fact, do think it's a good idea. The end result in each case is of course exactly the same: everyone goes along with the idea. In many such cases, the altruistic intention backfires and ends up harming everyone.
Going along to get along in a business atmosphere, as mentioned in a previous post, can eventually lead to the demise of an entire business. Harvey also discussed the Watergate scandal as another example of a situation in which everyone went along with an idea that they mostly all knew was a terrible one, because that was what they thought everyone else wanted them to do.
Sometimes, what fools these mortals be.