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Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Quest for Free Thought

Sometimes I've heard people affirm that they are free thinkers. They eschew, for example, church organizational structure as a cesspool of “groupthink”. Group think being defined as: 
Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an incorrect or deviant decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.

The ultimate defense against groupthink is sometimes taken to be radical individualism. A favorite example presented by individualistic thinkers is Galileo when in conflict with the church. The “independent mind” is highly valued above all else including any claims of any groups. 

Saint Paul wrote that: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galations 5:1 NIV). But he also wrote when characterizing proper behavior on the part of slaves that we are to be: “slaves of Christ” (Ephesians 6:6 NIV). 

[Catch-22: “A situation in which a desired outcome or solution is impossible to attain because of a set of inherently illogical rules or conditions”]

The Catch-22 in groupthink analysis is that one can easily become the victim of individualistic groupthink—within an “isolated group” of only one. That is, when one only consults his own thoughts and opinions, then all the negatives of groupthink can become operational within ones one's own skull—a overarching desire for harmony of internal thoughts and a slavery to one's own ideas in which internal conformity is ruthlessly applied. Thus internal conflict is minimized sometimes at the expense of critical evaluation of alternative ideas and viewpoint. Here an isolation of the self is as equally harmful as any isolated conformity experienced in groupthink. 

The principles of the church and its disciplines of love are no more guarantors of integrity anymore than the the principles of objectivity underlying the scientific method. The human element is always present no matter what and it carries with it tendencies towards bald rationalization and selfish pride. 

Institutions can be tools to clarify thought and reality. So can the “tool” of carefully considered individualism. But neither one is worth a damn without a persistent element of humility.

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