Groupthink Gridlock

The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 seemed to many the final triumph of Western liberal thought over a system known for its rigid adherence to doctrines driven by theory, the suppression of dissent, and demands for soul-crushing intellectual conformity by the nation’s elite leaders. A new golden age characterized by freedom of expression, a renewed faith in the value of free and open debate, and decision making based on facts rather than wishful fantasies had triumphed, and all the old divisions would be set aside in favor of a world run by a benevolent and tolerant meritocracy. Go, go Western democracies!

If you had told the celebrants who were gleefully demolishing the Berlin Wall that their futures would be characterized by crippling political polarization, public shaming of dissenters, and academic and political elites that ruthlessly enforced an intellectual orthodoxy that still somehow thrived despite ample evidence of its disastrous failures, they might well have put down their sledgehammers and gone home that day.

The liberal belief in a godlike global state that would be managed to peak efficiency by appointed bureaucrats managed to do little other than engineer a massive transfer of wealth to the super rich while insisting upon a zillion pettifogging regulations for the rest of us that neither protected our futures nor improved our daily lives. Our global elites instead enhanced the power of perhaps the most universally hated group on the planet—lawyers—because their expertise at navigating newly created mountains of arcane and contradictory bureaucratic mandates was now critical to every aspect of our now thoroughly regulated existences.

The steadily rising economic anger of the ruled against their rulers has now led to the election of Donald Trump in America, the revolt against the European Union that has pretty much ended the political career of its greatest champion, Angela Merkel, and the rise of populist leaders most everywhere else who have surfed to power on tsunamis of rage and outright revolt against the deeply dysfunctional status quo. The reaction of the new global elite to this new and unwelcome reality has been both predictable and depressing: Those who don’t appreciate our sage guidance are a bunch of ignorant and misguided bigots who fear what they cannot understand. Therefore, what we need now are new and enhanced powers to monitor and manage this unruly and ungrateful herd.

The self-serving outrage and smug insults of those leaders and their supporters who are angry about the vicissitudes of democracy isn’t likely to win back many of the disaffected. Here in the United States we are regularly treated to apocalyptic gabfests and learned commentary regarding why our governing structures are suddenly too weak to stand up to the scary “white supremacists” who are now diligently engaging in the one action that is characteristic of all budding domestic terrorists: casting a vote in an election. Democracy kind of sucks when those whom you deign to rule tell you to shove off.

However, despite their unwilling efforts to better understand the peculiar motivations of those whose lives revolve around work, faith, and family, the mainstream media and Beltway insiders have mostly fallen back on that old standby strategy familiar to despots the world over when faced with a revolt: We need to reassert our control by crushing dissent. Hence, we hear and read repeated calls to censor the dissemination of opposing viewpoints, incitement of the harassment of those who question the status quo, and the launching of daily ad hominem attacks on the values and morals of those deemed enemies of the statist solutions. Aided and abetted by those in academia equally concerned about the yearnings of many Americans to slip the leash of government-approved behavior and beliefs, we are regularly warned of the hell lying just ahead unless these ideas—and those who hold them—are destroyed and their rights to free speech are suppressed.

The problem is, of course, that neither the globalist or nationalist viewpoint is correct 100% of the time. Just as some matters are best left to individual nations to manage for themselves, so are some problems large and complex enough to warrant a response coordinated by an international body.

A thoughtful explanation followed by a reasonable suggestion is still more than able to sway opinions when the necessity arises, and the 2018 elections should be proof enough that democracy still has sturdy powers of self-correction despite breathless predictions of its imminent demise. However, those who lack faith in the wisdom of the governed are still anxious to hand power to unaccountable authorities who can more easily override the wishes of those who are obviously too stupid to manage their own lives or the planet without leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.

New ideas are neither inherently dangerous nor destructive, but the ongoing effort to silence those who want to change the current direction of our nation and world will simply frustrate the legitimate aspirations of many and promote yet more of the theory-driven groupthink that has landed us in the mess we are today. Any refusal to listen is ultimately more harmful than the idea being expressed, and we might find that even those supposedly ignorant and bigoted masses who are not properly credentialed to rule have many ideas worthy of consideration. In the final analysis, those who do the working and the sweating will always understand more than those who devote their cloistered lives to study and judgement—so the voices of the people should be treated with far more respect than they often are today.

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