Saturday, May 04, 2013

Ethics for Magical People: Individuals and Groupthink (1of 4)

Often a test of ethics will come from membership in a group, whether at the workplace, home, or school. Each group has its own personality, derived from the combination of people in it. By sharing their goals and identities, people, in return, receive a feeling of security and comfort from the group. However, there will be times when what a person thinks is right runs counter to what the group wants.

Some groups can work to the detriment of the individual. Psychologist and researcher Beatrice Schultz wrote, “A group can hold power over us if we find it attractive enough to want to be a member.” When this develops, “groupthink” among the members will often occur, unless the members encourage nonconformity. Without any debate, group members will often coalesce into a tight unit. As it becomes incapable of making moral judgments, the decision making ability of the group deteriorates.

The University of Pittsburg’s student site on the dynamics of small groups lists several symptoms of groupthink. “The group overestimates its power. Often times a group can believe that their cause is right and that nothing can go wrong with their plan.” Moreover, groupthink leads to an extraordinary degree of over-optimism and risk taking by the group. Groupthink pressures the individuals to conform, and discourages them from having doubts. Silence then becomes consent.

Contributing to groupthink is the “Phenomenon of Group Polarization,” which is “people in groups become more extreme in their point of view.” The “Risky Shift Phenomenon” states that “In the group, they are likely to make riskier decisions as the shared risk makes the individual risk less.” Because of this, “decisional stress” may occur. When a group is forced to make an important decision, the individuals within the group will feel insecure. Therefore the group members will reduce their stress by making decisions quickly with as little dissension as possible.

I have had experiences with groupthink. At one time, a gang took up residence in my garden condo complex. Because they believed that the police were ineffective, my neighbors were reluctant to call the m. Moreover, they also did not want to be a target for the gang. Furthermore, my neighbors thought that I was insane for wanting to go to the police to stop the gang. I was caught between keeping the social order and having relations with my neighbors.

In the case history of Heather and John, their Neo-Pagan group, the Silver Stars, was in the habit of casting spells. Their spells usually focused on “the greater good” such as ending wars or obtaining social justice. This gave the group a sense of moral righteousness. Recently, the Silver Stars decided to end the reign of terror of a serial killer in their area by doing a group spell.

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