The power of groups (part III) – Collective Contract

The power of groups begins with a much more nuanced fulcrum than described in part II. The following group anatomy is lacking examples, in an attempt to create a general model. Consider several different groups and see how each aspect applies.

To begin to understand the power of groups, we must first examine the group contract.

The original social contract of Locke, Hume and Rousseau is structured such that members of a group must consent to being controlled, and leave or rebel when they are no longer served by the organization.

The implicit contract of a group can be much more subtle, as membership often is built into the identify of the individual. This makes it much more difficult to exit;in some groups it is impossible. In others, reform may be very difficult and time-consuming to achieve.

The group contract usually goes something like this:

1) There will be barriers to entry such that members of the group may see themselves as superior to those not in the group.

2) there will be defined status metrics within the group so that members may seem themselves as better than others within the group, usually in accordance with operating principles of the group.

3) There are reward mechanisms in place for attaining higher levels within the group. Similarly, there are ways to be kicked out or demoted as punishment.

4) Collective mythology is developed to support the ego and self-image of the collective through which the individual can themselves personify greatness. (the way that any american can “take credit” for the actions of the country even before birth.)

These may seem like fairly obvious components of group structure, but it helps draw similarities between groups like families, sports team, political organization or university alumni.

Think of the pep talk given by heads of households, coaches, candidates and chairs. It all tends to be along the lines of “we’re the best, we come from a history of greatness, due to our dedication, spirit, and adherence to core principles and values we will overcome adversity and achieve great things”.

When this type of mythology is built into the identify of the members, it may take a very long time for those members to think of the group as separate from themselves.

The intoxicating power of the group is allowing individuals to personify themselves as the collective. This pride is what obscures individuals from thinking themselves separate enough to rebel. Think of the victory felt by fans of sports teams. “we won! or I won” even when the fan had almost nothing to do with it. This imagined control extends in sports, to calling plays, encouraging players and disagreeing with the ref.

The strength in numbers of the collective allows not just physical protection in some cases, but protects egos. There are a set of fall back principles that obviate the need for individuals to think for themselves. It provides instant backup and credibility, and an unassailable identify through principle “that is what we believe”.

The power of groups is that they reward this reflexive thinking over reflective thinking. We do not think to re-derive the principles which we have adopted, or where to pick and choose amongst them because it is simply easier and safer to go with the pack. Our groups can blind us from reasonable requests or opinions of the opposition.

While these symbiotic relationship between individual psyche and group have evolved to afford groups strength, the end result can be that we serve the group more so that it serves us.


About livingthememe

engineer and armchair philosopher
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