This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "21 Lessons for the 21st Century" by Yuval Noah Harari. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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What is groupthink? What are some examples of groupthink in politics?
Groupthink occurs when a group’s desire for internal harmony supersedes critical reasoning. In politics, groupthink is particularly dangerous because it leads to irrational, dysfunctional decisions that affect entire nations. For example, politicians with no scientific training are creating policies on climate change that affect not just their nation but the whole world.
Keep reading to learn about groupthink in politics.
Groupthink in Politics
In groupthink, people become so convinced of and loyal to the views of their community—whether it’s their social group, political party, or society—that they fail to recognize when those views are flawed. Furthermore, people are typically surrounded by other people and sources of information that merely serve as an echo chamber, affirming the beliefs they already hold.
Corporate and political leaders are even more susceptible to groupthink, because they’re so busy ruling that they don’t have the time to reexamine issues and reach independent conclusions. In order to truly evaluate a belief and to come up with new insights, you need the opportunity to waste time. You must have time to come up with and sift through many new ideas—including many dead-ends—in order to hit on something insightful.
Besides being short on time, leaders also have the burden of power, which warps their perception of truth. First, when you have power, your perspective naturally skews to find ways to use your power—and your justification for using power may not always reflect the truth. Even if you are judicious about wielding your power, those around you will try to sway you to use it for their benefit. Second, leaders typically reach a position of power because they strongly represent the views of the group. The powerful people who surround leaders are invested in maintaining the order based on those existing views, not questioning them and jeopardizing social structures.
The dangers of groupthink in politics will become more severe as the 21st century progresses. Technology, the economy, and global politics will become increasingly complex, individuals’ understanding will continue to shrink, and—as we discussed—the stakes will continue to rise. While it’s unrealistic for individuals to try to close their knowledge gaps, the best they can do is to acknowledge their ignorance and act with humility.
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