Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Groupthink: The American Way?

After reading the article by Irving L. Janis on the groupthink phenomena I began to think about the decisions made in this country both big and small. Groupthink has, without question, been a large part of the decision making of our country for a long time. Look back to the birth of the United States for example. A group of rebellious statesmen came together to create and sign a declaration of independence that represented thirteen colonies and thousands of people. In this case the end result was positive, but it created one of the bloodiest and most difficult times in American history.
The reality is groupthink is one of the ways by which many of our most important decisions are made. No matter what political party our president may fall under; they surround themselves with like-minded advisors and cabinet members. These advisors can be of little to no help in certain situations. In the article written by Janis he describes Kennedy's decision makers during the Bay of Pigs fiasco as, "the greatest array of intellectual talent in the history of American Government" (Janis, 1971). This amass of talent did not stop them from becoming victims of groupthink and making poor choices. The concern of the group to conform to leadership created a fatal flaw in group decision making.
The most recent examples of groupthink that our leadership has presented is the decision of the Bush administration to extend their war campaign into Iraq. This in order to, in Bush's words, "disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people" (From Bush's radio address before the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom). Many were opposed to this, but the republican advisors that Bush had placed under him saw no reason why this was not an appropriate step in their agenda. Their group saw this as a necessary advancement and the group conformed to the social expectations of the party. Even the Obama administration may be falling victim to groupthink within this conflict. In the most recent declarations out of White House the administration is claiming an end to the Iraq War. In this situation the administration might be declaring an end too soon. Iraq is still in a great deal of political turmoil, but Obama has promises to keep. He also has a party and an advisory that is committed to ending what Bush began no matter what.
I believe that our American Government has been set up beautifully for groupthink mentality. Our government is split sharply in to two main parties with very different viewpoints. Our social norms push for conformity, and contradiction is put in such a negative light that we avoid it with all costs. In many cases our opinions that go against the group are held back, because we fear confrontation. We fear the potential to be viewed as an outsider. This type of decision making has shown that it can have very poor consequences for our country. Many of the mistakes our leadership has made from the Bay of Pigs to Iraq can be attributed to the groupthink phenomena. Groupthink is an important issue that our countries leadership is facing. Our system of leadership and decision making may very well be flawed.

My questions are these:
-Is groupthink a flaw of our leadership that can be fixed? Should it?
-What will it take for our leadership to overcome groupthink mentality and our push for group conformity?
-Is Obama's administration falling victim to groupthink in their recent declarations?
-What other examples can you think of where our leadership has fallen victim to a groupthink mentality?

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed considering the points I brought up, and I look forward to discussing them further.