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Thursday, 12 April 2012

Group think

I hate groupthink and what’s worse, there’s no escape. I’ve been there: Catholic, Marxist, teacher, musician – even writer – the effect is the same. Consciously or unconsciously you censor your mind. You can say that you don’t – like St Peter said he’d never deny Christ. And then the cock crowed.

The truth is you tailor your words and, if you’re not careful, your thoughts to a wider group view. There is a liberal/radical consensus, a tribe that can be insufferably smug, as though believing they are the repository of all that is truthful and good.

There are ‘rednecks’ gun lobbyists, euro sceptics, Tories, Neo Cons, Protestants, Catholics, Wiccan, Jedi and atheists - more tribes than you can shake a stick at and the bottom line is that each of them have probably the same measure of goodness and generosity of spirit. It’s just hard to discern and sometimes harder to acknowledge this without howls of protest from whichever tribe you happen to find yourself in.

The most insidious group think in this country is the BBC. You never get the news. You get an interpretation. It is good that I sit in the dark and alone with only a teapot for company when I put on the Today programme. The gloom is punctuated with much irritation, sometimes loud curses my wife wouldn’t tolerate. It’s the complacency, occasional self-importance, giggling undertone, snide asides and pharisaic questioning nudging the listener along the right tracks. Over the years it's become worse, a sly, benign intolerance.

The boast is objectivity, allowing every voice to be heard - only some voices are more equal than others. It is easy to ‘encourage dissident views’ if you select carefully and control the debate, then what you’re getting is the illusion of impartiality; not free ranging but battery thought.

The main stream media patronises and infantilises large swathes of the population and relentlessly pushes its sense of the truth. And yes, you may say, Fox news is worse; better the BBC than News Corporation. Well, in my opinion, what’s worse is having only one ‘tribal’ view. Having a yin but no yang.

Humans are tribal. I like to think I’m not but I am. I belong to the tribe that loathes anyone who ‘knows’ the truth. And the BBC reminds me of the Renaissance Catholic Church in that respect. It has many virtues and the vices of a monopoly. Ah, time for another cup of tea - or something stronger.


Angela Brown said...

My only interactions with the BBC has been enjoying the Planet Earth series with my daughter. Not much news there. I'm just hoping we don't end up looking at a headline that says, "God Wills It!" as the world trembles in preparation for some Christian version of jihad, or should that be called a return to the Crusades.

In the end, no one wants to admit to being a part of group think anymore than they want to admit to being prejudiced, which I am. Very prejudiced. Just happen to have my prejudices toward things beyond the race of the young man in front of me...more like a prejudice of the top of his pants being at the middle of his knees and his "shirt" looking more like a dress and the fact that he's proudly displaying is Marvin the Martian boxers. Yeah...group think.

Maria Zannini said...

You're preaching to the choir. :)

The media ceased being objective somewhere along the Viet Nam war in the US. Nowadays, any perceptive soul can figure out their agendas. It's all about entertainment value and (train wreck worthy) ratings rather than facts.

I think a watershed moment for me was when Greg (being part of an emergency rescue team) saw raw footage of the looting after Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. It was then skillfully edited so that the public was never aware of what really happened. The truth, oddly enough, came out on YouTube, which then made the news station look dishonest and self-serving.

If I can quote Mr. Universe from the movie, Serenity:
There is no news. There is only the truth of the signal. What I see. And, there's the puppet theater the Parliament jesters foist on the somnambulant public.

Great. Now I need something stronger than tea.

Mike Keyton said...

Angela, the BBC produces many superb dramas, nature films and other programmes of quality - though even nature films will somehow link the humble hedgehog to global warming. Right or wrong other agendas are subtly inserted. Though no scientist, I'm inclined to believe in global warming, I just don't want to be manipulated. Watch out for young man in his Marvin the Martian boxers : )

Mike Keyton said...

Maria, that Katrina moment struck a chord. There are a whole host of things over here not recorded, ethnicities or religious affiliaton not mentioned in case the 'simple minded' draw their own, wrong, conclusions. I think the MSM is beginning to feel threatened by the blogosphere. There are already noises about regulating it. What is frightening is that there is a real possibility that the MSM will become more like Pravda and as a result be as irrelevant as our major party machines. What then happens to a cohesive society?

Veronica Sicoe said...

Humans are tribal indeed, and even if we love to think we're free individuals, we're always part of some group or another mentality-wise. I think the only aspect of this that doesn't make me uncomfortable is that as long as I remain flexible and skeptical, I'm at least safe from "knowing" the real truth. IMO, the only knowledge that is true is that of one's own lack of true knowledge.

Skeptical journo said...

Hello - interesting blog.

I work for a news channel. Hand on heart I have never, ever been told to run a particular story, report or interview by my bosses. Inserting some hidden agenda or subtle rhetoric? I wish things were that interesting.

The average person who watches a 24 hour news channel switches on for no more than 15 minutes. If a particular segment or report goes over 3 minutes in duration then the viewer - or listener – gets bored and switches off. This presents a particular challenge to those of us who control the output of a channel. It is very difficult to tell every side of a complex, multi-faceted story in 3 minutes. You have to quickly and efficiently use the time to cover the main news lines, the background and try to interview every major player within the story. All of that must be presented in language that is easy to understand and will appeal to a demographic that could include the uneducated (watching in rural Africa for example) who perhaps are unfamiliar with a concept others take for granted as well as more affluent, highly educated people from the traditional “western” part of the world.

We are also broadcasting to the entire world and that presents its own unique challenges. Someone in the US is unlikely to want to watch a lengthy interview with the Taliban about why educating women is evil or see video of them manufacturing IEDs which will undoubtedly kill US soldiers. But if you’re being totally objective isn’t their right to be heard as important as that of the US commander saying how stable the region has become since his troops took control? However if you constantly give equal airtime to the Taliban as you do to US voices then kiss goodbye to your spot on a US cable network. And there would be those shouting from the rooftops that we were pushing a radical Islamic agenda.

I remember attending an Arab-Israeli summit once. We were supposed to be doing lives for a major network. 8 hours in and we had no news lines so every time they came to us we had to once again go over key themes that were “likely to be discussed”. Delegations of Egyptians, Syrians and Saudis rushed by claiming they were too busy to talk. However the Israelis came over: three of them with huge folders bulging with notes and press releases. They introduced themselves, handed out their phones numbers and started arranging interviews for whomever we wanted to speak to. My Iraqi colleague was extremely frustrated as it was the Israeli agenda that would yet again make the headlines….but as he said “what else can we report when all we know is what they’ve told us?”

The point is that criticising the BBC as not being completely unbiased is fairly easy. But being fully objective all of the time in a manner that keeps everybody happy? Well that’s impossible.

Mike Keyton said...

Vero, you're right. No one can really avoid groupthink -from family - school - the scouts and then the newspapers you gravitate to and the media around you, what should be porous can harden into a carapace of bigotry. You're right, too, about what Socrates said over two thousand years ago. Thanks for your comment.

Mike Keyton said...

S. J. Thank you for such a detailed and thoughtful response. How did you stumble upon my relatively obscure blog?


I enjoyed reading about your first hand experience and take on board completely what you say about the cut and thrust of real life and hastily made decisions - though I paused over your point about: Someone in the US is unlikely to want to watch a lengthy interview with the Taliban about why educating women is evil How do we know that? It could equally be argued that a TV outlet has made that decision and the professional journalist responds automatically.

I agree that only a conspiracy theorist would assert as fact that a small cabal dictates what is shown across every outlet of the media. But it is not as simple as that. In a country like Britain the media is dominated by a relatively small and cohesive group that shares a similar background and a similar world view. The tyranny of the meme maybe. Now that's a fine phrase. It might even have meaning : )
Thanks again