GroupThink(tm) – Some Initial thoughts on the Calgary Election.

Many on the so-called “Liberal” and “Left of Centre” side of the spectrum have certainly treated me as an enemy.  I’ve been told, by one socialist nitwit, that I was, (and I quote verbatim) “… no better than a rapist and murderer,” because I stood firm on an issue of strong personal conscience.

Such statements, while insulting, really did make me wonder what is wrong with those  on the left.  Do these ridiculous and hyperbolic insults come from a true belief that those who disagree are scum from the deepest pit of hell, or are they simply attempts to silence opposition?

It’s most likely a bit of both, in the case that I’m referring to here.  Of course, the person who said it completely failed, because she ended up looking like an idiot, and failed to silence me.

That kind of attack, and others, have led me to believe that the base ideology of the left wing has a tendency to bring out the worst aspects of people.  I’ve come to believe it derives from cognitive dissonance – when in a debate with a conservative, they come to realize that what the conservative is saying — increasing and preserving freedom — makes sense; which opposes their fundamental base belief: that humanity is innately evil, a collective, and we all must work together to ensure nobody is left behind.

(There is far more to this and, as I’m writing this, I realize that I will need to write about this in far more detail at another time.)

So, since they feel discomfort and anxiety, they engage in various coping mechanisms to relieve the discomfort.  Many become defensive and attack.  This exchange here is a prime example.

When I decided to join the Naheed Nenshi campaign, I knew there were likely to be consequences.  I was well aware that many of my colleagues here on the right would wonder what in the world I was up to.  I looked at the job Mr. Nenshi had done over the last three years, and yes, there were things he did (or didn’t do) that I wasn’t happy with.  I think he should have acted faster and more decisively to end Occupy Calgary, for example.  I think that Mr. Nenshi should be advocating that $52 million in a windfall to taxpayers should be returned to the taxpayers as intended.  So while I elected to support Mr. Nenshi, I’m not happy with 100% of what he’s done.

However, once election day came, I was not expecting what happened.  It started on the Sunday evening, and, after I caught a few hours of sleep, I noticed that it had continued.  It all began when Mr. Nenshi responded to something that another person had “retweeted” on Twitter.  Now, retweets are publicly viewable, and as such, Mr. Nenshi happened to catch the retweet, and responded to it.  Mr. Nenshi and I may disagree on whether the response was a good idea or not (my position is it was not), but the blowup his response generated was well beyond anything that I was expecting.

So, I decided that enough was enough, and I pointed out, rather reasonably, I think, that I thought the responses were quite unbecoming of the people making them.  After the conversations I’ve linked to above, you can probably understand why — I’ve seen the nastiness directed at me before, by and large coming from the left; so I was very disappointed to see people I otherwise believed were very reasonable and rational to be heaping the same kind of abuse I’ve seen from the left on someone.

Then they turned on me.

Thinking back on it, I shouldn’t be surprised, given the level of abuse they were heaping on Mr. Nenshi, but as I respected these people, I still believed it was possible to have a rational conversation, get them calmed down, and, hopefully, let the subject drop.

Here’s some of their responses:

These tweets by two of approximately four twitter users illustrate the kind of responses I received.  I’m not going to comment directly on them, other than to point out that brown nosers don’t usually tell the people they’re brown nosing that they’re doing something wrong.  Brown nosers are yes-men, suckups, ass-kissers, etc.  But whatever.  If they want to believe that about me, that’s up to them.  Better people have said worse things about me, so I’m not overly bothered.

The point behind me sharing this with you is this abuse was hurtled at me from the right.  Yes.  The right.  Conservatives.  People that I (until I blocked them) associated with.

This was a bit of an eye-opening experience for me.  Until Monday morning, I honestly believed that nasty personal attacks came exclusively from the left.  I’ve been attacked from the right before, but these attacks were from authoritarian social conservatives, which share many anti-freedom aspects with those on the left.

When I say anti-freedom, I’m talking about imposition of a value on others.  On the social conservative side of things, this means loud proclamations about the supremacy of Christianity and advocating loudly against gay marriage.  I share some of these opinions, but the difference is I don’t believe in imposing my personal set of moral values on the population through legislation. Behaviour I personally don’t agree with but also doesn’t affect those incapable of giving consent (like children), doesn’t consent, or harms another really isn’t any of my business.  So I believe in leaving them alone.

The thing is, for me, a disagreement doesn’t immediately mean the person is valueless.  There are good people in all walks of life, and who hold all kinds of different philosophies in life.

The Nenshi campaign party on Monday night was loads of fun.  I found myself standing around a table with all kinds of different people.  I made a point of not hiding my personal political beliefs, and nobody seemed to care.  We laughed, we talked a little bit of policy, and we had a really good time.  It was also the first time I had ever had a true conversation about “gay issues” with an “out” gay guy.  He was respectful; as was everybody else.  We even agreed.

It was somewhat surreal knowing that many of these wonderful, friendly people would probably end up campaigning for different political parties in the next federal or provincial election.

The point is, these people honestly, truly want what they believe to be the best for their families, for Calgary, for Alberta, and for Canada.  Yes, they may sometimes advocate an approach I think is wrong.  I probably advocate an approach they think is wrong.  But that aside, it doesn’t mean that these people are bad people.  It doesn’t mean I’m a bad person.  It simply means we have different approaches to solving a similar problem.

I found myself wondering why this abuse happens.  I looked at the names of the people involved in the discussion, and realized that these people exist within a closely-knit group who spend their whole time talking amongst themselves.  I’m not talking about one particular group on one side of the political spectrum or the other, I’m talking about what I’ve noticed about all of these various groups that have formed within, primarily, the twitterverse, but it happens in “real life” as well.  There is a phenomenon known as GroupThink.  It occurs when a tightly-knit group starts to believe their own press releases.  They become convinced of their own infallibility.

GroupThink is likely the cause of the last federal election, and the disastrous result the Liberal Party of Canada suffered.  In the days leading up to the fall of the previous government, the Liberals had a spring in their step.  Their time had come.  They were right, and they were going to return to their natural position — the party that governs Canada.  They completely failed to realize that Canadian voters felt differently; and things went from bad to worse for them.

Some of the Liberal Party’s attitude was based in partial truth – their history.  For most of the 20th century, the Liberal Party governed Canada, and they came to believe that the natural order was with them in power.  Canadians voted Liberal, and the Liberal Party ran the country.  And so, I personally think that Michael Ignatieff and his inner circle of advisors (who will never admit to this) probably expected that with a vote of non-confidence over what they believed to be a matter of grand importance (apparent “contempt” of Parliament), that Canadians would simply fall into step, vote Liberal, and restore the natural order.

What they didn’t realize was that Canadians, by and large, hold Parliament in contempt as well.  Let’s face it, Canadians hate politicians, and politicians have worked, en masse, to earn the contempt Canadians feel towards them.

Returning back to my experience on Twitter — and Twitter, is just the vehicle.  This could just as easily be a message forum or even a discussion in a coffee shop somewhere — I think the population can be divided up into three groups.  These groups aren’t at all isolated, and there’s likely some migration between them.  I’ve probably moved between some of them myself over the years.

The first group consists of dogmatic socialists and liberals.  The second are the dogmatic conservatives.  The third group encompasses the rest of us – we hold a range of beliefs ranging for far left to far right.  The first two groups are those engaging in GroupThink.  They are so set on their own infallibility that, in their own minds, of course, anyone who doesn’t go along with their worldview is completely and utterly wrong.  If they are confronted with a counter to their belief, it sets of cognitive dissonance, defensiveness, and lashing out.

In the example I showed above, where I was being attacked, I think these people were actually convinced that I was “defending” Mr. Nenshi, whereas I actually was not.  I even said as much in one of my responses — that by responding, I believed Mr. Nenshi made a bad decision (and I told him as much privately, by the way.)  The discussion however, wasn’t about what Mr. Nenshi was or was not doing at that point, the discussion was about what they were doing, which was actually worse than Mr. Nenshi’s behaviour, because, while Mr. Nenshi actually stopped, they didn’t, and their messages directed at Mr. Nenshi as well as at me got nastier and nastier.

So, lesson learned — lack of civility isn’t the sole purview of socialism.  It certainly exists within that framework in spades, and I still venture to suggest on a larger scale than on the conservative side of things, and this derives partly from what I think is the age groups involved – socialism seems to be embraced by younger people with less life experience, while moderate and libertarian ideals get embraced by a slightly older, more experienced group of people.  Young people react stronger and more intensely than others.  (I was young once, too…)

But it isn’t socialism as an ideology that brings out the worst in people.  It’s dogma.

About Steven Britton

Steve is a freelance programmer, partial billionaire, dad, Recovering Atheist, Conservative, and occasionally prolific blogger.
  • a great blog! i can identify with many of your comments and impressions.

    one of the problems, IMO, is our desire to label people; e.g. liberal, right-wing, conservative, socialist (also, unfortunately, with terms such as feminist, racist)… as if one can describe (and then treat) a group of people so uniformly. similar to you, I harbour a mixture of beliefs; in many areas (especially fiscal approach), i have a lot of beliefs that most would call “conservative”. but in other key areas (e.g. caring for people, especially the weak), i most definitely do not concur with conservative views.

    this causes me no end of internal dilemmas and debates at times. I interact with many people on SM, and i certainly do not restrict myself to like-minded people. yeah, there are some very outspoken and closed-minded people on the right, but also on the left. however, there are many “conservatives” with whom I enjoy debating, even if we do not agree on some pretty fundamental issues. ditto for people who are more left-leaning.

    i have found, through trial and error, that if i attack people’s views, the discussion often and quickly degenerates into a war of who can make the best zinger. however, if i agree on some aspects and challenge others politely, it often becomes a good exchange.

    and for people on SM who simply cannot help but be negative, combative, and single-minded… i unfriend, ignore or block them. life is so much easier that way

    this labelling of ‘left’ and ‘right’ permeates itself in discussions of provincial and federal politics. for some reason, most people feel compelled to defend *their* party, no matter what stupidity it engages in, and to attack the *other* guys, no matter how sense they may make at times. i will not do this; i will give credit whenever it’s due and call BS when it’s not

    one of the interesting things about municipal politics is that it not (yet) adopted political labels (at least not officially) and parties. this makes it easier for someone such as you to support Nenshi; everyone knows he is left-leaning but he doesn’t carry a formal label such as Liberal. this is a good thing!

    thanks again for the article!

  • Tom Glickman

    So apparently you’re not ALWAYS correct, eh, Steven? I think it’s time you stop painting people from the left with the ‘cognitive dissonance’ brush. If people start treating you like idiots, then they’re idiots. That doesn’t make all left-wing people idiots, no more than a bunch of idiot conservatives make all conservatives idiots (and yes, there ARE idiot conservatives). It’s not that they suddenly realize “he’s Right! @#$ What can I do but curse and swear now?” I’d say it’s more along the lines of… they don’t know how to have civil dialogue with someone who they disagree with. Anyway, I think you seriously diminish your credibility when you ‘paint’ like this. If someone says something crazy, I don’t automatically believe that all people are like them. And yes, you may have received LOTS of nasty tweets from leftist people, but that’s because you disagree with them (and they with you)… you’re not going to get nasty tweets from people you agree with. Well, until you start having a disagreement with them, which you’ve now discovered. So let’s broaden our worldviews a little and accept the fact that idiots are idiots…

    • That was the point I was making, Tom. Of course, your accusation that I’m constantly generalizing the left isn’t entirely true. I’m well aware that there are intelligent people on the left. I’ve had very good discussions with them.

      My experience has been that far more invective comes from the left towards the right than the other way around. That doesn’t mean ALL people on the left are idiots; nor does it mean I believe it’s impossible to have a civil conversation with people on the left; but since part of the socialist ideology involves collective belief, thought, and action, many of those on the left do exhibit a strong tendency towards attempts to silence opposition through intimidation. In Canada’s the system actually allowed for people to launch legal action against those they disagree with at no cost to themselves, and full cost to the defendant. (The Human Rights Commission.)

      But the point was that this campaign was an eye-opening experience. I met good people that I don’t agree with. We worked together really well, and disagreed constructively.

      • Trianglereverie

        Note from Steve: This comment arrived as one long individual paragraph, which can sometimes happen. I’ve taken the liberty of adding spaces in areas that I believe to be logical breaks between paragraphs. Other than that, this comment’s content is verbatim.

        Difference in what one views as the policy as right or wrong is not cognitive dissonance. Tom nailed idiots are idiots regardless of their shape, size, or partisanship. The right policy differs from person to person, ideology to ideology, worldview to worldview and political leaning to political leaning. This is true to say because no political system is perfect or capable of being so.

        What it comes to down is cost/benefit analysis. What benefits the whole at the best cost. Some peoples costs for benefiting the whole are higher than others. What’s right for you may not be right for me may not be right for the next person. There are some things we can compromise on and some things we cannot. But, don’t think for one minute that your view is more correct than my view unless you have a cost-benefit analysis to show me that clearly demonstrates your view is more effective.

        The problem I have a lot of time Steven is you attack the left with the same tripe that you complain about. Your latest tweets about the federal liberals (as of today DEC 1) are not based on facts. They’re based on your opinions and a lot of them employ a scaremongering rhetorical tactic. This is the same thing you complain about from the left. For example, the statement: JT’s father screwed Canada and so JT will screw Canada too is not an argument. You have no evidence to suggest this seeing as how JT hasn’t been the leader. That’s your opinion. It’s an opinion i genuinely grapple with myself. You see I am a centre left liberal. However, part of me being critical as I am I cannot personally trust that JT will be as bad as his father.

        But, that’s an emotional response not a rational one. I know that. I base my decisions off of the proposed policies and transparency of those policies. You see one of the reasons I think you appreciate Nenshi so much is although he’s as left as I am in his political leanings you recognize that he takes a measured, practical, evidence based and transparent approach to decision making. Some of the policies you may not agree with because of a difference in fundamental ideologies. BUT, if Nenshi can show you the numbers and studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of said policy you’d agree that he’s trying to do what he feels is best for Calgarians. The reason I like Nenshi is he’s using an economy in a position of stability to plan for the future. Spend now when things are stable to plan ahead for the future of the city. This for me is an important aspect of policy. Planning for the future rather than cutting and leaving it for someone else to do.

        You’re employing the base-rate fallacy when you use your personal experiences to disagree with the left as your evidence of people who believe in leftist policies is skewed. You see your conditional probability of meeting the more loony left wingers is not the actual probability of the left wing.

        • 1: There is no “whole”, just a group of individuals who occasionally work together, through free exchange of goods/services for money.

          2: Any policy which benefits one group (such as, for example, nationally-funded daycare) while harming another is a bad policy.

          3: Justin Trudeau is not at fault for being the son of the worst, most destructive Prime Minister in Canadian history (and that’s not opinion, it’s fact, as documented and proven effectively by Bob Plamondon in his book, The Truth About Trudeau), but we can safely assume that, by being raised by Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Justin Trudeau has inherited much of what PET believed, and, since ideology guides decision making, we can safely assume that JT would be very similar in policymaking, to PET.

          4: Abuse certainly flows both ways, as I’ve indicated, however the level and amount of abuse that’s I’ve seen flowing from the left to the right — seriously — seems to back up my statements. I do believe it derives from inherent insecurity. Many people see disagreement as an attack on them rather than a mere disagreement.

          5: My tweets about the Liberal Party are based on the disastrous history this party has with governing Canada. Pierre Trudeau was the worst prime minister in history, Jean Chretien was only there for the status of being Prime Minister and Paul Martin was useless because he had no focus as Prime Minister. I also only have 140 characters to get my point across. Scaremongering? Yes. The thought that Justin Trudeau could actually win an election scares the hell out of me.