Thursday, January 3, 2013

Groupthink

Greg Lukianoff, the author of a new book about campus censorship, makes a point with which I very much agree about the danger of inhabiting an intellectual echo-chamber — danger that is at least as great for religious believers as for political ideologues. From the interview at Inside Higher Ed:
...[T]he impact of speech codes, of punishments for mildly offensive speech — and, perhaps most importantly, the attitudes that create these restrictions in the first place — dissuade rather than promote students from talking about interesting hot topics and from having those discussions across serious lines of political, ideological, or philosophical difference.

This leads students to replicate a problem that we see in the larger society whereby the safest course of action to avoid controversy or punishment is to surround yourself with people you already agree with politically or ideologically. This behavior gives rise to group polarization, and, as research demonstrates, polarization leads to more groupthink and less critical thinking. ....

Compelling data show that the country as a whole has physically shifted into enclaves, neighborhoods, and cities of the like-minded. My point about higher education’s role is not so much that higher education is solely responsible for creating polarization, but more that it’s our one institution that could be helping us step outside our Internet and broadcast media echo chambers by teaching the difficult but useful intellectual habit of not only hearing the other side, but actually seeking out the intelligent person you disagree with as sort of a check on our own certainty. ....