Related very closely to the concept of Groupthink is a process called Social Conditioning . However, where Groupthink relates to cognitive issues in a small group, Social Conditioning is concerned more with broad social implications – typically nationwide.
Social conditioning is the sociological process of training individuals in a society to respond in a manner generally approved by the society in general and peer groups within society.
Manifestations of social conditioning are vast, but they are generally categorized as social patterns and social structures including nationalism, education, employment, entertainment, popular culture, religion, spirituality and family life. The social structure in which an individual finds him or herself influences and can determine their social actions and responses.
Other terms to refer to Social Conditioning include Social Engineering, Herd Mentality and Cultural Conditioning.
Mob Mentality, while seemingly related, is different in that is refers to cognitive issues and behavior of people in large groups brought together for a single event and purpose, such as with protests and demonstrations. It describes how people will do things in a large group that they would never do as an individual. I will save discussion of Mob Mentality for a different article.
Each of us on planet Earth are a product of our culture – its biases, norms, beliefs, morals, etc. Over days, weeks, months, years and decades we’re indoctrinated in the culture within which we’re raised. Parents, teachers, clergy, family, friends, coworkers, peer groups, books, media, advertisements, radio, and leaders of any sort, all mold and influence us in terms of what is normal/abnormal, right/wrong, acceptable/unacceptable.
Pressures to conform do a pretty stringent job of keeping everyone in line with society’s expectations. Propaganda also plays a huge role in keeping the majority in line with the desired mindset and beliefs – but I’ll leave that to a future article.
Think of Social Conditioning as being “domesticated” by the thoughts and beliefs of others.
Read that again and let it sink in. Domesticated – as in sheep and cattle.
Your implicit social conditioning directives:
- Go along with the majority (the herd)
- Don’t stand out from the herd
- Don’t challenge or rock the boat
- Don’t question ‘authority’
- Go along, get along – or face ostracization
- Shut up and blend in
- Believe what you’re told by your leaders and media
- Who are you to question anything?
As early as 1952, an article by William H. Whyte, Jr. in Forbes about Groupthink identified the creeping movement of social engineering and the movement away from individualism, independence and self-reliance of individuals in the United States:
“In a country where “individualism” – – independence and self-reliance – – was the watchword for three centuries, the view is now coming to be accepted that the individual himself has no meaning – – except, that is, as a member of a group.”
“. . . . social engineering with its emphasis on the planned manipulation of the individual into the group role.”
“. . . . the man we are now presented with is Social Man – – completely a creature of his environment, guided almost totally by the whims and prejudices of the group, and incapable of any real self-determination of his destiny.”
Because we’re raised to mold to society and authority’s directives and cultural norms, we become adults who seek approval from all of our influencing entities. We seek validation from our social and peer groups that we’re doing the right thing – that we “belong.” We need and seek group approval. We want to conform.
We find ourselves not really thinking for ourselves – although we think (feel) we do. Instead we just go along with the herd – what the majority think and do. After all, since it’s the majority, what they think and believe must be true and good, right?
A Leed’s University study discovered that it only take 5% of “informed” individuals to influence the direction of a crowd of 200 or more. We seem to be ‘wired’ or conditioned to follow – rather than lead with individualism.
A study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that we’re prone to be copycats – not original thinkers. When people didn’t have a strong opinion or knowledge about their choices, they simply mimicked others, regardless of whether the mimicked choices were right or wrong or even made any sense.
We’re programmed to be followers. We’re conditioned to follow the herd and popular opinion. We’re conditioned to be repulsed by and denigrate anything and anyone that’s different or rebels against the “norm.” Our Cognitive Dissonance and (Dis)Confirmation Bias keep our minds in line with the accepted mindset of the masses.
“Most of the time, we see only what we want to see, or what others tell us to see, instead of really investigating to see what is really there. We embrace illusions only because we are presented with the illusion that they are embraced by the majority. When in truth, they only become popular because they are pounded at us by the media with such an intensity and high level of repetition that it’s mere force disguises lies and truths. And like obedient schoolchildren, we do not question their validity and swallow everything up like medicine. Why? Because since the earliest days of our youth, we have been conditioned to accept that the direction of the herd, and authority anywhere – is always right.” – Suzy Kassem
Our self-concept is shaped by a lifetime of conditioning and cultural indoctrination. Everything we look at, think, feel and accept in life are shaped by a lifetime of cultural indoctrination. We don’t even pause to step back and examine our basic assumptions and beliefs in life. We’re not taught to question anything. Why do we believe what we believe? What basis in truth and reality actually support those cultural, indoctrinating beliefs and behaviors?
The indoctrinated don’t want the foundation of their ingrained beliefs questioned.
“You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.” – Morpheus, (movie: The Matrix)
Challenges For Escaping The Herd
Unfortunately, if you’re faced with the fact that Social Conditioning has molded you since birth, you must also realize that it takes work to pull yourself beyond the grasp and influence of the herd. It means seeing and comprehending “the forest from the trees.”
And this is where some of the challenges come into play: time, energy, focus
Anyone working in the United States is faced with the stark reality that a full 1/3 of their life (or more) is solely dedicated to working for a wage. And since 1/3 of our life also includes sleep, that leaves 1/3 left for “living” life – whatever that means to each of us. We have 1/3 of our time on this wonderful Earth for relaxation/downtime, pleasure, meals, social gatherings, home maintenance, family responsibilities, raising kids, paying bills, spiritual growth, personal growth, knowledge adventuring, tackling projects, etc.
We have to make a choice as to how we spend that 1/3.
With all the constraints of time as outlined above, how much energy can we expect to have to focus on anything outside of the required things we have to do and can’t ignore? How do we choose to spend our “discretionary” time?
If you have kids (or expecting to) you’re discretionary time will be essentially non-existent until they become teens and somewhat independent.
For most of the masses, exhaustion takes its toll. For others who actually do have discretionary time to slice away and explore life expansion and growth, laziness takes over and the hours of each day are squandered away.
Which brings me to the last challenging element – focus. Let’s assume you have the time. Let’s assume you have the energy. What will you need to focus on to address what’s important?
What’s important to you? What’s not important to you? What will you focus and give your time to? Can you say “no” to those things that are not important to you?
Ultimately, you have to decide for yourself if you want to lay on your death bed and regret not having lived as a true individual.
As I’ve said numerous times before, these principles I share are not for the masses. They’re for the rare individuals who know they must have more to their lives than birth, school, work, conformism, taxes and death . . . Unique people who truly want to seek, grow and soar. These are the only people who care about accuracy, truth, accountability, and intellectual integrity and personal growth.
Majority = Truth?
So, because the masses don’t have the time, energy, or focus to understand, learn, comprehend the social and natural world around them, they will default to rely on “official” sources to mold their beliefs and decisions. No questioning. No seeking. No independent thinking. No validation.
Religion becomes their “truth.” Science becomes their “truth.” Government becomes their “truth.” Corporate America becomes their “truth.” Media becomes their “truth.” Social norms become their “truth.”
Does the herd majority hold the keys to the truth? Simply . . . . NO
“A lie doesn’t become truth, wrong doesn’t become right and evil doesn’t become good, just because it’s accepted by a majority” – Rick Warren
There are numerous times in history where the majority (driven by its culture and authorities) held ridiculous, crude, stupid cultural norms (beliefs) that stray far from truth or moral rightness:
“The aggregate testimony of our neighbors is subject to the same conditions as the testimony of any one of them. Namely, we have no right to believe a thing true because everybody says so unless there are good grounds for believing that some one person at least has the means of knowing what is true, and is speaking the truth as far as he knows it. However many nations and generations of men are brought into the witness box they cannot testify to anything which they do not know. Every man who has accepted the statement from somebody else, without himself testing and verifying it, is out of court.” – William Kingdon Clifford, The Ethics of Belief (1877)
Your Choice: The Herd or Independent Thinking
Do you want to be part of this Mass Groupthink? Do you want to be part of the herd? Do you want to cruise through life lazily and never question anything or anyone?
If so, then move on with the collective herd. Let others shape your mind as they see fit. Let them do your thinking. Let them trigger your emotions to react the way they desire. Fit in. Get along. Conform. Follow the herd’s desires. Don’t question. Refuse to think for yourself. Be complacent.
For those of you who are repulsed by this choice, you have another option: Independent Thinking
“To breath comfortably, to feel free, to think better and to find the beauties of the unknown paths leave your herd!” – Mehmet Murat Ildan
It’s not fast; it’s not easy; it’s not the lazy person’s solution. Learn to think on your own. And I don’t mean deceive yourself into thinking that you truly think for yourself. Discard the confirmation biases, the cognitive dissonance, the groupthink, the partisan bullshit. Assume your beliefs and life assumptions are in error. Practice intellectual integrity. Practice the Clinical Attitude. Drive for accuracy, truth and reality.
“Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the danger of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of ‘crackpot’ than the stigma of conformity.” Thomas John Watson
Ramifications of Independent Thinking and Breaking From the Herd
Standing alone in the midst of the herd isn’t an easy task. As an independent thinker, depending on how much you share with others, you may find yourself:
Isolated – the herd will think you different, odd, unpleasant and keep their distance; you’re an outsider
Pressured – the herd and its supporting tools/structure will continue pressure to conform to mass groupthink
Labelled– you may be called names or regarded in certain derogatory terms (negative social label & stigma)
“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
As you proceed in knowledge adventuring you’ll uncover incredible and enlightening facts that conflict directly with herd mentality. There are a few approaches available to you as to how you deal with this. In fact, you may find yourself on an evolutionary path adapting one or more of these during your lifetime:
- You can choose to be argumentative with an intention to change others’ beliefs and life assumptions – being an activist. This is your first reaction as you uncover knowledge and facts not known to others, and you want to shout them from the rooftop. It took me quite some time to understand that you won’t change others’ minds due to their ingrained herd-mentality biases. They themselves have to truly want to uncover reality and change their beliefs.
- Or you could keep your alternative views hidden from your social, work and family groups and not discuss with others at all – only sharing with people of like mind you happen to meet online or in person.
- Or you could simply stand proud and confident, and only respond when others inquire, and then in a non-apologetic “teaching” manner. Then, let them react the way they will.
Ultimately your approach should probably be informed after completely understanding the analogy of “casting pearls before swine.” Your desire to change others’ beliefs with enlightenment will be met with zero appreciation or even the ability of others to comprehend.
“Whoever deviates from the …. public opinion and stands apart will always have the whole herd against him.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science
“Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.” – Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays
Where to Focus
“When you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain
- First of all recognize that you are not above the influence of social conditioning. You’ve spent your entire life under the influence of its propaganda. Your natural instinct is to tow the line with what society tells you you should be thinking, believing and doing. You are influenced by it.
- Comprehend that what society (the majority) believes isn’t necessarily the truth, accurate, moral, or the best basis of behavior.
- Question your own beliefs and assumptions. Assume they’re most likely wrong, inaccurate, and untruthful. Practice independent thinking – don’t accept the consensus.
- For those topics that align with your greatest interests and passions, dig in and self-educate. Don’t just take the word of so-called authorities who are foisted upon you as the be-all and end-all to a subject. Become your own expert, but ensure you aren’t pigeon-holing yourself due to confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance or any other cognitive errors. Pursue your self-learning with intellectual integrity. Study a wide range of topics.
- Get comfortable with who you are and what you stand for. Don’t be shy about separating from the herd and standing out. Be a lone wolf. Expect conflict when ideas and beliefs are discussed (if you so choose to participate in those discussions).
- Notice how people, especially the media, try to keep you indoctrinated into society’s acceptable beliefs.
- As with groupthink, the only sure way out is to lead, not follow. Voice your dissent. Just let others know you simply don’t agree with the consensus.
“Being considered ‘crazy’ by those who are still victims of cultural conditioning is a compliment.” – Jason Hairston
Disengage from the herd. Be an independent thinker. Practice intellectual integrity. Seek and grow beyond the mundane. Embrace awe and wonder.
Some decent online sources: (there are many others of course)
As with any sourcing on the internet, links can go ‘dead’ after a time. If you find the above-mentioned links no longer working, try the WayBack Machine: http://archive.org/web/web.php It’s sometimes a good way to pull up and view websites that are no longer active.