Thursday, October 13, 2011
The moral perversity of "consensus" decision-making: how to suppress minority views AND overrule the majority
In actuality, the requirement of unanimity is fundamentally anti-democratic. It pressures dissenters into abnegating their dissent while at the same time letting select minority viewpoints veto the will of the majority. No surprise there. The only actual alternative to majority rule is minority rule, which prevailed through most of human history. Only in the last three centuries has power shifted to the majority, most dramatically with the constitutional establishment of American republicanism (the system of liberty under law).
The first pillars of American republicanism are majority rule and minority rights. Select individuals are no longer able to lord over the majority and ALL individuals are accorded unbreakable scope for dissent and individual action. The rituals of unanimous consent are deeply hostile to both of these achievements, so why would anyone submit to it? Why would anyone agree to be silenced when in the minority and give way when they are in the majority?
A possible answer—the most likely answer—lies in the extraordinary manipulative power of consensus rituals. Leon Festinger discovered in the 1950s that if a person is somehow induced to act in violation of their beliefs then their beliefs will alter so as to come more into line with how they have acted. Take somebody whose desire is not to impose on others, tell them that unless they change their vote they will be blocking the will of the majority, and they can be manipulated into acceding to a unanimous vote that does impose on less-immediate others. I've seen it happen, and that act can change a person's beliefs.
Through an unconscious process, like the mind integrating a picture, the person starts to believe both in the particular imposition that she was pressured into voting for, and in the dissent-suppressing consensus rituals that she acceded to. Thus someone who does not want to impose on anyone or suppress dissent is turned into someone who is comfortable with both.
That is a potent little trick. For all of their foolish appearance, consensus rituals have the potential to be a serious instrument of totalitarian power, an engine for unplugging the most basic political morality. Many years ago I saw a less developed version of these rituals in action, and even then, the manipulative power was impressive.
"We do not allow (We do not allow) UNCONSENSUS! (UNCONSENSUS!)"
If you have not seen the incredible spectacle of these consensus rituals, take a look at what these people actually do. Here is Occupy Atlanta last week, turning down Congressman John Lewis's request to address their "assembly." Ten minutes of mind-deadening repitition:
"This group (this group) makes its decisions (makes its decisions) by CONSENSUS! (by CONSENSUS!) We do not allow (We do not allow) UNCONSENSUS! (UNCONSENSUS!)"In other words, they do not allow independent thought. The hive-mind repetition of every tedious word is a bizarre new development, but my one encounter with a Democratic Socialist group back in the mid 1980s had the "consensus" lunacy on full display, and the way it worked was very revealing.
Gorgeous chick baits the trap
The gorgeous chick was a purely coincidental part of my particular experience, but probably not uncommon, as much of the reason anyone ends up anywhere at that age is romantic. I had met a most attractive girl while randomly grabbing dinner at Stanford's activist "hippy dorm." This gal was Joan Baez pretty. Vivacious and modest, she even managed to be endearing in her little nods to political correctness.
Guys can be pretty flexible about things like that. Most Girls are followers so if we liked each other, she would follow me, right? I'd pull that stick out of her ass, and really, this gal was irresistible. I was unable to get her away from a couple of leftist guys who hovered possessively around but we still managed to catch each other's interest and she invited me to come to the Democratic Socialists meeting the next evening at the Old Union.
I wasn't sure what strain of illiberalism the Democratic Socialists represented, but for her sake, I poked my head in to see. When I arrived they were just taking up an urgent action-item. A conservative had been invited to come to Stanford to speak—in support of the Contras I think—and the leaders of the Democratic Socialists wanted to rush a statement over to the student government, then in session, calling for this "extreme" conservative (on the right side of history etcetera) to be barred from speaking on campus.
Before voting, or as their way of voting, they went around the room asking for each person's view. I let them know that I was just dropping in to check out their group. They said their policy was to include newcomers like me in their decision-making, so I participated.
The once-around revealed that I and a couple of other people were against any effort to block the conservative speaker. My fellow dissenters did some weighing back and forth. I opined that the idea was simply perverse. Somebody wants to speak. Others want to listen. Do you all actually want to forcibly block this consensual act?
It was about 12 to 3 in favor of banning the speaker, so we opponents would obviously lose the vote. To my surprise, that wasn't good enough for the Democratic Socialists. It turned out that they did this consensus thing, where anyone who disagreed with the majority was put in the position of having their individual vote outweigh the votes of everyone else unless they relented and changed their vote.
That was enough to pressure the couple of actual Democratic Socialists who disagreed with the ban into switching their votes to the majority position. They didn't want to be guilty of imposing their minority view on the majority, so they gave up their minority view. I challenged the consensus ideal itself. "Do whatever you want," I said. "What do you need MY permission for?"
"Because we do things by consensus," their lead speaker said: "We want to make sure we are representing everyone," as if minority rule was some better form of democracy, when it was really just classic peer pressure, leaning on people to pretend agreement with what they actually opposed. Then everyone would be equally implicated afterward, making it difficult for anyone to break away. The whiff of danger to reputation was palpable. I'd just seen two people attach their names to something grotesque, not because they agreed with it, but because their arms were twisted.
Interestingly, this oppressive groupism was the very rationale the more vocal members gave for wanting to ban the conservative speaker. If a conservative was allowed to speak at Stanford it would supposedly imply that everyone at Stanford had in some measure approved, not just of freedom of speech, but of this particular speaker's views. It didn't matter that this was counter-factual. Stanford does NOT operate on a principle of unanimity, where someone is allowed to speak only if everyone else approves, and nobody would be absurd enough to think it does, but minority rule WAS the mentality of this tiny minority group, which somehow made them feel that it was okay to overrule the basic liberties of the entire Stanford community.
If they really cared about consent, why were they trying to trample other people's consensual activities? The whole thing was absurd. "You're never going to get me to be part of your consensus," I assured them. If that meant they couldn't issue a call to ban the conservative speaker, so be it. I wasn't forcing them to follow the anti-democratic principle of minority-rule. The idea that they might follow it in this case was actually pretty amusing. In the end, of course, they did not follow their own rule.
Leon Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance
It took them some puzzling to get around my opposition because they claimed that they had previously always included newcomers in their consensus rule. The better to force newcomers into identification with the group I presume, a la Leon Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance.
The unanimity requirement takes a person's desire not to impose her minority view on the group (especially a group that she is just meeting), and levers it into pressure to go along with a consensus vote. If she succumbs to this pressure, and actually goes along with something she doesn't agree with, then a dissonance is created between her beliefs and her actions. In the 1950's, Festinger and others found that the mind tries to reduce such dissonances. It seems to seek out a coherent understanding that it can act from, and since the mind can't change past actions, the only way to reduce dissonance is for the mind to alter a person's beliefs so that they come more into line with how the person has acted.
For the newcomer who submits to a unanimity voting ritual, Festinger's theory says that there will be a subconscious tendency for her to come to believe both in the majority position that she acceded to, and in the concept of consensus decision-making that she participated in. That's a powerful cult-inducing mechanism, using a person's desire not to impose on others to turn her into someone who does believe in twisting people's arms. It's actually virus-like, turning the body's own resources against it. It's actually HIV-like, because it is the body's defense against illiberal invasion that gets re-programmed into its opposite.
Was I really the first newcomer who hadn't gone along with this arm twisting? In any case, since I questioned not just the particular action they were voting on, but the whole idea of consensus voting, their lead speaker decided that I really wasn't part of their group at all, allowing them to go ahead and form a consensus without me, which is the first reasonable thing I had heard all night.
Today's consensoids take it to another level
So ended my reconnoitering mission to see if I could slip an especially beautiful and engaging young woman away from the leftist camp. How she could abide those totalitarian-minded men is a mystery. Either she was an uncritical follower, or she was just not as nice as I wanted to imagine. Either way, I was not going to waste any more time on the Democratic Socialists.
Now seeing in these new repeat-every-word groups how thoroughly cult-like the petty tyranny of phony "consensus" can become, I wonder if I missed an opportunity to rescue a damsel in distress, but it was all so patently wrong that it really did not occur to me how anyone could be unable to withdraw on their own. Yet there sit all those people on the video, slavishly repeating each slavish word.
This is their picture of an ideal society? Not even Mao tried to control people's minds to this extent. It's Borg-like. Do they call themselves "The Borg Collective"? Did they get the idea from watching Star Trek? That would actually seem to be a likely explanation if not for the clear roots of this behavior in earlier leftist protocols of "consensus" decision-making.
Festinger's theory suggests the effect that participating in such rituals will have on the human mind. Just the fact of doing it will tend to flush all of the beliefs that are inconsistent with it, and consensus decision-making is deeply hostile both to minority views and to majority rule. Thus whatever was at one time semi-understood by these people about respect for minority rights and majority rule will soon be expunged.
To the extent that Festinger identified a real psychological mechanism, these rituals of consensus are an eggbeater, systematically lobotomizing whatever allegiance to liberty and democracy these people ever possessed. Very not good.
RELATED: The Flight 93 Memorial Project used demands for consensus to keep the public from learning about the extreme level of conflict on the design competition jury that selected the Crescent of Embrace design
I wrote about this last month:
Flt 93 mother on Crescent jury: "I don't want to reach out to those people! THEY MURDERED MY DAUGHTER!"Left wing design professionals on the jury had already charged Tom Burnett Sr. with anti-Muslim bigotry for objecting to the Crescent design just because the crescent is a long established symbol of Islam. It was in the face of this bald attempt at censorship that the mother cried out against the Crescent design. In her agony, she refused to be silenced. Brave woman.
The left-wing design professionals, who outnumbered the family members 8 to 7, were able to win the vote. The official tally was 9 to 6 for the Crescent, with the family members almost certainly voting 5-to-2 or 6-to-1 against.
If the details came out, that result would never stand, so the Park Service conveniently "lost" the minutes (which were supposed to be made public), and they have refused to provide the roll of the vote (which was not supposed to be secret). These were volunteer representatives of the people, conducting the people's business. All was supposed to be transparent, but the Park Service went to the opposite extreme.
In the wake of the vote, extreme pressure was brought on all participants to approve a declaration of unanimous support. The Memorial Project offered a deal to Mr. Burnett that they would change the Crescent name if that would bring him on board with such a declaration. He said "no," which explains why the Park Service did not heed the jury recommendation to do away with the Crescent name: it did not buy them the unanimity they were looking for, so why bother?
Mr. Burnett says that in the face of his opposition, the vote to unanimously support the chosen design never took place, but that hasn't stopped the Memorial Project (in a 2007 White Paper on the memorial controversy) from claiming that the jury did vote unanimously to support the chosen design.
They certainly did apply tremendous pressure on dissenting jury members to make a show of unanimity, which would require remaining silent about their opposition to the Crescent design. This is the likely explanation for why that Flight 93 mother, who saw the Islamic-shaped Crescent as a symbol of outreach to the people who murdered her daughter, never spoke out publicly against Murdoch's design. The Memorial Project bullied her into accepting that if she maintained her minority view, she was failing to support the majority decision.
That is not what acceptance of majority rule means. It does NOT mean that disagreements with the majority get silenced. Is it not enough that the minority loses to the majority? Should they really also have to shut the hell up? Again, the doctrine of unanimity shows its totalitarian essence. Far from being a better form of democracy, this fraudulent pretense of minority empowerment is an instrument for the extreme suppression of minority views.
Not that minority views will always be suppressed under consensus rules. When the leadership is in the minority, you can be guaranteed that the majority position will be blocked for lack of unanimity. The abandonment of majority rule allows the leadership both to silence the minority AND to overrule the majority. That this flesh-eating bacteria would be efflorescing all across the body of the activist Obama-left is a very alarming sign.
The robotic chanters of unanimity are a would-be Red Brigades. All across the nation they are clamoring for power, determined to stamp out dissent from their own inarticulate ideas. They can't even figure out what they are protesting about. All they know for sure is that they hate capitalism (economic liberty), and they hate "unconsensus" (liberty of thought). Oh yeah, and they love Obama.
No surprise there. Obama's entire pre-electoral career was as a paid professional communist in the actual employ of "community activist" groups started by the immediate students and acolytes of Saul Alinsky, the leading American communist of the 20th century. There have never been more than a handful of paid professional communists in the entire history of the country. Now, thanks to our radical left-wing Democrat-controlled media, we actually managed to elect one to the presidency, with the vast majority of Americans having no clue that Obama was/is an actual literal professional communist by trade.
With Dear Leader in the White House, the incipient Red Brigades of chanting "consensus" should not be taken lightly. These are HIS minions, organized by his communist comrade Van Jones and funded by his top political advisor Patrick Gaspard, another paid professional communist in the employ of another Alinsky-fathered group (ACORN).
Gallery of consensus-ritual videos
Consensus chanting from Van Jones:
And from Occupy Chicago:
Unholy cow! Now they're chanting "sex with animals":
UPDATE An insider account of Occupy Wall Street's "General Assembly" details how leaders use consensus rules to silence opposition and usurp power. Apparently six leaders have been conspiring to take personal control of the half million dollars that OWS has raised, vesting themselves as Spokes Council (like the UN's Security Council vis a vis the UN's General Assembly), with final say on everything.
The creation of such a council is rationalized on the grounds that, under consensus rules, nothing can get done otherwise, and while the General Assembly has a figurehead power to overrule the council, it can never happen because council members are part of the General Assembly and can under the minority rule of consensus rules can block any attempt to overturn their own decisions. "Animal Farm meets Animal House" as Ed Morrissey puts it.
Other psychology posts
Study linking utilitarian moral views to psychopathology is actually measuring irreligiosity
Slanderous theory of the "conservative" mind reveals the actual working of the illiberal "liberal" mind