The Gurus of Groupthink

This is about an extreme case of cyber bullying committed in the name of patriotism and free speech and driven by groupthink. Let's begin with some history.

Eric Arthur Blair published his last book in 1949. He was already sick from Tuberculosis and died the following year. Blair was a journalist by profession and a socialist by party affiliation – he belonged to the Democratic Socialist Party of England. Blair is quoted and misquoted frequently today.

Blair coined many terms that have been absorbed into the popular lexicon. Among them are “thought crime”, “inner party”, “outer party” and “newspeak”. Those terms inspired the military psychologist Irving Janis to subsequently describe terms like “groupthink” and “outgroup” and “outgrouping”. The definitions of these terms should be clear from their usage in this article.

Blair opposed communism, authoritarianism (regardless of political position) and the cult of personality[1]. He wrote under the pen name of George Orwell. The last book by this socialist author was 1984.

Sixteen years after the publication of 1984, a scholarly paper by a college teacher laid the groundwork for a vicious campaign against her.

That year Frances Fox Piven wrote "Mobilizing the Poor: How It Can Be Done". Ms. Piven is a Professor of Political Science and Sociology. She is a member of the Democratic Socialist Party of America. Like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and the “gun toting, meat eating lefty” Ed Schultz, Piven is a rabble rouser and trouble maker – not that there's anything wrong with that.

In this paper and related articles, Piven advocates causing the collapse of the bureaucracy of the United States. I think Grover Norquist is her brother-in-arms because he promotes the same, but with different methods. Norquist would starve the bureaucracy of money and then drown the shriveled body in a bathtub [2]. Piven would accomplish something similar by mobilizing the poor to put such overwhelming demands on Government that it would stall and implode from a sort of economic “Denial of Service”[3] attack.

Like a certain Jewish carpenter of whom I am a fan, Ms. Piven is a fan of the poor. In Orwellian terms, they are her “ingroup” or “inner party”. Her lifelong mission has been to give the poor a hand up and also a pitchfork[4]. Norquist, Beck, Limbaugh and others express the opinion that the poor would be uplifted by the “economic tide that lifts all” and if the poor don't get lifted it is because they are undeserving.

Glenn Beck is a self-styled guardian of Democracy and employs an illustrative tool that he calls the “Tree Of Revolution”. If you are not familiar with the Tree, think of it as a blacklist. He hands out pitchforks to anyone who listens to his broadcasts. The number of listeners to his broadcasts drives his advertising revenues. The Tree is the scaffolding upon which he hangs the heads of those that he considers to be enemies of the Republic. As a consequence of her writings, Ms. Piven's graying tresses have been suspended from the Tree's branches for the last few years.

Beck and his followers, whom I shall call “Followers Of Beck” or FOBs, have resurrected this aged lefty from obscurity. She is 82 years old in 2014. Her resurgent notoriety has come with blessings and curses.

The cults of personality around newspeak practitioners like Beck have led to groupthink. The FOBs think of themselves as the inner party and Piven a member of the outer party. This has the effect of marginalizing and devaluing her. She has been placed in the outgroup, and from some examination of things that FOBs have to say about her, she has also been placed in some jeopardy.

Ms. Piven has been called names as foul as some names that Bill Maher has used against Sarah Palin. Worse, she has received death threats and multitudes of threatening and bullying emails. On line comments made by the FOBs about Piven reveal the mentality of outgrouping and groupthink. We can see self-brainwashed right-wing automatons carefully lifting their boots to precisely the same height and goose-stepping in lockstep.

I see this as one of the things that is wrong with America. Many people who are average Americans and otherwise responsible citizens have voluntarily given up their freedom to think. They have fallen under the thrall of personality cults inspired by individuals who are basically (and often by self-description) entertainers or “infotainers”. Good citizens have seduced themselves and become self-appointed thought police.

I doubt very much that any but a very, very small percentages of FOBs would actually do violence to Piven. The greater damage (until we hear that Ms. Piven actually has come to harm) is that a climate of virtual authoritarianism is being created by those who have abdicated the use of their own intelligence.

What is true for the right is also true for the left.

Consider the following example – Bill Maher claims that he is no Rush Limbaugh. The liberal so-called comedian, who has been the target of criticism for calling Sarah Palin a “c***” claims that his name calling is entirely different from Rush Limbaugh's tarring of a female college student as a “slut”.

He has no moral high ground – even though the FOBs have used the same “C” word towards Piven.

Maher is as deep in the swamp as Beck or Limbaugh. In spite of contrasting politics, Beck, Limbaugh, Maher and Shultz are more alike than they are different. Decent liberals should boycott Maher and his kind. And decent conservatives should boycott Beck and his kind. More importantly, liberals and conservatives need to think more for themselves and talk to – not shout over – each other.

I want my country back, and when I get it back, I'm going to call it Glennbeckistan. And, I'm going to rename the capital city Limbaughgrad.” – Anonymous Curmudgeon


[1] Cult of personality – arises when an individual uses media, propaganda, or other methods, to create an idealized, heroic, and at times, worshipful image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise.

[2] Grover Norquist – a conservative political lobbyist who is fond of saying that he wishes to shrink government to such a size that it can be drowned in a bathtub.

[3] Denial Of Service – an attempt to make a digital device unavailable to users by overloading the target device with requests.

[4] Pitchforks – weapons of opportunity in peasant uprisings of the Middle Ages. You can kill your neighbor – and clean the barn – with a pitchfork. Just try cleaning the barn with an automatic rifle.