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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Group consciousness and terrorism

When a group consciousness is based on an illusion, it becomes destructive.

C ollective consciousness is a concept we don't use much any more. It's associated with Carl Jung, New Age pseudophilosophy, and wacked-out pot-smoking hippies. And that's too bad, because it's a useful concept.

Many things behave as if a conscious being were directing them. In some ways, for example, the world acts as if there were a deity: we derive our intelligence and our sense of right and wrong from it. The properties of the deity are determined by the phenomena we attribute to it. If those include lightning, disease and locusts, then the deity is capricious and violent. If animals and floods, then we get Noah's ark. If order and mathematics, then the deity is more abstract and transcendental.

In the same way, group behavior acts as if there were a collective consciousness, a will comprising the shared goals of its members. Collective consciousness is what science calls an emergent phenomenon; even if it's not a real thing, it is a useful construct.

The primary goal of any group is for the group to survive. All else is subsidiary. The members of a group alter their perception of reality to ensure group survival. When those perceptions conflict with reality, it leads to internal contradictions that can transform the group into a force for destruction.

For example, radical Muslims believe that if they succeed in killing people, it is proof that their god is on their side. If they fail, it would mean their god has sided against them and wants them to fail. According to this idea, success at killing is proof of rightness.

Chaos always results when group goals are based on falsehoods. For example, feminism's original goal was to create equality between males and females. In that it succeeded long ago. But the group still wanted to survive. To do that, it had to adjust its perception of reality, so feminists convinced themselves there were such things as patriarchies and glass ceilings and epidemics of rape, invisible to everyone but them. As a result, feminism is still producing havoc on college campuses.

Political groups provide not only psychological benefits like a sense of purpose, but also the promise of special privileges and power over members of the designated outgroup.

An example of that is Black Lives Matter, an organization created on a perception of reality that is almost entirely false. Although many blame BLM on poor government leadership, in fact Obama is and was irrelevant. BLM was created entirely by the news media and relies on false perceptions of reality for its continued existence.

One's beliefs determine one's reality. If you believe there is racism everywhere, then you will see racism in ordinary events. You will trumpet your discovery on the front page of your newspaper, while ignoring any evidence that conflicts with it. The goal is to produce a perception that supports what you already believe.

If the BLM movement survives, someday we will be discussing what percentage of its members support it, just as we discuss the percentage of Muslims who support Islamic terrorism. The question will miss the point. Both are violent organizations that arise from the shared group consciousness and the illusions that create and nurture it. The percentage who act on them is determined by the costs and benefits of doing so.

In the end, having created the racism and hatred they were fighting against, the news media will take them as proof that they were right all along.

A group consciousness maintains its view of the world by blocking competing worldviews from consideration. Contact with reality would kill the group consciousness by calling its motivations into question. This in turn would deprive the members of the sense of purpose and benefits it provides.

Reading the works of the 19th century psychologists today, one cannot help being struck by the explanatory power of the idea of collective consciousness. Collective consciousnesses may not have objective existence, but we call them religions for a very good reason: the world acts as if they did.

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