The propensity towards corruption of undisputed authority and the tendency
to dysfunctional decisions of very cohesive groups are facts recognized by
sociologists and psychologists. Both phenomena have been carefully studied by
academia. The problems of any society worsen when the two trends are combined in
one single scenario.
Let us talk first about absolutism. Since no ruler would accept that his or
her behavior were analyzed by scientists, social psychologists Joris Lammers
and Adam Galinsky, among others, have recurred to studies with volunteers who have
been previously primed as powerful (power primed) and brought to act in
artificial situations where they may exercise categorical authority.
Priming techniques include, among many, the self-affirming repetition of
phrases such as 'I am the one in command', or the reliving of past
circumstances in which participants had full control of events. During Insight
II, a motivational workshop which this columnist attended years ago,
the facilitators played ‘Gonna Fly Now’, the Rocky film’s musical hit, when they
wanted to grow the participants' sense of authority. When we, participants,
heard 'Gonna Fly Now´ we felt, I must confess, really empowered to immediately
perform with much energy the assigned tasks. We were indeed primed for power.
In one of the simulations led by Drs. Lammers and Galinsky, participants
had to rate both their own behavior and that of third parties, based on an
ethical scale from one (totally immoral) to nine (totally acceptable) in a
large number of entries. The test results showed not only negative influence of
power in ethical conduct but also that the owners of authority tend to judge
others with a moral stick stricter than that with which they measure
themselves. The weak -the unprimed- in contrast, applied similar metrics both to
judge themselves as to measure the powerful. According to Dr. Galinsky, power
inclines those who have it toward either the breaking of the rules or
toward their free interpretation so that they may manipulate evidence to
suit their purposes.
The second problem around excessive leadership comes from the so-called
groupthink, a social anomaly, though its denomination entails a positive
connotation. Groupthink is an abnormal way of acting in which the members
of a group, seeking to maintain unanimous agreement, tend to close their eyes
to indisputable realities and ignore reasonable courses of action. The cohesive
groups that always appear around the powerful -the devoted to the cause, the
faithful servants of the leader, the beneficiaries of the autocratic system-
are particularly prone to this behavior.
Back in the seventies, American psychologist Irving Janis documented in detail the causes and
symptoms of groupthink . Causes include the homogeneity of the
group (political, social, religious ...), the spontaneous or directed isolation
from external sources of information and the authoritarian leadership of the
ruler in control -the subject of this note. Symptoms are, among others,
the blind belief in the morality of the group, the indiscriminate disqualification
of those who do not belong to it, the pressure to 'straighten' the disloyal,
and the censorship of ideas deviating from consensus.
The scientific study of the harms of groupthink is limited by the implicit
difficulty to quantify subjective factors. Despite this limitation, the
detrimental impact of groupthink is clear and examples abound. Two outstanding
contemporary fiascos originated in groupthink environments are the American
invasion to Iraq without conclusive evidence to justify it and the concentration
of modern physics research over the past three decades in the so-called string
theory, a field with questionable scientific future.
It is thus evident that strong leaders with unconditional followers cause
major damage to any society or group. Those in power who skillfully manipulate
their players to win their loyalty would result most damaging in any
circumstance. Nothing can be as socially harmful as a corrupted control with
For this reason the reelection of authoritarian rulers with high electoral
capital, whether legitimate or negotiated, is as inconvenient as risky. Such
reelections -some of peoples, other of dynasties- so fashionable in the 21st
century Latin America, are already showing their unfortunate consequences in
Author of ‘INNER HARMONY through MINDFULNESS MEDITATION’
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