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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

MOBBING, POSITIVE FEEDBACK & DISSENT

An interesting article I saw via Jerry Pournelle's site on the power of the mob in nature.
When songbirds perceive some sign of danger, a roosting owl, a hawk, a neighborhood cat, a group of them will often do something bizarre: fly toward the threat. When they reach the enemy, they will swoop down on it again and again, jeering and making a racket, which draws still more birds to the assault. The birds seldom actually touch their target (though reports from the field have it that some species can defecate or vomit on the predator with "amazing accuracy"). The barrage simply continues until the intruder sulks away. Scientists call this behavior "mobbing.... "
For us human beings
In the early 1980s, Heinz Leymann, a German psychologist working in Sweden, was conducting clinical studies of workers who had encountered violence on the job.......he stumbled upon an even less obvious group that showed the most surprisingly acute measures of stress. These were people whose colleagues had ganged up on them at work.

Inspired by Lorenz's writings on animal mobbing, Leymann coined the term "workplace mobbing" to name the phenomenon. He defined it as "an impassioned, collective campaign by co-workers to exclude, punish, and humiliate a targeted worker."

And where is such lynch law prevalent?
In the thousands of mobbing case studies that Leymann carried out, universities were among the most highly represented workplaces. Mr. Westhues, a sociologist at the University of Waterloo, is not surprised.

Max Weber, a founding father of modern sociology, saw bureaucracy as the living embodiment of cool, procedural rationality. In Mr. Westhues's view, mobbing is a pathological undercurrent of irrationality in bureaucracies — a crabby ghost in the machine.

According to Mr. Westhues, mobbing occurs most in institutions where workers have high job security, where there are few objective measures of performance, and where there is frequent tension between loyalty to the institution and loyalty to some higher purpose. In other words, the ghost is alive and well in many academic departments.

Tenure is supposed to protect scholars from outside control, but it does a lousy job of protecting them from one another, Mr. Westhues says.

This seems to me to have a wider application throughout group behaviour. The tendency of groups to coalesce against others is obvious. We humans have a great ability to make sacrifices for our own group (soldiers in battle who die rather than run) & an equally greabilitylty to inflict horrors on those outside the group (Auschwitz) which in both cases goes beyond individual self interest.

This is a perfectly natural phenomenon. Indeed in the example of the songbirds it has evolved because the individual birds would be lost if they let the owl go unmolested. Where it gets really bad is when it produces extreme results.
"What happens in a mobbing is that everybody gets lined up on one side," he says, "with one or a few targets on the other side who are demonized as being beyond the pale
Or even further.
The Law of Group Polarization, formulated by Cass R. Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago, says that a bunch of people who agree with each other on some point will, given the chance to get together and talk, come away agreeing more strenuously on a more extreme point. If this tendency has a curdling effect on intellectual debates, it can have a downright menacing effect when the point of agreement is that a particular colleague is a repugnant nutjob


There are however, examples rather closer to home. As in the case of Auschwitz I suspect Hitler could only get away with the Holocaust (or perhaps even only convinced himself of its propriety) because the German people went along with mobbing behaviour towards Jews over many years. Humans, & Germans, being language using creatures were able to convince themselves that all the "racial inferiority" claims must have something to them - this is a positive feedback situation & positive feedback is almost always explosive, literally. In Yugoslavia, because the NATO countries ganged up on that country they were, by mutually reinforcement, able to convince themselves that there must be something to our atrocity propaganda & therefore our genocide was justified. Stalin came to power because a paranoid party (justifiably so since the western powers really weplottinging against them) came to agree on ever more extreme paranoias. In global warming, the AIDS myth, nuclear hysteria & an enormous range of semi-scientific subjects we see authority & consensus trumping reference to facts.

(On a lesser scale the unanimous decision of the Lib Dems that I should be expelled without evidence is another example though, if I am correct in my assessment that the controllers of the party aren't liberals but luddites who have captured the party their decision was sensible. Dishonest but sensible.)

The point here is that mobbing behaviour, when it goes beyond the gentle pressure to conform that every society needs, is a sign of a seriously sick organisation. Our Yugoslav genocide & the Kyotos process were not only not in the interests of our victims they are not in our interests either. It produces decisions which are literally insane.

The only solution to this seems to be vigilance & a willingness to loudly tell the mob they are wrong (which I admit is a dangerous procedure but possibly not as dangerous as living in a society where hysteria rules).
"One of the most painful experiences in my life," Mr. Westhues says, "has been to go to dismissal hearings where everybody is sitting around a table as if they were embodiments of pure reason." What's really going on in many of those settings, he thinks, is just brutish behavior ratified by procedure.

"What we've got to do is cultivate an academic culture that is aware of the tendencies in us, of the herd instincts inside of us," he says. "We have a tendency, especially us pompous academics, to think we're above all that."

Translate "dismissal hearing" into "Milosevic trial" or "the public debate on GM" & "academic culture" to "political culture" & the fit is perfect.

The long term lesson for Messrs Clinton, Kohl & Blair is not good.
best hope for his work on mobbing is that it might have an impact on administrators. (The provost of Southern Illinois sat in the back row, scribbling notes.)

Professors seeking to eliminate one of their colleagues cannot get very far without the backing of the administration, he said. And in cases where many professors are pitted against one, administrators' first instinct will often be to side with the majority.

But because mobbers tend to be so impassioned and sloppy in their reasoning, Mr. Westhues argued, administrators who side with them may suffer for it later. Mr. Westhues's research provides numerous examples of mobbing victims who have walked away with fat court settlements, and of administrators who have walked away without their jobs.

I have made it clear here that what we are dealing with os not some cartoon evil but part of being human. Having used this earlier to defend Hitler I am not going to to be more harsh on our current leaders. However this is a matter of negative feedback, or to put it another way that to deter destructive action such actions must have consequences. This is why, despite being a liberal, I support the death penalty - not because murderers are so infinitely worse than the rest of us but because they are so like the rest of us & we need the example. Thus, if we do not brithosesoe guilty of genocide to trial (Clinton, Blair & Kohl), we are likely to commit, or attempt to commit, genocide again.

Full article http://chronicle.com/free/v52/i32/32a01001.htm

Comments:
Hi Neil,

Want to find out about the career/financial consequences of "mobbing" by your peers in academic institutions (e.g., universities/colleges, etc.)?

Here is what happens to you when you are a respected university professor who changes his mind after discovering the (indisputable & politically incorrect) TRUTH about the Serbs, Milosevic and Israel. The price for political incorrectness can be
quite severe (as you have seen with regards to telling the truth about the Lib Dems).

See the following URL link:

http://www.hirhome.com/bio.htm


Cheers,

Pete.
 
It happens in the oddest places. A friend claims that the (British) Uni departments of Spanish are monolithically Marxist. Anyone else got mobbed out ages ago.
 
Dearieme,

your analysis would not surprise me in the slightest. Most Western NATO/EU leaders are Marxist as well, with Javier Solana, Richard Holbrooke, Joschka Fischer, Anthony Lake & Bill Clinton being prime examples.

Tony BLiar would almost - but technically not quite - qualify with his hybrid [hypocritical] Christian Socialism/Western Globalist Bilderberg society ethos (since pure Marxism is supposed to be atheistic).

Rhodes Scholarships at Oxford University is where these Western internationalist/globalist (read World Federalist-Socialist)ideologies are instilled at a very tender age - followed by nurturing/grooming at Bilderberg conferences prior to becoming Prime Minister or President (BLiar & Clinton were both Bilderberg members before they came to power).


Cheers,

Pete.
 
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