Cognitive Psychology

The Collective Narcissism of Conservatives Promotes Violence and Chaos

Gaw-awd, do I evah hate to say that I told you so, but gaw-awd did I evah tell all y’all so! Here we are one year (feels like one dog-year or seven years) into the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s term, and he’s shut down the government! What did I say way back on 24 March 2017? I said:

In those heady days of yore when we all had visions of The Women’s March and #Resistance and a quick spectacular imploding impeachment dancing in our heads, I had not anticipated — my deepest apologies — the degree that the Congressional Repubes have become hopelessly myopic. This myoposis, if you will, may very well destroy the country as they doggedly pursue their self-serving agenda, grasping for riches like so many children grabbing candy out of a cookie jar.

In my foolish pie-in-the-sky naiveté I thought the Repubes would put up some kind of fight for the American way, but they haven’t. Instead they are selling us out as fast they can. They are making hay while the sun is shining.

And, if we do look at it with a larger focus, then the steps we take to correct the situation will be clearer, more effective, and, hopefully, more motivating.

The sad fact of the matter is that we cannot look at this as the dangers posed by the human caricature paying pee hookers to piss on the Resolute Desk and everything that we value in the Oval Office. We cannot look at this as the failure of one person; we must look at this as a failure of a group of people, of our government, of our system, of our democratic organizations, of us as a group. And, if we do look at it with a larger focus, then the steps we take to correct the situation will be clearer, more effective, and, hopefully, more motivating. Because, friends, after a year (feels like a dog-year), I am tired, and I need to believe that we are doing the right things to save our democracy.

If you take a short cut, you get cut short.

— Gary Busey

Like cancer and madness, the Repube myoposis is based on processes that normally help us but have run amok. In the case of the Repube myoposis, it is the heuristics and mental shortcuts that served our hunter-gatherer forebears so well that are now chewing on our collective asses. The useful and healthy heuristics evolved to help us make quick decisions without burning up too much energy — our brains are energy hogs using up a fifth of all of you body’s energy at any given moment. It is these shortcuts that made the success of our species possible. And just like cancer is cell reproduction one steroids and madness is a reasonable reaction taken to a pathological level,  Repube myoposis is our collect intelligence, a shortcut that helps us work together, pushed into an isolation ward and cut off from the rest of the world.

In the immortal words of that deep sage, Gary Busey, if you take a short cut, you get cut short.

Human beings evolved to work in groups. We are not the strongest, fastest, fiercest species, yet in a world where survival of the fittest is the rule, we not only survived, we thrived, and now dominate the entire planet. Individually, any lion, cheetah, tiger, or bear could make short work of us. But, put us together in a small group, and none of them stand a chance. For our democracy to survive, we need to understand the collective nature of our success, how it has gone wrong, and what we can do to bring it back into line again.

When collective intelligence goes off the rails, it can become groupthink, and when groupthink takes a bunch of angel dust and bath salts, it becomes collective narcissism.

Collective Intelligence

Collective intelligence refers to the body of knowledge and skills that emerges from and is shared by a group when the group is attempting to solve a problem. This collaboration allows us to accomplish goals that no single person could achieve otherwise. Think of building a subway system. Thousands of people sharing hundreds of specialized skills are needed to complete the project. No single person could build a subway system by herself nor could she possess all of the knowledge and skills needed to build one. We need each other to accomplish big things like our democratic republic.

With the election of the Ol’ Pussy Grabber, it is almost like we forgot how to democracy good. I’ve often referred to the 2016 election as the Great Civics Lesson, and that lesson continues a pace. We would do well to heed Ben Franklin’s cryptic warning, A Republic. If you can keep it because it isn’t too soon to discuss the possibility that our democracy is failing. Thomas Jefferson famously cautioned, If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed. We obviously are not very well informed about how our government works or who is responsible for doing what as David Souter reminded us back in 2012.

It isn’t too soon to discuss the possibility that our democracy is failing.

But, here’s how bad it has gotten: we often counter-balance the president and congress by awarding them to different parties. In the debacle of 2016, we elected a Repube Congress who is bent on aiding and abetting the Ol’ Pussy Grabber rape our country, hollow out our democratic institutions, and install a permanent Repube authoritarian majority.

Collective intelligence relies on the wisdom of the group: the exchange of ideas, thoughts, and opinions. But, groups are formed and maintained by agreeing. The group is so important to us, we often will find ways to agree with the group even when we disagree. What was the worst thing that could happen to a hunter-gatherer? Being tossed out of the group. Our tendency towards achieving and sustaining group cohesion is so powerful, we will even call a line that is obviously shorter than another, the same length as Solomon Asch demonstrated in his famous conformity study.

Our need for group cohesion as expressed through agreement is so great, we will mistakenly believe that anything our group believes is broadly accepted in the world regardless of whether it actually had been. By now it is almost cliche to say that we live in social media echo chambers listening to our opinions fed back to us confirming and reinforcing our beliefs.

There is strong evidence that these tendencies to conform to the beliefs our groups hold and to assume that those beliefs are widely held has been affecting our elections. Over at FiveThirtyEight,  David Wasserman writes that purple America is disappearing with more than 60% of voters living in counties that gave either Clinton or the Ol’ Pussy Grabber 60% or more of the vote. It’s a trend that has been accelerating. In 1992 only 39% lived in counties that voted 60% or more for the candidates and 50% of the voters in 2012 lived in such counties causing some political wonk-types to describe us as two one-party nations.”

More than 61 percent of voters cast ballots in counties that gave either Clinton or Trump at least 60 percent of the major-party vote last November. That’s up from 50 percent of voters who lived in such counties in 2012 and 39 percent in 1992 — an accelerating trend that confirms that America’s political fabric, geographically, is tearing apart.

David Wasserman, FiveThirtyEight, Purple America has all but Disappeared


Groupthink is a concept from social psychology that describes the faulty decisions that a group can make due to declining mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment. Under these conditions, the group follows orders without question. Exactly what you don’t want when it comes to, say, launching a nuclear first strike. They also tend to make irrational decisions, dehumanize other groups, and ignore alternatives. By know, I hope these qualities are starting to sound depressingly familiar.

Irving Janis developed the concept in 1972 and identified these eight symptoms (taken from the Psychologists for Social Responsibility website). Please note that my commentary is added in italics:

  1. Illusion of invulnerability –Creates excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks. You can see this in the very conservative Freedom Caucus in the House. They seem to feel that their CR without reference to DACA means that they have won. We’ll see how invulnerable they are in November 2018.
  2. Collective rationalization – Members discount warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions. It seems like the entire Repube Congressional delegation is unconcerned with their erroneous tax cuts for the wealthy assumptions. Of course, it could be that they just don’t give a flying fuck about wrecking the economy.
  3. Belief in inherent morality – Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions. Nothing more can be added here. The religious right believes that because they are good Christians everything they do must be good.
  4. Stereotyped views of out-groups – Negative views of “enemy” make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary. Again, immigrants, Muslims, and browns of all shapes, colors, creeds, national origins, genders, and orientations have been demonized and dehumanized.
  5. Direct pressure on dissenters – Members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views. The Repubes have long been the ones to maintain their party discipline and toe the party line. It has never been greater than now when you have Senators spouting nonsense on national TV about a secret society in the FBI opposing the Ol’ Pussy Grabber.
  6. Self-censorship – Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed. Very few Repubes in Congress or the White House are expressing their doubts. God, I hope there are at least a few souls who are doubting, but I doubt it. Even Auntie Lindsey doesn’t seem to have anything other than political expedience at the root of his dissent.
  7. Illusion of unanimity – The majority view and judgments are assumed to be unanimous. I know from the outside most of the decisions of Congressional Repubes seem unanimous. I’m guessing that to most of them, they think the majority — the silent majority agrees with them.
  8. Self-appointed ‘mindguards’ – Members protect the group and the leader from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions. Attacks on the Mueller investigation and the FBI, anyone?

Not only is the White House cluelessly wandering lost through the dank dark woods of governance towards the dangerous shoals of groupthink, but the Congressional Repubes are, too. They are not checking and balancing the Ol’ Pussy Grabber as they should. But, worse, the rank and file of the Repube party is running headlong to the cold deadly embrace of groupthink.

Human beings work best in groups where we can pool our experiences, knowledge, and ideas unless we are blinded by them in a fit of groupthink when our certainty in the rightness of our ideologies overtakes any common sense and reality testing.

Right now, we are witness to the crystallization of groupthink in our Repube Congress — the White House is too chaotic to be able to get to groupthink. The only thing that the rest of us can do to protect ourselves is support the dissenting views and try to break through the hardened walls that they are erecting around themselves.

Collective Narcissism

Collective narcissism is the irrational need for the group that an individual identifies with to be admired, praised, and revered. It is very similar to narcissism in that and other ways. When the group the collective narcissist belongs to is insulted or disrespected, then, like the narcissist, they lash out and seek redress through aggressive even violent means.

It is an social identity theory (SIT) taken to an extreme level. SIT postulates that individual self-esteem is based on the esteem of the social group that members identify with. To boost the group is to boost the self. Thus, other groups are stereotyped and denigrated, which, when taken to an extreme, can lead to discrimination, bias, prejudice, and oppression.

The collective narcissist can tolerate nothing less than total obsequence by others whether group members or non-group members. There is an irrational belief in the group’s grandiosity and privilege resulting in hostility towards groups or individuals that threaten or disparage the group.

Collective narcissists do not spend their time helping the group they identify with; they spend their time in paranoid vigilance searching for any signs that their group is not held up above others in importance and status. That their group is not afforded extra privileges. For the collective narcissist, the superiority of their group must be constantly acknowledge with not other group horning in on their rarefied territory.

If you are starting to think about certain elements of the conservative Christian right, then you are correct! If you are thinking about white supremacists, then you are correct! If you are thinking of bigotted intolerance for marriage equality, women’s reproductive health, transgender rights, and ethnic minorities, then you are correct!

Collective Narcissism Goes National

As long as collective narcissism limits itself to isolated individuals, it does not pose a threat to the nation or other groups, but when the entire social group is consumed by collective narcissism, then real widespread political violence is not only possible, it is likely kinda like what happened in Nazi Germany, Brexit, or sundown towns during Jim Crow.

The good folks at PrejudiceLab at Goldsmiths, University of London have evidence that collective narcissism was one of the strongest indicators of voting for the Ol’ Pussy Grabber.

There are members of Congress and the White House that can tolerate no criticism of the Ol’ Pussy Grabber, for example. We had a “religious leader” state that the Ol’ Pussy Grabber gets a mulligan for his affair with and subsequent pay off of Stormy Daniels. We have media, Congressional, and White House personnel suggesting that Mueller, Comey, and individual members of the FBI are conspiring against the Ol’ Pussy Grabber. We have a citizen threatening to kill people at CNN.

These reactions are moving past cognitive dissonance and are trending towards the pathological. They are delusional. They are quickly rising to the dangerous heady heights of groupthink in which disastrous decisions await. They are encouraging collective narcissists to react with hostility forming a culture of violence to cow and oppress political dissent.

The territory we are now moving into is so dangerous it threatens the very existence of our republic because it goes beyond the actions of just one caricature of a human being.

A Solution?

Luckily, the concepts of collective intelligence, groupthink, and collective narcissism give us suggestions for how to draw away from the precipice that we are about to plunge over. Because the causes are bigger than just the unproductive, malignant narcissism of the Ol’ Pussy Grabber, we can affect the direction we are taking through means other than just addressing him. We can target specific members of Congress in the hopes of breaking the death grip that the Repube myoposis has on them, freeing the Repubes from the restraints that groupthink castes over their decision making, and from the violent political oppression that collective narcissism foments among their followers.

So, call and write to your folks in Congress. Let ’em know that you want them to support diversity and equality, women’s reproductive health, affordable healthcare, and Dreamers. Let ’em know it is okay to break ranks because we’ve got their backs.

Use these numbers and links:

  • Call My Congress: Uses your zip code to locate your Congressional Representative and your Senators. And, it returns phone numbers, tweeter handle, party affiliation, voting record, and link to C-Span appearances!
  • Call Your Rep: Uses your address to give you your representative and senators but with their local and DC addresses and phone numbers.
  • The Capital Hill Switch Board: (202) 224-3121.

14 replies »

    • Howdy Francese!

      It is a divide and conquer strategy that takes advantage of our psychological tendencies. We are fussing over things that matter very little while they fleece the entire nation. It is one thing to steal our income. It is another to steal our irreplaceable virgin wilderness areas and natural resources. This is a tragedy on a Shakespearean or Sophoclean proportions.



  1. What Pascal called “religious conviction” aligns exactly with group think and collective narcissism.

    “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” – Blaise Pascal

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Bob!

      I’ve always believed that there is nothing more sinister or destructive than righteous indignation. That sense of righteousness — the unwavering conviction that you have the God’s honest truth — has caused the worst atrocities ever committed by human kind. Religion seems to be made for producing such unquestioning and unexamined certainty.


      Liked by 1 person

      • Here’s another along similar lines:

        “He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars: general Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer, for Art and Science cannot exist but in minutely organized Particulars.” – William Blake

        Liked by 1 person

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