No social group is immune from the effects of Groupthink. Intelligence has nothing to do with it. The people at Penn State have university degrees, and yet, they stood by while they knew that evil was in their midst. Social commentator David Brooks offers an insightful explanation that makes Groupthink look rational:
“I don’t think it was just a Penn State problem. You know, you spend 30 or 40 years muddying the moral waters here. We have lost our clear sense of what evil is, what sin is; and so, when people see things like that, they don’t have categories to put it into. They vaguely know it’s wrong, but they’ve been raised in a morality that says, ‘If it feels all right for you, it’s probably OK.’ And so that waters everything down.”
About the time Jerry Sandusky was molested young boys at Penn State and in his home, there was an article written that caught my attention. While most people are shocked that intelligent people can stand by while they witness evil taking place right before their eyes, Kay Haugaard is not.
Kay Haugaard has taught creative writing since 1970. As with most of her classes, students read and discuss Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery.” Jackson’s lottery isn’t about winning millions of dollars by picking the right series of numbers; it’s about human sacrifice that a small town accepts and takes part in with no questions asked. As the years of teaching this story have passed, Haugaard began to see a change in the moral perceptions of her students. Their views on right and wrong had been dulled by the rhetoric of moral neutrality, “the danger of just ‘going along’ with something habitually, without examining its rationale and value.” Haugaard’s closing comments are chilling:
No one in the whole class of more than twenty ostensibly intelligent individuals would go out on a limb and take a stand against human sacrifice.