The Mountain State’s TRUSTED news source.

Click here to stay informed and subscribe to The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Click #isupportlocal for more information on supporting our local journalists.


Learn more about HD Media

It would surprise no one if, during a gathering of a large Mountain State family, several uncles, aunts and cousins were heard discussing their certainty that the 2020 election was rigged.

Although agreement on the point might have seemed unanimous, one or more attendees may have silently recalled the 60 court cases and numerous recounts that said otherwise. But rather than announce the inconvenient facts, any dissenters may have opted for silence, so as not to clang a disharmonious note during the concert.

Similarly, it is not a matter of dispute that our history is well stocked with development of vaccines that have brought us freedom from the horrors of numerous diseases. But within a group of socializing folks, should chat turn to how masking and social distancing infringe on our freedoms, someone probably knows better yet remains silent so as not to seem an albatross around the neck of the group’s camaraderie.

Silence in the name of group harmony is a phenomenon known as groupthink. Members tend to reinforce their own opinions no matter how perpendicular to the facts their thinking may be. Then, after a calamity has assailed the misinformed survivors, it often is discovered that several individuals had perceived the looming danger, yet each had remained silent in deference to group cohesion.

Could groupthink have been at work when, for example, the Oath Keepers were planning a foray into the U.S. Capitol? As plans were being laid, surely one or more among them perceived that the plan was nutty, yet refrained from speaking up so as not to disturb the group’s feelings of togetherness.

A collective’s ideas may be quite good or they may be irrational, amoral, unworkable, dangerous or stupid. One or more members may rightly conclude that the team has boarded a train to places which wild animals instinctively avoid. But to maintain group solidarity, a silence is kept by any who realize that the group has become unmoored from sagacity.

The Kennedy administration’s Bay of Pigs invasion laid bare the phenomenon of groupthink. President Kennedy and his advisors hatched a preposterous plan to have a mere 1,500 troops, aided by air power, invade and subdue the 800-mile-long nation of Cuba. It had no chance of success, but the administration believed in it. Several of the president’s advisors later admitted they had failed to air their concerns about the invasion’s workability because each believed he was the only doubter.

In 1997, 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate cult committed mass suicide after becoming convinced that their spirits would then be lifted to a space ship they believed to be hiding behind the passing Hale-Bopp comet. Is it possible that one or more of them had become so heavily invested in maintaining the group’s harmony that he failed to announce his fear that the group was becoming delusional?

As West Virginians meet up in local diners to sip coffee and discuss a “rigged” election or to enumerate the reasons not to take the COVID-19 vaccine, it is quite likely that one among them disagrees yet remains silent because, after all, nobody wants to be a skunk at that picnic.

•••

On a side note, our community lost a good man with the recent passing of businessman and musician Ivor Sheff. In the 1970s, Ivor worked for me at Camp Galahad, where he served wonderfully as a counselor for the handicapped. I can see him yet, entertaining our delighted campers. Rest well, buddy.

Joseph Wyatt is a Gazette-Mail contributing columnist and emeritus professor at Marshall University. Reach him at wyatt@marshall.edu.

Recommended for you