Consensus and Group Think Re: Reality Based and Truth Seeking
From: Sarah Lesher (
Date: Mon, 16 Aug 2021 18:03:47 -0700 (PDT)
Sharon --

Thank you so much.  Yesterday I was writing a proposal to use AI to analyze
the political differences between the positive environmental outcome after
the 1969 Cuyahoga River Fire (Earth Day, Nixon creating the EPA, much
environmental regulation that has helped us since), and the current
politically contentious environmental disaster that will occur if the
Washington Beltway is widened as Maryland's Governor Hogan has been seeking
to do (he has presidential ambitions) against enormous opposition.

Note, in passing, the fears of AI raised by, among others, the late
physicist Stephen Hawking. Yes, we need to be wary.  But AI can also be a
powerful source for good.

In my proposal I compared "consensus" in the cohousing, Quaker, and other
human social interaction sense, and "consensus" used by mathematical
modelers referring to the synchronization of firefly flashing, apparently a
great tourist attraction in the Smoky Mountains. In the mathematical sense,
and in the human and firefly sense, consensus results from the passing of
messages back and forth between independent agents.

I found several very interesting blogs by "frrl" on consensus and the
dangers of group think that are very relevant to the issues you raised.
Attaching them, another blog by "frrl," and another piece on modifying
"consensus" to "consent" in the Sociocracy sense.  I've been associated
with cohousing groups using Sociocracy and those using consensus.
Sociocracy may escape the Group Think trap more easily than does Consensus,
but groups using both approaches have struggled with the "vax/no-vax"

Like you, I fear the dogma that "cohousing means community; community means
consensus; if 60% of members believe "x", then the views of the 40% aren't
worthy of a deliberative and thoughtful listening session."

I won't name either community because there are those who feel I have no
right to attach their name to my views, if only as an address!  Anyhow, the
only cohousing email I have is with the other, equally fraught community.
I'll stick to my private gmail account!

--S, which I'm currently trying to have interpreted as "Slinky," since my
existing nickname has met the skeptical disfavor of this community!
Apparently we must relinquish even our nicknames to community consensus or
risk discord!

On Sun, Aug 15, 2021 at 4:16 PM Sharon Villines via Cohousing-L <
cohousing-l [at]> wrote:

> (It’s a long way down to the relevance of this to cohousing, but stay with
> me.)
> By happy accident I just read two books back to back that helped me
> understand the psychology and power of the truth deniers phenomenon.
> _Der Fuehrer: Hitler’s Rise to Power_ by Konrad Heiden
> Jonathan Rauch’s _The Constitution of Knowledge: A defense of the truth._
> How do you make sense of people who do not correct in the face of
> overwhelming evidence? People who can deny that they said something that
> they have just been shown a video of themselves saying. Who seem to have
> unlimited energy to spread disinformation in every possible corner of the
> media — including rallies in huge sports stadiums.
> I wanted to read about Hitler because I realized I knew little about how
> he actually came to power and functioned within his government. The Hitler
> expert on recommended Der Fuehrer as the best first book to
> read because it was written contemporaneously by an historian who actually
> interviewed everyone himself and researched written sources before the
> “outside” understood what was coming.
> This is generally discouraged because contemporaneous history is thought
> to be biased, a part of the story it writes. Not in this case. Heiden's
> writing ended in 1942 and the book was printing and published in 1944. It
> took a long time for books to be published then — a two year process. His
> interviews and paper tracking was done well before the world was forced by
> the war’s final revelations to face reality. What Heiden saw in the 1930’s,
> the world was still refusing to believe in the 1940s.
> Hitler’s personal interests and the methods he and his perpetrators used
> are exactly like Trump's and his enablers. Neither Trump nor Hitler could
> have succeeded without other people eliminating the opposition and
> providing the funding. From his first attempts to gain political power,
> Hitler’s people killed opposing politicians and he was given multiple
> government positions that funded his movement. Trump’s opposition was
> obliterated with payoffs, threats, and outrageous lies. He used the
> illusion of his business prowess to prop up the illusion of his finances.
> Hitler took over the public institutions and created his own
> super-bureaucracies. Trump blew up the public institutions, fired hundreds
> of agency staff, and replaced leaders with people of his choosing in empty
> offices.
> There were times when I had to stop and remind myself that I was reading
> about Hitler and not Trump. In most places, just doing a search on “Hitler"
> and replacing with “Trump" would have produced a text that was just as
> accurate. Heiden gives multiple examples of the deceit of the propagandist:
> they believed not a word of what they say. It just gets them the attention
> they want. It’s questionable whether Hitler had any feelings at all about
> Jews one way or the other. They were just convenient for stirring up hate.
> Trump had no cares for his supporters and routinely legislated against
> them. And used their ills to distract from his own actions in other areas.
> Fortunate for me that I did read these two books back to back because
> watching the build up of Hitler at the same time as watching Trump not
> leave office was depressing. All seemed futile. But then Rauch examines the
> Trump presidency and explains how deniers, disrupters, and disinformation
> spreaders win and how to defeat them. They win because the path they take
> is an easy one when used to defeat reality-based truth-seekers. They don’t
> even have to create a new reality or come up with a better solution. They
> only have to spread doubt and discontent and confusion—no answers, no
> ideas, only emotion.
> The things they do seem like a larger danger because their premise is so
> outrageous, it can’t be refuted. One is struck dumb instead. They know
> proving or refuting a negative is impossible. All they have to do is create
> and spread false, suggestive information—no proofs required. And the
> digital world has made this so easy to do. Free speech goes both ways.
> Rauch begins by exploring the nature of knowledge—who decides what it is?
> What is it and how is it constituted? Making a huge leap into simplifying
> 200 pages of wonderful history and analysis, I’ll say it comes down to
> understanding that:
> 1. We only have our own senses with which to search for the truth. We are
> inherently limited in what we can know and biased by our limitations.
> 2. Knowledge is constructed in dialogue with others using their
> perspectives, understanding, and biases to check our own. Reality-based
> truth-seeking people construct knowledge through communities of knowledge.
> In systems language, the dialogue provides the necessary corrective
> feedback loops. The broader the dialogue, the deeper the understanding.
> Knowledge is socially constructed.
> The importance of transparency and the sharing of information is what has
> speeded up the construction of knowledge since 1600. COVID vaccine was the
> first vaccine developed in this open source environment. That is the reason
> the labs were able to do in 12 days that would have taken 12 years in the
> 20th century.
> The sole aim of tyrants is to disrupt that process of reality based
> inquiry. Denying it causes us to question our own senses and to distrust
> those of others. As a result the truth-seekers are flummoxed—their language
> and all their agreements so far are taken away. What do you say when
> someone says we will win because we are basing our campaign on alternate
> facts?
> Propagandists win by producing outrage on one side and silence on the
> other. Why were so many people silent and ineffective against Hitler and
> Trump?
> Rauch puts the kabash on that in the last 50 pages, however. The defense
> and ultimate defeat of propaganda is in (1) preserving diversity of
> opinions, (2) speaking up, and (3) insisting on speaking the truth.
> To have a measured response it is vital not to treat their absurdities as
> anything at all. Their pronouncements are irritating and dumbfounding, but
> are not cataclysmic. The earth is not flat just because they say it is.
> Don’t give them that much power. Let them die on the vine if that is all
> their ideas are worth.
> Rauch quotes Lincoln as saying we need to speak up with "reverence and
> reason.” Not give them the outrage that will steer us off course and into
> meeting their objectives for them. They need us to complete what they begin.
> The connection to cohousing, finally —I found a purpose for diversity. It
> isn’t just about wearing the badge of civil rights on our left sleeve; it’s
> about preserving and enlarging the reality-based truth-seeking community.
> The one that self corrects and thrives on difference. Where everyone speaks
> up with “reverence and reason.” Silence does neither.
> In the ongoing discussions about how to attract minority populations to
> cohousing, this answers my question, “What is skin-color difference going
> to get you?" Why is this important? How would it change the community
> except to make us look less like the homogenous, white, middle-class
> community we don’t want to be?
> We need diversity and inclusiveness to continue constructing knowledge.
> My next question, which no one has answered either, is do we really
> understand what diversity we have now? How much diversity is living right
> next door but gives in to silence? Rauch discusses the many ways we are all
> silenced by the norm in the room. Every community reports that governance
> smooths out over time. Why? Because silence has smoothed it? Or has
> knowledge smoothed it out?
> Do we know why people have different opinions than ours? And why theirs
> are as valid as ours? And how to form a wholistic world view from including
> both of them?
> Homework: What three concerns would you never raise in a meeting because
> others would view doing so as divisive, sympathy seeking, or not the
> direction anyone else wants to go?
> Sharon
> ----
> Sharon Villines, Washington DC
> "Behavior is determined by the prevailing form of decision making." Gerard
> Endenburg
> Before I started writing today, this is the text I sent to the work-day
> lunch preparer:
> Could you save me some taquitos? I’m working on bylaws stuff and writing a
> cohousing article and can’t take the risk of being distracted by
> cohousing!!!!! Can I come down later and pick up a container in the fridge?
> She came up and I exchanged a hunk of sourdough bread I baked last night
> for a plate of taquitos and a slice of watermelon.
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