Seamus Ahearne on Group Think
‘Group Think’ – Saville, Hillsborough, Armstrong, New Missal, Anglo- Irish, Theology
These are strange days. I have been struck by recent events and wonder what they say to us. The phrase ‘group think’ (from the Report after the Kevin Reynolds case) seems to apply to much of what is going on.
1. Jimmy Saville was a hero. No-one saw anything and no-one ever said anything and now there is an avalanche of victims and commentary. (BBC; Hospitals; Care-homes). Was it ‘group think’ or cultural blindness that meant no-one knew anything until now? How is it victims too only appear now? Or why is it now said that ‘sexual harassment’ and ‘groping’ was part of the Culture of the BBC?
2. 96 (ninety six) died at Hillsborough and it took 23 (twenty three) years before the truth was heard. Was it ‘group think’ that meant that these Liverpool supporters had to be drunk and have caused all the deaths? It couldn’t have been the fault of the Establishment – therefore it couldn’t happen. But it did.
3. The Birmingham 6 were convicted. They spent 16 years in jail. What did Lord Denning say: “That it was an appalling vista” to even consider that the Legal Profession could have got everything wrong. Therefore it didn’t happen! ‘Group think’ in the legal profession shut down any real thinking.
4. The Celtic Tiger was a wonderful animal. The Government never saw failure coming. The Opposition never saw failure as possible. The Media never saw it. Our economics Experts never saw it. And yet it was obvious to even those famous ‘dogs in the street’ that the building boom had to collapse and that the jobs to fund it would fall into rubble. Was this the madness of the ‘group think’ or the collective blindness of the Nation that let this happen?
5. The crazy behaviour of people like Charlie Haughey was clear and obvious. Anyone with real alert mental antennae could see it and yet he was admired and praised. Did no-one see what was going on as the political system was poisoned? Was this again ‘group think’ which blinkered any real observation or reflection?
6. Anglo- Irish Bank was an example of success. Surely anyone who knows even the basic elements of housekeeping/budgeting/account keeping must have known that it wasn’t possible to gamble as they did. And yet the Board knew nothing; the Regulator saw nothing; the Central Bank missed it; the Auditors didn’t notice the year end juggle with monies. Was this ‘Group think’ or a ‘Cosy Cartel’ or sheer mindlessness??
7. Lance Armstrong was unmasked (if that is an appropriate word) during the week. The ‘hero’ had turned ‘villain’. Was it that we didn’t want to believe it or why could it have taken so long? There were a few voices but not many who muttered the unacceptable. Why wasn’t he caught before now? Again was it ‘group think’ that stopped it happening. ‘He couldn’t do this’ and therefore ‘he wasn’t doing it.’ The world of racing couldn’t believe it could happen and therefore it wasn’t.
8. The Church people in Rome produced a New Missal which was agreed to by our own Hierarchies (New Zealand excepted). This Book is a disgrace. It disrespects the English language and is clumsy, crude and ridiculous. In fact the theology behind it is wrong and heretical (it suffers from dualism which obviously isn’t happy with the language of ordinary people) because it doesn’t allow the Word to become Flesh. Was it ‘Group think’ that allowed this happen and then made us all put up with the consequences? With John Healy of long ago we must ask – ‘did no-one shout Stop??!!’
The Church has been battered for years over the Clerical Sex abuse. Church officialdom was attacked as if they were more culpable that the perpetrators. But who was so enlightened? Was the BBC? Was the Media? What is happening now – if we just focus on the Church – are we neglecting the wider issue of Abuse in Society? What will help us open our minds on every issue to look beyond the obvious and learn something from the mistakes of the past. Can we learn from Saville/BBC; can we contemplate that Legal people can be wrong? Can we imagine that Experts can be very stupid? Can we see how blind Church people can be? Surely any theological or philosophical discussion would now begin to ask those wider questions. How can we really open our minds; our imaginations to reflect on serious issues around us rather than be distracted by the immediate and the supposedly obvious? There is a real challenge to all of us in Society and in Church life. We can ask and can hope and can demand that something wider and bigger too is asked in the Discussions at the Synod. We do not want more of the same and more people of the same ilk. There are questions to be answered by all of us.
Seamus Ahearne osa (Rivermount Parish) Dublin.