Friday, June 26, 2020


Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.
As I said previously, Dunbar's Number is the number of active relationships humans can sustain, and therefore anyone within that number is someone we care about. and is effectively part of our tribe. Anyone outside that number is at best someone we don't care about, and at worst is regarded as a competitor for scarce resources. It therefore follows that humans will find ways to relate to those people within their monkeysphere, and we do that in a manner known as groupness.

What Is Groupness?
The term was coined by social psychologist Henri Tajfel who stated that various animals, including humans, form in groups with common characteristics. Among humans, these characteristics are:
  1. People within the group share common rituals and norms. This means that there is a shared sense of what is allowed within the group and what is not, and that there are some tasks which everyone does and some tasks which fall to certain people, like elders.
  2.  A common understanding of history and purpose. The group has been together long enough to have shared stories or in-jokes that outsiders are not privy to or wouldn't understand, and everyone within the group shares a common ideal. 
  3. The ability of members to sustain the group through challenges. Not only does this mean group effectiveness in overcoming obstacles, but it also means that the group pulls together under stress and members look out for one another as an example. 
Let's examine the groupness of preppers.
  • We all have emergency supplies which we own and maintain, and we have disaster plans which we refine and practice. That's our norm. 
  • When we see someone in our group making a mistake, like engaging in unsafe behavior or buying improper gear or giving bad advice, we correct them. If we see an incorrect depiction of preppers in the media, we ridicule it. That's one of our common rituals.
  • Some of us are very vocal about preparedness and we all have strong opinions, but we generally leave the task of teaching to those of us who are eloquent, responsible and have some degree of respect within the group. 
  • Our common purpose is, of course, to prepare ourselves and others for emergencies so that we can all survive.
  • Our common history involves us making jokes about how the great toilet paper shortage of 2020 wasn't an inconvenience to us because we already had all we needed, laughing at the unprepared people who stood in line at Costco for hours, and how we suddenly weren't as crazy as the media depicted us. We use words like BOB, TEOTWAWKI, INCH, WROL, and other in-group jargon terms.
  • Our common ideal is, of course, to weather a disaster with as little disruption to our lives as possible. 
  • The entire purpose of a prepper's Tribe is to create a group which pulls together during stressful times where we all look out for one another. We even saw this to a lesser extent here, on this blog and in our Facebook group, where we supported one another during the rough spots and exchanged advice, hints and tricks that worked for us in the hopes that they would help other people. 

Is It Good or Bad?
It sounds like groupness is a great thing, doesn't it? Well, it is and it isn't. Groupnesss can accomplish a lot, but with it it comes the risk of becoming insular. It's all too easy for members to stop listening to anyone not within their group and an echo chamber emerges where challenging thought isn't permitted.
As Laurence Gonzales said in Mob Mentality: the Failures of Groupness,
When the in-group encounters individuals from outside the group, the default response is hostility. People protect their group from outsiders and from outside influences. For example, we will reject information, habits, and culture from other groups.

The power of groupness is not to be underestimated. If a group invests a lot of effort in a goal and succeeds, its boundaries become stronger, and it tends to become even more hostile to outside influences. This may not be overt hostility. It may simply be a subtle and unconscious tendency to reject anything from another group.
We preppers do this a lot as well. Some of us make it difficult for new members to join, or for new modes of thought to be accepted. (For example, see the division between primitive survival skills enthusiasts vs. those who want to use the best, most advanced gear possible.) In worst-case scenarios, an entire culture develops around not allowing dissenting thought or not challenging the elders, and this becomes groupthink.

As an example, consider NASA in the 1980s. They had put men on the moon multiple times over the past decade, and so they weren't open to any suggestion that how they were operating the Space Shuttle was dangerous. The thinking was "Don't tell us how to do our job. We know what we're doing." This culture became so pervasive that even though there were multiple failures within a launch, these were defined as 'acceptable' simply because the launch was successful. Groupthink from groupness blinded them to hazards until something happened that they couldn't ignore: the explosion of Challenger in 1986.

So in other words, when groupness is bolstered by a few lucky victories, it can blur the line between actual success in achieving a goal sensibly and a close call that fortunately didn't turn into disaster... this time.

How Does This Apply to Prepping?
Preppers need to understand how groupness works and must be able to recognize the signs of isolation and groupthink when they appear. This is important because preppers already form into circles, groups or tribes of like-minded people -- groupness in action -- and so when disaster strikes, we need to be wary that we don't fall into the trap of groupthink.

Additionally, we need to realize that post-disaster, other people will form their own groups as well and will likely regard us preppers with the same hostility and other-ness.

Finally, preppers need to realize that just because we got away with something once doesn't mean that it was a good idea. Similarly, just because something worked in the past doesn't mean it will continue to work in the future.

For more information on groupness in a survival situation, I encourage you all to read this three-page PDF Groupthink in Outdoor Adventure Settings. It's a fast, easy read full of useful information for all of us.

In Conclusion
Dunbar's Number means that human brains are inherently wired for tribalism. Those within our monkeysphere are seen as human and are valued; those outside out monkeysphere are at best seen as faceless things to interact with and at worst as "the other" which must be destroyed.

Because of this tribalism, we practice groupness. In so doing we surround ourselves with like-minded people with similar values, shared goals and a unifying history and language. This reinforces "us vs. them" and "we are right, they are wrong" thinking.

Groupness leads to groupthink, where outside ideas are seen as dangerous to the group and are rejected without consideration in favor of "we've always done it this way." Unfortunately, this can lead to stagnation or even disaster.

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