2014/11/04

"Cognitive Dissonance" & "Be Wrong or Be Alone."

I was at Stratton Grammar School, Biggleswade, in the 3rd or 4th year, I can't remember. It was summer and our English teacher and form master, E. A. Armitage, was late for the first lesson of a hot afternoon. Someone in the class had the bright idea that we should go away (run away?) and relax under some trees on the other side of the playing fields. The trees were 300 meters away from the classroom. Somehow we pursuaded ourselves that it was a good idea. All but one of us went, leaving the classroom nearly empty.



When we got to the trees, we lay down, started chatting away while looking up through the branches at the blue sky. It was only about 10 minutes before someone said:



"Oh-oh, Armi's seen us and he's coming over."



And we could see, just by his stride, that he was as angry as hell. His shouted questions come back to me now. What did you think you lot were doing!!?!! How did you think we'd get away with it!!?!!



We had no reply of course.



I can't remember how we were punished, but we were.



This incident illustrates two ideas in "Wilful Blindness" by Magaret Heffernan.



Cognitive Dissonance: Holding two contradictory ideas in our minds at the same time. Somehow we thought we could abandon the classroom and it would be ok. And we knew it would not be ok, because it was strictly not allowed by the rules. And most of us held those two ideas in our minds at the same time.



But maybe it was also a bit of Be Wrong or Be Alone. We know the group is wrong. But the need to belong to the group is more powerful than wanting to be right. The one student who stayed in the classroom was right, but he was alone.

What would happen if all my friends were true believers in homeopathy as a cure for cancer and I wasn't? If I got cancer, would I follow their advice so I would not be alone? I hope not.



Anyway, here are some of us in front of our classroom, on a different, happier day, 1977 I think:




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