Hardly a week goes by that I don’t see someone post on Facebook “If you believe [x], then just unfriend me right now”. This being election year has only increased the frequency of this type of post.
Or maybe on a gun forum or social media group you see a “critique my AR-15 build” post, invariably from people not looking for actual input, but instead just looking to reinforce their own [perhaps poor] decision making. What do they do? Argue passionately against any comment not in their favor.
What they’re really saying is “I am too insecure in my own convictions, and therefore outright reject opinions other than my own.” They don’t want friends or real input—they want an echo chamber. A place where everyone agrees, and controversy is quashed outright. The more people in the echo chamber, the stronger the groupthink. The line must be followed.
It’s the Friendly Fuzzy Puppy Echo Chamber, and those inside it truly believe: “We are the only smart ones”
Don’t get me wrong, it feels good to have consensus, the belief that you can fix any problem you set your collective mind to. And it’s also incredibly intellectually lazy and detrimental. It allows you to easily accept terribly shallow arguments against anyone with opposing views, and dismiss them outright. The stronger the groupthink, the easier it is to overestimate yourself, underestimate the opposition, and increase hostilities.
Does this sound like politics yet? It should. The same can also be seen in any even quasi-social organization that at least provides the perception of exclusivity. Hell, in the gun community we see alliances centered around particular manufacturers, schools, or even YouTube channels (with counter coalitions forming as a backlash response just as often). I’m sure you’ve thought of several just while reading this sentence.
This phenomenon isn’t profoundly astonishing. Confirmation bias is strong with humans, which is why we usually only seek out opinions that we agree with—more conservatives listen to Fox News and more liberals listen to NPR.
On the small world side of things, it means that you’re socially isolating yourself. You’ll be less willing or able to deal with real opposition to your views and opinions, and you well may end up like one of these people:
In the large world side it’s much different. You’ll be able to convince yourself that a haphazard invasion of a foreign country is a good idea (Bay of Pigs) or that you’ll be able to take on a military superpower (Russo-Georgian War), or actively ignore imminent threats right in front of your face (Israel just prior to the Yom Kippur War).
Granted, you’re probably not a world leader (Kim Jong-Un, if you’re reading this—knock it the fuck off already!) but you may be in a leadership position of some sort. Or you may end up in one. Rack your brain and think if you’re good friends with someone who holds at least some diametrically opposing views to yours. If you can’t, chances are you’re engaging heavily in the Friendly Fuzzy Puppy Echo Chamber.
While many meaningful relationships start with mutual interest, and in the case of romantic ones, mutual attraction. But if it hinges on a singular opinion, you likely didn’t have a real friendship to begin with. At least one of you doesn’t have as much confidence as you thought.
None of this is to say that you should have to befriend outright rude, crazy, or disingenuous people. Shitheads will always be shitheads. It’s just that not everyone who disagrees with you is, in fact, a shithead. Furthermore, none of this should be construed as saying everyone’s opinion should be weighed evenly; this isn’t a Kumbaya drum circle session. While everyone has a right to an opinion, not everyone’s opinion is created equally.
When two different credible, intelligent, and experienced groups (or people) disagree about something, quite often neither side is entirely correct nor incorrect; they may just have different perspectives. Complex problems and issues rarely have pat answers.
But thinking is hard. If you’re okay with holding shallow views, mindlessly regurgitating the thoughts of a social structure, or possibly obtaining extremist postures, stick that thumb back in your mouth and roll into that Friendly Fuzzy Puppy Echo Chamber. Everyone there will agree with you. The rest of the world is dumb, just ask the other people in the group–they’ll tell you.
However, if you want to genuinely strengthen your arguments and ideals and engage in some critical thinking, actively seek points of view different than your own. You’ll be a more well rounded and interesting person for it.