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Wednesday, June 19, 2019

We Need a Word for Destructive Group Outrage

Cass Sunstein
Originally posted May 23, 2019

Here are two excerpts:

In the most extreme and horrible situations, lapidation is based on a lie, a mistake or a misunderstanding. People are lapidated even though they did nothing wrong.

In less extreme cases, the transgression is real, and lapidators have a legitimate concern. Their cause is just. They are right to complain and to emphasize that people have been hurt or wronged.

Even so, they might lose a sense of proportion. Groups of people often react excessively to a mistake, an error in judgment, or an admittedly objectionable statement or action. Even if you have sympathy for Harvard’s decision with respect to Sullivan, or Cambridge’s decision with respect to Carl, it is hard to defend the sheer level of rage and vitriol directed at both men.

Lapidation entrepreneurs often have their own agendas. Intentionally or not, they may unleash something horrific – something like the Two Minutes Hate, memorably depicted in George Orwell’s “1984.”


What makes lapidation possible? A lot of the answer is provided by the process of “group polarization,” which means that when like-minded people speak with one another, they tend to go to extremes.

Suppose that people begin with the thought that Ronald Sullivan probably should not have agreed to represent Harvey Weinstein, or that Al Franken did something pretty bad. If so, their discussions will probably make them more unified and more confident about those beliefs, and ultimately more extreme.

A key reason involves the dynamics of outrage. Whenever some transgression has occurred, people want to appear at least as appalled as others in their social group. That can transform mere disapproval into lapidation.

The info is here.