Re: groupthink gauntlet: MacArthur's ill-fated drive toward the Yalu

From: Chris Taylor (
Date: Fri 30 Jan 2004 - 08:30:35 GMT

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    Two principles: (1) This is almost exactly the same as a religious grouping in that the fitness function for memes is distorted by a meme pool which contains assumptions about the world (themselves other memes
    -- a bit like keeping crap leopards alive by stocking the savannah with really crap legless antelopes); and as with all religions they have memes of mass destruction which allow the discounting of 'alien' memes.
    (2) They (despite being large in number, and possible due to some of the effects in (1)) lack the correct memes in their collective pool to burst their little bubble; this is kind of like the thing about optimum group size when making decisions -- you don't want too many people because ideas get swamped, but otoh you need enough to be sure (in a probabalistic sense) that you have a good proportion of the memes you need (i.e. a large enough para-random sample of those in the wider populace that you don't miss any 'biggies' like 'hang on, aren't China rock hard and backed by the Soviets?').

    That's very brief but I should be in a meeting...

    Btw I am very pro- social science; I see it as at the stage biology was at around Darwin's time -- mostly fact-gathering and classification, trying to find commanalities etc., but with the big picture still just out of reach given the knowledge at the time. Remember that Darwin wasn't crucial to evolutionary theory and he got parts wrong; remember also that biologists (as I'm sure you're aware Scott) still get called stamp collectors by physicists and the like.

    Where are the gaps that need filling? I'm up for it -- I believe my memetics (which I appreciate isn't everyone's cup of tea) can explain just about anything...

    Cheers, Chris.

    Scott Chase wrote:
    > I'd love to see the resident memeticists stop jawboning about the
    > isolationism of the SSSM and take up the gauntlet of explaining an event
    > in history (a field probably too soft for memeticists) better than a
    > social psychologist named Irving Janis. With social psychology being a
    > "soft" social science this should be an easy one for the memeticists to
    > conquer and raise the flag of Universal Darwinism. Maybe this would take
    > some effort on the isolated memeticists part as they would have to find
    > the source material, Irving Janis's book _Groupthink: Psychological
    > Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes_ (1983. Houghton Mifflin
    > Company. Boston) and merely concentrate on one chapter called "In and
    > Out of North Korea: "The Wrong War with the Wrong Enemy"" which analyses
    > military policy decisions made by Truman and his advisory group when
    > considering the push of MacArthur's forces beyond the 38th parallel in
    > Korea and towards the Yalu river (ie- threateningly close to the Chinese
    > border) in trying to conquer all of Korea for Syngman Rhee's friendly
    > gov't against Kim Il Sung's forces. Truman et al discounted the ChiComs
    > and their bellicose threats and when the push towards the Yalu ensued
    > MacArthur's forces suffered a massive waved assault by the ChiComs.
    > Social scientist Janis looks particularly at the decision making process
    > of Truman and his group, including Dean Acheson resulting in this major
    > confrontation with Chinese forces which, after the defense of the Pusan
    > perimeter and the subsequent landing at Inchon allowing MacArthur's
    > forces to take Korea back up to the 38th parallel negating the success
    > of the North Korean invasion of the South, resulted in a setback instead
    > of total victory against the North Koreans. Memeticists might want to
    > put down the Dawkins and Dennett books and actually read some history
    > and maybe familiarize themselves with the social psychological concept
    > of groupthink. Janis, to his non-isolationist credit, refers to
    > historical works when conducting his analysis through the lense of
    > groupthink.
    > I'll leave it to aspiring memeticists to find this book and read it, but
    > here's a good quote or two...:
    > (bq) "Social scientists who have analyzed the decision to occupy North
    > Korea- De Rivera, George, McLellan, Neustadt, and others - infer that
    > the members of Truman's advisory group genuinely believed that there
    > were solid grounds for recommending the escalation decision and that
    > they exerted a strong influence on President Truman." (eq) [ Janis- page
    > 70]
    > Notice Janis uses the term "social scientists" above without scare
    > quotes? I wonder if these social scietists were under the spell of the
    > SSSM...
    > Another quote:
    > (bq) "In summary, the main reason for the members' concurrence on the
    > ill-considered escalation decision was that Truman's advisory group was
    > adhering to a set of norms that were promoted by the leader and that all
    > willingly accepted. These shared norms enabled the members to maintain a
    > sense of group solidarity at the expense of suffering from many of the
    > major symptoms of groupthink. The most prominent symptoms were excessive
    > risk-taking based on a shared illusion of invulnerability, stereotypes
    > of the enemy, collective reliance on ideological rationalizations that
    > supported the belligerent escalation to which the group became
    > committed, and mindguarding to exclude the dissident views of experts
    > who questioned the group's unwarranted assumptions." (eq) [page 71]
    > George Kennan was one such dissident and Janis [page 60] earlier points
    > to a possible mindguarding role for Dean Acheson as member of the
    > in-group.
    > Now I wonder if memetics and evolutionary psychology can effectively
    > compete with Janis's groupthink suggestion or if they can put forward
    > any viable theses regarding this historical event during the Korean War.
    > For some reason this social science hating isolationism of the universal
    > Darwinists threatens to translate into a typical Procrustean bed when
    > applied to a topic so complex as this one. Were are the memes and the
    > genes selected in the EEA when you need them?
    > At best someone could argue that the prevailing mindset of
    > anti-communism played *a* role in this mess, but to rely on this
    > expanation exclisively would be to greatly oversimplify a complex
    > phenomenon.
    > What would the biologists say that historians and social scientists
    > should listen to?
    > ===============================================================
    > This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    > Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    > For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
    > see:

      Chris Taylor (
      MIAPE Project --
    This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)

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