Freedom: groupthinking and independent thinking

Freedom: groupthinking and independent thinking


Mieke Mosmuller

25-02-2021 2 comments Print!
The text below is a literal transcription of the spoken video text.

We are increasingly seeing that individual people with strong opinions are, it seems, easily persuaded to conform to the prevailing idea of a group. Of course, it could be the advancing insight of that individual that makes him or her change their mind, but there are plenty of examples where the debate takes an unexpectedly surprising turn. To break free from a way of thinking that is imposed by a group, you need powerful independent thinking. A thinking that forms itself independently of opinions of others, a thinking that is free. This free independent thinking we must practice, train even. After all, it is in that free independent thinking that we find the freedom we need in this day and age.Watch video on YouTube

Mieke Mosmuller

At the beginning of this week, the content of a video message was published, in the Dutch newspaper, as the opening speech to a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council. That video message was spoken by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres. I quote a few small pieces from that message.

“Countries use corona measures as a pretext to restrict human rights. Thinking differently and independent media are silenced, warns the Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres. Under the guise of corona measures, basic freedoms are being abolished, according to the Secretary-General. Guterres does not mention any names but, according to the UN leader, strict security and emergency measures are being proclaimed in certain countries to supposedly combat the corona crisis. In fact, those in power are abusing the corona pandemic so that the most fundamental freedoms of citizens disappear. He speaks of a vicious circle of violations. Guterres points to the erosion of elections, the suppression of the opposition, human rights activists, journalists, lawyers and even health workers being arrested, prosecuted, intimidated or watched because they criticise corona restrictions or denounce the lack of measures.”

He also talks about digital technology and says:

“The covid-19 infodemic has generally raised alarm bells about the growing reach of digital platforms and the use and misuse of data. The UN chief was concerned that a vast library of information is being built up on each of us. He pointed out that patterns of behaviour are traded and sold like futures contracts. Our data is also used to guide and manipulate our perceptions. Without us ever being aware of it, Guterres said. Governments can abuse that data to control the behaviour of their own citizens, violating the human rights of individuals or groups. And then he said: all this is not science fiction or a prediction of a twenty-second century dystopia, it is here and now and it requires serious debate.”

I thought that was another sensational announcement, because actually you could say that the conspiracy theorists are getting a helping hand here from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, namely that at least some of the thoughts of conspiracy theorists are fully in place, and that this is not a dystopia or a science fiction depiction for the twenty-second century or beyond, but that it is something that is happening now, here and now. The question always arises: where exactly are these words of Guterres coming from? Is it that the concern he expresses really lives in his heart as a concern, or are they more words that need to be spoken at this moment? That is always the question. In itself, however, it is a very special occasion that this is being expressed in this way, because after all, we have heard in the past week that the Vatican, for example, has decided that anyone who does not get vaccinated will have to leave. If that statement is true, that is always what you have to consider, then of course that is the end of the credibility of the institution that sits there. We also read that Israel is going to introduce compulsory vaccination and that Indonesia is also doing so. It is not clear to what extent Guterres also has the European countries, such as the Netherlands, in mind. It could be that he is talking more about countries such as China, but of course we ourselves, who live here, know that with the corona pandemic in inverted commas, measures are being taken that were unthinkable in history. The question always arises: are the government leaders who are taking these measures against the people essentially criminal, are they criminals, are they deliberately doing the people such great harm, or is it the case that they have fallen into a particular stream of thinking from which they can no longer escape because they have lost sight of reality? For me, that always remains a question, sometimes the answer is more inclined to the one side and other times you think it can't really be, it must be a groupthink that at some point brings about a kind of inescapability. But the fact is that the effect of the corona measures is criminal. And I believe that it is very important that we, as human beings, take care not to carry the desire within us to belong to a certain group. For the truth to develop in your heart, you need to be independent, and like you, I have heard that during the vote on the new law - I believe it was 'moving into the open' - in the First Chamber, there were quite a few people who actually did not want to vote for it at all but who were nevertheless 'won over'. One wonders what happens in such a gathering, so that people who most probably really feel in their heart that this is unacceptable end up voting in favour after having received a certain conviction or something - it's a mystery how that can happen, and one really wonders what kind of processes are going on there. And of course it is striking that the parties that are, shall we say, excluded anyway, such as the PVV and the FvD, have the most opportunities to actually speak opposition language in the opposition. Apparently it is very difficult for coalition parties or friendly parties to keep thinking independently. That's why I say: you have to make sure that you don't want to belong to a certain group in your life. That is true in your work, but it is also true in your interests outside work. Stand on your own two feet and make your own judgement. Not on the basis of what others expect of you, not because you are afraid of being excluded, think independently. And that is difficult of course, because there are so many different opinions and you can arrive at such different judgements about the same situation. I experienced this again while reading a piece in the Parool by the well-known professor Marcel Levi, who describes that he has difficulty with the doom-and-gloom thinking of what he calls 'experts'. He finds the doomsday scenarios with regard to the coronapandemic far too strong and also says that influenza does not occur during this winter period. To me, that immediately points to the fact that this year - and the previous one, too - the influenza virus of the year has been put under a magnifying glass and given the name of corona. The disease is not influenza but COVID-19. I think this is proof that if there is now suddenly no influenza, then this other disease that has flu-like symptoms, even if they can be as severe, is a variant of what was then called influenza every year. But this is not how Levi concludes, he says: yes, it is logical that this influenza does not occur, because people keep their distance, they clean their hands and they have a lot of other measures to prevent this influenza from occurring. There's something in that, of course, but you do see how differently people interpret the same data. He goes on to say that he thinks the curfew is definitely disproportionate. And then something like this happens again, and I think: then abolish it. But he says: but now it's here and you can't make people crazy with sometimes this, sometimes that, so now it has to stay for the time being. This shows that it is not so easy for people to come to the same opinion, to the same judgment, and when you are dependent on the other person's judgment, then you are a poor person. And so you must make sure in your life that this is not the case. You should not have the desire to belong to a group. I have been saying for years, long before there was this disastrous state of affairs, in which, in my opinion, the facts are constantly being misinterpreted and wrong decisions are being taken on the basis of that misinterpretation, but I have been saying for years that as a human being in this day and age, you really have to take control of your thinking. We have an associative thought process within us. And that has to be educated, we have to determine the course of our thoughts ourselves so that we think what we want and not think what others want us to think. That is so important in our time. And that is a training, nothing else. When you go to the fitness centre and learn to lift, say, a hundred kilos or so, that is also difficult. But then you have the advantage that those dumbbells are lying there heavy for you, you see them lying there and you know I want to lift that. The view of the thoughts is much more difficult. It escapes your attention all the time and you are focused outside and you don't feel like paying attention to your thoughts all the time, but you have to. In our time, we have to bring ourselves to determine the course of our thoughts on the basis of the facts. Only then can we speak of independently coming to a judgment. As long as you allow yourself to be ‘associated' in the direction of judgment, you are not free. You are only free when you put your thoughts in the right direction yourself. And if you could do that, then you would be able to do more than lift a hundred kilograms, because what you would be able to do is to have gained the sight and the ability to keep yourself out of all influence by any group of thoughts. And I can guarantee, then Silicon Valley can come up with even more sophisticated and refined techniques, the human being will escape that. In associative thinking you are at the mercy of it, but in free thinking you are outside it, you are liberated from it. But you can only develop that if you have the courage to educate the desire to belong to something and then it will turn out that as an independent thinker you will find the friends who also think independently. So you don't stay alone, you eventually find a group, but the path is reversed. You start out alone, and you find a group and not you join a group and you have to think what is thought there. I once wrote a booklet called 'I do what I want', that's a philosophy of freedom for young people, now I would recommend that booklet to everyone, it's for young people, but young people are fresh, curious, still starting out in life, but as older persons we can do that too. As an older person, one can also be fresh, curious and start anew every morning.

Freedom: groupthinking and independent thinking by Mieke Mosmuller

Give your comment please

  • From Marjo Gijsbers @
    Dag Mieke, de video linkt niet door naar Youtube terwijl ik hem daar graag beluister. Is daar iets aan te doen?
    Dank je wel!
  • From Valerie Hope @
    Dearest Mieke, I find that I do start anew each morning fresh and curious at age 73. I think that you hit on something very important - a big motivating fear that can live in us is fear of exclusion. I was involved with some colleagues years ago in an exercise that illustrated this. I think the remedy as you described it is to find the others who awaken each morning in the same way. Blessings from Portland OR US ...Valerie