One of the best things about being part of a community is that the whole has the potential for being self-correcting. It’s not a sure thing, as any example of mob rule or cultural intolerance can attest, but there is at least the potential for a group to help individuals overcome blind spots or obstacles. Individuals who do not belong to a group, or who do not have access to collective wisdom, may be doomed to reinvent the wheel or to repeatedly fail because of their own tendencies and shortcomings.
I’m not a big joiner. I just threw Facebook in the junk pile because the price of belonging to that group is self-deception, and like Sam Spade I’m not willing to be somebody’s sap.* More than wearing a team blazer or adopting a popular philosophy or expressing loyalty to a particular trendy brand, I value belonging to a community of ideas. This has always led to involvement with smaller groups of people who share my interests, but the benefit to me is that these more issue-oriented groups can both augment and check my own thoughts.
In order to derive such benefits, however, it’s not simply enough to belong to a group. Approaching someone to suggest that they may be incorrect about something is fraught with risk, and presumes that the individual is open to such communications. As we all learn at a very young age, this is usually not the case. Most people would rather feel right than be right, even at the expense of their own well being. There is also a tendency for people to be more interested in telling others how wrong than they are in hearing the same thing themselves, and this tendency is often (if not commonly) greater in people who are ignorant or uninformed than it is in people who are knowledgeable. As a result, even if we are open to hearing about our mistakes, the number of reliable advisers that anyone might hope to hear from is usually small. [ Read more ]