In high school, we were shown “The Ox-Bow Incident” (1943 black and white film), more than once. This editor hated the Western because of the ending – if only people had stopped to seek the truth, it could have been different.
Ellen Tucker writes about the movie on Teaching American History, that “I found myself fascinated by the efforts of a few of the characters to persuade the others to stop and think. The pastor of the town’s only church lectures his fellow citizens, ‘Let us not act hastily; let us not do what we will later regret.’
“When none are persuaded, he retreats into piety, saying, ‘I am sorry for you, all of you.’ Due to the temporary absence of the sheriff, the local judge appeals for restraint, threatening to try those who go ahead—but the lynch mob, already impatient with the law’s slow working, feels the judge will not follow through. Showing greater psychological awareness, the elderly owner of the only store in the town quietly works the crowd.
“To the rougher men he points out practical difficulties in their plan—they are riding into the hills in late afternoon, as a snowstorm is brewing. To the more thoughtful, he talks about the corrosive effect of extra-judicial procedures on the public’s respect for the law. He decides to accompany the lynching party so as to continue making his arguments.
“His efforts fail. The party find three men sleeping near cattle suspiciously branded with the mark of a rancher they know. The young man who claims to have just bought them is a newcomer, unknown to any, and has no bill of sale to show. Circumstantial evidence is taken as definitive, and a triple hanging occurs.
“It is no further spoiler to say that this climax is swiftly followed by the party’s discovery of their mistake. The reader senses from the outset that this novel isn’t a typical western. But author Walter Van Tilburg Clark keeps the story going long enough for post-mortem examinations of conscience.”
The question Circling the News poses to readers, are you willing to seek the truth before you condemn someone? Or is repeating what you heard or going along with “herd mentality” or “group think” easier?
Psychologist Irving Janis coined the term “group think” in 1972, with seven identifying marks:
- Rationalization – that the decision being presented is the best one.
- Peer Pressure – makes it hard for individuals to state a difference of opinion.
- Complacency – means individuals don’t feel the need to do something.
- Moral high ground – means one feel superior to the person or situation being discussed.
- Stereotyping – always so dangerous because once someone is stereotyped they become less than human. It allows for the demonizing of an “out-group” member.
- Censorship – doesn’t allow anyone outside to express a different opinion.
- Illusion of unanimity – one believes everyone feels the same or should feel the same.
Group think is a negative phenomenon that results in faulty thinking and decision making – and can lead to scapegoating.
One example of scapegoating is when a group of people single out and blame one person for all of the problems.
History is rife with examples of scapegoating from the Spanish Inquisition to the Puritan-Indian wars of 1636, to the burning of women as alleged witches, and to the rise of fascism after the Great Depression.
One of the most blatant and tragic examples of scapegoating in modern history is the Holocaust.
What does that have to do with Pacific Palisades? Tomorrow, look for a Park Advisory Board story.