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Who are the Thought Police in Your Community? Do you know?

“As members of a community, even as citizens of a nation, we are frequently exposed to and have to cope with what is known as groupthink, a phenomenon that may seriously compromise our image of ourselves, our relationships with family, friends, neighbors, community leaders, and may also compromise our moral rights of personal dignity and autonomy. And yet, groupthink is precisely what underlies much of our “training” in how to be good citizens and in the so-called education programs and our social organizations, and is pandemic in most of the institutions in which we work. Groupthink,  shamefully, has been a part of our religious institutions since time immemorial. Agendizing, brainwashing, programming.”

Anonymous Contributor.

We, as citizens, as members of our community, parents and educators, as human beings we are told that we have an inherent and guaranteed right to speak freely and openly about most subjects without the stigma that might apply to a person living and working in a different country. We would like to think that people, especially our elected leaders and our educators, tend to listen to us and give some weight and importance to what we have to say; consequently, we can and should play an important and proactive role in deciding how we live, work and are governed, and in order to do this, we must make our leaders aware that we are aware of the groupthink phenomenon, its dangers and risks, and implement ways of avoiding this insidious, infectious, and fatal phenomenon in our communities and in our lives. Once people are made aware of the groupthink phenomenon and ways to identify it and prevent it, we are on the path to reclaiming the efficacy and authenticity we once enjoyed but lost in the wake of the development of corporate control of our institutions and the chilling of interpersonal relations by online social media.

Groupthink.[1] It’s everywhere and it’s toxic! It’s dehumanizing. It perpetuates lies and factoids. Yet you love it! It makes things so much easier when you don’t have to use your own brain and you allow yourself to be programmed to think, speak, act, perform according to the in-group’s agenda.

Irving Janus mainstreamed the term in 1982. [2] According to Janis, groupthink

“[h]appens when in-group pressures lead to deterioration in mental efficiency, poor testing of reality, and lax moral judgment. It tends to occur in highly cohesive groups in which the group members’ desire for consensus becomes more important than evaluating problems and solutions realistically. An example would be the top executive cabinet (the president and vice presidents) of a firm, who have worked together for many years. They know each other well and think as a cohesive unit rather than as a collection of individuals.” [my italics]

We can find groupthink in our workplaces, churches, schools, social media, government, and Yes! even in our homes.

Janis identified eight symptoms of groupthink, which are noteworthy and which I will briefly describe below.[3] Persons affected by groupthink may exhibit any of these symptoms:

  1. An experience of the illusion of invulnerability. This illusion produces an unreal sense of optimism and the sense of empowerment to take risks, sometimes extreme, which the individual would not otherwise take.
  2. Acceptance of a collective rationalization. The individual ignores the red flags and warnings and refuse to reassess their biases, prejudices and assumptions regarding reality.
  3. Belief in the inherent morality of the group. The individual and members of the group are convinced of the righteousness of their beliefs and become indifferent to the ethical or moral effects and consequences of the group’s decisions and actions.
  4. Establishment and adoption of stereotypes of out-groups. Stereotypes are a facile way of dealing with the “others” and do not require thinking or decision-making. De rigueur negative presumptions and characterizations of the “enemy” render rational and effective responses to conflict unnecessary. Cookie-cutter responses are the result.
  5. The imposition of direct pressure on dissenters. Any deviation from the presumptions and dictates of the group results in sanctions. Individuals, group members are discouraged from expressing alternative views, or representing positions conflicting any of the group’s views.
  6. Requirement of self-censorship. The individual and members of the group are required to ensure that any questions, doubts and deviations from the group’s “consensus,” program, or agenda are not expressed. The individual must “watch his/her mouth” or be sanctioned.
  7. The illusion of unanimity. The views and judgments, decisions and actions of the “group” or of the group’s statutory and declared leader(s) and majority are assumed to be unanimous, justified and reliable.
  8. The presence of self-appointed ‘mindguards’. Certain members isolate and “protect” the group and its leader(s) from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions. These are the “thought police” who ensure that any information that can potentially threaten the group or its leaders is filtered out and neutralized.

In other words, the phenomenon of groupthink seems to have grown out of and fits perfectly into the framework of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, “Nineteen-Eighty-Four,” with its implications of superpower invulnerability, collective processing of carefully cooked data and information, a sense of moral superiority of the group’s decisions and actions, the facile handling of non-members by the application of stereotypes, direct suppression and sanctioning of any opposing thought or expression — the individual “watches his mouth” to avoid attracting attention to himself and possible sanctioning —, all communications and indicators seem to indicate that “everyone is on the same page” and “stands united.”  Finally, the self-appointed “mindguards,” the Orwellian “thought police,” ensure that everyone toes the mark, knows his place, and follows the “party line.” Sounds awfully much like PC, political correctness, doesn’t it?

The Thought Police or Mindguards ensure that you don’t think out of the box.

As I mentioned above, groupthink is easily observed in our schools, churches, public servants, social groups, the workplace, etc.

Here’s an example that comes from my college days when I worked as an encyclopedia salesperson. We were trained to ask potential purchasers questions that they could not disagree with, such as, for example: “You do care about your children’s education, don’t you?” or “You want your children to have the best available information for school, don’t you?” Once they answered in the affirmative, they were cooked. It was sort of like asking a veteran the question, “You do love your country, don’t you?” Or a clergyperson asking a dissenter, “You do believe in God, don’t you?” Ask those sorts of questions and you get a commitment to groupthink; the rest follows once the individual is on the slippery slope to group membership, willingly or not.

It’s certainly easy enough to self-test yourself by asking yourself if any of the above symptoms could possibly apply to you…but be aware of the sneaky symptom of “self-censorship” because you might actually be unaware that you are self-censoring; you may actually believe that what you say you believe is in fact what you believe. (Please go back and reread that last part. It’s important and you really didn’t understand it, did you?!)

Everyone connected to the same “brain”, the core-group’s!

Here’s a real example: I was at my fitness center and struck up a conversation with a guy who was working on a neighboring piece of equipment. The conversation started out on muscle groups and doping, use of anabolic steroids, doping scandals, and how natural fitness was desirable over and against taking performance enhancers. The conversation drifted to the inquiry, “What do you do?” The guy was intelligent, apparently well-read in the subject of performance enhancers in athletes, and was no dummy. He responded by telling me he was a “personal income tax auditor” for the state of New York. What followed was a textbook example of groupthink. He commenced by telling me how interesting his job was because he was making sure everyone stayed honest. Everyone should pay taxes. Not everyone was honest, some people were honest but ignorant. The tax department and auditors were there to protect the public. He was happy doing what he was doing, and he liked his work. He was protecting honest citizens from the crooks and the parasites. New York state took care of its people unlike those states with no personal income tax, states that provided sanctuary to people who want to keep their fortunes but not share by paying personal income taxes. Basically, you can’t argue with this guy because what he is saying is superficially true, ethical and moral. But, and there’s the clincher, his thinking from one subject to the other was schizoid! He was very individualized, independent, even liberal when discussing the social and personal impact of performance enhancers on non-professional vs. professional athletes, and the use of performance enhancers in the guy-next-door who works out to stay healthy or attractive. His lock-step “tax department” jargon and speech, almost soapbox preaching, was groupspeak, the product of groupthink. Can you identify the symptoms?

Here are two more examples I found on a professional networking site, LinkedIn, which is slowly morphing into a Facebook-type social media space. Whereas LinkedIn was originally intended to be a forum facilitating networking among professionals, the parasites slowly infiltrated and started their social justice preaching and religious proselytizing.

One characteristic of social justice and religion is that both are fertile ground for a bumper crop of groupthinkers. Example 1: Social Justice. This example is remarkable because it is so homogeneous in the majority responses and because of the sheer number of responses: 5,013 Likes, 321 comments! Synopsis: A young woman with Down’s syndrome appears in what is obviously a staged video, in which she receives a call from a fast-food chain, Chik-Fil-A, in which she is offered a job paying $11.50/h. It is her first real job and she is elated at the offer and accepts.

The groupthink: Actual comments: “Awesome!” “Wonderful!””Isn’t Chik-Fil-A a great company!””The story brought tears to my eyes!” “It made my day! We need more stories like this!” But many of the comments were condescending: They mentioned “learning disability” and how remarkable it was that this young woman had “won,” how employment “is a right,” and other misguided slogans associated with what we know as PC but was described by Janis as groupthink. The censorship/sanction/thought police action: A commenter posted some reasonable, dissenting, conflicting thoughts about the reality of the situation in terms of stereotyping highly functional Down’s syndrome  persons as having “learning disabilities,” a bucket term that stereotyped them unfairly. That she was hired on her merits and if she didn’t have what Chick-Fil-A needed and wanted, she would not have gotten the call. That Down’s syndrome persons are highly desirable in service jobs with customer contact because of their personality characteristics, as was pioneered by McDonald’s some time ago, and that these corporations are exploiting vulnerable persons with Down’s syndrome because they are perfect for these low-paying jobs, and it creates a very positive social image for the corporation, so-called “organizational health.” (See the McKinsey report below.)

Needless to say, the “mindguards” were quick to respond, and butchered the commentor for being “a Grinch,” for not “caring” and for his “dripping sarcasm.” Not a single comment out of more than 300 comments and replies accepted the truth of what the commenter wrote; almost all condemned him for not sharing the majority’s groupthink. (Click here to read the actual comments made by the commenter and some of the replies.)[4]

The value of hiring persons with Down syndrome is not lost on the corporations![5]

The economic benefits of hiring persons with intellectual challenges is not lost on the corporations, as is demonstrated by the McKinsey report[6], but we’re not supposed to talk about the dark side of Julia’s hiring because the group think won’t allow anyone to pop their bubble of denial or distract them from their happy, be nice, love fest by suggesting reality. That’s groupthink.

Here’s another from the same site, LinkedIn. This time it was a religious fanatic known popularly as a “Jesus-freak,” someone who posts an inflammatory statement about how Jesus is the truth and everything else is a lie. First of all, such posts are more Facebook quality and have nothing to do with professional networking, so it shouldn’t have been on LinkedIn in the first place. So the original post by one David Wood, who describes himself as the “Executive Producer Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Resurrection of Jesus Christ LLC, School Of Hard Knocks,” and his project as:

“The Resurrection Project unites the Body of Christ, to launch a global love movement, a feature length movie, and a video game, and tell the story of Jesus’ Christ resurrection and the 40 days that followed. “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ” is the greatest love story ever told.” www.theresurrectionofjesuschrist.com [Author’s note: My italics; I have not undertaken any editing of Mr. Wood’s English.]

His post was simply:

That was it. My first reaction was that Islam never claimed that Muhammad was God. Nor does Buddhism teach that Buddha was a god. The name applied to God in Arabic, and hence in Islam is Allah, which is merely an equivalent of the English, God, so that point is really moot. And the fact that Wood claims that his Jesus is the “only one God” reveals a bit of tunnel vision, even religious and theological ignorance. This is groupthink at one of its worst moments!

My point is this: Approach that post as I did, with the above reasoning, and you will obtain a clear lesson in groupthink.  The post received 51 Likes and 15 Comments but was seen be hundreds, perhaps thousands who didn’t want to “offend” by responding. (Or perhaps because religion is not as popular as Down’s syndrome? Or because the message was so bizarre? Who can say for sure?)

Those three examples should suffice to convince even the hardcore groupthinkers of their affliction.

The kinds of groups that are particularly at risk for the groupthink phenomenon are, of course, groups that we could characterize as cliques, whether consisting of 3 or 3000 persons. Cliques don’t need to be small and a whole company or department may become a clique. The group or clique should be cohesive for groupthink to develop; cohesive factors may include ethnicity, similar interest, and physical appearance. Members of a clique often isolate themselves as a group and tend to view the clique as superior to anyone outside the clique.

Cliques can form in any age group but they are most associated with groups whose members have gotten stuck in an adolescent or late childhood developmental stage, the stage when individuals normally form and become members of such groups. Accordingly, groupthink is characteristic of individuals who may have gotten stuck in a pre-adult developmental stage.

Facebook is a well known huge groupthink-collective in which groupthink can be diagnosed at various levels in the interactions from the very top, where the Facebook Standards and the thought police are active censoring deviant thinkers, that is, anyone who may not agree with Facebook or its policies, to the smaller yet equally repulsive “groups,” which may be “open,” “closed” or “secret”. The problem and real danger associated with Facebook and other social media that functions by exploiting the groupthink phenomenon is the sheer numbers of people who can be and actually are affected by the clique(s).

The proven disorder of Facebook Addiction or Internet Addiction Disorder make the problem even worse because once subscribers are addicted, they are captivated by the groupthink phenomenon and cannot escape.(See our article on Facebook Addiction Disorder on this blog.)

It’s the beginning of the end of open communication, autonomy, and due process.

Another problem is what I would call the “Room 101” factor[7]:  the fact that in terms of groupthink, when Facebook decides to deactivate an account for one reason or another, whether for a period of time certain (days, weeks, etc.) or permanently, this “punishment” practice has a psychospiritual effect on the affected individual, similar to being shunned or banned froma group or a clique. It is a powerful motivator to keep people under their thumb, a control strategy, that works extremely well once Facebook has hooked a person, and the person is sufficiently invested in Facebook in terms of time spent online and digital friends collected, such that the now addicted subscriber will feel the psychosocial pain of being “deactivated.,” in a sense placed in isolation by Facebook without the benefit of due process. Yes, it’s the beginning of the end of open communication, autonomy, and due process. Similar, in fact, to “vaporizing” a dissenter in Orwell’s “1984” where the dissenter is simply made to disappear, as if he never existed. [8]

The recent reports of Facebook’s cooperation with the US and Israeli governments to deactivate certain Facebook pages because their messages are “inconvenient” is a very disturbing step taken in the direction of thought control, Thought Police and Mindguards. That’s why we’ve been trying to get through to our readers to campaign against social media like Facebook! (See our articles on Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg‘s ambitious agenda to become God. Once he’s got a fifth of the world’s population addicted to Facebook and can control what they read, hear, see, and say, he’s well on his way to become the next Dictator in Heaven.)


The same “vaporizing” occurs when someone “unfriends” or “blocks” another subscriber who may have violated the group-leader’s or the group’s groupthink policies. Have you been Facebook vaporized recently? You wouldn’t know if you had been because Facebook strategically keeps it a secret; only the vaporizer and Facebook know it. Same applies when someone has a grudge against you on Facebook: they simply report you for such-and-such, and you find yourself deactivated. Groupthink à la Facebook!

The groupthink phenomenon can be avoided but only if the clique or the group is willing to acknowledge the phenomenon, to recognize it in their group, and sees the benefits of avoiding the phenomenon.

Fred Lunenburg (2012) proposes a number of possible ways to avoid groupthink in a group, including[9]:

  • Encouraging group members to state and air objections, doubts, and questions,
  • Promoting impartiality rather than stating preferences and expectations of the group at the outset,
  • The group leaders should periodically discuss the group’s policies and practices and report their transactions back to the group, inviting feedback,
  • Members should be invited to challenge the views of core members (and leaders),
  • At least one member should play the role of devil’s advocate, expressing objections or critiquing group policies and practices, and beliefs,
  • Where there is devil’s advocacy, members should spend time and effort evaluating the warning signals of developing groupthink inherent in adverse responses,
  • Alternative scenarios should be constructed by group leaders in evaluating any rivaling intentions,
  • In the case of a member who appears to consistently rival the group’s polices or practices (Red flag! Think groupthink!), the member should be asked to express as vividly as he can all his residual doubts,
  • Group leaders or core members should present the entire issue to the group to elicit feedback and insights before making any definitive choices or decisions.

Group coherence and decision making has clear benefits over individual decision making. This is especially true when a decision must be made under conditions of uncertainty.[10] Some of the benefits described by Bonito (2011) include[11]:

  • Improved decision quality
  • Higher level of creativity and creative thinking
  • Improved decision acceptance and organizational learning
  • Increased decision understanding
  • Enhanced effectiveness in establishing objectives, identifying alternatives
  • Greater decision accuracy and avoidance of errors and glitches

Admittedly, these benefits may be less related to the actual outcomes of decisions than they are to group morale and satisfaction; we can agree that groups should and probably do perform better when

  • Group members present a variety of relevant skills that differ sufficiently but do not create constraints or conflicts;
  • There is a division of labor or effort, input;
  • Individual inputs can be “averaged” in such a way as to arrive at a group “position.”

Are you controlled by the Thought Police, the Mindguards from the cradle to the grave?

By now you might be asking yourself the question: “That having been said, and while applicable to business decisions or to Facebook and other moderated social media, how does that apply to spiritual care or to our lives in our communities and the nation at large?” Well, in order to answer that question, I have to ask you to step out of your stall in the sheeple box, and think about the environment in which you live. Ask yourselves if you can identify groupthink in these situations:

  • In your church or faith community. (Hint: How do you talk about other faith or belief groups)?
  • In the Sports Association or Social Club. Do you have to toe the mark in what you talk about?
  • In your political or social club (Hint: When at a Republican Club or Democratic Club or American Legion occasion, are you careful what you say?)
  • In your children’s schools (Hint: Do you speak your mind at a Board of Education meeting or just sit simmering? At a PTA meeting what do you feel you can discuss? Do you even attend any of these?)
  • At town board or village board meetings (Hint: Do you speak your mind at a board meetings or just sit simmering? Do you even attend any of these?)
  • Have you ever avoided going somewhere or doing something because you were concerned what “they” would say?
  • Are there subjects or topics or language that you avoid specifically to avoid being stereotyped or labeled? Do you choose political correctness over truth and honesty? Do you do that out of fear of the Mindguards?

Are you being stalked by the community or social media Thought Police, the Mindguards?

At home do you have open discussions with family members or are some subjects simply avoided or off-topic? Are the Thought Police at work in your home? Or are you letting the Facebook and social media thought police do their work for you? Have you seen your kids today?

When is the last time you looked at what your schools are teaching to your children? Have you ever openly questioned what they are being taught? Or are you letting the Mindguards manage your kids’ minds?

At work do you challenge social injustice or do you simply turn your back hoping it won’t hit you next? Are you open in discussing what you feel needs to be considered for change? Do you suggest improvements? Or are you living in constant fear of being “vaporized,” “unfriended,” “blocked” by your employer or even your workmates and coworkers?

Have you been castrated by the Thought Police, the Mindguards?

Most of us will find ourselves interacting throughout our entire lives with employers, educators, community members, governing bodies, committees, or just with our families. We take these interactions for granted; that’s a big mistake..Each of these environments is at high risk of the groupthink phenomenon, and we need to start thinking about the nature and quality of those interactions. Can you identify the symptoms of groupthink in any of your relationships or interations?

We frequently say that “emotions are contagious,” but we don’t frequently admit that not only emotions but the environment created by the attitudes and thinking of leaders and core members in a group are just as contagious in the form of groupthink.

Organizations like schools, religious institutions, government, social organizations are hotbeds for the groupthink

Those of us who are aware of our lives will admit that each group or community has its own culture, and if we are to work effectively with the members and effetively serve the ourselves and our community, we have to be aware of the groupthink phenomenon as it most certainly exists in that group or community. Ask yourself if you feel your teachers, your administrators, your elected officials, local law enforcement are listening to you and your concerns and their attitude towards the “necessary evil” of your opinion must be tolerated rather than facilitated. That attitude extends to all the members of the community, including educators, elected officials, law enforcement, etc.,  and the symptoms of groupthink can be quickly and easily identified if you care to look. How do we deal with that situation armed with the awareness of the probable existence of groupthink?

Organizations like schools, religious institutions, government, social organizations are hotbeds for the groupthink phenomenon because they are founded on very clear principles of operation and program; they have their” agendas.” The objectives and goals of the group are clearly defined and the members are controlled by the assignment of specific tasks and imposing protocols. The agenda is clearly defined. You simply don’t dissent or rock the hospice boat. Groupthink.

Institutional Agendas Define the Group.

 

As “tradition” the groupthink may have developed as a response to the local culture, whether it be socioeconomic, ethnic, religious, etc. In this case, it is a response to the exigencies of doing living and functioning with that demographic mix, and is almost a requirement for survival. Is this “positive” groupthink? Perhaps, but it goes without saying that unless the establishment leaves the door open to open discussion, sharing of insights, correct interpretations of warning signs and red flags, it can quickly transmute into “negative” groupthink.

As the organization leaves the traditional, local, “family” orientation or organization and moves towards the group or the corporate systems, groupthink becomes more of a high risk than a positive stabilizing factor. This is where the culture of the group or corporation overshadows the individuals that move it as well as those who consume its products and services. Rather than being an evolving, “living” organism, it is a monolith. Again,I can’t help but cite Facebook or the federal government as outstanding examples of such a negative development.

A number of large multinational corporations like IBM, 3M, Anheuser-Busch have recognized the threat posed by groupthink and have implemented and developed processes to prevent or at least to mitigate its deleterious and prejudicial effects within the components of the organization and on the organization as a whole. Lunenburg (2012) discusses some of the ways they have approached prevention of groupthink by way of methods like devil’s advocacy and dialectical inquiry. McDougel and Baum (1997) discuss the application of devil’s advocacy to stimulate discussion and avoid groupthink in focus groups.[12] McAvoy et al. discuss how devil’s advocacy and the principles of sensemaking can be used in a method they call the “agitation workshop” as a method of challenging the false consensus created by the groupthink phenomenon.[13]

Do frequent meetings and evaluations work to avoid groupthink? More likely than not, they may actually promote groupthink when leadership reiterate at each meeting the same expectations at the outset, setting the stage for a more limited and controlled conversation that does not allow for alternative discussion. But such meetings and evaluations and be highly productive if, at the outset, the leaders or facilitators are aware of the symptoms of groupthink and some of the methods to directly avoid it, as well as the quasi-paedagogical methods of enhancing creative thinking, even improving performance by institutionalizing dissent!

We can and should play an important and proactive role in making the organizations and leaders with whom we work aware of the groupthink phenomenon, its dangers and risks, and ways of avoiding the phenomenon in our environments. Once people are made aware of the phenomenon and ways to identify it and prevent it, we are on the path to reclaiming the efficacy and authenticity we once enjoyed but lost in the wake of the development of corporate control of our institutions and the chilling of interpersonal relations by online social media.

By using your brain you can avoid the dangers of groupthink!
The Editor


Notes

[1] Irving Janis originally coined the term groupthink in 1972. (Janis, Irving L.  (1972).  Victims of Groupthink.  New York: Houghton Mifflin.)

[2] Janis, I. L. (1982). Groupthink: Psychological studies of policy decisions and fiascos (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton-Mifflin.

[3] For a more comprehensive discussion of the eight symptoms please refer to Janis’ Groupthink, Psychological Studies, above. A brief and very helpful overview of groupthink is provided in What is Groupthink? (http://www.psysr.org/about/pubs_resources/groupthink%20overview.htm, last accessed on January 8, 2018, 2018).

[4] The “Julia got a job!” obviously scripted video is synopsized on YouTube in the following words: “A heartwarming video shows the moment a teenage girl with Down syndrome receives her first job offer. A girl named Julia gets a phone call from a Chick-fil-A employee in Rancho Murieta, California. ‘I was just calling to offer you a position here,’ the woman says on speaker phone. ‘Your pay rate would be 11.50 per hour, would you like to accept?’ ‘I do,’ Julia says, her face overcome with emotion. As the woman tells her that she will start in December, Julia breaks down in tears of happiness. ‘Oh my gosh,’ she can be heard saying as she thanks the woman profusely. Julia’s family then encircles her and gives her a massive hug while chanting ‘Chick-Fil-A’. “ (AutoNews- Source:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5101331/Teen-girl-syndrome-cries-s-given-job.html?ITO=1490&ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490)

[5] According to McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm that serves private, public and social sector institutions, in a report entitled, “The value that employees with Down syndrome can add to organizations,” we read “[H]owever, some companies have chosen to tackle the far more complex challenge of hiring people with intellectual disabilities. Those that have done so have found that these people can add value to organizational health (an organization’s ability to align, execute, and renew itself faster than competitors so that it can sustain exceptional performance over time). Employees with Down syndrome are a particularly interesting topic of research, as they have a number of characteristics that both increase the challenges associated with inclusion and bring added benefits.” [my italics] (McKinsey & Company (2014) “The value that employees with Down Syndrome can add to organizations” (Vicente Assis, Marcus Frank, Guilherme Bcheche, and Bruno Kuboiama), last accessed on January 9, 2018.)

[6] Ibid.

[7] I’m referring to the notorious Room 101 described in Orwell’s novel “Nineteen-Eighty-Four,” the room in the Ministry of Truth (MiniTru in Newspeak), where dissenters were taken for “processing,” most never to be heard from again. “You asked me once,” said O’Brien, “what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.”  (“1984” Part 3, Ch. 5)  In “1984” the Inner Party persecutes individualism and independent thinking known as “thoughtcrimes” and is enforced by the “Thought Police.” The Ministry of Love (Miniluv), the ministry in charge of torturing dissidents.  The protagonist Smith is subjected to many forms of torture and is forced into the horror chamber known only as Room 101.

[8] Mind Control – George Orwell BBC 101 Documentary last accessed on January 9, 2018.

[9] Lunenburg, F. (2012).” Devil’s Advocacy and Dialectical Inquiry: Antidote to Groupthink”. International Journal of

Scholarly and Academic Intellectual Diversity, Vol 14, No. 1, pp 1-9.

[10] Nikolaidis (2012) defines uncertainty as “the condition under which an individual [or group] does not have the necessary information to assign probabilities to the outcomes of alternative solutions. (Nikolaidis, E. (2012).  Design decisions under uncertainty with limited information. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.)

[11] Bonito, J. (2011). Interaction and influence in small group decision making. New York, NY: Routledge.

[12] McDougal, C., F. Baum, (1997) “The Devil’s Advocate: A Strategy to Avoid Groupthink and Stimulate Discussion in Focus Groups,” Qualitative Health Research, Volume 7, Number 4, pp 532-541.

[13] John McAvoy, Tadhg Nagle and David Sammon, (2013) “A novel approach to challenging consensus in evaluations: The Agitation Workshop,” The Electronic Journal Information Systems Evaluation, Volume 16 Issue 1,  pp 45-55.

 
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Belgian Ails. Ommegang Brewery: The Crash and Burn of a Venue.

The Foodie Review

Reviewing:

Ommegang Brewery, Cooperstown, New York


UPDATE: On August 24, 2017, we visted a local bar and eatery for a Restaurant Week meal. The venue was the Hollow, 79 North Pearl Street, Albany. Food was good. Had to send back a beer because it was served flat as a week old pancake. A bit pricey but here’s the point: $6 for a 14 oz draft Ommegang!!! Why pay double the price at the Ommegang Bar and Brewery where the stuff is made when you can get twice the draft beer for less at a local restaurant or bar??? Does that make any sense to you? Why does the now corporate Ommegang have to gouge their guests? Belgian hospitality? Corporate greed? Poor management? You decide.


Never again!

When you find a place you like and go there for years, you tend to have reasonable expectations. When you take the time to plan the trip, drive for more than an hour and a half, get there you would like to experience a welcome and a sense of being a part of it all. Going to that effort—especially in view of the time, effort and the likelihood of dropping a substantial amount of money at your destination—you’d reasonably expect some appreciation. Well, those days are over.

Used to be you’d go to the home of a company and you’d be treated with hospitality, like visiting royalty. Given the grand tour, get to sample the product. Enjoy some really good, unique food and beverage. Well, those days are over, too!

A bit of the history…

The Ommegang Brewery opened its doors in 1997 as a microbrewery specializing in artisan beers brewed in the Belgian tradition. That’s about the time we started going there and we became regulars visiting 2-3 times a year and making our beer purchases of what then were good and unique beers. The trip usually became a day trip with the beautiful drive through vintage farm country and rural beauty to the brewery and its amenities nestled in the hills, lunch on the lovely café-tabled patio with rich botanicals from local nurseries, smiling service, and very good food. If the day didn’t turn out sunny and summery or comfortably cool and autumnal, we could opt to sit indoors in the scant, often very loud but genial dining room. If we brought guests or met friends at the brewery, we’d do the tour and then the tasting, which was free as you’d expect, and then head for the retail store to drop $200-300 on a couple of cases of our favorite artisan brew. The next stop could be Cooperstown or some other interesting place for dinner, a stroll, and then the drive home. Sound idyllic? It was. Well those days are over, friends. We won’t be making that trip again any time soon!

Here’s Why? Ommegang Brewery went to hell in a Belgian bread basket.

When a corporation gets involved say Goodbye! to quality, service, and overall enjoyment. By 2003, the Belgian breweries had all been absorbed into large corporations. Feinberg and Littlefield sold their share of Ommegang in 2003 to Belgian brewer Brouwerij Duvel Moortgat, brewers of the world-renowned Duvel Golden Ale. Duvel Moortgat brewed limited amounts of beer for Brewery Ommegang in 2006 to help meet demand, but has not brewed any since then. And of course, everyone loves and trusts New York governor Andrew Cuomo, so when he announces that Ommegang  along with the Roscoe NY Beer Co. to be the winners of the Taste NY Inaugural Craft Beer Challenge. All of 5 New York craft beer breweries competed.

The corporate involvement in this small craft brewery is mindboggling. Just trying to trace who owns what is an acid trip. But the bottom line is that Ommegang sold out a couple of years ago to Duvel Moortgat, a large Belgian beverage corporation, later Anheuser-Busch purchased considerable interest in the Duvel Moortgat corp, and then the international beverage megacorporation InBev acquired the companies. In short, Anheuser-Busch and InBev got their greedy fingers into the operations of the quirky Ommegang operation after Dubel Moortgat showed interest and acquired the brewery. That’s when things started rolling downhill to hell in a Belgian breadbasket.

In fact, Ommegang Brewery lost its status and privileges in New York as a craft brewery once it started sleeping with the large corps. In an article appearing in The Street, “5 Craft Beer Brewers Who Have Lost Their Craft Privileges”  The bottom line is: ” The craft beer community will put up with a lot from its small brewers, but it won’t suffer defections to big beer.” Ommegang now fits that category of defectors to big corps and excommunication from the craft beer classification and its privileges. Not only that, Ommegang over the past several years has received considerable amount of New York State money in the form of tax credits. For example, in 2012 they received $140,000 from the state and requested another $360,000 that same year (Cuomo continues economic development tour). The abuses never get to the public’s ear and you won’t get a hint of the public’s money that’s gone into Ommegang over the years. You certainly won’t enjoy the benefits of your tax dollars in terms of hospitality or anything else at Ommegang. It’s all corporate bottom line now.

Despite the glowing reviews on Tripadviser and Yelp, to their discredit, and keeping in mind that of the tens of thousands of suckers that visit Ommegang each year, a mere handful of positive goody-two-shoes, wanna-please types or simply beer-swilling slouch couch potatoes does not make put the place on the A-list by any means. It’s the loyal, legacy visitors and patrons who over the years have noticed the downhill trend Ommegang has taken under it’s ever-changing and ever oblivious-to-the-notion-of-hospitality corporate owners, and the strategists they call hospitality managers.

The current manager of the “visitor center and hospitality”, Andreas Handrinos, describes himself like this:

Dedicated and enthusiastic operational manager 15 years in the hospitality industry, and 10 years of management. Recently developed a high-end brewery taproom concept from the ground up, balancing the needs of brand image and manufacturing hurdles during daily operations while developing the venue for brand, and private company events. Efforts resulted in an average 30% increase in on-site revenue over the last three years. Currently seeking new challenges in creating and developing premium event and service concepts with an emphasis on big picture business growth.

That’s Handrinos’ goals and mission statement taken verbatim from his LinkedIn bio. If you can find anything in there about caring about customers, patrons, visitors, people, service to the public, or anything akin to traditional hospitality in that idiotic rant of corporate gibberish, I’ll buy you a pint. But that’s the type who’s managing the “visitor center and hospitality” at Ommegang. Given that statement, you’ll have no problem understanding what follows. Dedicated to What? To “big picture business growthnot to customer service and satisfaction. But it’s your money that he’s after because it means revenues for his handlers and gets him closer to his goals.

Utter misinformation and double-talk is the Ommegang message. In my discussion with the on-duty manager at the time of our visit, Carie, I referred to the bar as a bar. Her miffed response was that “This is a café not a bar.” Sure as hell fooled me. Looked like, smelled like, sounded like a bar to me. A bar with noisy children romping about. Is that legal in New York? Does a bar become a café just by calling it a café? Alcohol and drinking at every table on every inch of the premises and it’s a café? C’mon people, let’s get back to reality. Ommegang is a brewery. They make alcohol! They sell alcohol. They serve alcohol. If you visit their official site at Wecome to Brewery Ommegang, you can’t even get on the site until you confirm you’re 21 years or older! If you click I’m not, you’re told you can’t enter the site. You’re not exposed to virtual alcohol on the site but it is a site about alcohol and you have to be 21 or older to enter! How is it you can be under 3 years old and sit in the “café” [the bar!], run around wildly while your parents are enjoying their brewskies? Something’s a bit crazy in Cooperstown, wouldn’t you think?

It’s quite obvious that Ommegang not being quite sure of what it is: Here’s another inconsistency. Go to the Ommegang Facebook page and what do you read at the top? Let me tell you: “Ommegang Bar and Brewery“!!! But Carie, the manager, tells me “This is not a bar, it’s a café.” And you’ll read the same thing on several Ommegang Internet pages. I think they need to have a meeting to get their stories straight. I also think the state of New York has to take a look at what’s going on. I think the whole Ommegang outfit needs to be re-examined.

Ridiculously Outrageous Prices for Some Pretty Lousy Food and Worse Service!

In fact, when these reviewers actually give high marks for food prices and praise the quality of the food that along sends up red flags as to their credibility and whether they’re employees or shareholders in the corporation. Deception is a truly American art form. Here’s an example of some of the ridiculously outrageous prices (straight from the Ommegang café menu) for some pretty lousy food:

Endive and arrugula salad $14
A small paper boat of french fries “frites” $9
Croque monsieur (not really!) $16
Bratwurst and kraut $19
Soft prezels with mustard $11
Bottled beer $7
Canned beer $6
Draft beer (about 8 oz. cup) $7

THEN: As I mentioned above, until about 2 years ago, you could sit on a lovely patio at umbrellaed café tables amidst a beautiful array of potted trees, shrubs and colorful pots of flowers. Very European, in fact. There was real atmosphere. The servers were cheerful, young people, probably college students. The food quality was very good. The beer was cold and served in attractive glasses. The cutlery was stainless steel. The condiments, ketchup, dips, etc. came out in nice ramekins and were house made. It was worth the trip from Albany to Cooperstown. Really.

NOW: If you want to enjoy the weather outdoors you’ll have to sit under a tarp at ugly picnic tables. You can sit along the edges of the concrete slab patio at a café table for 4 but it’s a gamble (1) to find a table, (2) to find a clean table, (3) to find a table where you can have a conversation amid the screaming, running children and the loud adults pitching beanbags (Really!!!). There’s no table service anymore and you’ll have to stand in line to order and to pay. The sombre-faced ordertaker will glumly take your money for the overpriced food and beer, and then hand you a table stand with a number on it. You’ll place that on your table so that a runner can find you and deliver your food some ridiculously long wait later. Once it arrives it becomes a post-mortem experience trying to identify it (see below).

Your food will arrive stuffed into a cardboard boat. If you’re really lucky it might arrive hot or warm. You’ll spend a minute or two trying to identify it because it won’t look anything like what you expected or what you paid for. You’ll look at your companions with a half-smile of disbelief and a questioning look on your face saying, “I don’t know if this is what I ordered. Does yours look familiar.” Your glances will be met with similar glances from your companions, while your table neighbors will be shooting furtive glances in your direction, probably wonder, “WTF!!!”

The food is manufactured and prepared out of a large food truck, similar to what you’ll see on campuses and on Manhattan streets. The beer is distributed from taps on the side of a large refrigerator truck and is now served in perilously frail plastic cups of dubious content. For example, my $7 cup of draft ale came in such a frail cup that I had to be very careful not to wear the contents. Oh! And when I got back to the table, my companions and I had a ribald conversation trying to guess whether it was a 6 oz. cup 8  oz. cup. It was definitely not a pint cup, or if it was, it didn’t contain a pint of beer. Whatever. It was disgusting. Not the beer. The one cup that I did [not] enjoy was good, it was the presentation and the price that put you off and deprived you of any feeling of enjoyment.

croque monsieur omegang_cropped

Omegang Croque Monsieur – $16

Back to the food. The croque monsieur was disgusting and not a croque monsieur. It came in a paper boat atop a small mound of french fries. A slab of thick fatty bacon-like meat was on a small piece of baguette soaked in some sort of mayonnaise-like pinkish dressing (French? Maybe.) On top of that was a whitish sauce or cheeselike sauce. It was hard to say but the imagination went wild. Soggy, greasy. All this heart-unhealthy greasy belch crap for only $16.

A real croque monsieur!

The two pieces of bratwurst appeared to be either grilled or steamed. Again, it was hard to say.

Real Bratwurst!!!

The bratwurst and kraut was equally disappointing. Again, it came out in a paper boat. The sauerkraut was crisp but absolutely tasteless. The two pieces of bratwurst appeared to be either grilled or steamed. Again, it was hard to say. But however they were cooked they were so loaded with spices and grease that they were more like a spicy Cajun or chorizo than a bratwurst. The bratwurst was brought on top of a mound of sauerkraut. I waited for a roll or a piece of bread but when it became obvious that none was coming I went to the counter and asked if the brats came with a piece of bread. Looking at me as if I came from outer space the two persons behind the counter said “No. That’s how it comes. You don’t get bread with it.” I persisted saying that I had never had bratwurst without at least a piece of bread or mustard with it and they repeated “That’s how it comes.” No one. NO ONE thought to fix things by offering a slice of bread or baguette or some mustard. I repeat: NO ONE thought to fix things by offering a piece of bread or some mustard. This cost me $19.

brats omegang_cropped

Omegang Brats as Served – $19

Not enough insult and abuse? When you ask—and you will have to ask—for cutlery, a knife and fork, you’ll be unceremoniously told that there is plastic ware on the other side of the patio. There you will find quite flexible cellophane packaged plastic knives and forks packages with a piece of paper product, presumably a napkin but more of the consistency toilet paper. The toilet paper consistency was probably responding to the quality of the food and service. Well, trying to get that fork into a bratwurst was like trying to have sex with an overripe banana. The tines of the fork actually broke and I had to find it before continuing with the so-called meal. The knife was useless and couldn’t cut through cottage cheese without bending.

Where once we were served delicious dips and ketchup or mustard in a ramekin, you now either don’t get a selection, or you get prepacked Sysco ketchup in small packets, or you don’t get any at all—even if you ask.

Ommegang Cutlery and Condiments

Her reply was, “I am the manager.”

After the experience with the bratwurst and the ordertakers, I decided enough was enough and I went into the dining room to find a manager. Servers didn’t notice so I had to actually almost go behind the bar to get some attention. A server asked if I needed help and I asked to see a manager. I waited. And waited. I got her attention again and told here where I was sitting and that I wanted to speak to the manager. I returned to my seat and waited. And waited. I went back in, went to the bar, asked for the manager again, and waited. And waited. Finally, a woman, apparently a server, approached me with the words, “I’m Carie.” I replied, “That’s nice. Can I help you? Are you supposed to be the manager?” Her reply was, “I am the manager.” I responded that it would have been nice had she included that information in her initial approach.

Ommegang Broken Plastic Fork

I explained to her my dissatisfaction amid her numerous defensive interruptions which included everything from Why they’re using paper and plastic products to their employee training. Her main argument for the paper and plastic products was of all things, children!!! She mentioned that because there were so many children about and that they were breaking glasses, they had to resort to unbreakable plastic and paper products. I remarked (1) that it was a bar environment serving alcohol and should be no place for children to be romping about, and (2) that most of the adults were more likely to be dangerous than kids. Her response was that “This is a café not a bar.” Sure as hell fooled me. Looked like, smelled like, sounded like a bar to me. A bar with noisy children romping about. Is that legal in New York? Does a bar become a café just by calling it a café? Alcohol and drinking at every table on every inch of the premises and it’s a café? C’mon people, let’s get back to reality. Ommegang is a brewery. They make alcohol! They sell alcohol. They serve alcohol. If you visit their official site at Wecome to Brewery Ommegang, you can’t even get on the site until you confirm you’re 21 years or older! If you click I’m not, you’re told you can’t enter the site. You’re not exposed to virtual alcohol on the site but it is a site about alcohol and you have to be 21 or older to enter! How is it you can be under 3 years old and sit in the “café” [the bar!], run around wildly while your parents are enjoying their brewskies? Something’s a bit crazy in Cooperstown, wouldn’t you think?

Here’s another inconsistency. Go to the Ommegang Facebook page and what do you read at the top? Let me tell you: “Ommegang Bar and Brewery”!!! But Carie, the manager, tells me “This is not a bar, it’s a café.” And you’ll read the same thing on several Ommegang Internet pages. I think they need to have a meeting to get their stories straight. I also think the state of New York has to take a look at what’s going on. I think the

“They were indifferent. They just didn’t care.”

When I got to the part about the brats and my failed request for bread and mustard, Carie’s managerial response was, “Were they rude to you.” I replied, “They were not rude. Rude I could handle. They were indifferent. They just didn’t care.” Carie’s apparent canned response was a very robotic, “We put our employees through rigorous training, and we have a protocol.” My response was “Rigorous or not, the training certainly doesn’t include customer relations or customer satisfaction. That’s obvious.” I also remarked that the use of the word “protocol” was troubling. Protocol means a set of prescribed actions and behavior, very corporate, that rules out any discretion on the part of the employee. This is how you do it or else. That explained the “indifference” they were simply corporate robots doing it by the book. “Brats don’t come with bread or a roll; you’re not getting bread or mustard. Brats don’t come with bread or mustard. It’s not in the book!”

Does Ommegang give a shite about your experience?

We all know that usually when a restaurant gets a complaint the manager or the server will normally try to make things nice and either comp something, bring a little something extra to the table, send over a house drink. They do something, anything to patch things up and to show they care. At Ommegang that doesn’t happen. Did the manager even come to the table? NO. Did the manager make any sign of sympathy or empathy? NO. Just defended their practices. Did the manager comp anything or try to make us feel better? NO!!! Did I get my bread and mustard? Nope. Does Ommegang give a shite about your experience? Do I need to answer that for you?

I gave up on expecting anything from Carie and finally simply asked for her name and that of the general manager. She didn’t seem pleased that she hadn’t convinced me of her consummate good will and interest in guest satisfaction, and grudgingly went behind the bar and returned a few minutes later with a chit of paper with the incorrect spelling of the general manager’s name and his email, and her name.

We left Ommegang Brewery promising ourselves that this was our last visit. We left Ommegang Brewery after a lousy meal and a bad experience. The meal cost us about $60. We didn’t make our usual beer purchases and left without spending $200-$300 for this seasons beers. Ommegang and their corporate handlers not only lost money that day, they lost previously loyal and regular customers.

Avoid this place:

Summary: Rating POOR. Inconsistent Message, LousyService, Disgusting Food, Extremely Expensive.

Ommegang Brewery
656 County Highway 33
Cooperstown, NY 13326

General manager: Andreas Handrinos.

Our recommendation based on our years of experience with Ommegang: Forget about getting guest treatment at the manufacturer’s home base. For example, up until recently the brewery tour and tasting were free. Now the tasting is $6, and you shouldn’t expect a discount on the beers you purchase afterwards. We find you can get Ommegang and other craft beers for the same price or even less at your local beverage center! Save yourself a longish drive, a lot of money, and the disappointment of being taken for a ride by people who don’t give a shite. There are plenty of local family owned and operated businesses that need your support and will be grateful for it. Forget the foreign corporation owned “craft” beers, forget Cuomo’s political recommendations, forget the fake ratings. Get great wurst and meat products at Chester’s Smokehouse in Albany Find great unique beers locally at one of the many locally owned beverage centers who will be grateful for your business. Find a local picnic area along the beautiful Hudson River and enjoy Mother Nature’s free ambiance.

The Editor

Post-publishing note: We have forwarded a link to this editorial to Mr Andreas Handrinos, general manager of the visitor center and hospitality at the Ommegang Brewery, and to the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce. We are awaiting their comments or responses. Mr Handrinos was not available at the time of our visit. You’d think the manger of the visitor center and hospitality would be available on the weekend, the busiest time of the week?