Edward Martin is a Cascade resident and frequent Cascade Courier contributor

There is, in all of life, an instinct for structure. Animals congregate in packs, flocks, herds, some sort of gathering of like-kind, and within such a group, we find a structure which determines how the group operates.

Humans have, for much longer than written history, sought to figure out the best way to organize itself and how to make decisions. For over two million years humans operated in relatively small groups, usually fifty or fewer. In such a small group, leadership and the bulk of decision making often fell on one individual. That sort of limited hierarchy led to the establishment of kings, queens, autocratic rulers of various kinds.

There are obvious problems with power residing in one individual. Every human has particular biases and ingrained behaviors which are less than ideal. It is established knowledge that larger groups make better decisions than individuals. The old “two heads are better than one” could be expanded to say, if we get input from as large a group as possible we’ll make better decisions. That reality leads us to the simple proposition that democracy is the best form of government.

There are always those whose lust for power leads them to seek to narrow the number of decision makers to them alone, or with a few like minded individuals. Cognitive science argues for greater participation and studies over the last years take that one step further.

A group of individuals who are allied in any particular set of understandings makes poorer judgments than groups which include persons with different points of view. A varied group has the capacity to see different ideas, to “think outside the box.” If like minded folks gather together to solve a problem they will, quite likely, continue to try and apply the same solutions that created the problem in the first place. Only by new thinking is it possible to arrive at innovative solutions to correct problems caused by standard procedures.

In our partisan culture, folks are becoming more and more unwilling to express how they feel, what they think, particularly about divisive subjects. We will share in our group but not others. If our folks think like we think, when we recite group-think, we’re sure we won’t be abused for having different ideas. We embrace cognitive bias and reinforce the tried and true way of looking at things.

It may take a long time, sometimes a very long time, before the folly of living in a closed opinion loop becomes apparent but it inevitably will.

A pastor I knew thirty years ago complained because his congregation was spinning off into splinter groups. The answer was both obvious and also impossible for him to accept. The problem was, church doctrine was so narrowly defined, that anyone with different opinions had to leave the larger body. The differences were, to anyone from outside, inconsequential but not to those fighting it out.

Allowing for different points of view is healthy for religions, for politics, for all of us.