I am a social psychologist specialising in group behaviour and I have been asked to determine whether the Coalition government in its frenzied determination to make deep and irrevocable cuts in public expenditure is mad. In the first place I would point out that the behaviour of a group as opposed to a single indivdual cannot really be described as mad. Put it this way, if someone you know insists he is Napoleon Bonaparte or a hatstand you might reasonably accept, on the evidence of bystanders, that he is barking: but what if 30 people came to the same conclusion? Might we not hesitate? It would seem unlikely but if thirty people with ordinary features and characteristics were to say so you might hesitate: perhaps, they are right and you are wrong. Still, I think you would come to the same conclusion.
Let’s look at it another way. I shall list some symptoms and characteristics that indicate madness in a group of people in a clinical sense.1. This group has been scorned and rejected for a long period of time and now comes into its own. They are right. They have always been right, yah boo!2. The Group has a divine right to act out its beliefs in public, whatever the evidence may say to the contary. 3. This divine mission cannot be changed to suit the circumstances and events of the time. God cannot be challenged and his mission is sacrosanct.4. Those who challenge the mission are accredited agents of the devil. 5. God created group members in his own image. People like us, having been so created, are entitled to re-build the world in our own image. God’s values are our own and we insist upon them.7. Revolutionary methods are appropriate because the world has departed too far from God’s/our own image of it.8 The telling of whoppers in pursuit of our mission is justified. They have served God’s disciples well down the ages. 9. There is little time to waste. God’s tasks are challenged every day. 10 We have no fear of God’s verdict But it would be prudent to shift Judgement Day well into the future.
You might think that these ten points do describe the Coalition’s behaviour (it is not an acceptable objection to this conclusion to say, you must be talking about our darts team, social club or trade union branch). What you ask can be done about it?
Let us be guided by good literature. In Alison Lurie’s, The Seekers, God did not appear to an evangelical group at the time predicted. Members melted away and took up hobbies and one went clinically mad, although he might have been pretending. In Lord of the Flies a group of boys were rescued from a desert island in time to prevent a murder. If a group is mad events will not work out as predicted by it. Its members become demoralised and others come to the rescue. However, madness and mad behaviour can be harmful. Learn how to recognise it and resist, offer sane alternatives, appeal to the public’s good sense (well you have to believe in something!) Act at the earliest possible moment before irreperable damage is done. Touch wood before you go out to work in the morning. And good luck!