At the core of the group relations work of the A.K. Rice Institute is an event known as the Group Relations Conference. This is an intensive participatory process that provides participants the opportunity to study their own behavior as it happens in real-time without the distractions of everyday social niceties and workplace pressures and protocols. In this unique environment, many often hidden aspects of our ways of being and working are brought to light and more consciously considered.
About twelve people (generally, management types) are brought together with a consultant-leader who observes the group interaction and comments on it from time to time. The consultant-leader retains an abstemious posture, much like a psychoanalyst with an analysand. Powerful emotions are stirred up among participants in these groups. An ever-present threat in the group work is the scapegoating and sacrifice of one of the group members.
Professor C. Fred Alford (University of Maryland) has participated in the Group Relations Conference and writes about the dynamics of Group Relations Conference scapegoating in his book Group Psychology and Political Theory. The material (reproduced below) may shed light on the difficulties I have in groups. My current therapist says that my problem in the workplace is that I am not friendly with people. He thinks that if I was friendly with people they wouldn’t scapegoat me. I doubt that’s the issue, based on what happens in the Group Relations Conference. There are no social niceties in the Group Relations Conference but, as I say, scapegoating and sacrifice is an ever-present threat.
I have thoughts about the idea of being friendly with people to lessen the possibility of aggression from them. It makes sense to some extent. You don’t attack a friend, for example. You are more likely to attack someone you don’t feel close to. But there’s a flip side to the issue. It may be that when a group has set its eyes on a scapegoat, it will shun the scapegoat and ostracize him as a way of avoiding guilt when they attack him. That is, shunning and ostracism of the scapegoat are not necessarily simply acts of aggression against the scapegoat, but a self-protective measure of the group to avoid guilt feelings about attacking the scapegoat. Maybe that explains the shunning behavior that I was subjected to at Akin Gump. The shunning was a way for Gumpers to avoid guilt consequent to attacking me. Sounds like a crazy idea, but it is a dynamic that’s at the very core of the practice of medicine. Doctors intentionally avoid getting emotionally close to patients as a self-protective measure — they don’t want to feel guilty when the patient gets ill. Perhaps, just as a doctor will not be friends with a patient who tries to initiate social interaction (to mitigate potential guilt), Gumpers refused to go to lunch with me when I asked them (to mitigate potential guilt). (An interesting observation in light of my recent legal difficulties!!)
Professor Alford points out the important fact that the fear of being a scapegoat is nearly universal. One might say that perhaps the fear of being a scapegoat, of being sacrificed by the group, is instinctual. It has been observed that an important part of the Oedipus myth that Freud overlooked was the father’s attempted sacrifice of his son, Oedipus. Perhaps that part of the myth expresses the near universal, and possibly instinctual, fear of being sacrificed or scapegoated.
I wonder if one of my problems in groups is that I am deficient in the normal fear of being sacrificed. It seems that most people experience social rejection as a narcissistic injury. I seem to feed off of social rejection — as if social rejection supported my narcissistic sense of moral superiority, power (being seen as a threat by the group), and specialness. I not only fail to attempt to ward off aggression, I seem to relish group aggression. Like FDR, “I welcome their hatred.”
Consistent with these ideas is my identification with the character Emmanuel Goldstein in Orwell’s novel 1984, who writes a book exposing the decadence of the state of Oceana. Goldstein’s moral superiority arouses universal hatred and contempt by the leaders of a corrupt system. 1/ The group hatred of Goldstein confirms, in a sense, Goldstein’s power, specialness, and moral supremacy.
Excerpt from Professor Alford’s book:
1/ I am reminded of the former DOJ Inspector General, Glenn Fine who said: “I get some nasty letters.”