Liberation, and Cosmopolis
Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J.
7. Group Bias
As individual bias, so also group bias rests on an interference with
the development of practical common sense.
But while individual bias has to overcome normal intersubjective
feeling, group bias finds itself supported by such feeling.
Again, while individual bias leads to attitudes that conflict with
ordinary common sense, group bias operates in the very genesis of
Basically, social groups are defined implicitly by the pattern of
relations of a social order, and they are constituted by the realization
of those dynamic relations.
In its technological aspect the social order generates the distinctions
between scientists and engineers, technicians and workers, skilled and
In its economic aspect, it differentiates the formation of capital from
the production of consumer goods and services, distinguishes income groups
by offering proportionate rewards to contributions, and organizes
contributors in hierarchies of employees, foremen, supervisors,
superintendents, managers, and directors.
In its political aspect, it distinguishes legislative, judicial,
diplomatic, and executive functions with their myriad ramifications, and
it works out some system in which the various offices are to be filled and
the tasks performed.
However, in the dialectic of community there is the operation not only
of practical common sense but also of human intersubjectivity.
If human intelligence takes the lead in developments, still its
products do not function smoothly until there is effected a suitable
adaptation of sensitive spontaneity.
In a school, a regiment, a factory, a trade, a profession, a prison,
there develops an ethos that at once subtly and flexibly provides concrete
premises and norms for practical decisions.
For in human affairs the decisive factor is what one can expect of the
other fellow. Such expectations rest on recognized codes of behaviour;
they appeal to past performance, acquired habit, reputation; they attain a
maximum of precision and reliability among those frequently brought
together, engaged in similar work, guided by similar motives, sharing the
same prosperity or adversity. Among strangers we are at a loss what to
say or do. The social order not only gathers men together in functional
groups but also consolidates its gains and expedites its operations by
turning to its own ends the vast resources of hum ail imagination and
emotion, sentiment and confidence, familiarity and loyalty.
However, this formation of social groups, specifically adapted to the
smooth attainment of social ends, merely tends to replace one inertial
force with another.
Human sensitivity is not human intelligence and, if sensitivity can be
adapted to implement easily and readily one set of intelligent dictates,
it has to undergo a fresh adaptation before it will cease resisting a
second set of more intelligent dictates.
Now social progress is a succession of changes. Each new idea gradually
modifies the social situation to call forth further new ideas and bring
about still further modifications.
Moreover, the new ideas are practical; they are applicable to concrete
situations; they occur to those engaged in the situations to which they
are to be applied.
However, while the practical common sense of a community may be a
single whole, its parts reside separately in the minds of members of
social groups, and its development occurs as each group intelligently
responds to the succession of situations with which it immediately deals.
Were all the responses made by pure intelligences, continuous progress
might be inevitable. In fact, the responses are made by intelligences
that are coupled with the ethos and the interests of groups and, while
intelligence heads for change, group spontaneity does not regard all
changes in the same cold light of the general good of society. Just as
the individual egoist puts further questions up to a point, but desists
before reaching conclusions incompatible with his egoism, so also the
group is prone to have a blind spot for the insights that reveal its
well-being to be excessive or its usefulness at an end.
Thus group bias leads to a bias in the generative principle of a
developing social order.
At a first approximation, one thinks of the course of social change as
a succession of insights, courses of action, changed situations, and fresh
insights. At each turn of the wheel, one has to distinguish between fresh
insights that are mere bright ideas of no practical moment and, on the
other hand, the fresh insights that squarely meet the demands of the
Group bias, however, calls for a further distinction. Truly practical
insights have to be divided into operative and inoperative; both satisfy
the criteria of practical intelligence; but the operative insights alone
go into effect for they alone either meet with no group resistance or else
find favour with groups powerful enough to overcome what resistance there
The bias of development involves a distortion. The advantage of one
group commonly is disadvantageous to another, and so some part of the
energies of all groups is diverted to the supererogatory activity of
devising and implementing offensive and defensive mechanisms.
Groups differ in their possession of native talent, opportunities,
initiative, and resources; those in favoured circumstances find success
the key to still further success; those unable to make operative the new
ideas that are to their advantage fall behind in the process of social
Society becomes stratified; its flower is far in advance of average
attainment; its roots appear to be the survival of the rude achievement of
a forgotten age. Classes become distinguished, not merely by social
function, but also by social success; and the new differentiation finds
expression not only in conceptual labels but also in deep feelings of
frustration, resentment, bitterness, and hatred.
Moreover, the course of development has been twisted. The social order
that has been realized does not correspond to any coherently developed set
of practical ideas. It represents the fraction of practical ideas that
were made operative by their conjunction with power, the mutilated
remnants of once excellent schemes that issued from the mill of
compromise, the otiose structures that equip groups for their offensive
and defensive activities.
Again, ideas are general, but the stratification of society has blocked
their realization in their proper generality. Ideas possess retinues of
complementary ideas that add further adjustments and improvements; but
these needed complements were submitted to the sifting of group interests
and to the alterations of compromise.
Still, this process of aberration creates the principles for its own
reversal. When a concrete situation first yields a new idea and demands
its realization, it is unlikely that the idea will occur to anyone outside
the group specialized in dealing with situations of that type. But when
some ideas of a coherent set have been realized, or when they are realized
in a partial manner, or when their realization does not attain its proper
generality, or when it is not complemented with a needed retinue of
improvements and adjustments, then there is no need to call upon experts
and specialists to discover whether anything has gone wrong nor even to
hit upon a roughly accurate account of what can be done.
The sins of group bias may be secret and almost unconscious. But what
originally was a neglected possibility, in time becomes a grotesquely
Few may grasp the initial possibilities; but the ultimate concrete
distortions are exposed to the inspection of the multitude.
Nor has the bias of social development revealed the ideas that were
neglected without also supplying the power that will realize them.
For the bias generates unsuccessful as well as successful classes; and
the sentiments of the unsuccessful can be crystallized into militant force
by the crusading of a reformer or a revolutionary.
conflict admits a variety of forms. The dominant groups may be
reactionary or progressive or any mixture of the two.
In so far as they
are reactionary, they are out to block any correction of the effects of
group bias and they employ for this purpose whatever power they possess in
whatever manner they deem appropriate and effective.
On the other
hand, in so far as they are progressive, they make it their aim both to
correct existing distortions and to find the means that will prevent their
Now to a great
extent the attitude of the dominant groups determines the attitude of the
depressed groups. Reactionaries are opposed by revolutionaries.
Progressives are met by liberals.
In the former
case the situation heads towards violence.
In the latter
case there is a general agreement about ends with disagreement about the
pace of change and the mode and measure of its execution.
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