Soc+ by Robert Brym and John Lie


I was five years old when an iron bird tore through the sky on February 1, 2003. Later that evening, CNN announced that the Space Shuttle Columbia had been incinerated on its return to Earth’s atmosphere, and they were sorry to inform viewers that the seven crewmembers onboard had been killed. An investigation into the destruction of the spacecraft revealed that damage to the shuttle had been caused by foam insulation debris.

According to Soc+, the SOC100 textbook, the person who led the meetings prior to Columbia’s launch was confident that the space shuttle could not be damaged by foam insulation debris, despite the concerns raised by an engineer. Although the leader’s knowledge regarding space shuttles more than likely relied on the cartoon Rescue Heroes, the other engineers present at the meeting quickly fell in line with their leader’s decision.

Nine years later, when sociologists Robert Brym and John Lie published Soc+, they explained the disaster as an example of “groupthink”. They defined the term as “group pressure to perform despite individual misgivings”. However, I think I prefer our Neolithic ancestors’ definition of the term, and although some words may have been lost in translation, I am confident that the gist of it still remains—monkey see, monkey do.

It is my opinion that we can find a moment for education in even the bleakest of situations. In the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, we were shown a rather subordinate aspect of the human consciousness—the “groupthink effect”—and how difficult it is to resist it. Difficult, but not impossible.

My advice is to begin your own revolution and even name it a “movement” if you prefer. By this I do not mean that we should mimic the way of Lenin and disrupt some political hierarchy—no, not at all. There are revolutions that must take place on much smaller scales as well. Has your group of friends chosen to yell hate speech through a megaphone? Revolt! Is your class teasing a young boy who shares an unfortunate likeness to Ruckus from The Boondocks? Revolt! Are people still listening to Justin Bieber? Revolt!

So, what exactly am I learning in my first-year sociology class? Free speech is tattooed on your tongue. Do not allow a group to force you to bite down on it.