Like a Collective Brain Snap
See the followup: How Groupthink Works
This is a blog that will only mean something to those who follow cricket. In Australia Cricket is not just a game, it is a semiotic that has significance well beyond the game. Australians find legends in the game of Cricket that go well beyond the normalising construction of heroes. Names like Bradman, Lillie and Benaud stand as ‘immortals’ or ‘invincibles’ because of the semiotic significance given to the game. Cricket symbolises how we broke the umbilical connection to England. Cricket symbolises fair play and integrity. Test cricket is the symbol of all that is white and pure. Well not as of today. Australians woke up today to be informed that the Australian Cricket captain and senior players conspire to cheat, to win. (http://www.canberratimes.com.au/sport/steve-smith-says-he-won-t-step-down-over-ball-tampering-saga-20180324-p4z63u.html )
In Australia we are more interested in what the cricket Captain does than what the Prime Minister does. We are no longer surprised when politicians are found to be liars and corrupt, we even expect it. But not in cricket. In cricket we like to think we can win fairly. We deride other nations for cheating in the Olympics and champion ethics as part of the Australian Legend (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_folklore). The image of cricket is an Australian semiotic for integrity, sportsmanship and fairness.
It was interesting to hear commentators trying to explain this event reported today of intentional ball tampering to obtain advantage unfairly over the South Africans. We have a history of purity there too, of political and sports-based non-compliance in the 1970s against apartheid (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/1971_South_Africa_rugby_union_tour_of_Australia). Against this backdrop Australians took the high moral ground against the taboo of race segregation. Even recently we have had Ministers in government championing the white farmers of South Africa against other ‘less desirable’ refugees (https://www.sbs.com.au/yourlanguage/korean/en/article/2018/03/17/di-natale-slams-dutton-racist-after-south-african-farmers-comments). So now we wake to the news that the eggs for breakfast are now symbolically all over the face of the self-righteous Australians.
One of the commentators described the actions of the captain of the Australian cricket team and senior players conspiring to cheat over a lunch break as ‘a collective brain snap’. Ah, maybe he knows something about how social psychology influences decision making! How smart we can be in hindsight bias casting judgement on the captain and senior players. Of course, such behaviours can’t be rational, they have to be deemed irrational. Soon will come the rationalisations about pressure in the team and captain, elements of mental illness and/or theories of cause situated in the culture of the team. Every armchair critic without a skerrick of social psychology will find some cause in irrationality.
I’m sure one could interview the senior players and find a range of a/rational reasons why they decided to cheat. Scholars like Caldeni and Pratkanis have known about this for years. This is what one learns in the Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR). We are all influenced by hundreds of heuristics and biases in the unconscious in milliseconds everyday. This is why ‘safety is never a choice you make’. The simplistic analysis from armchair critics in safety binary mis-education remain convinced that non-compliance is intentional, conscious and rational. It’s really simple for safety: state the rule, police the rule & punish non-compliance. This is why nothing changes.
The same binary mentality will now be on full show in commentary on the Australian cricket captain and this National event. There will be calls for heavier penalties for non-compliance, sackings must be made, tribunals must be convened and more paperwork introduced to manage the captain and senior players. The purists will be ‘outraged’, a ‘purge’ will follow and ‘blitz’ invoked and nothing will change. A new motto will emerge for zero cheating in cricket and infallible targets and measures will be set, and nothing will change. Sound familiar?