People who meditate a lot tend to go through a phase where they are convinced that meditation is the best thing to happen to humanity since the Neolithic revolution - a period in prehistory where humans harnessed the power of agriculture and became sedentary, thus paving the way for civilisation with all its trappings. Meditation as a way of looking at your moment-to-moment experience is credited with being good for a person's relations with themselves and with others, good for the workplace and its attendant pressures, indeed good for civilisation itself since Good Meditators would Never allow the world to become as war-like or as climatechanged as it has in recent decades. People searching for awakening tend to suffer from just as many delusions when it comes to their picture of what being enlightened would be like. We're told that there will be insight into our past lives, that we will be able to do remarkable things such as read other people's thoughts or travel through space and time without having to get up from our cushion. According to them, we might be able to cheat death, or have no need for food anymore. Our skin might be magically healed or we might be released from other persistent physical or psychological burdens. Someone better look for the kryptonite.
As you can imagine from reading the above paragraph, I'm quite skeptical when it comes to the claims to metaphysical benefits of meditation practice. Whereas I do believe that paying attention in your life keeps you tethered more closely to what your personal values happen to be, I have to reject the fairy tale-ish stories of flying gurus or communion with the recently deceased until I see some cold hard proof. So, if we can't live longer or with less need for food, if we can't suddenly talk to animals or dead people and if we can't learn to levitate or use strong mind control on others through meditation, then what are the true limits of this practice?
The way I see it, there are two sorts of meditation. Mindfulness-based practices that can be applied to develop or maintain healthy relationships with yourself and others. And insight practices that pertain to gaining a new understanding of reality, which makes it easier to stop identification with any component part of that reality - a dissociative practice that leads to a loving observation of everything that happens. Maybe the application of these practices is limited to the scope of one human's perception of themselves and the reality they inhabit. It seems reasonable though to assume that there might be room for meditation as a tool within groups, seeing as they are collections of humans. Let's explore.
In earlier blog posts, I've tried to understand some of the processes that make groups of people such a force in our lives. How can it be that a group of moderate people can come to immoderate decisions. The harder question to answer: can meditation make any difference in those group dynamics? One could argue that awareness of group dynamics can help group members prevent unwanted outcomes. On the other hand, it's hard to think of a specific mechanism by which this would be effected. For decision-making we need communication. To communicate we mostly use verbal language. A meditator's voice might be drowned out by the persuasiveness of others' arguments. A meditator's attempt to inject opponent arguments may get them suspended from the decision-making process. Even organisations that consist largely or wholly of meditators suffer from this ailment. Just witness the number of schisms that have taken place in buddhist circles.
Not to sound pessimistic, but it seems to me that because individuals suffer from a large number of biases in judgment and decision making, these "faults" tend to be magnified when humans combine into groups. Of course, all the available human strengths have just as much chance of being magnified in group decision making. I think it's important to mention that, since these blog posts might end up painting a very bleak picture of human decision making which I don't think is the only story out there.
So, what do you think? Is group decision making beyond redemption? Can meditation be used to mitigate bad outcomes?