Granfalloonery, scapegoating, social dominance theory and Conservatism Written by Kitty S Jones

Another excellent article by Kitty S Jones of Politics and Insights


Anyone who has read Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle” will know what agranfalloon is. The University of Chicago awarded Vonnegut a master’s degree in anthropology for this work of satire, irony, black humor and parody.

A granfalloon is a group of people who affect a proud shared identity or some cohesive purpose, but whose mutual association is actually meaningless – associations and societies based on a shared but ultimately fabricated premise. Yet members often feel superior in some way to others. Granfalloons are powerful propaganda devices because they are easy to create and, once established, the granfalloon defines social reality and demarcates and maintains social identities.

Like “strivers”, “tax payers” and “hard working families.” Exclusive language and dominant, prejudiced narrative is an effective means of social control since it can be used to frame the interpretation of events. The group categories are designed to create moral norms and also, to stigmatise, to define deviance and to create scapegoats.

One of the purposes of the construction of granfalloons is to create categories of outsiders, as much as it is to create a false sense of privilege amongst group members.

The granfalloon technique is used in advertising, in political rhetoric and by pseudoscientists, cults and other dubious groups, as a method of persuasion in which individuals are encouraged to identify with a particular granfalloon or social group. The pressure to identify with a group is meant as a method of securing the individual’s loyalty and commitment through adoption of the group’s symbols, slogans, language, norms, rituals, actions, goals and beliefs. We like to conform and we like to “belong” and that is manipulated endlessly by granfallooners everywhere. It’s ultimately very divisive.

Think of UKIP’s extensive granfalloonery, the shrinking island of logic,  ever-decreasing ingroup and you get the gist. The only people who properly  “belong” in UKIP  are older, “hard done by” white labourers, predominantly but not quite exclusively males, who don’t like anyone else’s social groups. Everyone else is “privileged “in some way, and that’s a bad thing to be, apparently. Scapegoating can often cause oppressed groups to attack other oppressed groups. Even when injustices are committed against a minority group by a majority group, minorities sometimes lash out against a different minority group in lieu of confronting the more powerful majority.

Then there is the “all in it together” granfalloonery of Conservatism, where social groups are targeted by the ever-electioneering, purposeful and powerful elites to vote for policies that serve absolutely no-one but the elites, and cause real harm to other group members of society. All that “hate thy neighbour stuff”, you know: it’s the sick and disabled people, the unemployed people, the ethnic minorities, the junior doctors, the unions, the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, Jeremy Corbyn.

But the biggest miscreants of all are in office, for crying out loud.“They’re behind you!” came the pantomime call from a usually passive, disengaged audience. We all know the score, yet here we are as an entire society of sub-grouped granfalloons, following all the divisive finger-pointing and scapegoating like dizzy, distracted cats running around in circles chasing unravelling strings.


The Conservatives are creatures of habit rather than reason. Traditional. That is the why their policies are so stifling and anti-progressive for the majority of us. It’s why Tory policies don’t meet public needs.

I’ve observed before that there’s always an air of doom and gloom when we have a Tory government, and a largely subdued, depressed, repressed nation, carrying vague and fearful intuitions that something and someone truly catastrophic is just around the corner.

We always witness the social proliferation of fascist ideals with a Tory government, too. It stems from the finger-pointing divide and rule mantra: it’s them not us, them not us. But history refutes as much as it verifies, and we learned that it’s been the Tories all along.

With a Conservative government, we are always fighting something. Poverty, social injustice: we are forced to compete and fight for political recognition of our fundamental rights, which the Tories always circumvent. We fight despair and material hardship, caused by the rising cost of living, low wages, high unemployment or underemployment and recession that is characteristic of every Tory government.

I think people often mistranslate what that something is. Because Tory rhetoric is all about othering: dividing, atomising of society into bite-sized manageable pieces by amplifying a narrative of sneaking suspicion and hate thy neighbour via the media. Scapegoating serves as a mechanism of psychological dumping and emotional relief in acts of misplaced aggression towards oppressed outgroups for oppressed ingroups. The social order is maintained this way.

In social psychology the granfalloon concept stems from research by the British social psychologist Henri Tajfel, regarding  social identity theory. The significance of ingroup and outgroup categorization was identified using a method that has come to be known as the minimal group paradigm. In his research Tajfel found that strangers would form groups on the basis of completely inconsequential criteria, such as liking certain paintings, fictions, pseudoscientific dogmas or Elvis.

In one study Tajfel’s experimental subjects were asked to watch a coin toss. They were then designated to a particular group based on whether the coin landed on heads or tails. The subjects placed in groups based on such meaningless associations between them have consistently been found to “act as if those sharing the meaningless labels were kin or close friends.” People have been shown to be differentially influenced by ingroup members. That is, under conditions where group categorization is psychologically salient people will shift their beliefs in line with ingroup social norms.

Outgrouping leads to the homogeneity effect. This is a process where the perception of members of an outgroup as being homogenous arises (“all the same”), whilst members of one’s ingroup are perceived as being individual and diverse. This is especially likely to occur on the basis of prejudiced, stereotyped negative characteristics. Of course ingroup members can be perceived as being similar to one another in regards to loosely identified positive characteristics. This effect is called ingroup homogeneity.

Authoritarian governments often utilise granfalloonery, maintaining social order by the creation of social allegiances through various means of outgrouping and ingrouping, socialisation and indoctrination

Being sociable is a positive human quality. But being duped by trivia and artificially constructed categories, intentionally stigmatised identities and politically constructed social taxonomies is also a human tendency, it seems.

Granfalloonery is used as a propaganda technique. It is an improper appeal to emotion, which purposefully bypasses the rational though-processes of populations. It used for the purpose of changing the opinions of a targeted audience or population. The closely related Bandwagon technique involves encouraging people to think or act in some way simply because other people are doing so.

Some people much prefer wide social inequalities. Social dominance orientation (SDO) is conceptualised as a measure of individual differences in levels of group-based discrimination; that is, it is a measure of a person’s preference for  status-ranking and hierarchywithin society and domination over what are perceived as lower-status outgroups. It is a predisposition toward anti-egalitarianism within and between social groups. High scores of SDO predict stereotyping, discrimination and prejudice. SDO correlates with forms of right-wing authoritarianism. Hello Mr Cameron.

The concept of SDO as a measurable individual difference arose fromsocial dominance theory. Individuals who score high in SDO desire to maintain and, in many cases, increase the differences between social statuses of different groups, as well as individual group members. Typically, they are controlling, manipulative, competitive, aggressive, dominating, tough, and relatively unempathic, uncaring power-seekers. People scoring high in SDO also prefer hierarchical group orientations. Often, people who score high in SDO have strongly held beliefs in forms of social Darwinism.

See also:


False-consensus effect

Don’t believe everything you think: cognitive dissonance



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