Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. The scientists, who are members of the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center (SCNARC) at Rensselaer, used computational and analytical methods to discover the tipping point where a minority belief becomes the majority opinion. The finding has implications for the study and influence of societal interactions ranging from the spread of innovations to the movement of political ideals.''
The AmRen commenters discuss the article here, with the usual share of naysayers.
The idea discussed in the article calls to mind this essay by Glenn Harlan Reynolds, from 2002, regarding 'preference cascades.' A reader called my attention to the Reynolds essay in the past, but the reader's name escapes me, though I would like to give appropriate credit.
On preference falsification:
The muting of open patriotism after the Vietnam era may have been a case of what social scientists call "preference falsification": One in which social pressures cause people to express sentiments that differ from those they really feel. As social scientist Timur Kuran noted in his 1995 book Private Truths, Public Lies, there are all sorts of reasons, good and bad, that lead people not to show how they truly feel. People tend to read social signals about what is approved and what is disapproved behavior and, in general, to modify their conduct accordingly. Others then rely on this behavior to draw wrong conclusions about what people think, and allow those conclusions to shape their own actions.
Oh, not always - and there are always rebels (though often social "rebels" are really just conforming to a different standard). But when patriotism began to be treated as uncool, people who wanted to be cool, or at least to seem cool, stopped demonstrating patriotism, even if they felt it.
When this happened, other people were influenced by the example. In what's known as a "preference cascade," the vanishing of flags and other signs of patriotism from the homes, cars and businesses of the style-setters caused a lot of other people to go along with the trend, perhaps without even fully realizing it, a trend that only strengthened with the politicization of flag displays in several 1980s political campaigns.
This illustrates, in a mild way, the reason why totalitarian regimes collapse so suddenly. Such regimes have little legitimacy, but they spend a lot of effort making sure that citizens don't realize the extent to which their fellow-citizens dislike the regime. If the secret police and the censors are doing their job, 99% of the populace can hate the regime and be ready to revolt against it - but no revolt will occur because no one realizes that everyone else feels the same way.
This works until something breaks the spell, and the discontented realize that their feelings are widely shared, at which point the collapse of the regime may seem very sudden to outside observers - or even to the citizens themselves. Claims after the fact that many people who seemed like loyal apparatchiks really loathed the regime are often self-serving, of course. But they're also often true: Even if one loathes the regime, few people have the force of will to stage one-man revolutions, and when preferences are sufficiently falsified, each dissident may feel that he or she is the only one, or at least part of a minority too small to make any difference.''
I am not convinced that the '10 percent' is a magic number in regard to societal change or political change. Some of the AmRen commenters believe that change happens only from the top down, from the elites, especially the media, who hand down the acceptable opinions and beliefs, which the majority will slavishly adopt and parrot. According to this viewpoint, change will not come from the people, by word-of-mouth, neighbor-to-neighbor or online networks. Everything is up to the elites, who control the dialogue and discourse completely.
In the past, when discussing this general subject of how things can change in society, I've used the counterculture of the 1960s and 70s as an example of how opinions and beliefs turned on a dime, seemingly. In the social sphere, suddenly it was acceptable for unmarried couples to live together openly without marriage. Illegitimacy suddenly was no longer the scandal that it had been, and even became somewhat chic when celebrities had children outside marriage.
And of course, the subject we've so often discussed here, the Civil Rights revolution, in which formerly strong racial attitudes began to be reversed; suddenly integration (or forced social contact) among the races was a positive good, whereas it had been regarded as a bad thing not many years previously.
Was this due to 'elite' influence, such as the entertainment and news media, plus the educational system, or was it a grassroots change? And if it was from the ground up, how was it that people could reject the opinions they supposedly held previously, and adopt opposite beliefs so quickly?
The theories about 'preference falsification' and preference cascades seem to make sense. But the implicit conclusion is that many people, possibly a majority, do not have real, deep convictions about many things. Most people seem to look to others for cues as to what is acceptable or what is desirable. Few people seem to care about what is true or right; most seem to be seeking only safe, popular opinions which will make them acceptable among their neighbors and peers.
There are only a few, seemingly, who hold firm convictions and who are willing to stand behind their beliefs, even when it causes them to lose social acceptabitity or approval. If these people have the qualities of personality which give them leadership ability, perhaps these few can influence many in their circles and thus cause the ideas to spread outward.
Personally I think that the official propaganda is now beginning, or has already begun, to lose its legitimacy and its hold over many of us. Most people with a modicum of perception can see through the obvious lies and obfuscations. I think there are vague murmurings even among the most oblivious sections of the populace about the absurdities of political correctness.And there is a swell of outrage, even if muted in some quarters, over the recent outbreaks of violence in cities and elsewhere.
As I've said before, the present system is one that must be maintained by constant reinforcement of the propaganda; that's why we find it everywhere around us, in advertising and 'entertainment'. The belief system is high-maintenance, and must be constantly reiterated. Human nature, however, is human nature, and it strains against the false and unnatural ideas that are imposed on us from above.
Is 10 percent the magic number? I don't know, but rather than rejecting the idea altogether, it would be better to act as though it were true, and do all we can to create these 'preference cascades' and break the spell of the system over us.
The majority of people are people who will go with the flow, and as the existing regime overplays its hand and deligitimizes itself, there may be cracks appearing in the false façade we see. We can hope that by degrees, it will collapse under its own weight.