“What I tell you three times is true.”

“What I tell you three times is true.”
Louis Carroll, “The Hunting Of The Snark”

The Asch experiment shows that all it takes to get 33% of test subjects to go along with something that clearly is not so — to call a deer a horse — is just for them to have heard 3 people agree with the false statement. What’s very important is for NOBODY to point out the error. Once the truth is spoken — a discouraging word is heard — very few will persist in the lemming race.

In a televised interview, Clark Clifford told how in the 1948 campaign at Truman’s appearances his supporters would place themselves at the back of the crowd. While Truman spoke, the shills would cheer. Soon the entire crowd would be doing the same.

The stagers of today’s political events act as if they are well aware of the Asch experiment. Behind the speaker will be posed a “name,” attractive people, and \ or stereotypical individuals appropriate to the venue. All will bob their heads in emphatic spring-action agreement. Dissenters-protesters are contained in a “free speech” zone as far away as possible from the scene of the action.

Totalitarian regimes have been described as senseless for energetically hunting down any who disagree — even those without any means or even intent to act. One example is the Nazis persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses for refusing to take an oath of allegiance to Hitler or to serve in the military. The Jehovah’s Witnesses posed no threat to the Third Reich and were not even opponents of National Socialism, but acted on religious grounds. The Nazi’s suppression was immoral and pathological, but — if we think of the Asch experiment — it was rational . Any small crack of dissent can quickly widen and shatter the sceen of propaganda.

Below are the results of the Asch experiment from this Site:

# # #

Asch, S. E., Effects of Group Pressure Upon the Modification and Distortion of Judgements. In H. Guetzkow (ed.) Groups, Leadership, and Men, 1951.

This is a summary of the famous Asch experiment where subjects were placed with a group of confederates who gave different measurements of a line than was reality. Asch measured whether the subject would modify their interpretation based on the majority opinion.

The test objective was to study “the social and personal conditions that induce individuals to resit or to yield to group pressures when the latter are perceived to be contrary to fact.

A group of eight individuals (one subject and seven confederates) sat in a room and verbally stated which of three unequal lines matched a given line. The subject was seated so that he made his verbal judgement last. In most cases the confederates and subject agreed, but in certain cases the confederates all agreed on a wrong answer.

The “majority effect” was measured as the % of responses that erroneously conformed to the majority. They also tried to ascertain whether the subject was aware of the majority effect on him and why they acceded to group opinion. They also watched the reaction of the subject when the experiment was revealed. All subjects and confederates were male college students.

Initial Results
About one third of the responses conformed to the erroneous majority (compared to almost no errors in the control group). Some subjects always defied the group, some always went along with them. 25% were completely independent, 33% were more than half with the erroneous majority. Some were completely confident throughout, some were disoriented and confused.

The independent subjects were categorized as 1) confident in their differences 2)withdrawn and 3)considerable tension and doubt, but adhere to their views

The yielding subjects could be categorized as 1)distorted perception who believed the majority estimates as correct 2)distortion of judgement — they believe their own perceptions are inaccurate (they have primary doubt and lack of confidence). 3)Distortion of action — they believe the group is wrong but conform to avoid being different.

Experimental Variations

The effect of “ununanimous” majorities
In one variation, they added one more subject at position 4. This reduced the % of errors from 32% to 10%. In another variation, having one confederate give right answers throughout reduced it to 5.5%.

This shows that even a minimal amount of dissenting support is enough to give people confidence in their opinions against the majority. The researchers found that even a unanimous majority of only three is better than 8 with one dissenter.

The effect of withdrawal of a “true partner”
Surprisingly, if a confederate who was answering correctly “defects” back to the majority halfway through, the % of with-the-majority responses returns from 5.5 to 28.5%.

The effect of late arrival of a “true partner”.
If a confederate answering with the majority changes to answering truly, the rate of majority response drops down to 8.5%.

The effect of a “compromise partner” (who answered with majority sometimes, correctly sometimes).
This reduced the rate of majority response but not significantly.

The effect of majority size.
They varied the number of confederates from 1,2,3,4,8, and 10-15 persons. There was no majority effect with only one other person. There was a small change with two people, and nearly the full amount with three confederates. There was little change above three confederates.

Interestingly, in one condition they put 16 naive persons in a room and had two confedrates give wrong answers. The group responded with amusement at their errors.

They also found that the degree of independence increases with the deviation of the majority from the truth. However, even big differenes didn’t create complete independence. They also concur with other researchers that the effect of majority opinion increases with decreased clarity in a situation.

Why have Harleys become popular with the well-to-do?

In 1974 I saw a slide presentation given by an American who had visited China, which had been terra incognita until only a couple of years before. She showed images of Chinese shops selling American and European-style women’s clothes. The traveler also presented photos of people walking about the streets – all in Mao suits. The explanation was that the Chinese women wore the colorful garb underneath the drab uniforms.

Why have Harleys become popular with the well-to-do? Might this be an inverse of the Chinese practice of forty years ago? Could Americans today be using a symbol of rebellion to hide an internalized grey flannel conformity?

# # #

From the Hell’s Angels
By Hunter S. Thompson

The story of Harley-Davidson and the domestic motorcycle market is one of the gloomiest chapters in the history of American free enterprise. At the end of World War II there were less than 200,000 motorcycles registered in the United States, very few of them imports. During the 1950s, while H-D was consolidating its monopoly, bike sales doubled and then tripled. Harley had a gold mine on its hands – until 1962-63, when the import blitz began. By 1964 registrations had jumped to nearly 1,000,000 and lightweight Hondas were selling as fast as Japanese freighters could bring them over the ocean. The H-D brain trust was still pondering this oriental duplicity when they were zapped on the opposite flank by Birmingham Small Arms, Ltd., of England. BSA (which also makes Triumphs) decided to challenge Harley on its own turf and in its own class, despite the price-boosting handicap of a huge protective tariff. By 1965, with registrations already up 50 percent over the previous year, the H-D monopoly was sorely beset on two fronts. The only buyers they could count on were cops and outlaws, while the Japanese were mopping up in the low-price field and BSA was giving them hell on the race track. By 1966, with the bike boom still growing, Harley was down to less than 10 percent of the domestic market and fighting to hold even that.

. . .

There is surely some powerful lesson in the failure of Harley-Davidson to keep pace with a market they once controlled entirely. It is impossible to conceive of a similar situation in the automobile market. What if Ford, for instance, had been the only American manufacturer of autos at the end of World War II? Could they have lost more than 90 percent of the market by 1965? A monopoly with a strong protective tariff should be in a commanding position even in the Yo-Yo market. How would the Yo-Yo king feel if he were stripped, in less than a decade, of all his customers except Hell’s Angels and cops?

# # #

NY Times Magazine interview with Frank Luntz


# # #

To navigate more by instruments, Sapir-Whorf provides the theoretical mechanism:
. . .
The argument that language defines the way a person behaves and thinks has existed since the early 1900’s when Edward Sapir first identified the concept. He believed that language and the thoughts that we have are somehow interwoven, and that all people are equally being affected by the confines of their language. In short, he made all people out to be mental prisoners; unable to think freely because of the restrictions of their vocabularies.

An example of this idea is given in George Orwell’s book 1984, in which he discusses the use of a language entitled “newspeak” which was created to change the way people thought about the government. The new vocabulary they were given was created to control their minds. Since they could not think of things not included in the vocabulary, they were to be zombies imprisoned by the trance of their language. Soon, Sapir had a student, Benjamin Whorf, who picked up on the idea of linguistic determinism and really made it his own. Whorf coined what was once called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which is more properly referred to as the Whorf hypothesis. This states that language is not simply a way of voicing ideas, but is the very thing which shapes those ideas. One cannot think outside the confines of their language. The result of this process is many different world views by speakers of different languages.

. . .