Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tipping Point

I don't know what to make of this article in Science Daily. It raises a lot of questions, but whether it's correct or not it's certainly interesting.
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.

"When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority," said SCNARC Director Boleslaw Szymanski, the Claire and Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor at Rensselaer. "Once that number grows above 10 percent, the idea spreads like flame."
What I don't understand is why, if this is true, there are so many issues in which the country appears to be evenly split. For example, more than 10% of Americans believe fervently in either the pro-life or pro-choice position on abortion. Yet the country seems to be evenly divided on the question. Likewise with Darwinian evolution. It seems certain that 10% of the population is strongly committed to Darwinism, but the majority of people in the country is not.

An important aspect of the finding is that the percent of committed opinion holders required to shift majority opinion does not change significantly regardless of the type of network in which the opinion holders are working. In other words, the percentage of committed opinion holders required to influence a society remains at approximately 10 percent, regardless of how or where that opinion starts and spreads in the society.
This all seems counterintuitive, but perhaps not. Perhaps there's a kind of cultural critical mass at which point a new idea explodes through the society. The article offers some examples, none of which seems convincing, but perhaps readers can think of some historical examples which confirm this research.

Flight of the Millenials

Michael Barone cites some polling statistics that show a general abandonment of the Democratic party by white voters, but the flight of younger white voters, the so-called millenials, is stunning:
The most noteworthy movement among whites has been among voters under 30, the so-called Millennial generation. Millennials voted 66 to 32 percent for Barack Obama in 2008 and identified as Democrats rather than Republicans by a 60 to 32 percent margin.

But white Millennials have been moving away from the Democrats. The Democratic edge in party identification among white Millennials dropped from 7 points in 2008 to 3 points in 2009 to a 1-point Republican edge in 2010 and an 11-point Republican lead in 2011.
Barone's column attributes the disenchantment with the Democrats, particularly the president, to disillusionment over the economy after candidate Obama had held out such high hopes for young people. The reality has been dispiriting. Many young people are graduating from college in debt up to their ears and unable to find work that will enable them to pay off their loans.

Nothing like the prospect of fruitless job searches and endless loan payments to disabuse one of the romantic seductions of the euphoric rhetoric of hope and change.

Why Are They So Vile?

Andrew Klavan at City Journal comments on the increasing hate and vulgarity directed by liberal personalities like Bill Maher at attractive conservative women.
Comedian-commentator Bill Maher has been getting a lot of attention lately for trying to get a lot of attention. He generally goes about this by using sexist hate speech against attractive, powerful, and intelligent conservative women like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, calling them female vulgarisms, for instance, or, as most recently, hosting comedians who fantasize aloud about sexually abusing them.
Maher has been particularly bad, but he's far from the only one. Neither have Keith Olberman, John Stewart, and others been shy in displaying their misogynism.
But...there does seem to me to be one thing worth saying about Maher and the others. Their ugliness seems to be escalating day by day, and with it the dishonesty, distortions, and bullying anger of their mainstream-media fellow travelers. There’s a reason for this, I think. It’s the increasingly apparent failure of Barack Obama. With the notable exception of Osama bin Laden’s execution, the Obama presidency has resembled nothing so much as an episode of Mr. Bean, one slapstick misadventure after another. The stagnant economy, the rising unemployment, the staggering, soon-to-be-crippling debt—hiked more under Obama than under every president from Washington to Reagan combined—these can no longer be blamed on his predecessor but are his to own.
This has to be fantastically humiliating for our left-wing media. If you’ve forgotten what they were like during Obama’s 2008 candidacy—the weirdly sexual thrills up their legs, the unreasoning comparison of Obama with America’s greatest men, the pseudo-religious idolatry—you have only to turn to August’s edition of Esquire to find a representative reminder that has to be read to be believed. It’s a column from Canadian writer Stephen Marche hilariously titled “How Can We Not Love Obama?” and subtitled “Because like it or not, he is all of us.” At one point, Marche writes: “‘I am large, I contain multitudes,’ Walt Whitman wrote, and Obama lives that lyrical prophecy.” And later—and I swear I’m not making this up: “Barack Obama is developing into what Hegel called a ‘world-historical soul,’ an embodiment of the spirit of the times. He is what we hope we can be.”
Klavan might have included Evan Thomas swooning on MSNBC that Mr. Obama is "sort of God" bestriding the world.

At any rate, the left was so emotionally invested in the apotheosis of Obama that when they began to realize that conservatives were right all along that the man was an unqualified poseur, they found the truth so galling that in their humiliation and resentment they cast aside their ersatz liberal facades and lashed out against those whose judgment of Mr. Obama had been vindicated with as much venom and ugliness as they could get away with.

What many observers have wondered is where the feminist groups have been on this. There've been a few expressions of censure for Maher's sleaziness, to be sure, but there's been no sustained media demand for these people to be fired of the sort we'd certainly see had the offenders been conservatives insulting liberal women.