Moving the Crowd

 Posted by on 31 March 2008 at 11:47 pm  Activism
Mar 312008

An interesting tidbit from Paul, originally posted to the “activists” mailing list of FIRM (Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine:

In the physical realm, a small group of people who know what they want and are willing to act in a concerted fashion to accomplish their goal can shape the direction of the rest of the crowd. Here is some interesting research.

“Recent research shows that as little as 5% of a crowd can influence the direction of the rest of the crowd”:

    Professor Krause, with PhD student John Dyer, conducted a series of experiments where groups of people were asked to walk randomly around a large hall. Within the group, a select few received more detailed information about where to walk. Participants were not allowed to communicate with one another but had to stay within arms length of another person.

    The findings show that in all cases, the “informed individuals” were followed by others in the crowd, forming a self-organising, snake-like structure. “We’ve all been in situations where we get swept along by the crowd,” says Professor Krause. “But what’s interesting about this research is that our participants ended up making a consensus decision despite the fact that they weren’t allowed to talk or gesture to one another. In most cases the participants didn’t realise they were being led by others.”

    Other experiments in the study used groups of different sizes, with different ratios of “informed individuals.” The research findings show that as the number of people in a crowd increases, the number of informed individuals decreases. In large crowds of 200 or more, five per cent of the group is enough to influence the direction in which it travels. The research also looked at different scenarios for the location of the “informed individuals” to determine whether where they were located had a bearing on the time it took for the crowd to follow.

    The equivalent from the world of ideas is best expressed in this scene from The Fountainhead:

    Kent Lansing: “All I mean is that a board of directors is one or two ambitious men–and a lot of ballast. I mean that groups of men are vacuums. Great big empty nothings. …Don’t worry. They’re all against me. But I have one advantage: they don’t know what they want. I do.”

    One could make the case that the same is true at the level of state politics — a relatively small number of people can have a disproportionately large impact on the direction of political discourse if they know what they want and they are willing to act in a consistent, concerted fashion towards their goal.

Why does Paul mention state (rather than national) politics? Because national politics is flooded with well-funded people attempting to move the crowd, almost always toward greater statism. In local and state politics, it’s far easier for a small group of people to shift the wind of public opinion. And if enough people are moving their respective states in a better direction, then that will help move the nation.

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