Patterico's Pontifications

12/4/2020

The Mob Is Often Wrong

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 8:29 am



In discussing elections, pundits often defer to the so-called “wisdom of the electorate.” If a shocking event happens — such as the election of Donald Trump in 2016 — pundits race to “understand” what they have “missed.” What does the electorate know that we don’t? And so we see the proliferation of think pieces devoted to exploring the views of the “forgotten man” and so forth.

If your business is persuading people to vote your way, that’s valuable work. You need to understand why people vote the way they do, if you are trying to change the way they vote.

But if you’re trying to understand what’s right, I submit that such exercises are a waste of time. Because the mob is often wrong.

Think about your own experience on the Internet. Compare the comments on a widely trafficked site like YouTube or a newspaper with high circulation, as opposed to — well, when I think of a site with small traffic, I can’t help but instantly think of this one. Do you think the average YouTube comment is likely to be more insightful than the average comment here? To state the proposition is to laugh.

To take another example: I don’t know how many among the readership here have had the experience of seeing a tweet of yours, or a Facebook post of yours, retweeted or shared by a very large account. But if you have, you quickly find that the responses turn very ignorant very fast. The ratio of ignorant responses to non-ignorant ones is affected by whether the large account itself is run by an ignoramus or an intelligent person — but even the most intelligently-run large account is bound to generate a host of stupid replies.

Even if you haven’t seen this happen to your own tweets, if you’re a longtime reader who remembers when this site was occasionally linked by larger blogs, you would notice that the quality of the discussion generally degraded quickly following such a link. This was a common enough phenomenon that, when a critical mass of stupid comments appeared, someone would inevitably ask: who linked this post, Pat?

If the mob were inherently wise, I submit you would see the opposite of what you see.

Mobs lack the ability to process nuance. Mobs cheer dictators. Mobs cheer socialists. Mobs cheer Donald Trump. Mobs run people out of their jobs and try to ruin people and corporations. Few things repel me more than mobs, and I almost never voluntarily join one of any sort.

The very nature of a mob makes every member of it worse. Many of you may be familiar with Cass Sunstein’s work on group polarization. I learned about it from David French’s latest book (affiliate link). In short, groups of like-minded people, left to converse with one another, tend to gravitate towards a point of view that is as extreme, or often even more extreme, than the views held by the most extreme member of the group before the group congregated.

As a vivid illustration of the principle: fourteen years ago I told readers this story:

The headmaster of my high school, Stephen Seleny, who grew up in Hungary, once told us a story I’ll never forget. Mr. Seleny’s father was a decent, tolerant man who was appalled by the ugly racist ideology of Hitler. So Mr. Seleny’s father went to a Nazi rally to see first-hand how crowds of people could treat such a monster with such worshipful reverence. At the end of the day, Mr. Seleny’s father returned crying. His son asked him why he was crying. Mr. Seleny’s father replied that he had gone to the Nazi rally. He had heard Hitler speak. He saw the crowd raising their arms in the Nazi salute.

And Mr. Seleny’s father had raised his hand as well, and cried: “Sieg Heil!”

The electorate, frankly, is a mob. You need only be 18 and (theoretically) a citizen to vote. You don’t have to be smart, well-informed, capable of discerning nuance, literate, or in possession of any particular civic or other virtues. You basically need to be a sentient blob of protoplasm who has existed on the Earth for a sufficient period of time.

The wisdom of such a mob, when it comes to what is right, is of little or no value. The mob might get it right, of course — as I believe they did in the 2020 election. But they also might get it wrong.

Stop pretending the electorate has wisdom. There’s no reason to think that.

73 Responses to “The Mob Is Often Wrong”

  1. The electorate, frankly, is a mob. You need only be 18 and (theoretically) a citizen to vote. You don’t have to be smart, well-informed, capable of discerning nuance, literate, or in possession of any particular civic or other virtues. You basically need to be a sentient blob of protoplasm who has existed on the Earth for a sufficient period of time.

    The wisdom of such a mob, when it comes to what is right, is of little or no value. The mob might get it right, of course — as I believe they did in the 2020 election. But they also might get it wrong.

    Stop pretending the electorate has wisdom. There’s no reason to think that.

    Above a limited size direct Democracy produces worse results then representative democracy. But the allowing the voice of the mob to be heard is a necessary part of maintaining the consent of the governed.

    Time123 (ea2b98)

  2. Too many ignorant people who think daddy government will give them free stuff or that the other side is bad. Rooting for politicians like they root for/against sports teams.

    I know this nation has a history of using poll taxes and literacy tests to stifle voting, but a strong grounding in civics and economics should be required to vote.

    When robbing Peter to give to Paul, you can always count on Paul’s support.

    NJRob (eb56c3)

  3. I think this mob mentality is worse in our two major political parties, which are now massively dysfunctional. It’s what brought us substandard and/or unfit “standard bearers” in the last two presidential cycles.
    I don’t blame the general electorate so much because they’re stuck with choosing between Sh*tstain and An@l Leakage.
    I don’t have any prescriptions for this dysfunction, except to either fight from within the echo chamber or jump into the first available and viable third party, and our history with third parties is terrible.

    Paul Montagu (77c694)

  4. The mob does not possess a brain. It usually doesn’t possess any moral compass either. It just has a spleen, and Girard quite accurately describes the mimetic escalation that takes place when its juices start to flow.

    Roger (782680)

  5. Men go crazy in congregations
    They only get better one by one

    – Sting, “All This Time”

    Dave (1bb933)

  6. The “mob” typically begins with an emotional response. It doesn’t matter if it adheres to any facts or logic. The point is to make people “feel” something, and then go from there. Once a certain emotion is captured (anger-especially self-righteous anger-is probably most effective). It’s then fairly easy to get the snowball rolling, and as it gathers speed that emotion ratchets up to 1000. By then, the mob is self-propelled by little more than a collectively shared emotional reaction to X. The faster it moves, the faster facts and truths disappear from view. This is about producing a visceral reaction, and a sense of rightness. Any mob groupthink should be eyed with suspicion and put to the test. Repeatedly so. Especially if it comes with the claim of “being on the right side of history”.

    Dana (cc9481)

  7. Only 5% to 10% of the electorate has to know what they are doing, in order to pick the best of bad choices, and it happens over and over again.

    Sammy Finkelman (20d02d)

  8. A belief that one is motivated by “right” is the cornerstone of any mob. A concession to the errant wisdom of the electorate is the cornerstone of a civil society.

    And, no, the electorate is not a mob. The Founders were keenly aware of the dangers of the mob and they did not bequeath us one.

    beer ‘n pretzels (042d67)

  9. A belief that one is motivated by “right” is the cornerstone of any mob. A concession to the errant wisdom of the electorate is the cornerstone of a civil society.

    And, no, the electorate is not a mob. The Founders were keenly aware of the dangers of the mob and they did not bequeath us one.

    beer ‘n pretzels (042d67) — 12/4/2020 @ 10:09 am

    I agree with much of this, but I would replace ‘civil’ with ‘democratic’. There are many examples in history of civil society that was not run democratically.

    Time123 (ea2b98)

  10. “I’m all for the democratic principle that one idiot is as good as one genius.

    But I draw the line when someone takes the next step and concludes that two idiots are better than one genius.”

    – Leo Szilard

    Dave (1bb933)

  11. This is why people who seek wisdom get away from all the other people. People together are stupid.

    The Dalai Lama lives in the mountains of Tibet and not in some big city.

    Hoi Polloi (3bc019)

  12. Patterico Wrote:

    To take another example: I don’t know how many among the readership here have had the experience of seeing a tweet of yours, or a Facebook post of yours, retweeted or shared by a very large account. But if you have, you quickly find that the responses turn very ignorant very fast. The ratio of ignorant responses to non-ignorant ones is affected by whether the large account itself is run by an ignoramus or an intelligent person — but even the most intelligently-run large account is bound to generate a host of stupid replies.

    This continues a theme you’ve raised previously; that conversation on the internet is too often thoughtless and uninformed and that because of this, not worth the time. What is your purpose in writing and commenting? If you’d like to have a debate with well informed people of good faith an open forum is probably a poor place to do so. There will be a lot of noise in the signal. If you want to share your thoughts and have them read widely then participating in the comment section may help you build your build your readership and clarify points that weren’t understood in the main body. If your goal is educating and persuading others to your point of view then participation in the comments might make some sense. I find the discussion here to be both educational and persuasive. I’ve changed my POV based on things I’ve read and learned things I didn’t know. But what do you want from this?

    I know you want the trolls who offer nothing novel or insightful gone and an end to pointless “whatabout”.

    But look at the types of comments that are most likely to get a response. Sometimes it’s the very well thought out and novel idea. But those aren’t common. Occasionally is a lengthy, educational, and detailed comment (Belder was fantastic at those) Most often it’s a short, provocatively worded statement about a area of fact that is in dispute and central to the current political narrative. I’m guilty of responding to that as much as anyone. Most of the regular commenters are.

    Time123 (b4d075)

  13. You don’t need to travel so far back to find good examples, look at the American news media and the riots.
    _

    harkin (8fadc8)

  14. For me, and maybe others, this forum serves two somewhat incompatible purposes.

    One is to read interesting commentary by Patterico, the guest bloggers and commenters.

    The other is vent about political stuff that bugs me.

    Within limits – and as long as you recognize when you’re doing it – I think the latter is a necessary and healthy part of coping with the news.

    Dave (1bb933)

  15. Trump wants to get rid of Sextion 230, and his mob will likely agree. I think that will result in a lot fewer blog comment sections. I bet the future TRUMP Media wants less competition or criticism of its message.

    DRJ (4d6f5d)

  16. But there are thoughtful voices, Time, and I think he writes to hear from them.

    DRJ (4d6f5d)

  17. I think that because this is not a mob-driven site, there is far less groupthink reflected in the comment section. You can go to a Trump-supporting site and see uniform views on any given issue. The proverbial echo chamber, if you will. It has been fairly obvious that this is a unique mix of political thought and view. While it might skew right of center, that is not an absolute. As a result of the unique political thought of our host, a wide variety of thinkers are drawn, and that is reflected in their commentary at posts. I think that is about as good of a result as one could hope for on a platform like this. Personally, I have no interest in a one-sided, one size fits all outlet. I don’t believe that they are an accurate reflection of the world at large

    Dana (cc9481)

  18. The Founding Fathers (and other later) believed that when it was possible to freely argue, the truth would emerge or at least something closer to it.

    I received a mailing from Judicial Watch that contained two quotes on an address label promotion

    The one from George Washington goes:

    Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains taken to bring it to light.

    Note: Doesn’t happen automatically.

    Sammy Finkelman (20d02d)

  19. “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.”
    ― George Carlin

    kaf (87f0c4)

  20. Hoi Polloi (3bc019) — 12/4/2020 @ 10:27 am

    The Dalai Lama lives in the mountains of Tibet and not in some big city.

    Not for the last 60 or 61 years.

    He lives in Dharamsala, India, population 53,543.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dharamshala

    On 29 April 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso) established the Tibetan exile administration in the north Indian hill station of Mussoorie.[6] In May 1960, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) was moved to Dharamshala, making it the centre of the Tibetan exile world in India…

    ,,,Dharamshala has been selected as one of the hundred Indian cities to be developed as a smart city under PM Narendra Modi’s flagship Smart Cities Mission.[2] On 19 January 2017, Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh declared Dharamshala as the second capital of Himachal Pradesh state, making Himachal Pradesh the third state of India with two capitals after Jammu and Kashmir and Maharashtra.[3][4]

    Tibet is behind the Bamboo curtain. The Chinese government from time ti time, des sme more to destroy traditional Tobet.

    Now the question is, how can people somehow not be aware of, or forget, this overwhelming fact?

    Sammy Finkelman (20d02d)

  21. Mobs are passionate to an extent that they become disorderly and there is usually an undercurrent of anger. Opportunists, nihilists, misfits and misanthropes and anarchists tag along.
    Polls have come out saying that a majority of Americans think there was/is some level of fraud in the election and of the Democrats that think there was fraud, some have been open enough to say they don’t care as long as it was against Trump.
    Long story short the “mob” of disgruntled voters is larger than usual and angrier about it than usual. Evidently they think the stakes are high.
    Given Biden’s statement/freudian slip/gaffe that if he finds himself in deep disagreement with Harris, he will “get a disease” and resign gives people who think the stakes are high all the more reason to be hypervigilant.
    The polarization isn’t just Trump vs Harris. Its in their view of how Americans should be allowed to live their lives. People who like Harris’ politics are largely liberal urbanites or large university towns in rural states who want more nanny state to “control” freedoms, and rural, semi rural conservatives don’t want goverment telling what choices they have to make.

    Except the “whitelash” thread, Van Jones was right. In 2016 a good deal of the country saw Trump as a way to rebalance away from the Obama policies. On a policy level they thought Obama was wrong on taxation, 2A, schools, law enforcement, healthcare, courts, race, Iran, trade, on and on all the way down to energy, fracking and EPA watercourse policies. People were passionately against many of those policies, not just the usual one or two. So they voted for a guy to upset the applecart, to backlash the system and resent that he was hamstrung in doing so.

    Large groups of angry people need to be watched carefully, but until they start showing up after dark and/or going full Guatemalan and burning down the Senate, its just bill of rights stuff.

    Since I’m on record choosing to be even shallower for the coming New Year, I’m still only in this for the tax cut, and the chance to annoy people who don’t like me anyway.

    steveg (43b7a5)

  22. Time123,

    I write here for many reasons. Writing daily has become a habit, sometimes broken, since 2003. I was lucky enough to get some attention early on that brought on enough new readers to make this an interesting comment section to visit. Since then, the main sources of links to the blog have dried up, and readership has dwindled. In part, this site does not tend to generate content that makes right-wingers say “wow you have to go read this!” because for five years now such content is almost always required to be pro-Trump, which is obviously a dealbreaker for me. Also, many long-timers have abandoned the site, and while some of those exits please me or at least don’t bother me, there are people I really miss: Beldar, JD, Stashiu3, daleyrocks, and the like. Still, having a site where folks like Leviticus, Dustin, DRJ, Dana, JVW, nk, Paul Montagu, Dave, AJ_Liberty, you, Demosthenes, aphrael, Colonel Klink, Appalled, noel, Gawain’s Ghost, lurker, norcal, Kevin M, John B Boddie, Rip Murdock, Nic, Radegunda, and so many other people just as important (I worry about even having started a list because I know I will miss important people), is a perk few people almost nobody enjoys, and I think it’s pretty special.

    Patterico (115b1f)

  23. If I left people off that list it was accidental.

    Patterico (115b1f)

  24. The mob was right. It voted for hillary clinton. 26 states that has only 18% of the electorate control 52 senate seats. We will see how long the american people will be content to be ruled by 18% of the electorate.

    asset (c06a63)

  25. It’s nice being called out, in a good way. Thanks.

    Paul Montagu (77c694)

  26. I am pickier about what I read online but I will always read Patterico’s posts.

    DRJ (aede82)

  27. As for political mobs, I respect that they have real concerns about their lives but I am not convinced their solutions are helpful.

    DRJ (aede82)

  28. Is all this worrying warranted? My life is much better than my parents and grandparents (eternal gratitude to Mom and Dad). There are 7.6 billion people on earth, and I certainly would not enter into a Rawlesian lottery that would randomly trade my life for another. My country is well off. Certainly, we have problems, but the vast majority is in pretty good shape. The murder rate is a lot better than thirty years ago. The divorce rate is better than thirty years ago. Yes, we haven’t gotten control of Covid, but it’s coming. Epidemics are normal in human life. Willie Lincoln died of typhoid fever in the White House while his parents were inconsolable. Childhood death is rare and getting rarer. Things are pretty good. There is no reason to think that being ruled by some elite whether of birth (aristocracy) or an elite of money or an elite of “right thinking” people would be any better. We are not living in some Platonic ideal or some Erewhon; on this real earth our system with all of its flaws is as good as it gets.

    Fred (92cd93)

  29. It would not be trite if there were not an element of truth: Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the rest. What that means is the democracy has historically proven to be the best means of securing the end of liberty.

    Philosopher Kings only exist in fantasy. And if you are lucky enough to get a benevolent despot, what are the odds of a good successor? So low that we still remember the Five Good Emperors.

    So, the trick is to have a dead constitution that puts guard rails around the mob.

    Note that historically, democracy did not necessarily require universal suffrage. Suppose only taxpayers could vote? Maybe those who have performed their militia obligation?

    Marco (7bed92)

  30. Often I think the mob doesn’t really know the issue to any real degree. It seems like it’s frequently a matter of glomming onto the reaction of their favorite politicians and/or Twitter handle. It takes time and effort to develop an informed opinion about any issue and that doesn’t necessarily play well to the emotionally reactive crowd. Or a crowd that is waiting for something to be angry or upset about. I am not saying that this is always the case, or that there isn’t justified outrage over certain things that take place. I am speaking more directly to the divide, within the GOP and the Trump loyalists.

    Dana (cc9481)

  31. Is all this worrying warranted? My life is much better than my parents and grandparents (eternal gratitude to Mom and Dad). There are 7.6 billion people on earth, and I certainly would not enter into a Rawlesian lottery that would randomly trade my life for another. My country is well off. Certainly, we have problems, but the vast majority is in pretty good shape. The murder rate is a lot better than thirty years ago. The divorce rate is better than thirty years ago. Yes, we haven’t gotten control of Covid, but it’s coming. Epidemics are normal in human life. Willie Lincoln died of typhoid fever in the White House while his parents were inconsolable. Childhood death is rare and getting rarer. Things are pretty good. There is no reason to think that being ruled by some elite whether of birth (aristocracy) or an elite of money or an elite of “right thinking” people would be any better. We are not living in some Platonic ideal or some Erewhon; on this real earth our system with all of its flaws is as good as it gets.

    Fred (92cd93) — 12/4/2020 @ 4:29 pm

    I think there’s a meme how conservatives are delusional, because they think if you make the right choices you can live a great life in America.

    But I definitely do think that. Life has kicked my ass a few times, and I started with nothing. Actually had not one penny when I joined the Army, and no where to live if I hadn’t gotten in. Since then I’ve never done drugs, never gotten into trouble, stayed married which took a lot of work, worked a job (often a job I didn’t like that much), and though I am never going to be rich, I do think my little cheap house is comfortable, full of food, etc.

    Part of what you’re talking about, how we do have a great thing going right now, actually is associated with the problem. America has a powerful underclass, which is a contradiction. Our race problems, our class problems, and frankly all the ignorant people on twitter and blogs and other internet media, they all point to how enabled and prosperous we are. The Uighurs in China are not painting gigantic UIGHUR LIVES MATTER on the street outside Xi’s house. High school dropouts weighing 400 lbs are waving AR-15s at the legislators in Michigan. The dumb here have it so good they aren’t really struggling. They certainly aren’t missing any meals. They are even listened to.

    Obama was dismissive of a large number of them. Their growing resentment was useful to Trump. And here we are, a very prosperous poor, with idle time and idle minds. I’m not talking about the average Trump voting conservative, who really just doesn’t have a great optoin. I’m talking about the idiots. You know what I mean. 100 years ago they just wouldn’t have it good enough to be this much trouble.

    It’s good that things are good, but it’s also a threat to things being good tomorrow.

    Dustin (4237e0)

  32. Because the mob is often wrong.

    The mob often cares far more about certain things than you do. It may, for example, care a lot about how good a disco dancer a candidate is, and be absolutely correct about that. You may argue that is a terrible factor to base your vote on. but that does NOT make them wrong; it just makes thair needs wildly different from yours.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  33. In short, it really depends on what the voters (“the mob”) value in a candidate. When the voters choose someone unexpected (often someone whose values differ from “normal”) it is not insane to ask “why did they do this?”

    With a large enough voter base, the vote almost always has a reason. Or three. It may not be useful in the future, as the vote may be based on unrepeatable conditions (e.g a moral panic). Then again it may be because something the pundits thought unimportant suddenly wasn’t (e.g. a long-term slump in work and opportunity for US tradesmen).

    It is, to me, the height of arrogance to denounce the voters as “wrong.” They may well have been conned into thinking a candidate would help their cause, but even the understanding what their cause WAS isn’t mistaken.

    As for comparing voting to Twitter comments, that makes a number of assumptions I can’t agree with, starting with the fact that we only get the one vote, but any fool can comment many times on the Interwebs. The average IQ is 100. About half the voters have lower IQs. Unless we have a system that only lets smart people vote, it will ALWAYS matter how these folks vote. Even if the reason seems stupid.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  34. Until we change our system from one-person, one-vote, we are going to have to accept that the voters will chose what seems to them their best choice from what is offered, and they may see needs that the party does not.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  35. And Victor, whembly, Hoi Polloi … the list goes on. I am fortunate.

    Patterico (115b1f)

  36. If I left people off that list it was accidental.

    Yeah, lists are never inclusive. Still, you had my name there….

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  37. I think there’s a meme how conservatives are delusional, because they think if you make the right choices you can live a great life in America.

    I think making the right choices is important, but you also need a certain amount of luck. One of the advantages of wealth is that if you are a kid from a wealthy family, you can make far far more mistakes and have far far worse luck and still make it. A person who isn’t from wealth may not have any safety net at all if they make a wrong choice or have bad luck. A single broken condom can make the difference between success and lack there-of for both men and women (boys and girls). Loss of a parent can make the difference between being able to join the army and needing to stay in your terrible neighborhood to help your remaining parent with your younger sibs.

    Where you grew up can make a difference as well. If I were 25 right now, there is no way I’d stay in CA because there are very few ways for even a middle class young adult to build wealth here, simply due to the housing market and living expenses, but a person whose never lived out of state or even the same city (Davis people HAVE TO LIVE IN DAVIS OMG) may not see moving and leaving their friends and relatives and whole support system to be a viable option. But if you are the same kid in, IDK, Salem OR or nearish a city in Texas or Nebraska, a young adult can build wealth still staying where their family and friend support system is.

    Nic (896fdf)

  38. A single broken condom can make the difference between success and lack there-of for both men and women (boys and girls).

    Is this luck? To me this is a choice. I know I’m terribly old fashioned and naive about morality and this is the most annoying thing about me.

    Everything else about your comment is absolutely true. Trust me I’m not saying otherwise.

    Just because I can work hard for 20 years and have a humble house and a comfortable life, doesn’t mean it’s the same outcome I’d have had if I was from a wealthy family that paid my way through school or bailed me out of my mistakes. Medical debt is really the only consistently confounding issue to my equation above.

    But my larger point was that the fact we can talk to so many crazy goofballs on twitter shows that the dumbest folks have a lot of political power relative to other societies and times. It really exposes how uneven education is.

    Dustin (4237e0)

  39. 22. Thanks. I’m honored to be included in such estimable company.

    lurker (d8c5bc)

  40. @38 There are young married couples who use condoms too. 😛

    But yes, there is no doubt there are many crazies on the net. I occasionally look at the comment on The Hill and then immediately nope out.

    Nic (896fdf)

  41. The electorate, frankly, is a mob. You need only be 18 and (theoretically) a citizen to vote. You don’t have to be smart, well-informed, capable of discerning nuance, literate, or in possession of any particular civic or other virtues. You basically need to be a sentient blob of protoplasm who has existed on the Earth for a sufficient period of time.

    Which is why we proudly wore our ‘Media Elite’ buttons rushing ’round Trump Tower, Black Rock and into Rockefeller Center to bask in the glow of the festive Christmas lights back in the day.

    Glorious.

    DCSCA (f4c5e5)

  42. Medical debt is really the only consistently confounding issue to my equation above.

    Medical debt is almost optional these days, or at least large medical debt. As much as I think Obamacare badly set up, there is at least that. There is really no good reason for most people to go without insurance* in recent years. The poor get insurance much cheaper and are never dunned for large debts anyway.

    When my wife got scary-sick about 5 years ago, sure, we had to shell out about 5 grand in co-pays, but it covered the rest of the $300,000 bill.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  43. You basically need to be a sentient blob of protoplasm who has existed on the Earth for a sufficient period of time.

    I really am not sure what you advocate. If not universal adult franchise, then what? It’s easy to say “this system doesn’t produce wise decisions”, and it sure doesn’t produce consensus, but what system do you think would work better without producing an actual ruling class?

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  44. What you are discussing here, Patterico, is mob mentality. In chaos theory, its caused by initial conditions, whereby even the slightest change can cause a system to either spiral out of control or coalesce into a new system. In complexity science, this is known as self-organization and emergence.

    In chaos, the best description of this phenomenon is, on the west coast of Africa a butterfly flaps its wings and thunderclouds clap in LA. The idea being that the minute disturbance of wind currents caused by a butterfly creates a storm on the other side of the planet. That’s how sensitive the system or environment is to changes in initial conditions. In complexity, the idea is that individual components self-organize and emerge into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts and forms a mind of its own. The individual components have their own minds, but once they self-organize and emerge as a whole, it takes on its own mind.

    But we’re talking about humans here. People who ordinarily would do one thing, but when in mob mentality do another. The peaceful turn violent.

    Perhaps the best example in literature is The Oxbrow Incident. It’s a western novel written in 1940, but set in the 1880s. It was made into an Academy Award nominated movie. The story involves the hanging of three innocent men, who were suspected of murder and cattle thievery by the mob. It’s tragic, because everyone involved dies in the end. The lynchers end up committing suicide, hanging themselves or falling on their swords.

    That’s the nature of mob mentality. It often turns on itself. These Trumpublicans are turning on their own. Ripping the Republican party apart, tearing the country apart, calling for death threats against their own members. There is no sense to be made of it, mob mentality.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/04/opinion/conservatives-turn-on-trump.html

    Gawain's Ghost (b25cd1)

  45. @32. Exhibit A- Bob sells Abe:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcjz7VAljYs

    DCSCA (f4c5e5)

  46. 26 states that has only 18% of the electorate control 52 senate seats. We will see how long the american people will be content to be ruled by 18% of the electorate.

    asset (c06a63) — 12/4/2020 @ 1:09 pm

    This statement would make sense only if small states were all ideologically alike. They are not. Assuming we’re working off the same list of states, Republicans will control 31 of these 52 seats in the new Congress, and Democrats will control 21 (counting the two independents). And the ideological spread in that group ranges from the second-most progressive senator to the second-most conservative. If you think Bernie Sanders and Joni Ernst are ruling together, you’re crazy.

    Just as ridiculous would be to say, “The ten most populous states control 222 of 435 House seats. We will see how long the other forty states will be content to have only 49% of the seats between them.” Right, because Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy will surely see that it’s in their best interests to join forces and make that big-state cabal happen. It’s just a matter of time. Any century now. Golden State Wonder Twin powers, activate!

    Demosthenes (d7fc81)

  47. @ myself, #46: Sorry, make that the NINE most populous states. It’s late, I’m tired, and this site needs an edit button.

    Demosthenes (d7fc81)

  48. Not only is the mob often wrong ;but the arrogant elitists who think the mob is often wrong are often wrong themselves. Their are no inalienable rights only privileges that can be taken away at any time. Freedom isn’t free in fact it is the most exspenive thing there is. Freedom and liberty was not given to us by the constitution ;but at bayonet point at redoubt no. 3 and 4 yorktown virginia. Slavery was not ended by the emancipation proclamation but again at bayonet point on cemetery ridge gettysberg pennsylvania.

    asset (3f9ceb)

  49. …what system do you think would work better without producing an actual ruling class?

    Kevin M (ab1c11) — 12/4/2020 @ 10:01 pm

    Every nation has a ruling class. We’re no exception. So the question is moot from the start.

    As to what system would work better, I’d like one where people had to get a voting license by passing a test* on basic American history and civics. I need to sit both a written and practical test to be able to drive a car on public roads, but sixteen states don’t even require me to show an ID in order to exercise my franchise. How ridiculous. If you’re one of those people who can’t name any of your elected officials below the level of President and thinks the Constitution guarantees you “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (and such people exist by the million), then you have no business walking into a voting booth and gambling this country’s future on the chance that your ignorance might coalesce with the ignorance of your fellow-travelers to miraculously produce a positive result.

    * (Said test could be given orally to the illiterate, and its written form could be in multiple languages. I’m not trying to bar anyone from voting on the basis of race, gender, religion, national origin, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, political ideology, or literacy in written and/or spoken English. Yet I know someone will accuse me of that anyway.)

    Demosthenes (d7fc81)

  50. Not only is the mob often wrong ;but the arrogant elitists who think the mob is often wrong are often wrong themselves. Their are no inalienable rights only privileges that can be taken away at any time…

    …Slavery was not ended by the emancipation proclamation but again at bayonet point on cemetery ridge gettysberg pennsylvania.

    asset (3f9ceb) — 12/4/2020 @ 11:26 pm

    1. Considering that there were still slaves after the Battle of Gettysburg, I guess the people who ended slavery there did a prety poor job.

    2. My right to life is not a “privilege.” And if you think there are no inalienable rights, then as far as I’m concerned, you have no business calling yourself an American.

    Demosthenes (d7fc81)

  51. Patterico,

    You are very kind to a die hard Democrat. Thanks for running a site that believes in the value of critical judgment.

    Victor (4959fb)

  52. There is really no good reason for most people to go without insurance* in recent years. The poor get insurance much cheaper and are never dunned for large debts anyway.

    I agree with kevin on this, although I suspect that Dustin, not unlike myself, is/was not a member of the “most people” demographic in respect to medical insurance.

    Quick anecdote:

    There was a homeless man named David who was on a first-name basis with me because he begged from the same spot on my route for several years. One day I saw him with a bandaged head, thinking to myself (uncharitably) what scam is this? Turns out he had been hired as day labor and got hurt at the work-site. He received treatment and meds under the company’s workman’s comp ins. So there is an example where the homeless benefit from someone else’s ins coverage. There were other questions I had for him that went unasked/unanswered because the traffic must flow.

    felipe (630e0b)

  53. Victor (4959fb) — 12/5/2020 @ 5:51 am

    I join Victor in thanking you, Patterico! I still remember your decision to extend amnesty to all those you had previously banned. I had never heard of a blogger doing that before or since.

    felipe (630e0b)

  54. Medical debt is almost optional these days, or at least large medical debt. As much as I think Obamacare badly set up, there is at least that.

    Unless you get in a mess like my daughter where she was broadsided by a red-light runner. Health insurance wouldn’t pay because it was a car accident. Her car insurance said the at-fault drivers insurance should pay. One night in the ER for she and her two kids was $80k. The car insurance refused to pay, said they wouldn’t pay trauma related charges. It took two years and a lawsuit she finally got it all paid. And these were major insurance companies doing this. The doctors and hospital sent her to collections and her credit was destroyed. Insurance companies may insure but it doesn’t mean they pay up all the time.

    Marci (405d43)

  55. Late to the party.

    Thank you for the kind mention, Patterico.

    On the topic, is it because we started out as herbivores? Graze, mate, stampede, regroup around the matriarch, graze, mate, stampede, ….

    Nietzsche called democracy a throne resting on mud and those on it often mud themselves. I’ll go with Dostoyevsky: People always need a cause to follow and the promise of a miracle, regardless of whether the cause is objectively worthy or the miracle (well, you know, by definition it’s not) is within the bounds of reality.

    nk (1d9030)

  56. I come here primarily for Pat’s and his co-blogger’s perspectives as I find them invaluable in modern discourse.

    Keep doing what you’re doing, it’s all good.

    @23 Hrmph… I must not be memorable enough, I’ll need to work on that a bit. 😉

    whembly (c30c83)

  57. @35 Well, just goes to show that I need to read the whole thread before commenting. Thanks Pat. 😀

    whembly (c30c83)

  58. @54

    Medical debt is almost optional these days, or at least large medical debt. As much as I think Obamacare badly set up, there is at least that.

    Unless you get in a mess like my daughter where she was broadsided by a red-light runner. Health insurance wouldn’t pay because it was a car accident. Her car insurance said the at-fault drivers insurance should pay. One night in the ER for she and her two kids was $80k. The car insurance refused to pay, said they wouldn’t pay trauma related charges. It took two years and a lawsuit she finally got it all paid. And these were major insurance companies doing this. The doctors and hospital sent her to collections and her credit was destroyed. Insurance companies may insure but it doesn’t mean they pay up all the time.

    Marci (405d43) — 12/5/2020 @ 7:01 am

    Sorry to see this about your daughter and I hope everything is finally okay after that ordeal.

    This is an example that folks opine how “bad” our healthcare is when in reality, much of the problems are bureaucratic and/or insurance related. We have access to the greatest healthcare in the world and the level of care is superior. Paying for it, or getting insurance to cover it is a distinction that most (aka, the mob) refuses to separate.

    The “mob”, aka the Democrats in 2010, forced through sweeping changes to our healthcare (and student loans!) that much of that law was wrong or could’ve been handled much differently (maybe better).

    The mob is often wrong, because the premise that animates them are often based on flawed reasoning or narratives.

    That is why, in the age of social media and instant news, they are so integral to perpetuating modern “mobs”.

    whembly (c30c83)

  59. What you are discussing here, Patterico, is mob mentality. In chaos theory, its caused by initial conditions, whereby even the slightest change can cause a system to either spiral out of control or coalesce into a new system. In complexity science, this is known as self-organization and emergence.

    In chaos, the best description of this phenomenon is, on the west coast of Africa a butterfly flaps its wings and thunderclouds clap in LA. The idea being that the minute disturbance of wind currents caused by a butterfly creates a storm on the other side of the planet. That’s how sensitive the system or environment is to changes in initial conditions. In complexity, the idea is that individual components self-organize and emerge into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts and forms a mind of its own. The individual components have their own minds, but once they self-organize and emerge as a whole, it takes on its own mind.

    But we’re talking about humans here. People who ordinarily would do one thing, but when in mob mentality do another. The peaceful turn violent.

    Perhaps the best example in literature is The Oxbrow Incident. It’s a western novel written in 1940, but set in the 1880s. It was made into an Academy Award nominated movie. The story involves the hanging of three innocent men, who were suspected of murder and cattle thievery by the mob. It’s tragic, because everyone involved dies in the end. The lynchers end up committing suicide, hanging themselves or falling on their swords.

    That’s the nature of mob mentality. It often turns on itself. These Trumpublicans are turning on their own. Ripping the Republican party apart, tearing the country apart, calling for death threats against their own members. There is no sense to be made of it, mob mentality.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/04/opinion/conservatives-turn-on-trump.html

    Gawain’s Ghost (b25cd1) — 12/4/2020 @ 10:22 pm

    Gawain, I think the part I put in bold is the key difference between mob mentality and the wisdom of crowds. On their own people are reasonably smart but flawed. The aggregate effect of these flaws tends to cancel out. The problem comes in when mob mentality and tribalism come into play. At that point the desire to be consistent with with the perceived consensus and be a part of the group starts to push average answer further away from what it would naturally be. I think social media makes this faster and move complete. You might have your own opinion about an issue like sticking forks in wall sockets. But as you find out that other people you identify with are speaking out that the dangers of electrocution are overrated you might start to see some merit in that point of view. This becomes stronger once the issue is firmly placed on the partisan score board.

    I think this article from does a good job summing it up.

    Time123 (b87ded)

  60. EXCELLENT link, Time123. Thank you.

    DRJ (aede82)

  61. @59 I concur with DRJ, great find Time123.

    whembly (c30c83)

  62. Contrast Time123’s linked ox-weight story with the Gawain’s Ghost’s reference to The Oxbow Incident. The county fair crowd collectively reached the correct guess to a pound because the process called on individuals to submit their best guess. It was not a mob. Each guesser thought it out by himself and, most of all, the process was orderly under established rules.

    On the other hand, the lynchers in The Oxbow Incident, although fewer in number, were a mob. Instead of multiple individual judgments, they generated and reinforced a collective preconception by consensus, without rules.

    nk (1d9030)

  63. Yes, great link, Time123. A little dissent goes a long way.

    19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22reject every kind of evil. 1 Thes 5:19-20

    felipe (630e0b)

  64. See, how in the world do I leave felipe, literally one of my favorite commenters of all time, off such a list.

    Note to self: never, ever make a list like that again. You’re going to offend people you really like by making them feel not included. I apologize for having done it, I apologize to felipe for his not being there, and I apologize to everyone else who I also am fond of but who someone did not occur to me in the moment in engaged in this stupidity.

    Patterico (115b1f)

  65. @64 Dude, it’s okay. I know I speak for most of us here that we know you meant no offence.

    whembly (c30c83)

  66. this site needs an edit button.

    Yes, maybe it does. It would improves my posts, for sure. I probably need TWO edit buttons. Sammy many need three.

    But there are some commenters who would abuse it, changing their comments later and pretending they were that way all along. The ultimate in goal-post moving. Even though there are several bolt-in editors (or even whole commenting systems), I think we have (or mainly attract) enough bad actors that I’m not very surprised we don’t have one.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  67. @59: I think it’s the difference between being led and being stampeded.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  68. Patterico (115b1f) — 12/5/2020 @ 11:08 am

    It has taken almost 24 hours, but I have finally stopped blushing! I echo Whembly, who also speaks for me, that we know you meant no offense. I certainly took none. I found it good that you gave some love to those whom were deserving of it. You list was really a litany of the blessings bestowed upon you, For we are a community, and in that way, a blessing to one another.

    Now, and I speak only for myself, if we could welcome back our very own “black sheep,” then we might be a family.

    felipe (630e0b)

  69. Kevin M (ab1c11) — 12/5/2020 @ 11:55 pm

    Heh! Extra points awarded for style and concision.

    felipe (630e0b)

  70. 47. this site needs an edit button.

    66. Kevin M (ab1c11) — 12/5/2020 @ 11:51 pm

    Yes, maybe it does. It would improves my posts, for sure. I probably need TWO edit buttons. Sammy many need three.

    But there are some commenters who would abuse it, changing their comments later and pretending they were that way all along. The ultimate in goal-post moving.

    Ten years ago, the Volokh Conspiracy or Powerline blog, maybe both had an edit button. Maybe both, but it worked a little bit differently in each.

    You could edit the post within 5 minutes of leaving it – and then got another five minutes and so on and so on. I think the time it was left was updated.

    This is valuable because some mistakes you see right away: WQuoted or pasted material left below the line in the edit box, formatting mistakes like not ending blockquotes or ending them the wrong way, or italixs or boldface continuing, or spelling or grammatical mistakes that just jump out at you when you see the words wrap a differently.

    Amazon book reviews have a different kind of edit, which can be left any time afterwards but there are not too many continuing conversations in book reviews.

    Even though there are several bolt-in editors (or even whole commenting systems), I think we have (or mainly attract) enough bad actors that I’m not very surprised we don’t have one.

    ?? You’re NOT very surprised we don’t have one, in the sense of the anthropic principle – that we don’t have one can be sort of deduced from the presence of bad commentators

    OR

    Do you mean ARE very surprised and that’s an example of something that could have used an edit button?

    Sammy Finkelman (2178a8)

  71. this site needs an edit button.

    Yes, maybe it does. It would improves my posts, for sure. I probably need TWO edit buttons. Sammy many need three.

    But there are some commenters who would abuse it, changing their comments later and pretending they were that way all along. The ultimate in goal-post moving. Even though there are several bolt-in editors (or even whole commenting systems), I think we have (or mainly attract) enough bad actors that I’m not very surprised we don’t have one.

    Kevin M (ab1c11) — 12/5/2020 @ 11:51 pm

    If you typed ‘many’ instead of ‘may’ on purpose that’s funny.
    If you did it by mistake it’s hilarious!

    Time123 (dba73f)

  72. EXCELLENT link, Time123. Thank you.

    DRJ (aede82) — 12/5/2020 @ 9:25 am

    Thank you. I was doing reading to try and organize what I was thinking and found someone wrote my entire comment 6 years ago. 😀 They left out the typo’s and random changes in verb tense though.

    Time123 (dba73f)

  73. Time123 link:

    A 2004 study demonstrated that a group of individuals selected at random from a population outperformed a group of the same population’s best problem solvers, Ball reports. Individual experts may have been smart on their own, but on average, they were too similar, working from a narrower range of problem-solving approaches than the random group. That handicap more than offset their skill.

    That applies to medical science as well. By mandating agreement with the WHO or the CDC or the FDA, and requiring extreme standards of proof to change the consensus, however flimsily established in the first place, we’re forcing stupidity.

    Sammy Finkelman (2178a8)


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