The theme for my 70’s seems to be continuing to find out that I don’t know many things that I thought I knew. I guess I am old enough that I no longer feel the need of my younger years to know everything. Humility comes with age for sure (well, with some prominent political figures excepted.)
Collective Illusions: Conformity, Complicity and the Science of Why We Make Bad Decisions by Todd Rose, 2022, recently made me reconsider much of what I thought I knew about other peoples’ views. While the book and its research base are centered in the United States, the general principles he explores would likely apply in other countries.
His nonprofit research arm Populace (https://populace.org) details in length his process and its results. In essence he is interested in the discrepancy between what people believe and what they think other people believe. He poses two questions to each interviewee about current issues. For instance he would first ask if the person in concerned with climate change. Then he would ask how many other people the person thinks care about climate change. He finds that people vastly underestimate how many others share their viewpoints. He finds much more consensus around the United States on major issues than it appears, particularly in social media.
He stresses that the loudest voices on line on any issues are generally the far outliers on each end of the spectrum. Because they make the most noise it is easy to assume they are the majority. And of course the trolls, bots and menacing people on line work to silence opposing voices. Most of our voices are stilled as it turns out.
Both the web site and the book are worth an in depth look. While I still hesitate to post my political opinions, I am trying to be braver at least articulating them when I have the chance. I, like too many, have ceded the floor to the loudest. Surrendering to bullies is a poor life strategy that many of us have adopted. I hope for a clear way forward, now knowing so many of my preconceptions of other Americans are wrong.