“And the word “courage” should be reserved to characterize the man or woman who leaves the infantile sanctuary of the mass mind.”— Sam Keen, Fire in the Belly
In the privacy of our minds many of us disagree with the ideologies, political agendas, and government mandates of our day, yet in public we comply. We do what we are told, say what is politically correct, and justify our hypocrisy by telling ourselves that we are powerless to change society, and so we might as well blend in with the crowd. In this video, we explain why publicly conforming to what we privately disagree with makes us complicit in tyranny, and why each of us has far more power to influence society than we have been led to believe.
In the 1950s, the social psychologist Solomon Asch conducted an experiment which demonstrated the degree to which individuals will reject what they think is true in order to conform to the majority. In the experiment, Asch showed a test subject two cards. On the first card was a single line, and on the second card were three lines, A, B, and C, with only line C being the same length as the line on the first card. Asch instructed the test subject to state which line on the second card was the same length as the line on the first card. However, before the test subject gave an answer, they witnessed 7 confederates – or individuals who were in on the experiment – state that line B was the same length as the line on the first card. Rather than state the obvious truth, the test subjects gave the same wrong answer as the group 37% of the time, and of the 123 test subjects who took part in this experiment, two thirds went along with the group at least once. Asch’s experiment confirms what philosophers have been reiterating for thousands of years: for most human beings conforming to what others say and do – no matter how objectively false or absurd – takes precedence over adapting to reality and discovering the truth.
In reflecting on Asch’s experiment, the psychologist Todd Rose explains:
“…we care about being in the numerical majority even when we don’t necessarily care about the group and even when the group opinion is merely an illusion. Acting on instinct, in social situations our brains don’t actually bother to make the distinction between appearance and reality…Even in the absence of intentional pressure or incentives, we like to go along with what we think is the consensus because, quite simply, we’re biologically wired to do so.”
(Todd Rose, Collective Illusions)
Our inclination to go along with what we think is the consensus makes us vulnerable to propaganda and easily manipulated. For one of the primary ways that governments, corporations, and global institutions influence public opinion and shape mass behavior is by manufacturing illusions of consensus.