Enlightened Conflict

the majority minority paradox

August 18th, 2014

thinking alone with dog


“Everybody feels safe belonging not to the excluded minority but to the excluding majority.

You think, Oh, I’m glad that’s not me.

It’s basically the same in all periods in all societies.

If you belong to the majority, you can avoid thinking about lots of troubling things.”


Haruki Murakami





The minority majority paradox.



I actually began thinking about this when someone used the infamous “I guess that shows the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” <when discussing criminals and sexual deviancy>.




And then … while I abhor politics and avoid the whole political crap spewed day in and day out through media … it is difficult to avoid the sliver who spew an embarrassingly vocal minority opinion <at the top of their lungs>.







Both discussions got me going a little.




It made me think about what society <and many people> perceives … and what is reality … because of the minority majority paradox.



It affects what we think about criminals.




Climate change.


Drinking alcohol.

Unmarried mothers.



And many others <although I will share the information on the ones I listed>.
But I will begin with the response to the ‘apple not falling far from tree’ when I stated that most people who are abused as a child never hurt a fly.





Of all the people who hurt flies, almost of them have had their wings broken themselves.



That is a microcosm of the majority minority paradox.


minority majority happy




A truth:


“… abusive people are more likely to have come from an abusive environment … but the majority of people from an abusive environment are not abusive.”


Same with criminal behavior and sexual deviancy.

“Children who grew up in an environment in which criminal behavior or sexual deviancy … are more likely to exhibit that behavior than those who didn’t.”






But those children do NOT represent the majority of criminals or sexual deviants.





It is the kind of head scratcher type information that can make your head hurt of you think about it too much.

But that is the way the minority majority paradox works.


Where things truly go awry is in how the information and perspective <and perceptions> gets managed.



And, as with most information, you can use it for good or for evil … and you can use information to steer people in a direction <for good or for bad> and it can be used to create perceptions and attitudes which make people say stupid shit on occasion <but hopefully not actually DO stupid shit>.




thinker thumbtack


The paradox, oddly enough, often make people think … well … small.






Another paradox example.



How about climate change?


A survey of thousands of peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals has found 97.1% <now I believe it is over 98%> agreed that climate change is caused <in some degree or another> by human activity.


At minimum they agree humans contribute to climate change.



Suffice it to say the survey findings reflect a near unanimity. And you would tend to believe this provides a powerful rebuttal to climate contrarians <often called “deniers”> who continue to insist the science of climate change remains unsettled <or they simply focus on ‘not all people agree’ as their argument>.







The survey considered the work of some 29,000 scientists published in 11,994 academic papers and only 0.7% or 83 of those articles disputed the scientific consensus that human activity contributes to climate change.



minority climate change

“Our findings prove that there is a strong scientific agreement about the cause of climate change, despite public perceptions to the contrary.”

John Cook of the University of Queensland.






Public opinion continues to lag behind the science.



Though a majority of Americans accept the climate is changing, just 42% believed human activity was the main driver, in a poll conducted by the Pew Research Centre last October.


“There is a gaping chasm between the actual consensus and the public perception.”



It is true, as the skeptics like to point out, that long-term climate modeling remains an inexact science.



And some environmentalists hurt their cause by leaping to blame every extreme weather event on global warming.




But climate scientists are 95% to 100% sure that human activity — emission of greenhouse gases — is a significant cause of dramatic warming. And that warming is already raising sea levels, acidifying oceans, melting glaciers and intensifying heat waves, downpours, droughts and wildfires.



So why are the opinion numbers so wacky?



A vocal minority.


A harshly loud vocal minority.
All of which makes one consider the actions of a minority with regard to influencing the majority.
And oddly media plays a pretty significant role in this minority – majority paradox.


say out loud oops

Sticking with climate change <mostly because that was the last thing I talked about>.




  • – A 2011 study of opinion columns appearing in The Australian found that climate change contrarians outnumbered four-to-one those authors calling for firm action to reduce fossil fuel emissions.


  • – In the US, the Union of Concerned Scientists has looked at climate change coverage in the Wall Street Journal and on Fox News over a six-month period. In the case of Fox, UCS classified 37 out of 40 segments as “misleading” on climate change science.   In almost a year of Wall Street Journal articles, just nine out of 48 articles were deemed to accurately reflect the state of the science.









All these articles play a significant role in amplifying the minority’s machine of messaging to a broad segment of the public.
The loud minority.



They are shouting.


And sound louder than what they really are.






It amazes me how often a minority attitude/behavior is actually, in reality, a majority.


The easiest to point out is women.




Minorities may actually be a numerical majority … like women in American society.



Go figure.



How can you be a minority but be the majority?



It amazes me how often a majority acts like a minority and, probably more importantly, how we confuse the minority majority relationships in our perceptions … and inevitably how we manage them behavior wise.






What’s happening?



Or maybe … why is this happening?


Let’s think about what’s happening in society and culture and why.






While the minority majority paradox has always occurred … the roots of today’s venomous version can be found in changes which began occurring in maybe 1990.


Peter Drucker outlined the changes.


The new reality of pluralism in society is related to the creation and development of single purposed organisations, which are concentrated on one social task while being completely apolitical such as business, education, health, youth and so forth.



And these groups have no oversight <not suggesting they should> therefore they can say whatever they want to say:



These groups feature movements of highly organized minorities whose objective is to obtain through power what could not be achieved through other means.

Pluralism both in society and in polity is to be perceived as a challenge to political processes and political leadership as well as to all the represented groups and individuals of our society.

The challenges of the new pluralist institutions require particular attention in terms of: their social responsibility; their community responsibility; political responsibility; individuals’ rights and responsibility; and the newly perceived role and functions of government.



This all means that the small and single-cause concerned groups are becoming increasingly dominating in politics and society … and therefore opinions & perceptions <… and not truth>.




How the heck do they achieve such power?



Oddly … the power actually resides in their small numbers. Because they are small they are aligned and focused.



As a minority their strength is derived from their single task or purpose, which are usually related to prevent or to stop rather than to be organized to do something.



Politically these minority groups are increasingly dominating the mass movements of modern politics <and society> though they count only 5 per cent to 10 per cent of the electorate <Drucker, 1989>.



In contrast, the majority tends to be not well organized, is inert and not committed to a particular purpose and or a unified objective.



That said.



It can change … because when the majority actually kind of gets grumpy … they can get organized and actually do something.







And the most obvious example of a majority squeezing a minority is smoking.
Smokers are, and always have been, a minority.






There have always been more <significantly more> nonsmokers then smokers.
Yet smokers seemed to rule the world.



Not so much anymore.





Sticking with smoking.


Another minority- majority paradox.


Interestingly … despite what everyone may want to make you think … the majority of smokers do not die from a tobacco related issue.





Did I just type that?



You betcha.


The majority of smokers <not a shitload more than 50% but above 50%> live a relatively normal health life.

bullshit no way


This is one of those infamous “those who smoke are more likely to die from” versus “those who die are not more likely to have done so because of a smoking issue.”




Try this on for size … fewer than 10% of smokers get lung cancer and even fewer will get any cancer.



No shit.



But smoking accounts for 30% of all cancer deaths and 87% of lung cancer deaths. The risk of developing lung cancer is about 23 times higher in smokers compared to non-smokers and smoking is associated with increased risk of at least 15 types of cancer.





This is the infamous minority majority paradox at its best.



The minority will actually get cancer but of those that actually do get cancer the majority have smoked.








Smoking may not give you cancer but it increases your odds <exponentially>.







Because I do wish smokers would quit … here is a simple fact … about half of all smokers will die from smoking, and of these about half will die before or around age 50 <50-year study of physicians in England completed in 2001 – initiated in 1951>.



And the life expectancy for a smoker in the United States is about 64, which is 14 years shorter than the national average (which includes smokers), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.



It’s all about how the information is used.
As Christopher Wanjek says “In the game of risk, you’re more likely to have a condom break than to get cancer from smoking.”


rabbit smoking


He also says …


“Smoking doesn’t kill everyone.

About 50 percent of smokers do reach old age, albeit with diminished taste buds, diminished endurance, diminished eyesight, yellow teeth and bad breath.

Going by these numbers it becomes clear that few pastimes, habits or addictions are deadlier than smoking.

Only Russian roulette and scorpion juggling come to mind.”







How about alcohol.



Despite what perception is … maybe over 50% of Americans do not drink with any frequency at all.





Maybe make that almost 70% of Americans.





Perception: “Alcohol is an integral part of American life.

It is a normal accompaniment to most social events. Most Americans enjoy drinking on a regular basis.”





There are certainly some widely held perceptions about alcohol—created in part by alcohol advertising and popular culture.



But these perceptions are not entirely true.


These perceptions—and misperceptions—affect our attitudes toward alcohol and our policies regarding the sale to and consumption of alcohol by youth as well as adults.



You want some truth?


Reality: A large majority of Americans either do not drink or drink infrequently.



For a large majority … alcohol is an unimportant consumer product. According to the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse about 51 percent of adults 21 years of age and older report that they did not consume any alcohol in the past month and an additional 25 percent report drinking once a week or less.




The following picture of adult drinking emerges from these data:


  • – Most American adults either abstain or drink very little.



  • – A relatively small percentage of drinkers drink most of the alcohol <it is something like 6% of the population drinks 50% of the alcohol or something crazy like that>



  • – This small percentage often consumes several drinks at a time, increasing the risk of serious health and safety problems.






Another one?


How about unmarried mothers?



The data presented here dispel many inaccurate perceptions about unmarried mothers. The classic image of an unmarried mother is that she is a teen, a member of a racial or ethnic minority group, a first-time mother of a child born outside of marriage, and that she is not in a relationship with the father of her child.



<note: the following data is dated … but … more updated information actually makes an even stronger case … so conclusions are even more pronounced in today’s world>



The data show that the reality today is often quite different.


Teens account for a diminishing share of all births outside of marriage. In 1970, 50 percent of all nonmarital births occurred to females under age twenty.

By 1999, less than one-third of all nonmarital births (29 percent) were to teens. The proportion of all nonmarital births to women in their early twenties (aged 20-24 years) increased from 32 percent in 1970 to 36 percent
in 1999.

The largest percentage point increase during this time period was found among women aged 25 and older. In 1970, less than one-fifth (18 percent) of all nonmarital births were to women aged 25 and older.

By 1999, women aged 25 and older accounted for more than one-third (34 percent) of all nonmarital births. Only about half of nonmarital births are first births.

The public perception is that nonmarital births are first births.

Recent Vital Statistics estimates show that only 50 percent of all nonmarital births in 1998 were mothers’ first births.


 tell truth frustrating






I could share dozens of examples. Our perceptions are skewed day after day by a vocal minority.


The truth is difficult to discern … let alone learn.








The minority majority paradox is here to stay.


Media will feed it.



And well organized minority groups will feed it.



But … you cannot assume any type of actions by a minority will influence others let alone the majority.


When the minority’s behavior is not consistent, its impact on the majority is minimal.



Therefore it is the consistent behavioral style of minorities that insures the impact.



And, luckily for the minority we live within a democracy.


Majority rule is not the only expression of “supreme power” in a democracy.



If it were, as Tocqueville noted, the majority would too easily tyrannize the minority.



A democracy guarantees the expression of the popular will through majority rule … yet also guarantees that the majority will not abuse use its power to violate the basic and inalienable rights of the minority.



The minority must have the right to seek to become the majority and possess all the rights necessary to compete fairly.







Here is the good news <from my perspective>.




While the minority is typically painfully opinionated <or ignorant> and vocal … and the indifferent a morass of stagnancy … they actually do counterbalance.



Some research from a Princeton professor <Couzin>.


“The classic view is that uninformed or uncommitted individuals may allow extreme views to proliferate. We found that might not be the case.”


He and his co-authors found that even a small population of indifferent individuals act as a counterbalance to the minority — whose passion even can cause informed individuals in the majority to waver — and restore majority rule.

minority truth spoken



“We show that when the uninformed participate, the group can come to a majority decision even in the face of a powerful minority.

They prevent deadlock and fragmentation because the strength of an opinion no longer matters — it comes down to numbers.

You can imagine this being a good or bad thing.

Either way, a certain number of uninformed individuals keep that minority from dictating or complicating the behavior of the group.”



I like what I just shared because it gives me hope that even with a significant unengaged population … we can still maintain some sanity from that vocal minority.






I understand we need the minority.



We have been fortunate in that we have always had them.


The difficulty always is, has been, and will be … discerning the wackjob minority from the inspired minority.



We seek the happy few of insightful righteousness.



The ones who speak to our moral soul.



While these few have always been there they have often suffered at the hands of the powerful.


But they are never silenced and they never become extinct despite the best efforts of the powerful.



Because they are the voice of the public conscience.



Think … Thomas Paine, Henry Thoreau, Upton Sinclair, Emerson … I would add in Peter Drucker in the late 90’s <I struggle to name one in today’s world>.


They spoke truth and shared ideas and offered philosophical thoughts that anyone could grasp.



I imagine I could call the fearless Enlighteners.



They seek to enlighten within the credo of act fearless … the world is full of cowards eager to believe.”idea and fear



<I have no clue who said this but I loved it and wrote it down>



They stand up as heroes of truth and moral responsibility.



Please note they did not stand up for tactics or specific things to do or not do … but rather decision making thought guiders.
In others words … these fearless enlighteners prompted thinking … not prompted answers.



They did this … “if you are not willing to think about this on your own … let me tell you what you need to think about <please note: not “here is what you should think”>”.



I aspire to be a fearless enlightener.


I imagine I could aspire for worse things.


Enlightened Conflict