asch_conformity_experiment-bis.jpg In 1951, Solomon Asch conducted an experiment in which subjects were asked which line best matched the reference line in a series of diagrams. Among the participants in the experiment, only one was the test subject. When the non-test subjects gave the wrong answer, the test subject did likewise, in spite of the answer being obviously incorrect. Asch concluded that group or social pressure can distort your own judgment.

The results of this experiment have wide implications. One stark example is the democratic election process:

In many countries, the majority of the electorate is composed of the politically-illiterate and in many cases, they are also ignorant and uneducated. One case was when the French voted “No” in a referendum to ratify the EU Constitution. The majority of the voters in the “No” camp were farmers and the working classes. Those with higher education and those earning above-average incomes voted “Yes.”

Another case was when the Filipinos voted Joseph Estrada for President. An actor with a high school diploma, he had absolutely no qualification as leader of a nation. But the poor and uneducated, which comprise the majority of the Filipino electorate, propelled him into power only because of his popularity as an actor.

The precedent was perhaps set by the actor Ronald Reagan in the United States, the Philippines being a puppet of that first-world nation. Some people say that if simple-minded Americans were disqualified from voting (among other things that need to be de-merited like biased news-reports, propaganda and corporate lobbies), Bush and Cheney would have never been allowed to destroy the good standing of America in the world (although anti-Americanism had begun way before, the current Administration only made it worse).

The popularity of an incorrect answer does not necessarily represent the truth; nor must it allow the distortion of what you know to be right, because the majority is not always right. So while the rest of the population, the minority, stand seemingly helpless in the face of the incorrectness of a situation, will you shrug your shoulders and accept it?

Band-Aid Democracy

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Click on the diagram above to watch a short film of the Asch experiment. Also see: The Power of the Situation

Also see: The Engineering of Consent

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