Saturday, December 17, 2011

One Person Can Make a Difference

Unfortunately.  The web and networks now alone smaller and smaller groups to have louder and louder voices, as witnessed by the TLC Muslims in America fiasco.  Yes, we had hoped that the amplification of individual political power via the internet would be a good thing, but that is because we imagined the folks using the new technology to be ones with whom we agreed.  Instead, we find that voices of intolerance can reverberate far beyond the lunatics that make the initial utterance.  We found this to be the case when Terry Jones burned a Koran in Florida, causing violence to break out in Afghanistan.

This is a problem for political science because we focus less on individuals and more on groups, structures, and institutions, and folks like the median voter.  Nuts, by definition, live way beyond the 95% confidence interval and dwell within the error term.  What does that mean? Our models tend to focus on typical, average folks, not those that are outliers.  How do we think systematically about those who are pretty random in their thinking and behavior?  I suppose that is what chaos theory is for, but most social science is not all that compatible, I think, with that approach.

The other challenge is for society (especially the media) to learn is that just because something reverberates does not mean we need to pay heaps of attention and overreact.  We now live in an era where a single person can make a @#$@#$-load of noise.  That does not mean we need to twitch and dance every time it happens.  It means we need to learn to think first before we over-react, whether that is Lowe's, the media or anyone else.

The good news is that the same technologies that allow one person to be loud also facilitates the organization of a counter-response by the forces of reason.  The backlash against Lowe's and against this random voice of intolerance is pretty heartening.  So, we, as usual, must take the good with the bad.

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