“A consensus means that everyone agrees to say collectively what no one believes individually.” – Abba Eban
Everybody is doing it? Perhaps you’ve heard this statement before? Like a genetically ingrained trait such as eye color, every child knows that doing something in the name of the herd is justifiable. If you are scientifically inclined, perhaps it is an evolutionary defense to follow the herd, and thus increase your chances of survival against lurking predators? Or perhaps misery loves company and thus repercussions are best endured in the presence of community? Whatever the reason, consensus leads us to take action collectively that we would not alone.
On matters of debate, there is a logical fallacy of consensus that is utilized to lend credibility to one’s argument. Known as Argumentum Ad Populum, this logical fallacy asserts that an argument must be true because many people believe it. In modern dialogue, it is wielded indiscriminately and often. One example of this is the 2016 Intelligence Community Assessment that the Russians were aiding Donald Trump in pursuit of political office. The core authors of this piece that perpetrated the hoax didn’t stop with the consensus of its authors such as the CIA or FBI. They actively sought to bolster the credibility of the assessment by tacking on additional agencies to create a full consensus of all 17 intelligence-sharing agencies within the Federal Government. This became a talking point of every leftist and corporate media pundit for the better part of 3 years. Yet there were actually only 3 agencies involved in its creation and validation.
Another area in which we see this consensus fallacy is in the scientific arena. With a solution looking for a problem in hand, political activists dressed as scientists claimed that 97% of scientists subscribe to anthropogenic global warming by subjectively categorizing the nature of peer-reviewed and published works on climate science. Then, they counted the sum of their categorization, and boom! Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree! The problem with this of course is that scientists weren’t themselves asked to categorize their own belief systems, and the peer review process in and of itself only allows for consensus to pass through to publication. The publish-or-perish nature of academia creates an insidious reward system for passing consensus. Though this is only one example in the scientific arena, it is one of the more blatant examples in recent history.
The modern politician could not survive without the employment of the consensus fallacy. It is particularly effective in matters of public policy where building consensus is necessary for the adoption of policy prescriptions. The most common method of building public consensus is the public poll. Publish a poll showing that the majority of citizens agree with the dire nature of your campaign, and only an inhumane narcissist would dare bring opposition. This tactic is frequently utilized in sensitive matters of life and death. Take gun control for instance, what subject could create more panic and demand for action than the death of children on the receiving end of a gun barrel? Even the staunchest of firearms supporters and enthusiasts find this a reprehensible scenario. Where you’re likely to find disagreement is in the policy prescriptions to mitigate gun violence, but for those who publish these polls, the righteousness of the cause is tantamount to the righteousness of the solutions.
One way public polls are deployed in the pursuit of consensus is in promoting candidates. Whether a matter of approval ratings or voter intent, polls are often utilized to drive public sentiment and consensus. In October 2016 two weeks before the US Presidential election, Reuters published a poll suggesting that Hillary Clinton had a 95% chance of winning the election. Unless we believe that Donald Trump beat those odds, the most likely explanation is that the sentiment was driven by pollsters and not reflective of the general populace. The excuse provided for the wildly inaccurate results was polling for the popular vote, which just doesn’t pass the smell test. We’ve elected Presidents the same way for over 240 years.
In the 1950’s social psychologist Solomon Asch devised a series of social experiments to understand the influence that conformity has on a group. These Asch Conformity Experiments utilized a pre-selected control group of participants and an unsuspecting experimental participant. All participants are presented with images of shapes and colors and then prompted to verbally describe what they see in the presence of one another. All of the controls are given the same predetermined responses ahead of time, even if the response is incorrect. What Asch discovered was that greater than 30% of the time, the test participant would conform to the response of the control group. If this is true then utilizing the fallacy of consensus, social engineers can potentially manipulate the margins for a predetermined outcome. How might this affect an undecided voter who feels the sway of the herd?
To withdraw consent from a system, you must first recognize the tools deployed against you so that you can avoid falling into its traps. The fallacy of consensus is a particularly daunting trap to avoid. It seems ingrained from childhood, and we are a communal species. Yet, changing consensus often only requires the first small voice to affirm truth. When you are faced with renouncing objective reality in the service of conformity, listen to that first small voice.
“Consensus doesn’t happen by magic… You have to drive to it.” – Christine Quinn
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