My last piece we started to explore how individuals change. There are two important elements to almost any major change: time, and the opinions of those you respect. Now let’s look at how this manifests once a critical mass of people is reached.
There is an important element that keeps occurring once a critical mass of people start to believe something. Another group, sometimes larger, sometimes just louder, pops up which defines their own views in opposition to the first group’s. We see this play out all the time on social media, and even have a name for them. Trolls. Trolls seem to be defined by a few characteristics. They often have an oversimplified view of the world. They often don’t want to build things up, but prefer to tear things down instead. The only thing they love more than provoking a reaction is provoking an overreaction. Social media gives us some stark examples of the most disgusting versions of these people, but they’ve always existed in every place humans congregate. It isn’t hard to find examples. You probably know an employee where you work who just likes to shit on everything. Some film critics do a great job giving real analyses into films, and others just like to say how bad everything is.
An important note to make here is that I fit into this mold pretty well. I try to stifle my reflex to tear what everyone does down, with varying degrees of success, and I try to understand how a complicated world like our’s works, again with successes and failures under my belt. But even at my trolliest, I flatter myself that at minimum I try to give other people a different perspective they may not have considered. In other words, trolls aren’t always bad. Anywho.
Now, the point of view of trolls sometimes becomes the dominant one. Sometimes they completely supplant the orthodox views they rebel against. Galileo’s scientific views challenged the dominant ones that the church professed. He was punished, as trolls sometimes are. However, his views eventually completely replaced the prior religious ones. The reason for that is important. He had some guiding principals that grounded him, that happened to be really good at describing the world. Again, this is important to realize. If a troll’s views have a strong bedrock of philosophy under them then they can become orthodox, as long as they can be used to derive useful stories about our world. In Galileo’s case the ultimate guiding principal was verification through experiment. He looked through a telescope and saw things that the Church said couldn’t exist. With acts like these, humans began to avoid accepting things just because authority figures said them. We needed to see for ourselves. This turned out to be a really, really good way of looking at the world. To be clear, Galileo wasn’t the only one who believed this, but he is a useful and important example.
Now, if trolls views become dominant, they will stay that way unless something big happens to change them. In the case of American liberalism, we have some very good historical examples. During the Great Depression the federal government tried a very light touch in fixing the worst economic climate of all time. Not even mass unemployment and starvation could motivate us to really try and change things. What finally ended the Great Depression was the largest public works project of all time, World War 2. That stimulated the government to spend and build at unprecedented levels, and to support those many, many veterans to help build better lives for themselves and their families. That in turn led to an incredibly long and largely unbroken period of peace and prosperity. To a degree, it continues to this day. Because heavy federal governmental intervention turned out to be a pretty good way at promoting prosperity, we kept it. The trolls who wanted the government to do as much as possible changed things, because their story led to better results than the one it replaced.
This is the key thing to realize about society wide change. Slowly but surely a group will start to accept certain views. Trolls will try and smash those views and replace them with their own. Loud enough trolls can have views that last a long time, unless something enormous, such as the Great Depression, occurs which those stories cannot fix. The pendulum will swing from those who want to tear down new views, to those who want to build new things. But it requires a large catalyst for that change.
Catalysts like that are worth exploring. This piece is long enough, so next time we’ll go into those, and hopefully start to develop a clearer picture of where we’re headed next.