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Psychologist Debunks 8 Myths of Mass Scale


Dr. Todd Rose




Collective illusions — false assumptions about society that many people share — have existed for thousands of years in many different ways. Today, because of social media and modern technology, they have become even more common.


In a perfect world, our public selves, the way I behave, the way I speak, the things I do are the same as our private selves. At its best public opinion holds a mirror to us, and it reflects exactly who we are. What collective illusions due to that relationship is turning into a funhouse of mirrors, which is fatal to free society. Collective illusions are situations where most people in a group go along with a view they don't agree with, because they incorrectly believe that most people agree with it. It's not just that we're misreading a few people it is that the majority thinks the majority believes something that they don't. We are all part of creating and sustaining the illusion. We've known about collective illusions for over 100 years. But here's the thing, our cultural and technological conditions have changed to make creating and sustaining collective illusions so easy that they've just proliferated at a scale we've never seen before in history, we have found them almost everywhere we look from the kind of lives we want to live to the country, we want to live in the way we want to treat each other, and even what we expect out of our institutions. And our job is to dismantle them, so that when we see ourselves in public opinion, we are seeing ourselves for who we really are. If you create the enabling conditions that allow everyday people to reveal who they really are to each other, social change can happen at a scale and pace that would otherwise seem unimaginable. And here's how we do that.

Given the profound lack of trust in society today, we We often look for the cause of that in each other. I don't believe that's true. Frederick Taylor is probably the most important person that most people have never heard of. Over 100 years ago, he wrote a book called Scientific

Management, which they were about his ideas about how you create a productive economy. And he felt like the biggest problem in society was that we weren't very efficient. And so scientific management literally said, Wait, the first thing you got to stop doing is trusting people. He went about implementing a systems first approach to a top down society governed by managers. In fact, he invented the term manager. And he made us Hall cogs where this system matters most. Because of the way our institutions treat us, by removing choice from us, and fundamentally treating us as untrustworthy, we have come to see each other through that lens. But here's the thing. When you actually study honesty, and trustworthiness, what you find over and over again, is that the vast majority of people are in fact trustworthy. One of my favorite studies, it's a pretty famous German study, here's what they did, they just randomly called people and said that there was a contest going on. And all they needed to do was flip a coin themselves. And if it landed on tails, they got a gift certificate. If it landed on heads, they got nothing. Now what's important is, nobody knows how the coin lands, except for the person on the phone. So you would have expected everybody says tails takes the gift certificate. And the accurate results are like, well, it's 100% Tails, who would have thought, right? It's not what happened. It was almost 5050, heads or tails. And in fact, it was slightly more in favor of heads, which tells me most people, if not all, people, are telling the truth about how the coin landed, when no one else could possibly have known. So it matters to us, not just that we are trustworthy, but that we are viewed that way. And yet we live in a society where our institutions continue to remind us that this is not true, that we are in some way, untrustworthy. We can only interact with each other in one of two ways. We can trust people to make choices for themselves, or we can control those choices for them. It is a fundamental tenet of democracy, that institutions serve people. But ever since Frederick Taylor, we have flipped that relationship. As a free people in a free society. It is unacceptable that our public institutions treat the people as distrustful because now we know that whatever efficiency you get from that top down control model, the consequences in terms of human dignity and social trust, are so damaging that that trade off is not worth it. What we need is to trust communities to make decisions for themselves, trust families to make decisions for themselves, trust people to if you want a trusting society, work to dislodge this top down view of our institutions and give more power to people insists that our institutions treat the public with trust.

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