14 June 2007

The articles are captured from the original writer, MsMarina (with her permission). SambalBelacan is just compiling articles to make easier to find. Any comments received will remain un-respond because it's not mine.Reach her at her very own blog at
http://rantingsbymm.blogspot.com Please.
Friday June 8, 2007

Shouting down the majority voice


Many sensible people keep quiet on issues because they think they’re the only ones who think that way.

IN AN article, physicist Mark Buchanan recently talked about a common phenomenon where people fall in with the majority view, even when they disagree, because they assume – mistakenly, in many cases – that they are in the minority.

Psychologists in the 1930s termed this phenomenon “pluralistic ignorance,” and in 1976 researchers described it as when “moral principles with relatively little popular support may exert considerable influence because they are mistakenly thought to represent the views of the majority, while normative imperatives actually favoured by the majority may carry less weight because they are erroneously attributed to a minority.”

What this really describes is that entity called the Silent Majority, the many sensible people who keep quiet on issues because they think that they’re the only people who think that way.

To say something may invite contempt or worse, violence. And they are right. But just because the reaction they may get is nasty doesn’t mean that reaction reflects the majority opinion.

When we live in a society that is closed to open debate and discussion, the problem of the silent majority becomes more acute. As Buchanan says, the process of pluralistic ignorance disturbingly lends itself to the “noisiest and most visible.”

For instance, psychologists have noted that students on American campuses who are the heaviest drinkers tend to speak out most strongly against measures to curb drinking, acting as “subculture guardians” in support of their minority views.

This produces what is known as “false consensus,” as others, who think they are in the minority, keep quiet. The result, says Buchanan, is that “the extremists gain influence out of all proportion to their numbers, while the views of the silent majority end up being suppressed.”

We see this happening in many places. For instance, when people who are not part of the establishment say something silly, everyone else happily jumps on them because it is seen as the okay thing to do. But when establishment people say something equally silly, people hesitate.

If no criticism is forthcoming, then people keep quiet, afraid that if they say something, they themselves may attract unwanted attention and negative feedback.

This is particularly true in male-dominated societies on issues that concern women. We’ve seen several cases of despicable and insulting behaviour by men in public positions, yet very little reaction from female public figures on the same political side.

Privately, they are probably just as angry as the ordinary woman, but they fear that speaking out on principle may not be politically expedient and may cost them their careers.

I was once at a women’s forum overseas where I asked why it is that when women come into power, they very rarely do much to benefit their own sex. A woman from Chile gave some insight into the phenomenon.

One reason is that many women leaders, especially in the developing world, come into power with very shaky legitimacy.

They may have been voted in because of their family connections, having been the widow or daughter of a man who had been in power previously. Often they owe their position to men, and therefore are always beholden. Once in power, they try not to upset any of these men.

Even those who come in on their own steam tend to tread carefully because often, as women, they are in the minority. Thus we hear statements like “I can’t be seen to be only favouring women,” as if women themselves are a voting minority.

The solution may be to follow the example of Michelle Bachelet, Chile’s first woman president, who was elected last year. One of her first moves was to appoint nine capable women to her Cabinet of 24.

Besides sending a strong message to the country about the capability of women, appointing so many women also gives her strength in her Cabinet to push for women’s issues.

Indeed, since she has been in office, she has legislated for the right to breastfeed in the workplace, offered greater protection against domestic violence, and cracked down on alimony dodgers.

On International Women’s Day this year, she promised no return “to the days when the top jobs were filled with dark suits and neckties.”

Given that we have so few women in Parliament and even less in the Cabinet, it is not surprising that when women are insulted, we cannot really rely on them to stand up for us. The solution therefore is to up the numbers of smart no-nonsense women winning seats in the next elections. Only then will women’s rights be upheld.