BC#10 Private Truths, Public Lies - The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification

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henrik
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BC#10 Private Truths, Public Lies - The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification

Post by henrik » Sun Jan 25, 2015 4:28 am

I'm still not quite done with the book, but I'll start the thread anyway, because I don't want to keep Dragline and Jennypenny waiting. I hope you'll help me out with bringing up what you found interesting. I can also always add to the discussion or come up with additional questions later.

The book discusses falsifying one's beliefs and preferences in the public to achieve, influence or escape social consequences. The theoretical framework is one from an economist, but the examples and case studies are historical and political in nature. I find it's an interesting combination.

I will start with a general question for those I know who finished the book + anyone else who might want to join later.

#1 - The book was published at about the time I was learning the wonderful world of HTML, meaning the Internet, not to mention social media, was not a factor yet. Do you think Kuran's theory should be revisited in light of what's happened in the 20 years since? If it's still valid, do you think there is more of personal preference falsification going on now? Or is it different?

Dragline, in the book club thread you wrote:
"After reading that description, I'm wondering how this meshes with Rene Girard's "Mimetic Theory" (it's the natural state of humans to imitate other humans and desire what other humans have or desire), which I've just been reading about. It seems like a similar idea from a different oblique, Kuran's being an economics-based model and Girard's being an anthropology-based model."

#2 - Do you have any insight for us now that you're familiar with both approaches?

Please feel free to add any questions of your own, including and especially more specific ones. It'll be good to keep them in mind as I go on with the book myself.

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jennypenny
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Re: BC#10 Private Truths, Public Lies - The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification

Post by jennypenny » Sun Jan 25, 2015 4:29 pm

As I was collecting my thoughts and typing up my reply, I realized I'm a little hazy on his definition of expectations. I understand the concept, but I'm not clear on how they affect the rate of change (like he explains at the beginning of ch. 6). Help?

I'm going to add a question based on the age of the book also. The internet isn't the only new and complicating factor; enter Millennials. Their decision making process has been shown to be different from other generations. Rushkoff talked about how Millennials respond to arguments based on relevance as opposed to narrative, which works on Boomers and GenXers. That suggests that they might hold fewer expectations (as Kuran is using the term) because they place less importance on historical perspectives. It makes me wonder how Strauss and Howe's generational cycles factor into Preference Falsification.

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Re: BC#10 Private Truths, Public Lies - The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification

Post by Dragline » Sun Jan 25, 2015 6:50 pm

I have to say I was a little disappointed in this book. Granted, the author probably bit off more than he could chew and made a valiant effort, but it seemed like he was just trying to gussy up the utilitarian model of analyzing behavior, which has never really worked very well outside of theories with severely limited assumptions, such as general economic theory and its “homo economicus” rational and completely informed man model.

To me, the crux of this book is identified on page 289, where the author writes:

“One of the most enduring splits in scholarly thought concerns the orderliness of what we call the “social order.” On one side are traditions that treat social relationships as simple, continuous, harmonious, predictable, controllable and efficient [we’ll call this Utilitarian Scheme for this post]. On the other are traditions that recognize and seek to explain complexity, discontinuity, disharmony, unpredictability, uncontrollability, and inefficiency. The theory of general economic equilibrium, which draws inspiration from Newtonian physics, epitomizes the former class. Examples of the latter include evolutionary economics and the emerging discipline of complexity [we’ll call this Complexity Scheme] .”

Then he goes on: “The arguments developed in this book are in tune with the latter set of traditions. Unforeseen breaks in public opinion are consistent with the idea, common to many evolutionary theories, including some theories of biological evolution, that invisible phenomena may have enormous consequences. The book’s other evolutionary themes include the persistent inefficiencies caused by collective conservatism and the tensions fueled by incongruities between public and private opinion.”

Then he indicates that he would like to use his theories for “historical interpretation and social forecasting.”

Yet he actually is trying to mix and match the two types of analyses. All of his chapters that contain graphs and figures are firmly within the Utilitarian Scheme. What he has done after that is tried to graft one additional factor – what he calls “Preference Falsification” on to the Utilitarian Scheme to come up with something that might be more useful. Unfortunately, it really doesn’t get you very far – he is still essentially ignoring all other factors that would go into a Complexity Scheme. So while I don’t doubt that Preference Falsification is endemic in many, if not most societies and is useful looking in hindsight for historical interpretation, I don’t think it’s of much use in forecasting other than in vague generalities.

For example, would it have been possible to predict at the time of this book (mid 1990s) that gay marriage would be common and fairly well-accepted in most of the US 20 years hence? I don’t think anyone would have predicted that – they were working on the Defense of Marriage Act then. Yet in hindsight one could make an argument that Preference Falsification was at work there somewhere. You might also say the same thing about the partial legalization of marijuana, although I think some actually might have predicted that.

For a full-on Complexity Scheme view that is comprehensive, you would want to have a look at Ubiquity by Mark Buchanan, particularly as it discusses the outbreak of World War I: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BR9JeEHDg8M In complexity theory all that changes are probabilities and no particular results at particular times can be predicted with accuracy.

I suppose the other thing that I found less than persuasive was his seeming personal fixation with affirmative action in academia, which seemed out of place and trivial after discussions of Communism, the Hindu caste system and slavery, and seemed even more so when he started referencing personal acquaintances. That was when I started saying “Hmm, he’s got an axe to grind.”

I did enjoy his discussion of the role that Vaclav Havel and Charter 77 played in the downfall of Communism, as it’s something I had studied in the past and is one of the most heroic stories of our lifetimes. I’ve always thought that Havel’s essay, “The Power of the Powerless” and the idea of “living in truth”, really nailed the idea of Preference Falsification and how to fight the good fight against social tyranny. See http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ ... story.html In some ways, this book seems entirely derivative of what Havel observed and did.

On question #1, I think that “Preference Falsification” still exists and will always exist because humans are social animals and it’s a useful tool in many different kinds of societies/organizations and an important defense mechanism. I think the internet, at least where accessible, tends to lessen the need to engage in Preference Falsification, because one can easily “switch societies” by spending more time in different places. Those who are in dominant and/or some pre-internet societies seem to view this as a breakdown of the social order, but the minority thinkers are quite content if not gleeful. This board is an example of a place where people come to “live in truth” even while they still deal with a dominant society where they may engage in some forms of Preference Falsification to get along.

On question #2, I didn’t see anything comparable to an anthropological theory in this book, but the above discussion notes the Utilitarian/Complexity model distinctions.

On Jenny’s reference to generational theory, I think that that theory offers a better predictive model than this book; both can work together historically. Generational theory may help predict when there is a higher probability of a breakdown in “old orders” that rely on Preference Falsification. For example, I think we are at a juncture right now where “old orders” are falling due to generational shifts. Gay marriage and marijuana legalization are just two and there will be more in the next ten years. Then we may settle back down into some Millennial-dictated orthodoxy characterized by heightened Preference Falsification that will eventually break apart in the same manner as the staid 1950s led to the tumultuousness of the 1960s.

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jennypenny
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Re: BC#10 Private Truths, Public Lies - The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification

Post by jennypenny » Tue Jan 27, 2015 11:26 am

My notes are all over the place with this book, so I apologize in advance. I found some parts enlightening and others frustrating because I didn’t agree with Kuran’s assumptions (which happens a lot with social scientists :lol: ). Their theories seem useful in plausible, but limited circumstances. I tend to bristle when they try and apply over-arching theories to everything, and I found myself doing that occasionally with this book. I also don’t feel qualified to judge his work, either, so take my comments with a huge grain of salt. I haven’t read much on this subject, although I did read Ubiquity recently on Dragline’s recommendation. I’ve also read two of Girard’s works.

There was a lot in this book. Too much, really, and he seemed determined to find fault with certain ideas (like affirmative action, as Dragline pointed out). I was hoping for an examination of preference falsification on a smaller scale because, in general, I think that’s more useful. PF has more predictive ability in smaller settings with fewer moving parts. In each chapter, I would agree with Kuran up to a point, but then when he applied his idea to society as a whole, I found the argument lacking. I didn’t agree with the chapter on unthinkable and unthought. That seemed like a stretch. Another fault is assuming that social subjugation, evolution, and revolution all have the same root cause.

I liked his comments on bandwagoning, and thought of Girard’s scapegoating and how that might speed up bandwagoning by giving the public a focal point. I thought of Haidt’s ideas about what preferences (using that word as Kuran would) were important to people as I read the book. Combining the two concepts implies that people would falsify different preferences based on how important they judged the preference, which muddies up Kuran’s conclusions and how to judge what the prevailing private truth really is.

Trying to be seen as “normal” and be a part of the larger group is instinctual. There’s a reason why there are a hundred clichés like “safety in numbers” –- because it’s true. Agreeing with the majority is most people’s default position. If someone’s personal preference is vague or in an area that they don’t see as important, they would easily falsify their preference so as not to damage their reputation in their social group. People also employ PF to protect their social group. For example, I humbly admit to being hesitant to discuss the failings of the Catholic Church in a public forum, but I am eager to discuss them with other Catholics and have served on church groups promoting change within the church. Where does the idea of “keeping it in the family” fit in with Koran’s ideas?

On a larger scale, PF can be an efficient mechanism for shaping public discourse (which he discusses in chapter 10), which I thought was a great point. It's a powerful tool in the right hands. I also think it plays into henrik’s question about the internet. I agree with Dragline that it [the internet] affords outliers a way to find their social group while maintaining their preferred façade IRL. Beyond that, it allows for the dissemination of ideas that are currently unacceptable to discuss in public. Sadly, governing bodies have realized this and seem determined to take control of information on the net the same way they control it on the airwaves and in print.

Anyway, my comments are probably way off base. I found it funny that Kuran sees PF as a negative, whereas I see my inability to employ PF in many situations as a personal failing. I thought Kuran’s reliance on social proof and “hard and soft knowledge” was misguided, but maybe that’s just because I’m an outlier. Maybe those do hold true for most people but I can’t see it because of my personal bias (which I already admitted in the other thread is a weakness of mine).

Thanks, henrik. Not something I would have read if you hadn't picked it.

henrik
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Re: BC#10 Private Truths, Public Lies - The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification

Post by henrik » Thu Apr 07, 2016 1:07 pm

Why does rebellion flare up so suddenly? Under a dictator, people hide their true loyalties. The dictator is not the only one in the dark about what people really think. The people are in the dark, too.

According to the economist Timur Kuran, many people give loyalty to an oppressive ruler insincerely, believing everyone else must be a committed supporter. For these people, the first spark of rebellion opens their eyes. Suddenly they realise they are not alone. The realisation galvanises resistance. That’s why the history of communism was punctuated by mass uprisings, such as the 1972 demonstrations in Kaunas, that took the authorities by surprise.
https://theconversation.com/seven-sovie ... tate-55683

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jennypenny
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Re: BC#10 Private Truths, Public Lies - The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification

Post by jennypenny » Tue Aug 20, 2019 9:43 am

Kuran is on Eric Weinstein's podcast today to discuss preference falsification. stitcher link

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