The Ten-Percent Solution

At the close of yesterday’s post, we talked a little about how we’re starting to see signs of opposition to the insane quantity of federal crimes.  More and more people are starting to see how bad it really is, we noted — perhaps enough some day soon to reach a tipping point that results in actual change.

It would have to be a big freaking tipping point, though, wouldn’t it?  Current attitudes are rapidly swelling the numbers of crimes, and the tide is only rising.  Idealists push for criminalization of unsavory attitudes (see hate crimes). Crusaders criminalize failure to keep up with the crusade du jour (EPA, anyone?).  Pencil-pushers criminalize failure to comply with arbitrary procedures (see any random page of the C.F.R.).  The public cries out for crimes named after children, to punish everyone for an outlier result.  And politicians ratchet up the penalties so they don’t look “soft on crime.”  Overcoming such a mass of societal attitudes is a daunting prospect.

As it happens, though, societal change may not be as impossible as all that.  Science Daily now reports on a study showing that, when just 10% of a population holds a firm belief, that belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society.

When the number of committed opinion holders is below ten percent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas.  It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority.


Once that number grows above ten percent, the idea spreads like a flame.

The study, “Social Consensus through the Influence of Committed Minorities,” also found that this 10% threshold does not change much, no matter what kind of societal network is being affected.  If you want to get the majority on your side, all you need is a 10% minority of *stubborn committed believers.

As agents of change start to convince more and more people, the situation begins to change.  People begin to question their own views at first, and then completely adopt the new view to spread it even further.

We’ve seen plenty of examples of this in real life lately, from the gay-marriage movement here, to the Arab Spring that went from decades of tolerating dictatorial rule to democratic movements that are still going on.  These are dramatic shifts in public opinion that only a few years ago would have been considered unrealistic.

Well, there is certainly a growing feeling of overcriminalization here, one that is shared across political ideologies.  Leftie lawyer associations, right-wing political groups, and libertarian think tanks are all making the same cries of too much, enough.  There are even a few well-respected bloggers making the point.

So to those speaking out, keep it up.  And for those who haven’t yet, add your voice.  Yours might be that one voice that tips the scales.


Appeal to Authority:

“We’ve GOT to make noise in greater amounts!

So open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!”

Thus he spoke as he climbed.  When they got to the top,

The lad cleared his throat and he shouted out, “YOPP!”

And that Yopp…

That one small, extra Yopp put it over!

Finally, at last! From that speck on that clover

Their voices were heard! They rang out clear and clean

And the elephant smiled. “Do you see what I mean?”

Horton Hears a Who


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