So, by one of those happy accidents of trawling through old type-ups and connecting it to recently-experienced events, I ended up wikipediaing this –
In articulating preferences, individuals frequently tailor their choices to what appears socially acceptable. In other words, they convey preferences that differ from what they genuinely want. Kuran calls the resulting misrepresentation “preference falsification.” In his 1995 book, Private Truths, Public Lies, he argues that the phenomenon is ubiquitous and that it has huge social and political consequences. These consequences all hinge on interdependencies between individual decisions as to what preference to convey publicly. A person who hides his discontent about a fashion, policy, or political regime makes it harder for others to express discontent.
One socially significant consequence of preference falsification is thus widespread public support for social options that would be rejected decisively in a vote taken by secret ballot. Privately unpopular policies may be retained indefinitely as people reproduce conformist social pressures through individual acts of preference falsification.
In falsifying preferences, people hide the knowledge on which it rests. In the process, they distort, corrupt, and impoverish the knowledge in the public domain. They make it harder for others to become informed about the drawbacks of existing arrangements and the merits of their alternatives. Another consequence of preference falsification is thus widespread ignorance about the advantages of change. Over long periods, preference falsification can dampen a community’s capacity to want change by bringing about intellectual narrowness and ossification.
The first of these consequences is driven by people’s need for social approval, the second by their reliance on each other for information.
Kuran has applied these observations to a range of contexts. He has used the theory developed in Private Truths, Public Lies to explain why major political revolutions catch us by surprise, how ethnic tensions can feed on themselves, why India’s caste system has been a powerful social force for millennia, and why minor risks sometimes generate mass hysteria.
And it reminds me of – “evaporative cooling” – what happens when those who are willing to walk away from Omelas do – it means you are left with a whole bunch of people who don’t have the guts to do so, and others who might, but lack the example of slightly gustier people to do so. Something explored here, recently.
And so if you’re a guru who wants to maintain your social status, the very last thing you are going to do is allow people to compare notes in your absence, without you there to have a chilling effect. If anyone complains, you just personalise it, shrug your shoulders and say “see folks, you can’t please everyone all the time.” Which is beyond lame, and is just heart-breaking, given the reputation of said guru. Just sayin’.