17
Feb
09

The 99 Percent Trap

2400895854_15d0bc0a61_mOver at Boing Boing, Mark Frauenfelder re-posted a book review by Kevin Kelly on The Deniers, a book that reviews the arguments of scientists who question global warming. This post comes a few weeks after a series of guest posts by Charles Platt that questioned the validity of global warming. As the days go by, the comments started to include attacks on the person versus the idea.

Global warming is a perfect example of the 99% Trap. I define the 99% Trap as our tendency too slip into attacking the person versus questioning the idea when we perceive ourselves to be right. In pursuit of that final 1%, it’s easy to grow frustrated. After all, how can someone question what 99% believes to be true?

Doing so might unintentionally limit our options. Consider the history of 1%ers (for the record, I have nothing against the Catholic church):

  • Galileo championed heliocentrism and ended up under house arrest during the Roman Inquisition because the Catholic church believed it contradicted the literal meaning of the scriptures and couldn’t be proven empirically.
  • Martin Luther stood up to the Catholic church and challenged it as the sole religious authority.
  • Abolitionists challenged a practice accepted by large portions of the world’s population, raising awareness and turning it into a actionable issue.
  • Suffragists fought for, and in many cases won, the right to vote regardless  of gender or race.

Each of the individuals or groups started out as the 1%, as the minority. Luckily for us, we now know our world circles the sun, more than one theology has a place in society, few place exist where slavery remains legal, and a significant portion of the world’s population has the right to vote.

Here’s where the danger lies. What happens if the 1% is in the wrong, sometimes dangerously so, but isn’t challenged? That’s what often drives the 99%. What do we risk if the 1% becomes 2%, 10%, or 25%?

Whether it’s frustration, fear, or something else, we sometimes give in to the temptation to stop questioning the ideas and go after the person. When we do so, our arguments immediately become suspect, at least to the people we’re trying to convince. We also risk losing the people leaning in the direction of the majority but who remain skeptical of certain points.

The 99% Trap can happen in almost any situation, whether it’s the boardroom or the bedroom, you have to choose to not slip up and turn the situation personal. The reality is that 100% consensus isn’t likely. If you’re responding to the arguments and not to the individual you won’t risk your position and may actually pull a few from the 1% in the process.

Image via Flickr, unloveablesteve.

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1 Response to “The 99 Percent Trap”


  1. 1 Jasen
    February 20, 2009 at 11:46 am

    Majority mode is easy mode. Generationally it seems we are breeding easy moders and then turning them into puppets. Take what I call “the path” for example. In North American culture lower-upper middle class children are taught to go to public school, go to college then find a job. The education socializes them to become the next working class, they are taught a filtered version of history coupled with every single skill necessary to do the busy work of those who are at the top. They are taught that it is easier to follow the majority and never challenge or try as failure or mistake is an unsurvivable condition. My children are taught it is better to try and fail than to never have tried, while it may be cliche or a little too “Meet the Robinsons” you cannot ignore the law of the harvest, “you reap what you sow”. Those who truly suceed are able to engauge at an individual level with emotional interest without personal exposure. I submit that this key skill is nearly impossible for people to obtain thus they result to personal and individual attacks and severly limit their ability to question the 1%.


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