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August 30, 2010

Bumped: The Abilene Paradox [rdbrewer]

Pet theories department.

An "Abilene paradox" occurs when a group of people decide on a course of action that is contrary to the preferences of any individual in the group. Each member mistakenly believes that his or her beliefs are counter to those of the group, so no one objects. The concept was created by Jerry B. Harvey, a business management expert, to explain the damage caused by a particular type of groupthink involving assumed agreement. The video below, a promo, is a nicely produced, humorous enactment of the Abilene paradox.

The family finds out no one really wanted to go to Abilene. While Harvey used the Abilene paradox within the context of business decision making, I think it can be applied on larger scales to any group--like, say, the Obama administration, Media, ReidPelosiCongress, and the Democrats generally.

Ace has mentioned "preference cascade" on a few occasions. Here, he calls it a pet obsession, introduced to him by Instapundit. From that article:

This illustrates, in a mild way, the reason why totalitarian regimes collapse so suddenly. . . . Such regimes have little legitimacy, but they spend a lot of effort making sure that citizens don't realize the extent to which their fellow-citizens dislike the regime. If the secret police and the censors are doing their job, 99% of the populace can hate the regime and be ready to revolt against it - but no revolt will occur because no one realizes that everyone else feels the same way.

This works until something breaks the spell, and the discontented realize that their feelings are widely shared, at which point the collapse of the regime may seem very sudden to outside observers - or even to the citizens themselves. Claims after the fact that many people who seemed like loyal apparatchiks really loathed the regime are often self-serving, of course. But they're also often true: Even if one loathes the regime, few people have the force of will to stage one-man revolutions, and when preferences are sufficiently falsified, each dissident may feel that he or she is the only one, or at least part of a minority too small to make any difference.

"Until something breaks the spell." The spell, I would assert, is the Abilene paradox. In fact, the two appear to be parts of the same creature at different points in its evolution. A preference cascade occurs when an Abilene paradox breaks down. And, while every preference cascade would necessarily involve an Abilene paradox, the Abilene paradox can exist alone and undiscovered.

I think the Democrat Abilene paradox is just beginning to break down, with people like Mort Zuckerman beginning to speak out. (Note that Republican--out group--opposition did nothing to sway these people.) Democrats are starting to realize most individuals did not want to go this far--to Abilene, as it were--with change. I wonder if any of them will be relieved the ride is over.


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posted by Open Blogger at 12:39 PM

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