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I’m reading Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini.  It’s a great book that talks about influence, how it is used and abused.  Here’s a portion of what I read yesterday:

So massive was the commitment to their beliefs that no other truth was tolerable.

(pg. 128)

This was in relation to a cult and how their prediction of the end of the world was wrong.  They didn’t lose members – in fact they gained some and the people who were in it devoted themselves even more. This in spite of fact that all the evidence pointed to the cult being completely wrong.

Why?  Because they had sold everything and had nothing left.  All they had was their belief system, so something had to give.  Reality is what gave for them.  Here’s a quote from one of the members:

I can’t afford to doubt. I have to believe.  And there isn’t any other truth.

(Pg. 128)

Here’s another passage from the book that really struck me:

Since the only acceptable form of truth had been undercut by physical proof, there was but one way out of the corner for the group. They had to establish another type of proof for the validity of their beliefs: social proof.

This, then, explains their sudden shift from secretive conspirators to zealous missionaries.  And it explains the curious timing of the shift – precisely when a direct disconfirmation of their beliefs had rendered them least convincing to outsiders.  It was necessary risk the scorn and derision of the nonbelievers because publicity and recruitment efforts provided the only remaining hope.  If they could spread the Word, if they could inform the uninformed, if they could persuade the skeptics, and if, by doing so, they could win new converts, their threatened but treasured beliefs would become truer.  The principle of social proof says so: The greater the number of people who find any idea correct, the more the idea will be correct.  The group’s assignment was clear; since the physical evidence could not be changed. the social evidence had to be.  Convince and ye shall be convinced!

(Pg. 128)

While Cialdini wrote this about a religious cult, it seems that the basic ideas behind it extend beyond cults to more mainstream things.  Politics throughout the world would be a case in point.