The Art of Contrary Thinking – Humphrey B. Neill

LAW OF UNIVERSAL INEQUALITY

When the social falsifiers, with their pernicious propaganda, try to make us believe that there should be full equality among everybody, let us contrary realists take heed of Pareto’s Law of Universal In­equality.

    Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) was a bril­liant engineer, born in Paris of Italian par­entage. His discovery of the “distribution of incomes” became known as Pareto’s Law while the graphic representation of his law is known as the Pareto Curve.

According to Carl Snyder, Pareto’s Law states, in simplest terms, “that the larger incomes are received by comparatively few people, the num­ber with large incomes are more numerous, and as the incomes decrease the number receiving these lower incomes steadily increases in a very smooth curve.

If we represent graphically by logarithms the various levels of income and the number of persons in receipt of each level of income, the ‘curve’ so drawn will be a straight line (with minor discrep­ancies at the extremes of the curve).”

Of what good is Pareto’s Law? you may be asking yourself. Everyone knows there are millions more poor people than rich ones.

The basic concept that is so important in this law is that those nations which have developed the largest wealthy classes also have the highest standard of living among all the population. A moment’s re­flection on the comparison between, say, China and the United States will emphasize this.

Moreover, any long-run lowering of the incomes of the top groups will decrease the incomes of those all the way down to the bottom. Perhaps it would be clearer to say that any shrinkage in the large-income groups would cause a lowering of the standard of living of the groups below. (Short-run income de­creases, due to temporary heavy taxation, are not considered.)

So, when the social experimenters talk to you about equalizing incomes you can turn to Pareto’s Law and demonstrate that if incomes are equalized they will be equalized at low levels-and, further, that as time passes the standard of living will sink to the levels of those nations which have relatively few rich.

    General welfare is derived from more crumbs falling off the increasing numbers of wealthy tables; not by taking away the tables and making everybody eat at a trough.

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MASS PSYCHOLOGY AND THE CAMPAIGNS

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    Students of crowd psychology know that the average voter pays scant attention to the fundamental facts concerning either the candidate or the platform. He accepts “what he feels.” The forces of suggestibility and contagion form the image in his mind.
    Mystery is an all-powerful tool. “Tell ’em nothing and promise ’em anything,” counsels the politician; “and, above all, never reason with voters: affirm but never explain; repeat what you’ll do for ’em, but” never argue.

The principles of winning the crowd gave General Eisenhower the breaks early in 1952. Far off in Paris, it was a simple matter to build him up as a great idol. Being aloof from the rough and tough campaigning he retained glamour and fascination. His supporters here at home worked on the emotions of the people by constantly strumming their theme of “leadership,” “popularity,” and “only Ike can win,” Avoiding arguments, they played on the heart strings, forcing the late Senator Taft into the tough spot of winning the minds.

The silly slogan, “I Like Ike,” shows how the propa­ganda was brought down to the level of a school child. “I like Ike and that’s enough; what more do you want?” It was brutally simple, difficult to defeat, and highly contagious.

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THEORY OF CONTRARY OPINION HINGES ON LAWS OF IMITATION AND CONTAGION

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Professor Giddings’ introduction to Tarde tells us that Tarde’s philosophical theories and creativeness came not only from keen observation but from “much solitude and patient reflection.” Most of us can’t stand being alone more than half an hour, and our idea of reflection is merely to reflect and repeat what someone has told us! (We’re imitators, that is.)

Described as a born student of human nature, Tarde was persistently interested in “the oldest of philo­sophical problems-the explanation of motive.” He perceived not only that motive may be resolved into terms of belief and desire, but also that it can be measured.

    Imitation is, indeed, a powerful motive (as Tarde demonstrates). Closely allied with it is “contagion,” so comprehensively discussed by Gustave Le Bon in his several books.
    The Theory of Contrary Opinion hinges on these “laws” of imitation and contagion. It is therefore suggested that we keep these two “social ideas” constantly in mind, and occasionally to reflect on their potency as motivators of crowd behavior.

Tarde contends that there is no logical “separation” between the voluntary and involuntary, between the conscious and unconscious, imitation of ideas or acts. If one unconsciously and involuntarily reflects the opinions of others, or allows an action of others to be suggested to him, he imitates the idea or act-just the same as if he deliberately or knowingly borrowed the ideas or copied the acts.

Tarde also reminds us that “there are two ways of imitating, as a matter of fact; namely, to act exactly like one’s model, or to do exactly the con­trary. . . . Nothing can be affirmed without suggest­ing, no matter how simple the social environment, not only the idea that is affirmed, but the negative of this idea as well.” How quickly come to mind the numerous social controversies of the present and the past twenty years, in this two-way respect. So we have to consider both imitating and counterimitating when considering our significant social and economic questions.

    However, it is important to bring out that counterimitating arises from direct imitating in that “leadership” is present in the contrary action. As an example, a labor group may take an exactly contrary course to a trend in industry although the trend is being imitated by business generally. Yet, the “counterimitation” within labor circles is initiated by the leaders.

“Every positive affirmation,” says Tarde, “at the same time that it attracts to itself mediocre and sheeplike minds, arouses somewhere or other in a brain that is naturally rebellious-a negation that is diametrically opposite. . . .”
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“NEUTRALISM” – IN ECONOMIC WRITING

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It is a simple matter to be dogmatic and definite when one is writing on a given economic subject or trend. A commentator can pick up a collection of comments from economists and analysts, jot down the composite conclusions expressed, and then write out a blunt “opinion.”

    However, there is a serious drawback to being dogmatic in economic comments. Rather, there are two drawbacks to be considered:
    a) More often than not, a given economic trend may be unpredictable at the time of writing about it. Therefore, a definite or dogmatic statement is merely a guess ex­pressed as if it were knowledge.
    b) Moreover, when definite statements become generalized they are likely to “de­feat themselves.”

It is common to bemoan the confused state of affairs, when we’re trying to arrive at decisions. Quite often, however, we use the confusion as an excuse for not thinking.

I, contrarily, believe there is value in bewilder­ment.

Consider the opposite of uncertainty and confu­sion; namely, dogmatism. I dare to say that more important errors in decisions arise from dogmatic opinions than from what I shall call “confused con­siderations.”

If, when you’re confused and uncertain, you put the matter in the back of your mind and let it sort of kaleidoscope around until the various pieces of the problem take on definite shape and meaning, you will find the uncertainty fading away.

The result is that, from initial bewilderment over a given problem, you come up with a thoroughly thought-out solution.

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