What if there was an opinion cascade about pet rocks?

Availability cascade” is an academic term that basically has to do with manufacturing public opinion approval for a policy of some sort.  Any kind of policy at all.  In fact, think about how you might make an implausible idea seem plausible in public discourse, an idea no one ever even considered before.  Next, think about how to create a public opinion “cascade” in favor of that strange idea.  Availability cascades involve injecting a new idea into public discourse, which makes the idea more “available” to people to consider.  If you saturate the media with praises for the idea, and add just the right celebrity endorsements, you may well get a bandwagon effect and even get a majority to go along with it.  It can involve a lot of hype, but with political correctness it can also involve push back against those who don’t go along with the hype.

Let’s take an apolitical example of how an availability cascade might work.  In the 1970s there was a silly fad called “pet rocks.”  The pitch was that you didn’t have to feed or care for your rock, so it was the perfect pet!  Below is a youtube video that revisits the sort of narrative that would have gone with the sale of pet rocks.

Obviously, the pet rock was just a marketing gimmick and a passing fad.  The whole thing was tongue-in-cheek.  But just imagine what might have happened if anyone who called the idea of pet rocks “silly” was labelled and publicly smeared in the media as a “bigot.”  Repeatedly.  Imagine if Hollywood made films seriously praising the merits and the heroics of pet rocks and cast skeptics as villians.  Next, imagine if you could be fired from your job or socially shunned if you didn’t start talking respectfully about pet rocks and honoring them. My guess is that a lot of folks would start taking pet rocks very seriously, even if they privately found the whole thing ludicrous.  They would refrain from passing judgment.  They’d shut up about the silliness.  Or, to gain public approval, they might express great admiration, just as the crowds admired the Emperor’s non-existent New Clothes. And with a surging opinion cascade and great public acclaim for pet rocks, everyone would “ooohh and aahhh” before them, enthusiastically praising them, and giving them a special protected place in public policy.

Sure this idea seems far-fetched.  But we should consider how easy it is to get people to climb on board such a bandwagon.  Because with certain propaganda tools and insights into human behavior, it’s far too easy to do that.  Especially given a citizenry unaware of how propaganda affects them as individuals, which makes them even more vulnerable to psychological manipulation.  There are many social psychologists (virtually all on the political Left)  who study and measure the process of opinion cascades and how propaganda tactics can be used to tease out improbable trends.  (One such trend currently is the saturation of the media with agitation and propaganda to get the population on board with the transgender project.)

So an “availability cascade” is a bandwagon effect in public opinion that can be teased out through just the right propaganda and agitation techniques. More next time. . .

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