Greg Jones

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What is the tipping point, the critical mass, required in order for the public to act en masse?

The question is self explanatory, what is the tipping point, the critical mass, required in order for the public to act en masse to air their grievances, and how can we quantify, gauge it and predict it?.

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    Dec 21 2013: I think the public dynamic is not mass critical rather it is phase critical. For the public to act enmasse, the public system need to attain a critical phase characterized by:
    a) perpetuation of common misery
    b) key persons, groups or ideologues proposing change
    c) the hope of success by action.

    I derive these observations not from successful revolutions but from administrative strategies to foil them. Take any one out of the equation and you have a failed enmasse action.
  • Dec 12 2013: I could probably say how to gauge it, quantify it, and possibly even predict it, but I wont.

    Because as soon as it's known, Governments all over the world will have yet another tool to oppress people.
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    Dec 26 2013: Given chaos theory, the tipping point is likely to be some "random event" that triggers the public imagination and courage to act. However, certain other aspects need to be in place first, such as a focal point/person around which to act, accumulated communication links, and a build-up of dis-satisfaction (maybe over many, many years).
  • Dec 21 2013: Just keep speaking out. Be the change you want the world to be - Ghandi.For me it's quitting money working on it at least.
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    Dec 12 2013: In the US, though it is not always obvious to the casual observer, we act en masse at least every two years. It isn't perfect (just look at the news), but every citizen has the right to be heard and counted at every election. Change will surely follow if we are generally dissatisfied with a person or action. Watch what happens in 2014 for proof. Whether it is truly the will of the people or controlled chaos will be judged by history.

    History shows us that action en masse nearly always yields worse conditions than those that triggered the action. France rose up against Louis and ended up after the Reign of Terror with Napoleon, the senators who killed Caesar to restore the republic ended up with the first Roman Emperor in Augustus, the Russians rebelled against Nicholas and got Stalin, the Chinese rebelled against Puyi and got Mao and so on through history.
  • Dec 12 2013: Very interesting question. Taking a cue from Malcolm Gladwell's latest book David and Goalith, the public cause starts of like the shepherd David with his sling of stones pitted against the formidable Goalith ( the establishment) with his shields,spears and armory. The tipping point happens when the majority in the public is personally affected by the issue and finds the burden unbearable. Such tipping points are major downturn in economy, loss of jobs and income, a major natural disaster (often man-made), political upheaval, change of leadership and imposition of laws which disrupt the acceptable social culture ( abolition of gay rights for instance) .The critical mass to cause widespread spontaneous combustion can be gauged by the conversations and restlessness in the student community, the white collar workers and minorities and to some extent social media. But such tipping points will vary from country /region/community as they are dependent on socio-cultural factors.
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    Dec 11 2013: I suggest Malcolm Gladwell's book, "The Tipping Point" on this topic.

    Basically, there is no number that defines the tipping point. Sometimes it can be just a very specific event, at the right time and place that pushes the scale to one side or another.

    Gladwell for example explains the tipping point on the example of Hush Puppies ( the shoes). In 1995 or so, hush puppies shoes were out of fashion, however some people in New York's SOHO decided to be different and wore hush puppies as a statement. Fashion designers soon picked up on that and included the shoes in their latest collections. This was the tipping point and hush puppies shoes sales increased 4x from 1995 to 1996.
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      Dec 11 2013: Thanks for the suggestion about the book, but I prefer not to be just a vessel for secondhand information.Which Is why I like ted and it's potential for innovation.
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        Dec 12 2013: Short of doing research on your own, information will always be secondhand ;-)
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      Dec 12 2013: Harald, you are alternately writing "tipping point" and "dipping point." Do you mean to be doing this?
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        Dec 12 2013: Sorry,that wasn't intentional....... typing too fast I guess ;-)....error corrected.
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          Dec 12 2013: I know Gladwell wrote "The Tipping Point" and Seth Godin "The Dip."

          I appreciated your sharing the example from Gladwell's book. That example also reminded me of Derek Sivers' TED talk about the importance of "first followers." Here is the link to a very interesting talk about getting the ball rolling, as it were:
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        Dec 12 2013: Ah, yes, Seth Godin, another source of great thinking. I read a lot of his books. As far as I remember he gave a TED talk a few years ago.
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    Jan 10 2014: When the group sense of outrage over comes the individual's sense of responsibility. Mob stupidity will overwhelm individual common sense every time. It depends not on the moral value of the grievance.
    Now, if you raise this to a level of a national response to a situation... It used to be a physical attack by another nation to elicit a counter response. Now, even that level of arousal is diminished. Much of this is due to the attempt by a few to arouse people. It is an old story, think about the boy who cried wolf. Mankind has become the villagers.
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    Jan 10 2014: I think it has to do with perception of agency.
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    Jan 9 2014: I believe the world's leaders need to seek out and inspire people to become leaders themselves. People want, and are ready for change. However, they desperately need a giant boost of confidence in order to make them feel as though they have it within themselves to make a difference. Furthermore, most people have no idea where or how to begin. They also do not feel they have the time or money for it. Therefore, our leaders need be guiding them on a personal level. In addition, most of the middle and lower class people don't know that there are resources out there. We really need to be putting a lot more effort into bringing the information to them--help them help themselves, so that they may return the favor.
  • Jan 7 2014: Well, you would think that some tragic or terrible event would be it. It is hard to imagine what that event would have to be., After all, given the events at Sandy Hook, and other gun tragedies, we have not yet reached the point at which we, as a nation, really want to stop such tragedies.

    So, I guess it will take something even more horrible than a bunch of innocent children getting shot for us to act en masse. The thought of some greater tragedy scares the crap out of me!
  • Jan 3 2014: This is an interesting question. I think that in the same sense that it takes something profoundly tragic or meaningful to happen to someone for them to change, the same type of occurrence must happen to a people. Usually they are called, yes, life-changing occurrences. This event must affect everyone, and impel them to take action.

    A lot of times people also need leaders to propel action, but these circumstances are often random, or perhaps pent up over time. People as a whole have a higher breaking point than an individual person, but they often react the same. And perhaps culture, religion, race and gender have a lot to do with how a mass of people react to an injustice. Though I imagine that once they feel like a collective, they feel more powerful.
  • Jan 3 2014: What's one thing that the poor and the rich, the healthy and the infirm, the weak and the strong all have in common? Take that away from them and you'll have everyone's consciousness on the same level fighting together to get it back.
  • Dec 29 2013: I believe the tipping point will be your own "hunger". We have adapted to endure considerable unpleasant situations and pain but I do not think anything short of food or death will stop a mob that has not eaten in a week.
  • Dec 28 2013: when a person belives they have nothing left to lose and there is something to gain, then they will act out of desperation or anger.
    or when they have a central person/idology to rally round with a goal or purpose to achieve which they can share an affinity with
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    Dec 26 2013: An imminent apocalypse might motivate the general public to willingly abandon their comfort zone; anything less probably won't rouse them. As the once-mammoth middle class continues to dissolve and swell the ranks of the poor, we may, even in the lifetimes of some of us, bear witness to a serious shift in the economic status quo. In the not too distant future, a revolution may even visit us here, in what may well be the former land of milk and honey (products which, apparently, will disappear along with the bees, as did, in earlier times, the hapless dodo bird).

    This scenario is beginning to feel less far-fetched than it did a few decades ago, and could, in fact, occur shortly after the demise of the honey bees.
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    Dec 26 2013: A common goal. A common goal is what makes people act together in a certain behavior. For example, if a certain country is unhappy with the way their government is run, protests and rebellions occur to improve their way of life. This is one example of public acting en masse. The feeling of self-righteousness and the need for justice for example, the brutal rape of a girl in India caused the public to rise up and act against discrimination of women and enforcing stricter laws and speedier judgement in India (2012 Delhi Gang Rape). Personally, I feel that the cost or the 'tipping point' for such actions were too high. An innocent life was brutalized and violated before actions were taken. Why weren't measures taken to prevent this before this incident? Must a horrific incident like this happen every time we realize something has to be done?
  • Dec 26 2013: A combination of discomfort, social network connections, and headcount. First, people need discomfort. At least in the United States, life is quite comfortable. As long as people are met by their world with what is expected, there is no need to look any further. People are animals, and while we try to act civilized, we have generations of instinct driving us. We respond to pain and pleasure. We must feel something to act differently. The second piece is social network connections. One person, however passionate and able, can only do so much. They need to have people willing to listen to their message. People that are then willing to pass that message on. Without social networks, messages die before they can reach enough people to make a difference. This is where headcount comes in. Enough people need to become aware something, be passionate about it, and also be aware that others feel the same way. If a social network cannibalizes too much, it will not reach enough people. I believe the tipping point is as soon as enough people with the proper connections to sustain the spread of an idea become passionate about something, and enough of their network will also be passionate enough to continue the spread to eventually reach the needed number of people to enact change. This doesn't necessary require a majority, and isn't always the same. The tipping point can be as few as a dozen, or even one - assuming this one or a dozen have the right connections to spread the passion to the rest of the needed social network. The rest is time. I believe too often ideas stagnate in closed social networks and sit idle until it surfaces in enough disparate networks and the disparate networks become aware of each other.
  • Dec 22 2013: First time post. I sorta thought the OCCUPY NOW movement might be a tipping point, maybe not a revolutionary one but a bringing together of folks who might join a movement to lead to change. But, it had no direction...tried to address too many issues which led most people to be turned off while agreeing on some of the publicized issues. Before that, the Tea Party came on the scene but it has never gotten support from "main-stream" America. Point is we tend to rise up ever so close to an imaginary tipping point and then slide back down to complacency. Sad thing is that each time we rise toward that point, we may not rise quite as far. Several things have been mentioned here that may, or may not, cause the critical mass to erupt but I'm afraid America is too polarized into [at least] two camps such that they may never join in a common cause short of America being militarily invaded by another country.
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    Dec 15 2013: Greg, After reading books, studies, papers, etc .. I still hold up certain models to see if the theory hold water.

    The combinations of great orators, ambitious men and hidden agendas have been with us throughout history. The socialist promises of Argentina in 1916 was welcomed by the people ... the government grew ... people came to the city for government jobs and the freebies .. the farmers came to town .. food was in demand ... money was taken from the rich and then from the middle class .. then total failure in a system that could never have worked. But lies and promises covered the agenda ... conversion to socialism/communism. The people bought in.

    My point is that the public is not always aware .. a article came out last week that "You can keep your insurance" was voted the "lie" of the year based on that he knew since 2008 that this was not true. There should be outrage and the polls should reflect a no trust vote .. this has not happened. We should be mad as hell about Benghazi, NSA, failed diplomatic relations, getting spanked in world affairs, Homeland security, UN Article 21, Keynesian Economics, national debit .. the polls still show a 40% plus favorable rating.

    We have become a nation of followers without the ability to question, analyze, or foresee the end goal. This is aided by the media who tells us what they want us to believe instead of reporting the facts and letting us decide .... failure to control congress through our votes has resulted in a elite society that has legislated themselves above the law ....

    So here is my answer .. there is no big build up and riots in the street .. it is a gradual death .. one small issue at a time that is explained away by spin doctors that tell you it is not important and is necessary for your benefit. There is no critical mass, no tipping point, just a slow process that you accept until it is to late. Control the media, education, etc ..

    My opinion. Bob.
  • Dec 12 2013: thats pretty cool to know
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    Dec 11 2013: Thanks for the replies so far. But is it scientifically quantifiable? Does the NSA have a complex algorithm to gauge when critical mass has been reached? Or does it require annalists sat in front of mac pc's to gauge it? Is the reason why the public petition system on the UK Government website set at a 100,000 and not 3 million, because at 3 million votes, critical mass has been reached and the likely hood of such a large cohesive group realizing they have actually got some power, some sway is too much risk, therefore they dived public responses into 100,000 person segments. What is the science behind public action that the Government implements?
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      Dec 12 2013: If they do such tracking, I would guess they are attentive to whether certain key people, or types of people, are in the mass thus far gathered. Clay Shirky in Here Comes Everybody, for example, distinguishes between those in a single basic group and "superconnectors" who belong to several groups.

      Further, the following paper may be useful for its content and its bibliography:
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    Dec 11 2013: what do you mean by en masse? A peaceful demonstration of 50,000 people? A whole country taking to the streets?
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    Dec 11 2013: Take away Freedom from oppression and see what happens.
  • Dec 11 2013: Sociologists suggest that our sphere of influence is around 150 persons and outside of that sphere the group forms a new group or members splinter off. This is the factor the social media business are using to determine visibility rates for a variety of metrics.
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      Dec 11 2013: Yes I know, remember reading that some time ago.But many societies and social groups, still don't have direct access to social media, and how much is actually the result of word of mouth in the groups?
  • Dec 11 2013: Quantifying emotional processes is difficult, and only grows more difficult when you're dealing with a group of people instead of an individual.

    More often then not, the underlying emotions are a powder keg, while a specific event serves as a spark, a tipping point if you will. It typically takes place in the cities, as opposed to the countryside.
    In democracies you often see a gradual build up, while in dictatorships, you usually end up with it bursting all at once when people see their chance to stop being afraid and do something. Neither is guaranteed to actually do good in the long run, revolutions can backfire like nobody's business, but that's another matter.

    It can be over just about anything that's important enough to a large group of people. Employment, cost of living, food/water shortages and oppression seem pretty universal, while religion, ideology, or nationalism are not.
  • Dec 11 2013: My two cents.....
    I believe the death of a street vendor is what set the fire in Tunisia.
    So, I guess what is required is the spark.
    With all fires, the timing and the placement of the spark is critical.
    The very smallest of sparks can start a large dangerous fire as we see in the Middle East.

    A 'controlled' & 'peaceful' burn is always preferred.
    But even those can get out of hand.
    Especially when there is too much fuel available....just waiting to ignite.
    In society, which increases in fragmentation daily, fuel is continually being added.

    In desiring change in society, we can look at our conditioning that leads us to a belief that we must rise up against an oppressor. We might view it on the scale of a children's game on a playground where one minority party is dominating the game to the detriment of the majority. Our conditioning suggests that we rise up against such an abusive authority and continue the game with revised rules. However, if there is a psychological revolution within each and every one of the majority, and if each simply acknowledges the lopsided state of affairs, they may decide to peacefully leave the minority to Their game and quietly begin playing another game which may be more to their liking.

    Infinite avenues are available for change. Doubt only the ones previously taken.
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      Dec 11 2013: I agree with you than many people "quietly begin playing another game which may be more to their liking." Joshua in another conversation used the wording "in the world but not of the world" to capture something similar.
      • Dec 11 2013: :-) I dig that saying.
        Indeed you are the world and the world is you.
        You are society and society is you.

        It's easy to see, once this simple fact is experienced beyond an intellectual understanding, that the potential to impact the collective awareness/consciousness is just this side of infinite.
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      Dec 11 2013: So you are saying it only takes a spark, much like the butterfly theory, but that implies that a critical mass of grievance has been reached. How to we scientifically quantify and measure that point has been reached,
      or is it too organic and chaotic to measure?
      • Dec 12 2013: I'm no scientist. But one variable to examine is the number of unemployed young adult males there are in the population. They're always looking to blow off some egoic steam......and, collectively speaking, they can burn quite hot & violently.
  • Dec 11 2013: A breakdown in that society's social contract. It doesn't matter if that social contract is fundamentally unjust or just, merely that it no longer functions. All government is ultimately based on "if the people X then we will Y"--but it is not necessarily the same as the openly stated promises of a government. Social contracts exist wherein government dishonesty is accepted and part of the contract. When government or its equivalent no longer "Y" (based on the actual social contract, not open claims of what the contract is), then things break down, as those who have some level of power start to get unhappy that government is not holding up its end of things. However, "the public" doesn't act until long after this has started. Revolutions do not occur merely as mass outrage.
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    Dec 11 2013: To me "tipping point" and "critical mass" don't necessarily mean the same thing. This makes it difficult to consider what it is that you are trying to describe and quantify.

    Still, you might want to look at case studies of locations and situations in which a mass of people rose up with one unified message. I assume you don't mean situations in which people are always airing grievances every day but not necessarily all the same grievances. Run ups to the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Arab Spring in different countries, and so forth offer examples.
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      Dec 11 2013: So you are saying the critical mass doesn't even have to exist prior to the event, but can spontaneously cascade to a critical mass rapidly, post event. Depending on many factors that are chaotic and unquantifiable in nature?
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        Dec 11 2013: I was not saying that, but please feel free to elaborate on what you mean. When you say "critical mass," to which mass are you referring? Mass is usually a measure of the size of something.