Ant Circles And Election ‘08

Larry Price
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Wednesday - January 02, 2008
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A long time ago an American naturalist named William Beebe came upon a strange circumstance in the dense Guyana jungle. There was a group of army ants moving in a huge circle. The circle was reported to be 1,200 feet in circumference and it took each ant two and a half hours to complete the loop. The ants were observed for some time, and it was recorded that they went around and around the circle for two days until most of them dropped from starvation. Since then biologists have called it a “circular mill.”

Beebe concluded that the mill was created when army ants found themselves far away from their main colony. Once ants are lost, they obey a simple rule: Follow the ant in front of you. After that, their survival depended on a few ants who straggled off by chance and followed out of habit by a few others.

In 2008, what Hawaii could use a little of is independence for the influence of others. It doesn’t really matter if someone is a little biased and irrational at times, as long as you are independent, at least you won’t make the public dumber.

We are social beings and we tend to learn from each other. People try to downplay the influence others have on our preferences and judgments. Most sociologists believe influence by others is inescapable and generally don’t view that as a problem.

In Hawaii, it is a problem because the more influence we exert on each other, the more likely we will believe the same things and make the same mistakes. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about landfills or mass transit, it appears that over the years our government leaders have gotten smarter individually but dumber collectively.

This leads to the phenomenon sometimes called herding. Let’s face it, people follow the herd because that’s where it’s safest. In his book The Tipping Point,

Malcolm Gladwell offers a different view. He emphasizes the importance of particular kinds of individuals, whom he calls connectors and salesmen, spreading new ideas. In Gladwell’s world, some people are far more influential than others.

The point is that many people choose their action independently, based on their own signals, without observing the actions of others. With some good fortune, Hawaii will be blessed with many such people prior to the next big election. Consider this: Resist people who try to influence the way you think in 2008.

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