Are You Sure???
By Amy Willis
Psychologist and author Charlan Nemeth joined EconTalk host Russ Roberts for this episode to talk about her book, In Defense of Troublemakers, which explores the power of groupthink as well as that of the persistent dissenter. Lack of authentic conversation and civility in our discourse has been a frequent topic here of late. But this week’s guest takes a slightly different turn. In some sense, Nemeth is asking for more, not less, debate. She looks back somewhat fondly on the volatile summer of 1968, though she may counsel a somewhat gentler approach today.
Are we closer to or further from the America of 1968? What makes us so susceptible to the power of the majority, and are we more or less susceptible today than in previous eras?
1- The conversation opens with a discussion of a famous Candid Camera episode from 1962 on the power of conformity. Have you ever been in- or observed- a situation like this? What happened? Nemeth suggests that stunts like this one “work every time.” Why?
2- Do people really speak up less today than in the past, or do they just “speak up” in different ways? If people are in fact speaking out less, why do you think that is… Are they really afraid? Or is something else going on?
3- What does Nemeth mean when she says, “being a devil’s advocate is not enough?” What characteritics does dissent need to have to serve the valuable role she ascribes to it. How does- or can- it make conversation or debate different? To what extent has this been lost today?
4- In a popular Vanity Fair article from last year, 12 Angry Men, which also has a starring role in this week’s episode, is dubbed “the ultimate American morality tale.” How do the author’s (Nathan Rabin) reasons for lauding this film compare to Nemeth’s?
5- Roberts ends the conversation with his recurrent lament about life on university campuses today. He asks Nemeth, “what do you think of the current state of campus debate, and the willingness of universities to squelch it?” What is your reaction to her answer? How would you answer this question?