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Evaporative cooling of group beliefs: current example

19 Post author: calcsam 31 December 2011 09:21PM

Background info: a splinter group, which broke off from the LDS ("Mormon") church ~100 years ago, refusing to give up polygamy, has been in the headlines over the last year; their leader was sentenced to life in prison for rape of teenage girls he took as plural wives.

Deseret News, Sex banned until Warren Jeffs' prison walls crumble, FLDS relatives say

"As the year comes to an end and the followers of Warren Jeffs await the apocalypse he has predicted, they're living under a challenging edict: they're forbidden to have sex until Jeffs is sprung from a Texas prison.

It's one of the strangest edicts in a season full of them. Jeffs has issued a stream of revelations, prophecies and orders to his congregation in the border community of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

The recent edicts from Jeffs' prison cell seem to be having two contradictory effects. Many are leaving the FLDS faith in disgust. Those who stay are reported to be increasingly devoted to a man who is serving a lifetime sentence for raping underage girls.

According to numerous critics and outside observers, the imprisoned FLDS leader has sometimes acted through his brother Lyle and other times has spoken directly to his congregation over the phone from prison. He recently banned many of the things his followers enjoy: bicycles, ATVs, trampolines, even children's toys. But the sex edict reaches into the bedrooms of all his devoted followers.

According to Holm, Jeffs declared all existing marriages to be void....."they have all been told that they are not to live as husband and wife"....Holm thinks about 100 members have left in recent weeks from the community of 10,000.

Eliezer, Evaporative Cooling of Group Beliefs

Why would a group belief become stronger after encountering crushing counterevidence?

In Festinger's classic "When Prophecy Fails", one of the cult members walked out the door immediately after the flying saucer failed to land.  Who gets fed up and leaves first?  An average cult member?  Or a relatively more skeptical member, who previously might have been acting as a voice of moderation, a brake on the more fanatic members?

After the members with the highest kinetic energy escape, the remaining discussions will be between the extreme fanatics on one end and the slightly less extreme fanatics on the other end, with the group consensus somewhere in the "middle".

This doesn't simply seem to be a case of a new weighted average after some skeptics are gone (only 1% of FLDS have left). There are other dynamics going on among those remaining.

The image that comes to my mind is a lot of points scattered along a skepticism/fanaticism axis, and a repelling magnet placed on that line. This magnet pushes the already-skeptical values into greater skepticism (and out) and pushing the more fanatical members into greater fanaticism. How well does that actually represent what's going on? Not sure.

Comments (15)

Comment author: shminux 01 January 2012 01:49:01AM 17 points [-]

they're forbidden to have sex until Jeffs is sprung from a Texas prison

Excellent, that will take care of the problem completely in a few more decades.

Comment author: SilasBarta 03 January 2012 04:15:05PM 2 points [-]

Or it will lead to a grandiose jailbreak.

Comment author: Thomas 03 January 2012 02:11:57PM *  2 points [-]

Those who do not obey the order (no matter how they rationalize their nonobedience) are those who will inherit the sect by their descendants.

Comment author: Prismattic 01 January 2012 02:03:23AM 6 points [-]

It's sort of amusing to me that the evaporative cooling mechanism (though not under that name) was actually proposed by Russel Hardin well before EY got to it.

The amusing part is the proposal is in a book presenting the case that rational choice theory actually explains a lot of apparently irrational behavior, which is, ahem, not exactly the modal viewpoint on Lesswrong.

Comment author: Anatoly_Vorobey 01 January 2012 12:23:30PM 5 points [-]

Can you say a bit more about the book? Does it directly engage the examples/arguments of Kahneman et al that are often used? Did you find the book convincing?

Comment author: wedrifid 31 December 2011 11:07:11PM *  6 points [-]

Background info: a splinter group, which broke off from the LDS ("Mormon") church ~100 years ago, refusing to give up polygamy, has been in the headlines over the last year; their leader was sentenced to life in prison for rape of teenage girls he took as plural wives.

And apparently the rape wasn't even just statuary. It also had other people present. Creepy. (Incidentally, 12 is preteen!)

According to numerous critics and outside observers, the imprisoned FLDS leader has sometimes acted through his brother Lyle and other times has spoken directly to his congregation over the phone from prison. He recently banned many of the things his followers enjoy: bicycles, ATVs, trampolines, even children's toys. But the sex edict reaches into the bedrooms of all his devoted followers.

That really seems like a self sabotaging religious doctrine! I'm surprised that the number leaving is so low!

Comment author: Raemon 01 January 2012 01:07:25AM 9 points [-]

That really seems like a self sabotaging religious doctrine! I'm surprised that the number leaving is so low!

So am I, which means its time for both of us to revise our models.

Comment author: taelor 01 January 2012 01:43:56AM 8 points [-]

The Shakers managed to maintain a stable membership of over a thousand for almost a century despite a blanket prohibition on sex.

Comment author: Alicorn 01 January 2012 01:45:57AM 6 points [-]

Are the FLDS folks planning to adopt kids?

Comment author: shminux 01 January 2012 01:49:51AM 7 points [-]

They might have trouble doing it legally.

Comment author: taelor 06 January 2012 10:30:48AM 0 points [-]

Out of curiosity, what exactly is it about this comment that is prompting people to upvote it. I ask because it is currently my most upvoted comment, whereas other comments that I put far more effort into languish at zero karrma?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 06 January 2012 02:16:03PM 1 point [-]

That sort of thing happens.

My usual interpretation is that most users don't read more than a fraction of the threads, and there's a wide readership variance between threads, so a mildly interesting comment on a popular thread will get more upvotes than a very interesting comment on an unpopular thread. The karma score of all the comments in that thread encourages that interpretation.

More generally, I think you'll do better to consider it evidence against the theory that karma actually measures anything particularly well, than to consider it evidence towards a theory that there's some particular thing that comment particularly well exemplifies which LW users particularly want to see more of.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 01 January 2012 05:13:53AM 6 points [-]

Or, third option, many are remaining but not obeying the edict.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 02 January 2012 09:45:54AM 4 points [-]

Bets on claims of virgin/spontaneous births arising from the sect?

Comment author: fortyeridania 02 January 2012 01:21:03PM 3 points [-]

In an age of available DNA testing, I expect such claims to be rare indeed.