Spotting The Intolerant Minority Rule

Paul Skallas

Parts 1, 2 ($). I’ve been Paul’s reader for a while and finally decided to subscribe to his paid newsletter.

  • Why are there usually no free weights in hotel gyms? The people who can train with free weights can train on machines, too, but not the other way around. The intolerant minority rule is at play.

  • If a party has more than 10% of women who don’t drink beer (men usually can drink both beer and wine), it’s safer to serve only wine to cater to both tastes. 10% of people at the party dictate what 100% of people drink.

  • The disproportion is frightening: all it takes is 5% of the population to move the indifferent 95% - and not by consensus or any other democratic mechanisms.

  • If (only out of politeness) a Board meeting involves 5 non-English speakers and 1 English speaker, the language spoken will be English. [MK: this argument may be flawed because the charter or custom may already dictate that the meetings are being held in English and/or that the Englishman wouldn’t have been elected as a Director if there was no certainty s/he would be able to understand the deliberations and effectively contribute.]

  • There are agreeable options, too: if some people at the party like fish and some people like steak, unless the host can cater to both tastes, they would serve chicken (an agreeable option) instead. “Agreeable” is like McDonald’s – it tastes substantially the same anywhere you go; the opposite would be cooking lamb: its taste “highs” are high, but the “lows” are inedible.

  • The status quo will be stable as long as the majority is tolerant or ambivalent: schools with only 5% of Muslim students keep their kitchens halal. Same is true for kosher food. It’s just easier and cheaper to have one version of a product or service than having two [MK: unless it’s possible to price discriminate, but it’s hard to do it in schools or discount retailers].

  • Non-smoking sections of restaurants were quite inconvenient in their early days because smoking is correlated with drinking, and losing smokers led to losing drinkers. However, over time the non-smoking rule has become virtually universal and alcohol sales went up again. [MK: as a person who quit smoking 20 years ago, I can only be happy about the disappearance of this externality.]

  • Vegetarians can eat vegan food, but not the other way around (think cheese and dairy). Prediction: over time veganism will win. 1% of vegans in the US in 2014 had rapidly grown to 6% in 2017. Plant-based food (and patties of soy mean) has made it into mainstream – supermarket shelves and fast-food restaurants. Add to it the aggressive tactics of shaming meat and milk producers, and it’s very likely that veganism will keep growing and shaping our diets, while displacing vegetarianism.

  • However, the intolerant minority can’t strive if there’s no tolerant majority. Killing animals for fur is on substantial decline as fake fur got very good, but good luck pulling that trick with the juicy red meat that people love and will fight to have a chance to eat. [MK: sadly, there’s another attack technique for meat production: cows emit lots of methane into the atmosphere and require lots of water per kilo of weight. Here we have vegans and eco-activists join forces, which is more dangerous to my steak than it seems.]

  • Remote work is another example of the minority rule [MK: and I can attest this is true for Aviasales, too]. If a meeting has several in-person participants and one person over Zoom, it almost inevitably ends up being 100% Zoom for everyone, because that one person will be left out of the in-person signal exchange, and this is unfair.

  • [MK: I’d extrapolate the rule and say that communications in diverse groups of people tend to gravitate towards the lowest common denominator – be it Zoom or English.]

  • Soda drinks vs bottled water: those who drink soda can drink bottled water, but more often than not the opposite is not true (partially due to the widespread aversion to sugary drinks).

  • Texting vs calling: those who make calls also text, but those who text prefer not to answer calls. Calling has become a highly involved activity requiring preparation and planning – all because it’s in real time.

  • American media (movies, music, books, politics, you name it) have become mainstream everywhere, supplementing or even replacing weaker local media, but US residents are blissfully ignorant of what’s going on in the world.

  • Social ideology is a little bit different, but it comes with strong stigma for non-compliance. It creeps into corporate training materials and school curriculums with almost no one daring to stand up and calling hypocrisies for what they are. Single people are more affected, because people in relationships don’t have to rely on the outside world for everything, thus reducing the possible damage.

  • Vaccinated vs unvaccinated people dilemma: at the moment there are several behavioural patterns emerging, but one of them is that vaccinated people don’t want to be around unvaccinated people, while the opposite is not as prevalent. Again, this is not the only pattern, so let’s wait and see.

  • Solution: set up boundaries (personal and geographical) between groups, as this will promote co-existence. [MK: one wonders if this will just suppress the conflict until the boiler explodes, or it will reduce the pressure for a long time.] A wide-open flat network is susceptible to minority rule.