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Suppose I have an idea for a good product, but only comparatively few people would appreciate it at early stage. For example, I want to develop a service to test if a certain cell phone usage has health effects. My immediate clients are people who exceptionally care about this issue. However, the task to determine this is a complex research task, which if the govt did it, would cost millions of dollars. Given that I do it privately, I could reduce the cost significantly, however, it is still not clear that this business could lift off the ground.

Another example is Howard Roark. He seized an opportunity to attract a first client by breaking the rules at work. Since even the smallest architect contrat is a solid amount of money, Roark was able to survive on that money until the next contract. But what if a Roark-like person wanted to create a unique product that costs $20, but the market was just as small ? Doesn't the majority opinion limit him ?

In other words, is it possible to be successful despite majority opinion ?

Now imagine that I am a consumer who owns a cell phone. Right now there is no company I can pay $100 to tell me if it is safe to use my cell phone. This company doesn't exist today because of market conditions -- the majority of people are not willing to pay $100 to know if their cell phone is dangerous. Doesn't it make me limited by the majority opinion ?

If a businessmen creates a useful but potentially dangerous product, like a cell phone, which becomes a staple of society and I have to absolutely have one to participate in daily life, am I not at the mercy of the society majority opinion ?

Take the case of cigarettes. Ayn Rand smoked because at the time it was not conclusively proven that cigarettes cause cancer. Wasn't she at the mercy of majority opinion which was not adamant enough to create a demand for a company that would conclusively prove that such is the case ?

My point is that although free market will eventually produce a solution to a problem, it would take a long time because most of the people are not caught up to be aware of this problem. In the meantime, people who are working in different fields depend on the knowledge of society, which in turn depends on majority opinion of what is important to pay for and what is not.

asked Mar 05 '13 at 12:21

Bop's gravatar image

Bop
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edited Mar 05 '13 at 20:02

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦
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Life is risky. However, if the majority of people doing X action are still alive after a long period of time, perhaps X action isn't all that risky and you're worrying yourself over nothing.

(Mar 05 '13 at 14:21) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

You wouldn't need to convince many people of the potential dangers of cell phone usage and how you can solve them, to get a million dollars. One or two life insurance executives should do the trick.

I'd say health insurance executives, but due to the government takeover of the health insurance industry, that probably wouldn't do the trick. Health insurance companies can't charge people more for using cell phones, and their profits are capped so that any savings from making people healthier has to be returned to the policy holders.

(Mar 09 '13 at 15:31) anthony anthony's gravatar image

What I find most striking in this question is its nearly perfect expression of the educational philosophy of John Dewey -- not surprisingly, perhaps, given Dewey's influence throughout education in modern America. Here is Leonard Peikoff's brief summary of Dewey's Progressivism in education, from Dr. Peikoff's book, The DIM Hypothesis, pp. 138-139:

The new watchword, at home as at school, was the child's "self-expression," with "self" denoting a repository of interests, desires, and impulses [but not conceptual ideas, theories or knowledge]....

The Progressive child does not, however, enjoy the same independence in relation to other children. Self-expression, though still important, is transcended by a more important goal: adaptation to one's peers. The child must learn to see himself not primarily as a separate entity pursuing personal desires, but as part and servant of a larger entity, which after graduation he realizes is society as a whole. The fundamental goal of education, says Dewey, is not that of traditional individualism, not sharpening minds, nurturing selves, or stuffing the student with knowledge, but developing in children a social spirit expressed in the desire for social service.

To achieve this end, one common Progressive innovation was group learning, in which students are assigned a project to be done in and by a group, and for which each member will receive the same grade, regardless of the quality or quantity of any one individual's contributions. Often the grade is decided by the rest of the class, through majority rule. The purpose of such assignments is to let the student absorb by experience the lesson that, even when using his own mind, he cannot function successfully without melding into a body of other people.

A similar lesson is taught by a Progressive school meeting, in which school rules and policies are decided by a vote of students and teachers alike, each person, whether age four or seventy-four, having equally a single vote, with the students, of course, far outnumbering the teachers.... Since the meetings determine the penalties for behavior unacceptable to the group, as well as the teachers' career prospects, the child learns another aspect of social adaptation: that his peers collectively have near-absolute power over him.

This section of the book goes on to explain that Progressivism is characterized by disdain for abstractions (principles, natural laws, scientific theories, intellectual systems). It rejects selfishness. It is demolition of traditional education, not reform; it demolishes subjects, facts, lessons, text, structure, intellect, teaching, learning. It is nihilism, thoroughly concrete-bound; it is type 2 disintegration (D2), disintegration of the purest kind. (The next section of the book discusses the many forms of "Pluralism (in Schools)," in which a D2 foundation is mixed with limited, disparate elements of authentic integration to produce what the DIM Hypothesis classifies as D1.)

Note the consistently recurring theme of the question: the "majority." The question talks about "an idea for a good product" that few would appreciate in the early stages; potential health risks from cell phones, which no one would believe because the majority don't believe it; and Howard Roark allegedly "breaking the rules at work," and how someone else trying to follow what Roark did would soon be stopped by the question, "Doesn't the majority opinion limit him ?"

I could not correlate this description of Roark to the actual story in The Fountainhead, unless the question is simply referring loosely to Roark's early career, from his stint in Guy Francon's firm to his departure for the quarry. Rather than "breaking rules at work," what Roark actually opposed and fought against was the rampant traditionalism and classicism in architecture at the time in which the story is set. He wasn't a rule-breaker; he was a standards innovator and standout maverick. And that's only Part One. By the end of Part Four, Roark has achieved spectacular success, not only in his career, but in romance as well. The Fountainhead is actually a story of the individual succeeding against the collective (eventually), not being forever defeated by it. It is an uplifting story of what life could be and ought to be, not a story of depressing pessimism. The question is thoroughly mistaken to cite Roark's story as evidence of majority domination. In answer to the question of whether one can succeed against the majority, The Fountainhead answers resoundingly: yes! It is possible.

The question then returns to the topic of cell phone safety:

If a businessmen creates a useful but potentially dangerous product, like a cell phone, which becomes a staple of society and I have to absolutely have one to participate in daily life, am I not at the mercy of the society majority opinion ?

No. You're free to forego the benefits of a division-of-labor industrial-technological civilization, as you're implying that everyone should, until and unless cell phones are somehow proven to be "safe" to use. This also reverses the onus-of-proof principle -- innocent until proven guilty, assumed safe until substantial objective evidence shows otherwise. (The actual evidence today is far from conclusive. Furthermore, causation requires showing a causal mechanism, not merely a statistical correlation, and today's actual critics of cell phone use have proposed an actual mechanism: alleged fears about the effects of cell phone radio signals on living tissues, a fear that is far from justified at the power levels of cell phones, in the present state of medical knowledge.)

Now imagine that I am a consumer who owns a cell phone. Right now there is no company I can pay $100 to tell me if it is safe to use my cell phone. This company doesn't exist today because of market conditions -- the majority of people are not willing to pay $100 to know if their cell phone is dangerous. Doesn't it make me limited by the majority opinion ?

The provable adverse health consequences of cell phone signals on living tissues is not something that one pays someone $100 to determine anew for every combination of a specific cell phone and a specific individual. The power levels emitted by cell phones are well known, and there is no clear evidence that they are strong enough to harm living tissues in normal cell phone use by humans. The health hazards, if any, are not determined or decided by "majority opinion," but by the careful research and experimentation by scientific experts -- and ultimately by reality, including repeatable experiments that anyone can perform, with the same results. It's the science itself that persuades rational minds, not the number of scientists or their followers.

The question moves from cell phones to cigarettes:

Ayn Rand smoked because at the time it was not conclusively proven that cigarettes cause cancer. Wasn't she at the mercy of majority opinion which was not adamant enough to [convince her of the danger]?

Proof does not flow from majority opinion. It proceeds from facts of reality, as known to man. Even today it is not correct to claim that "cigarettes cause cancer." Cancer does not follow in all cases from smoking. It varies from individual to individual depending on many factors. If one wants to make a case today that smoking causes other adverse health consequences, one will have an easier time of it. But individuals are still free (and ought to remain free) to decide for themselves if the benefits which they gain from smoking outweigh the health risks, as judged by the individuals themselves, on the basis of the medical evidence from their checkups, not judged and determined for them by some "majority" of others.

... it would take a long time [to change people's minds] because most of the people are not caught up to be aware of [the dangers].

Translation: it takes time for people to become aware of new evidence, understand it, and decide for themselves if it is sufficiently compelling to warrant changing their lifestyles. Furthermore, if "majority opinion" is everything, why would a majority ever change? What could possibly drive it?

In the meantime, people who are working in different fields depend on the knowledge of society, which in turn depends on majority opinion of what is important to pay for and what is not.

Knowledge is one of the two great benefits of living in a rational (and free) society. The other great benefit is trade, giving individuals the opportunity to increase their productiveness dramatically through specialization and division of labor. But knowledge does not depend fundamentally on "majority opinion of what is important." It depends on what is true and verifiable, regardless of how many millions of others may choose to believe it or not. In fact, innumerable thriving businesses can be built, and have been, on serving "niche" markets -- enclaves of customers who share common interests and values, even though they may be a tiny minority of the total population. It's not a "majority opinion" issue at all.

Majorities certainly can be highly damaging when they come into power and can exert their will by physical force. They can't do that in free society that upholds individual rights.

Update: Independence in Cognition and Valuing

In the comments, the questioner writes:

I'll have hard time making my [cellphone testing] business profitable because most people don't care to pay me for this new service. It's true that niche markets exist, but they are not always sufficient. Consider inventions that were forgotten (to be rediscovered later) because they couldn't have been marketed to enough audience."

There is a huge "missing step" in the cellphone testing business idea repeatedly propounded by the questioner. Before there can be a market for such a business, there must be a perceived need for it. There must be knowledge by the potential customers that cellphones can be dangerous and ought to be tested. If the questioner believes he has evidence of cellphone danger, let him speak out about it. This isn't primarily a business (or marketing) issue at this stage of knowledge; it's a facts-of-reality issue and a freedom-of-speech issue. So far, the evidence I have seen of any danger from cellphone radio signals is zero. Furthermore, as far as I know, actual research that has already been done to check the effects of cellphone signals on living tissues has been completely negative (i.e., zero evidence of any danger). So the questioner does, indeed, have a high "onus" to overcome to convince anyone else of any potential danger of this kind from cellphones. (There are other hazards, of course, such as listening to music or other sounds with earphones with the volume turned up too high, or looking down at one's cellphone when one should be watching where one is going. These are well known hazards that need no further testing, certainly not at $100 per test for every person and phone individually.) This kind of cellphone testing business is, frankly (in my judgment), a huge waste of time and resources that deserves to fail in the market.

Laissez-faire capitalism never provides a guarantee of success to anyone, for any business. Success is only possible, not certain.

The questioner's formulation excerpted above also suggests that popular beliefs are determined primarily by marketing. I disagree, although many marketers do seem to think so, or wish it to be so. The primary cognitive attention of any rational observer needs to be on reality first and foremost (for his own life), and only secondarily on what others may happen to believe in the present state of their knowledge. Spreading new knowledge, if any, about realistic hazards does not require a $100-per-test business enterprise. The business opportunities for testing will follow in due course if the facts of reality justify them.

In another comment, the questioner writes:

... it took Copernicus longer to prepare a breakfast because he didn't have a microwave. My point is -- the market conditions over long periods is determined by the majority.... It is not an issue to be ignored when considering your own business.

Depending on interpretation, the expression, "determined by the majority," reverses cause and effect. Lack of electricity and microwave ovens was simply a fact of reality, as was their eventual discovery and inventive adaptation for man's purposes. They were not caused by "the majority"; they were merely the then-existing living conditions of everyone, whether majority or minority. It's actually fantastic to claim that Copernicus was hindered by "the majority" because nobody had microwave ovens (or electric power).

Returning again to the question's example of Howard Roark, the comments provide the following additional description:

Roark broke the employee etiquette in the company where he worked. This is a breach of contract between Roark and his employer (who was not Guy Francon, btw). Without doing that he may have not landed his first contract for awhile.

The original description in the question is:

... Howard Roark ... seized an opportunity to attract a first client by breaking the rules at work. Since even the smallest architect contrat [sic] is a solid amount of money, Roark was able to survive on that money until the next contract.

Since Roark worked for only two different employers between the end of his work under Cameron and his departure for the quarry, and the scene being described wasn't under Guy Francon, then it must have been the other employer, who was John Erik Snyte. That scene begins near the end of Chapter 10 in Part I of The Fountainhead. An important client, Austin Heller, has been searching for an architectural firm to design a new residential house for him, and has come to Snyte as a last resort. Snyte escorts him into the drafting room near Roark's table to look at the drawings which Snyte's team has generated, based mainly on Roark's design. Heller likes the basic idea, but dislikes what turns out to be the modifications made to Roark's design by others in the office. The story explains, "The employees had been trained not to intrude on occasions when Snyte brought a client into the drafting room." But, hearing Heller's comments, Roark suddenly gets up and proceeds to draw on top of the sketches with an ordinary drafting pencil, essentially restoring the sketch to Roark's original design. Snyte is outraged and fires Roark on the spot, but Heller loves it and proceeds to hire Roark on the spot as an independent architect to design the house for Heller.

I have to say that I do not see a "majority" in this story, contrary to the apparent intent of the quesioner. There is only Snyte and his group, of whom Roark had been an increasingly dissatisfied member. Snyte sought to suppress Roark's originality and meld it into the creations of the other members of the group. If Roark had sat still and kept quiet, he and Snyte both would have lost their important client. Snyte was destined to lose him anyway, but Roark had an opportunity to defy Snyte's "etiquette" and show Heller some key ideas that proved to be exactly what Heller had wanted but had been unable to articulate clearly himself. Roark understood what Heller wanted and showed it to Heller. Firing Roark was Snyte's loss and Roark's gain. Contrary to getting in the way between Heller and Roark, Roark's initiative actually facilitated that relationship greatly and crucially. Roark didn't lose because he defied the so-called "majority" consisting primarily of Snyte himself; Roark actually gained because of his independence and his refusal to submit to gross unreasonableness any longer. Roark would have gained nothing by remaining on good terms with Snyte and losing Heller.

So I repeat what I said before. Roark's actions illustrate succeding despite "majority opinion" -- by thinking and acting independently. OPAR describes the virtue of independence as "a primary orientation to reality, not to other men," and Roark concretizes it in spades.

answered Mar 06 '13 at 03:12

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦
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edited Mar 09 '13 at 00:51

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Nice quote "If "majority opinion" is everything, why would a majority ever change? What could possibly drive it?"

(Mar 06 '13 at 17:32) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

I agree that through people like Roark, and Copernicus the majority opinion eventually changes. But even Roark and Copernicus, while fighting a battle in their field of expertise, lived in the market and technological conditions of that time. For example, it took Copernicus longer to prepare a breakfast because he didn't have a microwave. My point is -- the market conditions over long periods is determined by the majority, just like the "Banner" magazine content was determined by the majority. It is not an issue to be ignored when considering your own business. Hence the question.

(Mar 07 '13 at 03:44) Bop Bop's gravatar image

So here I identify the problem -- I want to know if my cell phone is dangerous or not. To answer this problem, I need to build a whole research lab business. Suppose I had a knowledge to build it. But I can't make it a profitable in today's world, so I won't start. How would this status quo change in the future ? Cheaper research methods, or people with bigger startup capital can try it. But, in the meantime, I'm stuck. I have an idea for action, but I can't do it because the rest of the people are not caught up to buy my proposed product.

(Mar 07 '13 at 03:53) Bop Bop's gravatar image

Also, I never implied in my question that the majority decides what is right and what is wrong. That makes your accusation of my question being of a pragmatic and progressive philosophy invalid. I said that majority defines the present market conditions. Roark broke the employee etiquette in the company where he worked. This is a breach of contract between Roark and his employer (who was not Guy Francon, btw). Without doing that he may have not landed his first contract for awhile.

(Mar 07 '13 at 04:04) Bop Bop's gravatar image

About onus of proof. I did not imply that a cigarette or phone company must prove that their products are safe. I am saying, have I wanted to build a 3rd party company that provides this service (so I can use it myself), I'll have hard time making my business profitable because most people don't care to pay me for this new service. It's true that niche markets exist, but they are not always sufficient. Consider inventions that were forgotten (to be rediscovered later) because they couldn't have been marketed to enough audience.

(Mar 07 '13 at 04:12) Bop Bop's gravatar image

"the market conditions over long periods is determined by the majority"

I disagree. Market conditions is determined by the minority; the inventors who bring good ideas to the market place. If your invention isn't obviously useful, then it's your responsibility to convince people otherwise. People do not "determine" your success, YOU do. It's YOUR job to satisfy your wants.

(Mar 07 '13 at 22:19) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

I used a bad english expression. I agree that over long time the good inventions win. I meant to say that for example a period like 5 years, which is not long enough for market condition to change, but is a significant factor to consider for a man who wants to start a business at the beginning of this period. So I guess a better way was to write: "long periods of market conditions are determined by the prevailing majority (only to be changed by crucial new products and inventions). Is anyone denying that this kind of majority is indeed a factor ?

(Mar 08 '13 at 02:33) Bop Bop's gravatar image
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Asked: Mar 05 '13 at 12:21

Seen: 943 times

Last updated: Mar 09 '13 at 15:31