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The Tipping Point

Gladwell [1]1,280 words

Spanish translation here [2]

Malcolm Gladwell
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference [3]
New York: Little, Brown, 2000

The son of an English father and a Jamaican mother, Malcom Gladwell is the author of five books and countless articles, many of them published in The New Yorker, where he is a staff writer. The Tipping Point is a highly readable blend of popularized psychology, epidemiology, and case histories from the business world, which I am placing on the required reading list of White Nationalists who are serious about creating a revolution. For although our movement today is very small, Gladwell explains how little things—including lone, often unknown individuals—can make a big difference.

The enemy’s tired old script is that White Nationalists are always “spewing” what they call “virulent” ideas or just “hate.” “Virulence,” of course, refers to the propagation of a disease. This is more than just an insult, however. They may liken us to rats and our ideas to the plague. But like a plague, unfashionable ideas can reach a “tipping point” and suddenly “go viral,” spreading geometrically and sweeping through large populations. And that is what the enemy fears. So let’s give them something to be afraid of. Let’s make our ideas genuinely virulent, so we can heal the world.

The viral changes Gladwell discusses have three chief traits. First, they are contagious. They spread from person to person. They are not radiated outward from a central hub to isolated recipients, like a television broadcast. Second, little changes often have huge effects by being multiplied or amplified geometrically rather than arithmetically. Finally, once these processes are afoot, widespread changes can happen very quickly.

The distinction between arithmetic and geometric changes is crucial. Imagine that you make a pledge to convert one other person to White Nationalism each year. That is not such a difficult goal to imagine. At the end of the first year, there will be two of you. At the end of the second year, there will be three. At the end of ten years, there will be eleven of you. This is an arithmetic progression, and it is a slow process. At that rate, you would need a million years to convert a million people to White Nationalism.

Now imagine that, in addition to converting one person a year, you also convert them to the idea of converting one other person per year, and get each new convert to do the same. So you are communicating not just White Nationalism, but White Nationalism with a multiplier effect, White Nationalism plus a mission to convert others to White Nationalism. At the end of the first year, there will be two of you, as before. But at the end of the second year, there will be four. At the end of the third year, there will be eight. The progression looks like this:

Year 1: 2 White Nationalists
Year 2: 4
Year 3: 8
Year 4: 16
Year 5: 32
Year 6: 64
Year 7: 128
Year 8: 256
Year 9: 512
Year 10: 1024

Remember, after 10 years of arithmetic growth, there will be only 11 of you, whereas after 10 years of geometric growth, there will be 1,024. I have been a White Nationalist for 15 years now. And if I had started this conversion process 15 years ago, there would be 32,768 of us, and none of it would have happened unless I made the individual effort to start the process.

How much longer would it take to get to 1 million White Nationalists by this process? Only five more years. After 20 years of geometric growth, the number would be 1,048,576—a number that we could not reach in a million years of arithmetic growth. Five more years after that, and we would top 33 million converts. And five years after that, we would pass the one billion mark.

And bear in mind that this process presupposes only that we convert one person per year. At the end of 20 years, I individually would have converted only 20 other people. Now, I will wager that that is a goal that even the most tongue-tied and introverted amongst us can imagine attaining. Each one of us already knows 20 people whom we might be able to convert if we had an entire year to bring each one around.

So imagine the changes that could be brought about by a really charismatic individual with a particularly persuasive statement of our position and the means to deliver that message. Such a person could convert hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of people a year, and impart the same mission to his converts. Such a person could set the world aright.

The transformative potential of moderate individual efforts if they are geometrically compounded is astonishing. But it puts the existing movement in a perhaps unfairly unflattering light. For instance, in the 8 years I have focused on activism, have I converted even a measly 256 people? Maybe I have, but I have no way of actually knowing. What I know for certain is that my senior colleagues, who can boast of 20 years of activism have not converted more than a million. Those who have been at it for 25 years have not converted more than 33 million. And those who can boast of 30 years of activism fall far short of the one billion mark that simple geometric progression yields. And remember, all any of these long-time movement veterans would have had to do to reach a billion converts today is convert 30 people over 30 years, and get each of them to do the same.

So we have to conclude that the White Nationalist movement has not quite found the right people, formulated the right message, and created the right means of propagating it. Not yet, anyway. But we’re trying. And Gladwell can help.

In chapter 1, “The Three Rules of Epidemics,” Gladwell offers three principles of viral propagation. First, there is the Law of the Few. Economists talk about the 80/20 Principle, which holds that in any given situation, roughly 80 percent of the effect will be caused by 20 percent of the individuals involved: “In most societies, 20 percent of criminals commit 80 percent of crimes. Twenty percent of motorists cause 80 percent of all accidents. Twenty percent of beer drinkers drink 80 percent of all beer. When it comes to epidemics, though, this disproportionality becomes even more extreme: a tiny percentage of people do the majority of the work” (p. 19).

Second, there is the Stickiness Factor. In epidemics, a virus spreads more the longer it sticks around in a carrier’s system. A virus that is easy to cure, or that is immediately fatal, will therefore spread less than one that is hard to cure but does not kill its carrier immediately. Likewise, ideas that stick in one’s head are more likely to be passed on than ones that are easily forgotten.

Finally, there is the importance of Context, which can affect the spread of a disease or an idea in unanticipated ways.

I found chapter 2, “The Law of the Few,” the most exciting part of the book. Here Gladwell discusses three types of individuals who are highly influential in the spread of ideas: Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. All of these individuals are involved in person-to-person interactions, which is how contagious ideas are spread. Again, we are not talking about ideas being diffused to separate individuals from a common hub, which is how the system controls our minds, but about person-to-person interactions, which can do an end run around top down control. This chapter deserves careful study, because communicating ideas is our business. Gladwell holds up a mirror, in which we can see both our strengths and our shortcomings.

In subsequent installments on Gladwell, I will discuss his analyses of Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen, as well as some contextual factors that may prove useful to White Nationalists.