SPIRAL OF SILENCE ABOUT HUMAN POPULATION DENSITY

Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.
-Albert Einstein

Most people, especially politicians, policymakers, and spokespeople for eco organizations, are reluctant to talk about improving human population density. Diana Coole breaks the reasons down into five categories in Too many bodies? The return and disavowal of the population question:

Population-shaming. Ad hominem accusations: racist, genocidal, classist, sexist, baby-hater, misanthropist, et cetera. George Monboit: rich people try to scapegoat poor Africans for their own material excesses.

Population-scepticism. Population will stabilize and maybe shrink with economic development—nothing else is needed. Development is the best contraceptive. Demographic Transition Theory.

Population-declinism. Birth rates are declining and this is sad/bad. Birth Dearth, et cetera.

Population-decomposing. Analyzing aspects while ignoring big picture. Proportion of ethnicities, urbanization, aging populations, et cetera.

Population-fatalism. Nine billion is going to happen so let’s figure out how to deal with it. Hans Rosling: “...the only way to achieve [not growing to nine billion] is by killing.”


The phrase “spiral of silence” refers to the way people tend to remain silent when they feel that their views are in the minority. The model is based on three premises:

1) people have a “quasi-statistical organ,” a sixth-sense if you will, which allows them to know the prevailing public opinion, even without access to polls,
2) people have a fear of isolation and know what behaviors will increase their likelihood of being socially isolated, and
3) people are reticent to express their minority views, primarily out of fear of being isolated.

Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann wrote Spiral of Silence: Public Opinion—Our Social Skin, a theory of public opinion as social control. The essence of the Spiral of Silence is the assumption that people are afraid of being isolated and therefore adjust their opinions to what they perceive as the opinion of the majority.
... different patterns of behavior are bound for their part to influence the quasi-statistical picture of the distribution of opinions which the individual gains from his social environment. The one opinion confronts him ever more frequently and confidently; the other is heard less and less. The more individuals perceive these tendencies and adapt their views accordingly, the more the one faction appears to dominate and the other to be on the downgrade. Thus the tendency of the one to speak up and the other to be silent starts off a spiraling process which increasingly establishes one opinion as the prevailing one.

Noelle-Neumann, Elisabeth. (1974). The spiral of silence: A theory of public opinion. Journal of Communication. 24 (2), 43-51.


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