Ideal Bandwagons

A Yiddish proverb goes: do not throw the arrow that will turn against you.

I sometimes think that the “bandwagon effect” is so misunderstood to the point that it’s demonized and maligned.  To some people, joining the bandwagon is to be like bacteria, hitching a ride on the bigger germ, on the way to infecting a cell.  It seems that joining a bandwagon is so conformist and so plebeian that the only recourse for intellectual and political freedom is to not ride it at all… and in effect, ride another bandwagon in the process.  See, it’s not plain old-fashioned stupidity at work: rather, it is an exercise in making a rational, coherent, wise choice based on the information that’s available.

Many, if not all, our political and economic judgments are made possible in great part because of the crowd.  That doesn’t make crowd behavior or herd instinct unwise or stupid or anything, though: it has a lot to do with articulation.  When people join a bandwagon, they already have an idea of what’s going on.  They already have an idea of their ideal, and it just so happens that this particular bandwagon represents their judgments, their preferences, and things that they value.  Faced with those options, they hitch a ride.

Yet it’s a sad error in judgment – or a mistake in terminologies – to say that “the bandwagon is the majority, fuck the norms, I’m not joining any of that shit.”  Bandwagons are everywhere: just like binary oppositions, pollutants, the flu virus, and traces of someone’s flatulence.  And for all intents and purposes of dropping a useful concept for future reference:

Ideal types, or what the sociologist Max Weber calls pure types, are abstract modes and models that make it possible for individuals to understand, articulate, and participate in their world in a clearer, more systematic manner.  While the ideal type is at best the exaggerated form of what ought to be, it gives us a clear lens or viewpoint to what is.  Constructs make it possible for us to highlight the characteristics of a particular movement, phenomenon, or behavior.

Bandwagons are exactly that: ideal types.  Nobody (nobarreh, nobarreh nobarreh, I want anobarreh nobarreh batchoo) is immune from the effects of any bandwagon, no matter how big or how small.  We may even unintentionally create one in the process of destroying one.

While it is true that people want to belong, people do not want to belong just for the sake of belonging.  Armed with standards, principles, ideals… whatever, such a choice “fits the mold.”  While this world will not run out of its share of stupid people, many decisions made possible by a bandwagon effect are made from decisions already made before the bandwagon passed by.  Hitching to the bandwagon, again, is not purely motivated by the desire of people to belong, but the sensibility of belonging.  This is your whole “wisdom of the crowds” schtick at work: people don’t give in to the collective consciousness out of pressure, but with the same wisdom the outlier asserts he or she has by not joining the bandwagon anyway.

Bandwagons contain “noise,” but they contain a lot more than just what we perceive to matter or don’t matter: for every showbizzy, cheesy, corrupt part of it, there are reasons why people hitch to it.  Things like principle, promise, qualifications, credibility; in general, things you’re looking for.  If the collective in the bandwagon values the same things you do, believes in the same things you do, and acts in the same way you want to act, you join the bandwagon.  Entire communities and organizations are made because of this congruence between aspects of the individual consciousness, and the facets of collective consciousness.

Is there anything wrong with the bandwagon, or the bandwagon effect?  Nope: if you take elections as an example of it, bandwagons – that is to include everything good and evil about it – make up much and the lot of popular democracy.  For example, I’d hitch on to the bandwagon of someone like Noynoy Aquino or Chiz Escudero or Gibo Teodoro or Manny Villar or Nick Perlas because what they represent are congruent to what I believe in, so I hitch a ride with them all the way to election day.  In the end, that’s all the black-and-white you really need from popular democracy: winners and losers (provided you don’t cheat and call COMELEC commissioners to protect your vote).  Whoever has the biggest, most loaded bandwagon at the finish line wins.

Is that so wrong?  No: I think the key is to join the bandwagon because of the right things that are in it.  The things that are important to us bear certain and particular charactertistics that “speak” to us (that’s a quick-and-dirty bastardization of Charles Taylor’s “subject referring properties,” oh well).  Communities, organizations, groups, cliques, and yes, bandwagons, are made coherent by these imports.  Bandwagons fill in the gaps people have with information, as well as articulate and mold the information and ideas they already had before they even joined the bandwagon.  The business of the bandwagon is to spread the news, to make itself known, and to market itself.  As an ideal type, in effect, the bandwagon of choice should be as close to the ideal as possible.

The rest is caveat emptor.

NEXT: Spirals of silence and all that shit.  Meanwhile there’s the urge to hang out at zTarvuckZ.,, and chiLL za eMBa..!! kkkk

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