David Alan Black on Conformity

From Dave Black Online:

5) Being the ultimate obscurantist, I’ve been asked (as you know) to present a case for the Pauline authorship of Hebrews next month in Washington, DC. As someone who frequently espouses minority points of view, I found this statement about conformity fascinating:

Although conformity generally leads individuals to think and act more like groups, individuals are occasionally able to reverse this tendency and change the people around them. This is known as minority influence, a special case of informational influence. Minority influence is most likely when people can make a clear and consistent case for their point of view. If the minority fluctuates and shows uncertainty, the chance of influence is small. However, a minority that makes a strong, convincing case increases the probability of changing the majority’s beliefs and behaviors. Minority members who are perceived as experts, are high in status, or have benefited the group in the past are also more likely to succeed.

So what do I think? I think that all of us suffer from groupthink to a degree. The challenge is being open to healthy consensus-breakers while avoiding the cranks. In my own life, there were two anti-group-thinkers whose memories I still cherish today: Harry Sturz of Biola University and William Farmer of Perkins of School Theology (SMU). Neither had any desire to “go with the flow” in the areas of textual criticism (Sturz) and the synoptic problem (Farmer). Just because the majority discards an alternative doesn’t mean that we should. The last thing I want to do today is encourage a culture of uniformity. But here’s the clincher: “However, a minority that makes a strong, convincing case increases the probability of changing the majority’s beliefs and behaviors” (see above quote). A strong case must be made. If it can’t, there’s no use in even trying to convince others you’re right. Yet I can’t deny that it’s possible to change people’s minds. Mine sure was after hearing Sturz and Farmer. So let’s keep reading and thinking, and then acting upon the evidence. The scholarly world will be better off for it.

Non-conformity isn’t a particular position. It’s more of an attitude. It’s an attitude I like to see in book submissions here at Energion. One of my answers to the question of why I published a particular book is this: Because you think I shouldn’t have. That, of course, doesn’t answer everything. There are indeed manuscripts that don’t deserve publication, in my opinion, of course. But the fact that a manuscript gets on someone’s nerves isn’t a good reason not to publish it.

But it’s very important to note the “strong, convincing case.” Again, people differ on what exactly is a strong, convincing case. A case must be examined and tested to see if it is strong and convincing. And that again is a good reason for publishing, or making the effort to do so. You’ll learn a great deal in the process.

I’ll be publishing more on what we would look for here at Energion particularly for academic publications. But we publish only a few books that we would categorize as “academic.” Similar principles should apply to any book.

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