[Washington Post - opinion]
Everyone knows that America has an obesity problem. But when I read
about a recent medical study suggesting that getting fat is socially
contagious -- that if your friends gain weight, you become much more
likely to -- I was skeptical. It seemed an illogical form of bandwagon
So, as I said, I was skeptical. However, I soon came to understand
that the study is probably right. I came to understand this because,
on the very day that the report was issued, I learned something
interesting about human nature from my friend Bruce Friedrich. We met
for a morning of leafleting.
"Leafleting" is not a typical way that friends get together, unless
your friend happens to be Bruce, who is always working, and whose work
consists of informing most everyone in the world, often via leaflet,
that they are bloodthirsty monsters. Bruce is a national spokesman for
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the in-your-face animal
rights organization that believes it is immoral to consign fully
sentient beings to nightmarish lives of immobility, fear and pain just
because we like to eat them instead of eggplant.
Bruce and I were outside the Metro station, handing out what has
proved to be PETA's most effective leaflet, promoting vegetarianism
through the testimonials of famously vegetarian celebrities, including
Paul McCartney, Pamela Anderson, Kim Basinger and Mr. T.
This fact alone illustrates two principles of human behavior: The
first is that for completely illogical reasons, humans are impressed
by the endorsement of celebrities, even if those celebrities are, say,
Pamela Anderson, who, according to her Wikipedia entry, is primarily
known "for her large breast implants."
"If the first person takes a leaflet," he said, "everyone else will
want to see what that guy got. No one wants to miss out. But if they
see that the first person rejects it, everyone behind him becomes too
good for it." I experimented a little. The theory proved true close to
100 percent of the time. No one had any idea what was on that leaflet,
whether its message would appeal or repulse; there was no empirical
way to judge its value except by the actions of an equally ignorant
person in front of you.