Persuading People with Granfalloons (and nth Tesla crowdfunder)

h yeah yesterday I should have mentioned the recent string of Tesla-related crowdfunders continues… this time it’s the Turn of the Century Electrotherapy Museum, an awesome one-man institution run by a machinist with a dyed-in-the-wool dislike of pseudoscience and a love of building obscure high-voltage machines. Plenty of Tesla-related material here, though sadly the museum has no devices which were made or owned by Tesla. (This is probably because, with respect to electrotherapy, Tesla worked very subtly — helping doctors and manufacturers behind the scenes and sharing his results with them, but without saying much in public.)

Okay so group psychology time. Today’s article of choice is a remarkable study conducted by Michael Billig and Henri Tajfel [1] in 1973.

They found that by categorizing people completely arbitrarily — “if the coin lands heads you’re in group A” — people still behaved as if the groups were based on something “real.”

By the time the study was done, “total strangers were acting as if those in their granfalloon were their close kin and those in the other group were their worst enemies.”[2]

The term ‘granfalloon’ comes from Kurt Vonnegut[3] who included in his list of real-world granfalloons “the Communist Party, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the General Electric Company—and any nation, anytime, anywhere.”

Anyway there’s probably some very deep insight in here but it hasn’t percolated to the top of my mind yet so you figure it out.

Well, okay, here’s maybe one: there is/was a social imperative to spend MORE on anything related to weddings. It was almost as if many people believe that spending more makes them more likely to succeed.

Cognitive dissonance…?



Where would a leader be without something to lead? Our next tactic supplies the answer: Establish what Kurt Vonnegut terms a
“granfalloon,” a proud and meaningless association of human beings. One of social psychology’s most remarkable findings is the
ease with which granfalloons can be created. For example, the social psychologist Henri Tajfel merely brought subjects into
his lab, flipped a coin, and randomly assigned them to be labeled either Xs or Ws. At the end of the study, total strangers
were acting as if those in their granfalloon were their close kin and those in the other group were their worst enemies.

Granfalloons are powerful propaganda devices because they are easy to create and, once established, the granfalloon defines
social reality and maintains social identities. Information is dependent on the granfalloon. Since most granfalloons quickly
develop out-groups, criticisms can be attributed to those “evil ones” outside the group, who are thus stifled. To maintain a
desired social identity, such as that of a seeker or a New Age rebel, one must obey the dictates of the granfalloon and its leaders.


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