Previous readings in this section describe how groups engender norms and "solve" social order problems, but remember that we defined social order as both coordination and cooperation, with the latter including the capacity to achieve optimal collective outcomes. Here we have what might be called a theory of "group failure" — what we want to explain is how is it that group's can "unintentionally" enforce norms that are suboptimal from individual perspectives? You should recall, in this connection, the

In "The Emperor’s Dilemma," authors Damon Centola, Robb Willer and Michael Macy discuss the popular enforcement of unpopular norms. Beginning with the example and metaphor of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” the reader is introduced to the concept that people go along with things, and even enforce them, for the powerful reason that the thing’s popular, regardless of the fact that they personally and privately dislike it.

Although an emperor going around naked and everyone then complimenting his beautiful gown seems like a very absurd scenario, the authors argue that versions of this happen everyday. The phenomenon that occurs is pluralistic ignorance in which all participants privately reject the norm but publicly reinforce it, creating the illusion of support for the norm. People don’t like it or don’t believe it but are afraid of the consequences of going against the group.

The question becomes; why would anyone enforce a norm that they disagree with? The proposed explanation is that “true believers” who wish to expose the phonies of the group create a pressure for members to prove their sincerity by not only supporting the norm but also enforcing it on others. The illusion of transparency occurs in which the insincere supporters fear that their true feelings about the norm are apparent so they must hide them by accusing others of insincerity. This can be taken even further with the realization that these “true believers” may also be simply reacting to their own illusion of transparency. What emerges is a very witch-huntish phenomenon in which everyone accuses everyone else to hide their own insincerity, but no one even likes the norm they’re enforcing in the first place.

These scenarios explain why unpopular norms are self-reinforcing because people, regardless of personal feelings about norm, support and enforce it in order to protect their own status within the group. (CMcNaughton)