In 1906, the great statistician Francis Galton observed a competition to guess the weight of an ox at a country fair. The winner would win the ox, which was a huge prize, and the uptake amongst fair goers was massive. What was interesting to Galton, and significant to anyone interested in social change, was that no-one guessed correctly, but everyone was right.
When all the answers were averaged, the collective answer was within 0.1% of the correct weight. This experiment has been repeated successfully many times under controlled conditions, and the phenomenon has become known as the wisdom of the crowd.
What happens is that as many people underestimate as overestimate, and the average is correct. It means that together, human beings’ collective knowledge and outlook can solve even complex, extremely difficult problems.
Extinction Rebellion is calling for a citizens’ assembly for exactly this reason. 1000 people randomly selected from all of the different demographics in the UK (just as juries are selected for court cases), and educated on the relevant issues, are more likely to come up with viable solutions to climate change and ecological collapse than any other single method. Extinction Rebellion is not pretending to be able to have the political knowledge or power to propose all the solutions we and our planet need to prevent disaster. But the solutions, we suggest, do exist in our collective mind and can be accessed if we work together.
Roger Hallam recently stated: either we all work together, or we will all die together. In the light of the wisdom of the crowd, this is true scientifically, statistically and socially. As a collective – when we look past race, creed, sexuality or political allegiance – humanity has the answers that will prevent total social collapse. The time is now to realise this potential.