There is a marvellous illustration of this arms-race problem in the work of two psychology professors, Deborah Gruenfeld and Robert Wyer, Jr. They gave people statements that were said to be newspaper headlines, and asked them to rate their plausibility, on a scale of zero to ten. Since the headlines basically stated the obvious–for example, “black democrats supported jesse jackson for president in 1988”–the scores were all quite high. The readers were then given a series of statements that contradicted the headlines. Not surprisingly, the belief scores went down significantly. Then another group of people was asked to read a series of statements that supported the headlines–statements like “Black Democrats presently support Jesse Jackson for President.” This time, the belief scores still dropped. Telling people that what they think is true actually is true, in other words, has almost the same effect as telling them that what they think is true isn’t true. Gruenfeld and Wyer call this a “boomerang effect,” and it suggests that people are natural skeptics. How we respond to a media proposition has at least as much to do with its pragmatic meaning (why we think the statement is being made) as with its semantic meaning (what is literally being said). And when the pragmatic meaning is unclear–why, for example, would someone tell us over and over that Jesse Jackson has the support of black Democrats–we start to get suspicious. This is the dilemma of spin. When Rahm Emanuel says “bombshell,” we focus not on the actual bombshell but on why he used the word “bombshell.”
Similarly, once Australia becomes a republic, has marriage equality and abolishes Christian prayers at the beginning of parliamentary sessions, there will be no going back. No-one will wake up afterwards and say, "Let's ask Britain if we can borrow their monarch," or "Let's restrict marriage," or "Let's have prayers." The reason is that the previous position was exposed as untenable and seen that way by an increasing number of people until it became the majority position. That is the time conservatives take it on, as they have taken on the Australian national anthem while reactionaries would prefer God Save the Queen .
Declining real wages and increasingly insecure job tenure have also no doubt played a big role in many young couples’ conclusions that they should either remain childless or delay marrying and starting families. In a paper presented at the Social Trends Institute conference, demographers Wolfgang Lutz, Stuart Basten, and Erich Striessnig noted that over the last generation in the developed world, especially in Europe, entry into professional life after education has become more difficult. “In many European countries,” they observed, “where young employees in the past enjoyed positions which were more or less permanent, today many have to jump from one short-term contract to the next. Under such conditions it becomes less attractive to establish a family and, subsequently, to avoid dedicating all of one’s time and energy to pursuing a professional career.” 16