I began this journey of political discovery, like so many people, just about three years ago, when Trump was the GOP candidate and Hillary was flying high in the polls.
I felt mostly certain Hillary would win, but something nagged at me. It should never have come to this. What was happening below the surface that our political scene was so out of whack?
I had always been a student of human nature, and no one brings out the best and worst in human nature like Donald Trump.
I went at this project with the determination that I would face what was happening without ornamentation or self-delusion. As a child of the 60s, I had always romanticized the activists hitting the streets and fighting the power. But as I grew, I came to understand it was a great deal more complicated than that. As a radical activist in the 80s, I knew what didn’t work. For all the blur of activity from left-wing groups, we barely made a dent in Reaganism. Now I wanted to find out what did work.
How do you really fight the radical right?
I’ve developed what I call the Twelve Insights as a framework for understanding the psychology that guides our political brains. Of course, these are generalizations and there are always exceptions. And there are many more than twelve core truths to be explored.
I hope to illustrate these further in future posts.
The Twelve Insights Into Political Psychology
1. Nothing is happening now that has not happened before.
(The causes of present crises can be discerned and fought by examining past patterns.)
2. People don’t do what they should, they do what they do.
(Find the constants in human behavior and plan accordingly.)
3. Human thought is imprinted at an early age.
(Incorporate your frames into existing modes of thought.)
4. The liberal/conservative balance is almost universal, indicating an evolutionary advantage.
(Work with evolutionary biology rather than trying to neutralize it.)
5. Human brains have evolved cognitive effects to protect us.
(These will often backfire and make us vulnerable to manipulation and distorted thinking instead.)
6. Most thought is subconscious.
(Many people don’t understand their own minds and can be manipulated by those who do.)
7. Humans are social creatures and can be heavily influenced by appeals to social consensus.
(But you have to understand what makes your approval important to them.)
8. Attacking beliefs straight on will often cause a backfire effect, hardening them as defense mechanisms take over.
(Moral persuasion is a more effective approach.)
9. Many people are risk-averse and change-averse because they fear loss.
(If you want people to give up the tried-and-true, have something ready to take its place.)
10. It’s often easier to motivate people using fear and anger than peace and love.
(Build in reinforcers for humanistic approaches.)
11. How you do anything is how you do everything.
(The best indicator of future behavior is past behavior.)
12. You’re either working with human psychology or it’s working against you.
Some of these insights come from studying the work of George Lakoff, Drew Westen, and Anat Shenker-Osorio.