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Part 1: What Is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, And Why Don't I Care?

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There are also a number of anti-TPP petitions online, but one of the more efficient and innovative petition sites is Peace Team's . It allows you to send faxes (which carry more weight) to your representatives and also a letter to the editor of your local paper.

Then grab your calendar and free up January 31, because that's the Inter-Continental Day of Action against the TPP. Public Citizen and Expose the TPP each have a page devoted to activist options also. Or look in a search engine for "Trans Pacific Partnership" and "petition", for "Trans Pacific Partnership" and "protest", and for "Trans Pacific Partnership" and "action." Search through facebook and twitter also.

If all that's too much of a commitment right now, and you have more curiosity then passion, then just keep reading. Just because the general time frame is urgent, that doesn't mean that your own individual decision is.

For now, please indulge me and just assume for the sake of argument that I am right about the TPP--that it's a real disaster, a trans-Pacific quadruple NAFTA--or " NAFTA on steroids " as many are calling it. Then the question becomes, for most of us, "Why haven't I heard about the TPP until now?" Or perhaps, "Why have I heard only a little about it--enough to know that various stripes of activists have a problem with it--but not enough to know why, or to care that much either?"

And then, for a smaller but still significant minority, there's this question: "I've done some research on the TPP and on the consequences of other existing trade deals, but even after understanding why the TPP's lack of transparency is ominous and why fast-tracking it is likely to catastrophically savage democracy, freedom, the environment and public health, why am I still having such a hard time working up the focused outrage to do anything about it?" This question is the most vexing, and answering it is key to answering the other two.

The puzzle of our passivity

Let's start with the last group of puzzled questioners, the "Since I know it's bad, why can't I bring myself to action?" group. The existence of the last group isn't troubling as long as the percentage of knowledgeable people burdened with being in this group is relatively small. "Relatively small" in this case means no bigger than for any other galvanizing issue, like the Stop Online Piracy Act ( SOPA), or the Keystone XL pipeline, or the acquittal of George Zimmerman. Unfortunately, I think that the percentage of TPP-knowledgeable people who fall into the inactive category is actually quite large relative to these other outrages--though the momentum seems to finally be building now.

I get this impression (that people who know about the TPP haven't been as galvanized as they should be) from the fact that I haven't seen a lot of anti-TPP posters, flyers or rallies out there, and the one anti-TPP protest I've managed to get to was relatively small. I also haven't heard of many anti-TPP protests or attention-getting actions being reported in the media--even in the progressive-friendly left-alternative media--though here are a couple of happy exceptions: (1) , (2) . I have even had the frustrating experience of joining a proposed anti-TPP rally on facebook and then showing up to find not a single person there (apparently it was "organized" by someone out of state). I'm crossing my fingers that the January 31 Inter-Continental Day of Action will get a little closer to the scale of the anti-WTO protests in 1999 (though hopefully without police violence or media misrepresentations).

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The media, obviously, has not helped to raise awareness about the TPP. It's not surprising, though, that the six major media corporations --all of whose CEOs would likely benefit under the bill--are participating in a de facto blackout on the story. Media blackouts are pretty common for any major progressive issue anyway, so that can only be part of the explanation for why so few people know what's going on.

Outrage from an active minority of informed people can create events so impressive and popular (like those of the Occupy movement) that the media can't ignore them. When this happens, the blackout gets punctured and the media moves on to mocking, lecturing and maligning the popular resistance movement instead of pretending it doesn't exist. Even with the Wikileaks bombshell in November of last year, anti-TPP activism hasn't gotten past first base yet, and now the bill to fast-track it has already been introduced to Congress. What's been going on?

The lack of on-the-street action can only be partially attributed to lack of coverage. It's not hard to find organizational statements and petitions (e.g. by Doctors Without Borders , The Sierra Club , 350.org , Moveon.org , P ublic Citizen , Friends Committee on National Legislation , and the AFL-CIO ) speaking out against the secretiveness and likely harmfulness of the TPP. And Wikileaks , which released a subset of secret TPP draft texts on intellectual property (and, more recently, on the environment ), has a big enough public profile that its leaks should have been a bigger turning point than they have been. Other TPP-reporting progressive outlets like The Nation , Democracy Now! , Bill Moyers , The Guardian , and The Huffington Post have a wide audience in the left-progressive political constituency too.

And news of the TPP has even traveled outside of the progressive bubble to some extent. Alex Jones, the famous Austin, TX-based libertarian (and false flag-obsessed) talk show host, hosts the sites Prison Planet and InfoWars . These sites have many TPP-related reports which have likely reached a good number of libertarians, conspiracy-minded conservatives and others who occupy an ambiguous zone in the divides of ideology. The more mainstream pro-business Bloomberg News has reported on the dangers of the TPP also. This means that the information has gotten out in some form to the people who are most likely to be passionate about it. But still too many the would-be passionate are not as passionate as this multi-level threat warrants.

I'm not saying that no good progress has been made in raising the alarm. The work done by those who have been active has been quite effective against the odds, and the two mid-November letters opposing fast-track from 23 Republican and 151 Democratic Representatives are a sign that even greater victories are within reach with more participation, imagination and determination.

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I'm also not saying that every progressive person (or "crabgrass" conservative or whatever) is obliged to shift all their spare time and energy into fighting the TPP. Not everyone capable of passion is obliged to be passionate about any one issue. People should follow their own callings and not diminish the callings of others. It is generally unattractive to indulge one's narcissistic hunger for validation by demanding the enthusiastic approval and committed participation of everyone else on earth at all times in one's idiosyncratic passions and callings. There are lots of troubles in the world, and lots of good things you can do that do not require taking a stand on the TPP right now one way or the other.

Still, the degree of passionlessness over the TPP is objectively mysterious, mysterious enough to register as an intriguing social scientific question. The generally numb progressive response (and, as one blogger complains , Tea Party response) is not well-matched to the TPP's outrageousness, the underhandedness of the process by which boosters are trying to ram it through, or to the number of movements, groups, public goods and democratic institutions that the TPP threatens.

The more values threatened, the less resistance?

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Ian Hansen is a social psychology professor specializing in cultural and political psychology and a part time activist on behalf of the good things in life.

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