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

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In fact, the anemic resistance to the TPP by the most otherwise activism-ready individuals suggests the following disturbing rule: the more people, movements and categories of rights and freedoms that are likely to be curtailed by a piece of legislation, the less resistance that legislation is likely to elicit in the general population. That's perhaps the opposite of what one would expect from a rational species (and it's just a hypothesis, so it might be falsified by more systematically-gathered evidence). But human beings are only piecemeal rational, and there are a lot of cracks in human rationality that are easily exploited.

Consider these facts. SOPA elicited enough outrage among net heads to kill that terrible bill (which would have substantially curtailed internet freedom under the pretense of protecting intellectual property online). The Keystone XL pipeline elicited enough steady public outrage to delay the construction of that fossil-fuel monstrosity--steady activism has kept it at bay for more than five years now. And the vileness of fracking has elicited enough outrage to make certain politicians impose temporary moratoriums and even bans on that climate-warming, chemical-spewing, flammable faucet-making practice.

One might expect, then, that a bill like the TPP--which, among many other things, re-introduces some of the worst features of SOPA (and adds some more ) AND makes it easier for frackers to sue governments for passing anti-fracking legislation--would elicit at least twice as much outrage as either one of those evils elicited on its own. If anything, though, the opposite now appears to be the case.

Social psychology to the rescue?

A puzzle like this is one that the field of social psychology is supposed to be uniquely poised to solve, and since I'm a social psychologist, I'll take a stab at it in the subsequent articles in this series.

Go to Part 2:  Obstacles to Anti-TPP Coordination: A Social Psychological Account.

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1 A brief review of the linked evidence above will demonstrate, I think, that I am being only slightly hyperbolic in my estimate of the TPP's likely carnage. Forbes, as might be expected, seems to be mindful only of its readers' stock options and not of general human welfare. As for Paul Krugman's article, it reads like a willful refusal to acknowledge that post-NAFTA "trade deals" aren't really about lowering tariffs and import quotas--they're about empowering large corporations to sue governments when governments don't obey their commands. Krugman, in response to reader push back, has taken this criticism under consideration and is pondering the issue further. Yet he still seems mysteriously undisturbed by the secrecy of the negotiations and by the attempt to fast-track the finished product through Congress--contrast Nobel-Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz , who pretty much gets it.

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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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