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

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(Article changed on January 25, 2014 at 01:51)

This is the second part of a five-part series: Sleeping Through the TPP Coup: Why a Trans-National Corporate Power Grab That Hurts Almost Everyone Is Arousing So Little Outcry

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

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

Part 3: The Puzzle of "Liberal" Obama's Support for the TPP

Part 4: Pitting Fear of Our Complicity Against the Fear to Resist the TPP

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Part 5: Battling the TPP with Enlightenment, Love and a Thirst For Meaning in the Face of Death

The first part of this series introduced the Trans Pacific Partnership "trade deal" scam, identified its potential dangers, as well as the dangers of allowing it to be "fast-tracked" through Congress. It also posed the question: why have activists had so much difficulty raising the mass awareness and mass outrage that the TPP threat warrants?

This part draws on social psychology paradigms to explore some potential answers to that question.

Social psychology, in a nutshell, is the study of how social influences and related psychological processes affect people's behavior, thoughts and attitudes. Though social psychology offers powerful conceptual tools for making sense of our social world, it cannot provide a definitive answer to the question of why anti-TPP resistance leaves so much to be desired. No social psychological theory can ever reliably explain a single historical event because all historical events tend to have confounded multiple causes.  All I can do is provide some scientifically-based scaffolding to your speculation on these questions.

To the extent any evil calls for passionate resistance, and any good calls for passionate support, the TPP looks like an evil that warrants resistance because it attacks several important goods at once. Chances are, though, your passions up to now have drawn your interest and labors to just one or two of these important goods, if they've drawn you to any of them at all.

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Being passionately engaged against all evils at all times (or for all goods at all times) isn't practical. We're a species composed of quasi-independent beings who exist in time, experience their consciousness from only one body each, have to sleep for several hours a day, and have all kinds of other things to do--like work for a living, eat, drink, excrete, manage sexual desire, maintain relationships, overcome existential challenges, etc.

Cognitive miserliness

All of these existence-related competitors for our attention, time and energy make the attempt to reduce noise something of a survival skill. And, indeed, most human beings show clear affection for simplicity, parsimony, and brevity.

Most people can't process long, complex stories as easily as they can process short, simple ones. This is because, as social psychologists have long noted, people are "cognitive misers." They think as little as they have to in order to make the most optimal decisions they can with their limited time and resources.

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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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