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

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(Article changed on January 27, 2014 at 19:20)

(Article changed on January 25, 2014 at 02:04)

This is the last 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

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

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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?

The second part drew on social psychology concepts like ingroup favoritism, cognitive miserliness, the halo effect and cognitive dissonance to explore some potential answers to that question.

The third part applied cognitive dissonance and other social psychology concepts like conformity and obedience to address the mystery of why "liberal" President Obama is seeking fast-track authority for the TPP. It also made the case that drawing a distinction between "liberal" and "left" (one based in psychological research) can explain Obama's behavior better than collapsing liberal-left vs. conservative-right into one dimension.

The fourth part argued for the activist utility of cultivating a strong locus of control and sense of self-efficacy. I then drew on the social psychology of fear, and on some under-appreciated monotheistic ideas about hell and the fear of God, to examine how some kinds of fear (like fear of state violence) may be holding us back from action on the TPP, and how other fears--like the fear of being passive or complicit in the face of something deeply wrong--are potentially effective ways of overcoming this fear.

This fifth, and concluding, part, will focus on how to use social psychology not only to explain our obstacles to action but to actively overcome those obstacles.

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If you take the scientific pretensions of social psychology too seriously, you might imagine that its findings reflect unchangeable human universals--universals that you as an individual cannot hope to overcome. Fortunately, social science is a domain of probabilities, and whenever a scientific fact is only probabilistically true, it is always possible to be an exception. In fact, just by dosing you with all of these social psychology findings I might actually be causing you (probabilistically) to become exceptions.

I'm aiming here for something that social psychologist Kenneth Gergen called an " enlightenment effect ." Gergen hypothesized that these effects are likely to occur when people are exposed to unflattering social psychological findings about humanity or about some other group that they consider themselves a part of. Gergen anticipated that we would feel an inclination to resist being an example of this unflattering behavior, and would strive to be an exception--and to move others around us to be exceptions too, potentially transforming our group, our culture and even humanity itself.

Gergen said that the downside of acknowledging the potential for enlightenment effects is that we potentially lose faith in the long-term reliability (and thus pretensions to scientific universality) of social scientific findings. Call me unscientific, but that's a price that I am willing to pay.

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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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Well done. I enjoyed all of that to the extent of... by paulvcassidy on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 12:18:50 PM
Thanks so much Paul.  I'm glad you liked it ... by Ian Hansen on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 1:49:13 PM
Please hook me into the anti-TPP thing anyway you ... by paulvcassidy on Saturday, Feb 1, 2014 at 6:45:54 AM