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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 4/18/18

The 1%'s Mind Games: Psychology Gone Bad

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Resistance through Attitude Inoculation

How can we thwart the 1%'s agenda? It begins by personally resisting the sway of their mind games. As Noam Chomsky wrote almost four decades ago, "Citizens of the democratic societies should undertake a course of intellectual self-defense to protect themselves from manipulation and control, and to lay the basis for more meaningful democracy." Such preventative strategies have never been more crucial than they are today. Of course, implementing them isn't easy because tapping into our core concerns can give the 1%'s appeals the solid ring of truth -- even though they're as flimsy as a con artist's promises.

The good news is that research on the psychology of persuasion shows how we can hold firm against the propaganda of the self-interested rich and powerful. Of particular relevance is what's called "attitude inoculation." The basic idea comes from the familiar public health approach used to prevent contracting and spreading a dangerous virus. Consider the flu vaccine. When you get a flu shot, you're receiving a modest dose of the actual influenza virus. Your body responds by building up antibodies, which will prove essential in fighting off the full-blown virus if it later attacks as you go about your daily life. A flu shot doesn't always work, but it improves your odds. That's why we're encouraged to get one each year before the flu season begins.

The 1%'s mind games are like a virus that can "infect" us with false and destructive beliefs. Here too, it turns out that inoculation is the best defense. Having been warned that this "virus" is prevalent and heading our way, in the form of deceptive appeals targeting our core concerns, we can become more vigilant and prepare in advance for the onslaught. The recommended preparation involves learning to recognize the mind games and practicing the counterarguments -- the "antibodies" -- that we'll need when we're later faced with an all-out assault. As psychologists Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson have explained, "We cannot resist propaganda by burying our heads in the sand. The person who is easiest to persuade is the person whose beliefs are based on slogans that have never been seriously challenged and examined."

The Progressive Alternative

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with appeals that focus on issues of vulnerability, injustice, distrust, superiority, or helplessness. Indeed, since these are our core concerns, they should be front and center when it comes to matters of public policy and the general welfare. But if we adopt a progressive perspective, political persuasion efforts that engage these issues should, with integrity, counter extreme inequality rather than preserve or extend it. These appeals should spur us to improve people's lives, not turn our backs on those who are struggling. And they should help us understand how, together, we can make things better -- for everyone.

The mind games of the 1% do exactly the opposite. They exploit our concerns for the specific purpose of advancing narrow interests while bringing harm to the vast majority of Americans. Rather than using their enormous resources to help create a more equal and decent society, the 1% instead devote themselves to protecting and expanding their wealth and power. Moreover, when arguing their case, they conceal their true intentions with carefully crafted appeals that manipulate our perceptions, promote falsehoods and distortions, and prey upon our emotions and prejudices.

That's why meaningful progress depends upon debunking the seductive propaganda of today's millionaire and billionaire snake-oil vendors. It's a tall order. The 1% have created a daunting environment for collective action by those who oppose their aims. But we have key resources of our own, including a compelling vision for the country -- one in which danger, mistreatment, and crushed aspirations will no longer be a routine part of so many lives.

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The ideas presented here are explored in greater depth in Dr. Eidelson's new book. POLITICAL MIND GAMES: How the 1% Manipulate Our Understanding of What's Happening, What's Right, and What's Possible is available through IndieBound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, other online outlets, and neighborhood bookstores.

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Roy Eidelson is a psychologist who studies, writes about, and consults on the role of psychological issues in political, organizational, and group conflict settings. He is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, a member of (more...)
 

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