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

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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?"

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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.

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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?

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Ian Hansen is an Associate Professor of psychology and the 2017 president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility.

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