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

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(Article changed on January 25, 2014 at 02:00)

This is the fourth 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

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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?

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.

This fourth part, again drawing on social psychology concepts, addresses the wisdom of appealing to fear to encourage resistance to the TPP.

Since the Trans Pacific Parternship, if fast-tracked without amendment or debate, is likely to cause grievous harm and even death to a large number of human beings, collective inaction on the threat the TPP presents can potentially be seen as a failure to help others in need.  Inaction on the TPP may thus be related to something that social psychologists call " the bystander effect ."

Our knowledge of the impeding fast-tracking of TPP is analogous a subway platform full of people noticing that someone has shoved another passenger onto the tracks. An immediate thought that passengers might have is "someone should do something" (not "I should do something," just "someone"). But often no one does anything because they are all thinking someone else will do it.

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Then, in that awkward moment of pause, everyone looks around to see what others are doing. They see everyone else just standing there like dopes. Instead of motivating a thought like, "I guess I'll have to initiate the rescue then," what usually occurs is something more like, "well, I guess it's not such a big deal after all; otherwise someone would be doing something." It then continues to seem like not such a big deal until the train comes and runs the passenger over.

Actually, the subway analogy would fit the TPP better if the person pushed onto the subway tracks had just been involuntarily draped in a set of explosives likely to detonate on impact. The reality is that if the TPP train hits, it won't just be "the other guy" who will suffer--it will be all of us.

Fear-based Messages, Locus of Control, and Self-Efficacy

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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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