Rob asks us to think about, "What are the biggest lies and
delusions that keep people voting against their own interests?" My broad answer is, American minds have
been programmed from birth with a worldview that induces them to act contrary
to their own interests. It is as
if they have been infected with a parasite that possesses their brains and
motivates the victims to do its bidding.
Let me elaborate.
We are encultured. We are born into a family within a nation, and we incorporate the national beliefs, values, goals and way of life into the structure of our own mind. We become a member of the culture, sharing its beliefs and values and willingly participating in the ways of life that are consistent with those beliefs and values. A child born to American parents and raised in the USA grows up and becomes "an American".
Enculturation programs our brain with a worldview. We learn how to think, feel and behave like "an American". The worldview functions as an operating system for our brain. Our genetics and prenatal environment (womb) builds the basic firmware of our information reception and processing systems; builds our "neural nature". The operating system configures the firmware to determine how we will process information inputs to interpret and perceive reality. Neuropsychology explores how our perception of reality is literally configured by the worldview we have installed as the operating system in our brain.
Different worldviews produce different perceptions of "reality". The reality that we know is the reality that we perceive. Perception 'is' reality. Or at least it is the reality that is available for us to be aware of. Unless/until we consciously perceive some thing -- either as a sense perception or as an internally generated idea or image -- we have no knowledge that the thing exists. We apply our reasoning to the perceptions of reality that we know. We are simply not aware of all other realities that exist, but which we have never been introduced to via sense perception or logical inference or imagination.
Enculturation with a worldview determines the reality that you will perceive yourself to be living in. And unless you are one of the few who spend their lives exploring the inner space of their own and other people's brains/minds, you will believe your perception of reality is providing you with accurate information about reality as it is in itself. "Objective reality". You will believe you are perceiving, that you "know", objective reality.
As an unexamined and unreconstructed product of our nature and our nurture, our beliefs and values are manufactured for us. We are "made". Human products of a genetic and cultural manufacturing process. "Americans" are made by their parents and the American culture they were raised into.
We can unmake and remake/reconstruct our self. We can "change our mind". We can search, discover, examine, and modify or uninstall the beliefs and values that have been programmed into us. We can install alternate beliefs and values of our own choosing, and become a self-made person. But most people simply accept their encultured version of their life in the world as "normal" and "reality".
People who are like us -- fellow Americans -- share and confirm our beliefs and values and approve of our behavior and way of life. The confirmation reinforces our belief in the truth of our beliefs, the goodness of our values, and the rightness of our way of life. If we become aware of people from other cultures we find them strange, weird. If they disagree with our own cultural beliefs, values and goals we say they are wrong, because we are "normal" and our normal is "reality". Or at least our normal is the best version of reality. People who disagree with us are ignorant and/or evil, because everybody who knows and accepts the empirical and moral truths of reality is one of "us", or they want to be just like us. We are the shining city on a hill.
Most people never question their cultural programming: their preconceptions, conditioned emotional responses, moral and logical motivational structure. They simply accept it as is. Few people are able to step outside the box of their own worldview and recognize that they had been living in a box that they thought was "reality".
Stepping outside the opaque walls of the box into the unbounded light of day is called "enlightenment". Few people experience this enlightened perspective, so they think their box -- however narrow minded are the views it affords -- "is" reality. A bigger box that includes other cultures may enable a more broadminded perspective, but it is still a box. A true view of reality requires dissolving all the artificial walls that have been erected to constrain our seeing and thinking. But most people fear freedom and prefer the sense of security within walls.
People live: people prefer to live, in Plato's Cave; in The Matrix. People are fully convinced they are living in unconditioned objective reality, and they will fight to preserve this belief. People strongly resist any threats to the universal truth of their encultured beliefs, and the absolute moral goodness of their encultured values, and the motives, behaviors and way of life that are justified by these beliefs and values. If someone shows them their beliefs are false, or their values are evil, they will retreat to rebuild the sheltering walls of their worldview, or they will attack the person who is trying to "destroy the world" that they believe in. Almost nobody will interpret the corrective effort as "education" or "constructive criticism", and take the opportunity to "change their mind". Rather than embrace truth that changes their mind, people retrench and believe harder in their familiar falsehoods. We fortify the defensive walls of our own prison.
In his 1938 book, The Great Transformation, Karl Polanyi describes the 19th century during which Western "culture" was replaced by "market economy". A culture incorporates many different beliefs and values, often competing with each other so that compromises must be made in our individual lives and in our national political life. Market economy replaces all that human diversity with a single value and a single motive: gain. Profit. Money profit and economic ownership, secured by the elevation of "property rights" over human rights. But in the 19th century this transformation occurred mainly within the minds of the elites, in response to the changing socioeconomic realities wrought by industrialization and the extension of finance capitalism from its home in the bond market (war finance) into private sector economic development.
Until the 20th century, Christian religion was the primary creator of the beliefs, values and goals of Western mass culture. We perceived ourselves as "a Christian nation, under God". Perhaps beginning with the WWI propaganda campaign that deliberately and skillfully transformed the opinion of the American masses from unwilling to get involved in foreign conflicts, to "kill the evil huns", Christian religion ceased to be the primary creator of America's homogenized mass mind. That role was taken up by state-corporate capitalism. The "nation" became the corporate state.
Edward Bernays and Madison Avenue became the new Vatican from whence the people's beliefs and values would be proclaimed, in service to the Mad Men's plutocrat, corporate and government paymasters, all under the guiding hand of their Wall St masters and collaborators. Worldview creating and behavior molding propaganda was professionalized into a highly sophisticated and psychologically effective art during the 20th century. It converted the American people -- and maintains them in this state -- from personally responsible adult citizens of a Christian nation to a nation of infantilized "consumers" who have the right to consume the advertised corporate baubles: paid for by income, entitlement, debt or whatever means come to hand. Advertising (and Hollywood) creates the needs, corporate capitalism provides the goods that (pretend to) satisfy those needs, and finance capitalism provides the money to produce and purchase them, so the people can participate in what John K Galbraith called in 1958, The Affluent Society.