Saturday, April 21, 2018

Psychographics and Real Politics

Trump’s most ardent followers will dump him the moment they realize it was a bad bet in the first place, but when will they realize it?  If the history of other wannabe dictators is an indicator, not until defeat is obvious and imminent.  In the ardency of their loyalty, they have adopted for themselves belief in, and commitment to, the fictitious world he made credible.  It’s a world they were already certain existed: a violent world where their personal safety was at risk, a world destroying long held social values, of uncontrolled invasion by unwanted aliens, of an economy intentionally organized to keep them down.  A world in which they get no respect from mythical elites.  It’s a world that had for years been sold to them by talk radio and FOX news, confirmed by the election of a black president, and now authenticated by a new president who, by his office and in his words, has made it real – for them.  

It’s a world they had always lived in but kept private, or shared with only a few others over a beer or backyard BBQ.  Talk radio, FOX and Trump didn’t create it.  They provided the platform and agency for it to be proclaimed publicly, and as a means for the acquisition of money and power for themselves.  The fiction of their imaginary world won’t collapse through informed argument, but only through overwhelming electoral defeat.  But what then?

Those same ardent supporters will no doubt look around for another  right wing fascist oriented fiction into which they can live, aided by the manipulators who are savvy enough to spot a new opportunity to make money and acquire power.  What’s reassuring is that throughout modern history these kinds of movements have not been able to completely squash the human desire for truth, freedom, integrity, and what we broadly call human rights.  The challenge that gives Trumpism type movements their temporary advantage is majority complacency.  In our country, it means low voter turnout, except for extremists.  It also means appalling ignorance of basic civics: American history, government, legislative processes, etc.

I have no idea why a predictable percentage of the American population lives in a world where authoritarian rulers are looked for and followed, in spite of the obvious fictions they proclaim.  In the early 1980s, when psychographics were emerging as tools for understanding group behavior, there were several studies suggesting that around 10% of the population could be relied on to favor authoritarian leaders and leadership, and that around 60% could be relied upon to be complacently malleable.  By now, new research and better data have no doubt resulted in a more sophisticated understanding of how that works.  Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, Google, Amazon and others certainly think so.


The point is that trying to change world views of the 10% is probably unproductive, although it would be helpful to know who they are, and offer reassurance that their fears and anxieties will be acknowledged.  Productive change has to be aimed at the 60% who are complacently malleable.  First, by knocking the complacency out of them, at least for a while.  Second, by providing an abundance of easily understood, verifiable information that speaks directly to their conditions in life.  It’s exactly what Cambridge Analytica offered to do for right wing causes, using every despicable tactic they could dream up.  The same thing can be done with integrity and transparency by moderates and progressives, should they choose to do so.  If they do, do it in plain, public sight.

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