Why are voters so easily hoodwinked? Why so many vote against their own interests? What is it about human beings that corrupts even the systems and organizations designed with the best of intentions? Why don’t people or nations learn from experience, or from history? When is truth really relative, and when saying that is an excuse? What goes on inside people when they describe such different “realities” at the least conflict of interests? Does thinking for yourself make you happier, unhappier, or are there different kinds of happiness? Why did the US democracy turn into a plutocracy, again?
Many people ask these questions with mounting frustration, having to bear the compounding absurdities in relationships and systems, big and small – and especially after electoral results that contradict what the vast majority of people say they want. To really understand these issues we have to look at them from several viewpoints, because the real answer is multifaceted.
When we analyze political behavior – or more broadly, when we want to understand what underpins and mediates the decisions we make — much is lost if we do so only from the perspective of one discipline. Political behavior and political psychology can be analyzed from the perspective of history, anthropology, political science, economics, or psychology: cognitive, social, cultural, existential, or evolutionary psychology. Each perspective provides meaningful understandings. Here I create a framework combining multiple perspectives, and invite other thinkers and researchers to add and elaborate on each as well as on the whole.
In the last three decades, excellent books and articles have been published about the human mind and more recently, about the brain. There is fascinating research about many issues mentioned here, studying specific phenomena within specific disciplines. There is both the need for specialization, as well as for creating comprehensive pictures, gestalts, to help us see how the parts fit together and interact. My contribution here is to present some new pieces of this puzzle, and together with the pieces described by others, fit them into a composite picture that hopefully enhances the meaning of the parts. I believe you will also find that some familiar concepts are presented in a new light.
This is a book about what is necessary to make democracy real as well as sane, and create a benevolent society and culture for all its members. It is about how and why democratic institutions get hijacked by demagogues – heads of corporations, political manipulators and actual politicians with the active support of the media, often the academia, and the collusion of citizens who don’t know how to think for themselves, nor wish to. Therefore, I will examine the “organ” where true sovereignty is supposed to reside: people’s consciousness — minds and hearts. At the same time, this book is about deep happiness, about healthier relationships and workplaces, and about living fuller lives.
Those who manipulate people’s consciousness already understand how people deceive themselves (intuitively at least) because knowing this is a set of social intuitions which are part of our evolutionary psychology. So it befits the rest of us to also understand this if we are to free ourselves from their manipulations. To repeat a very often quoted injunction attributed to Socrates: “Know thyself”. A commitment to continuously knowing ourselves better is essential to this freedom from the demagoguery/plutocracy/oligarchy that is a constant threat to actual government by the people, for the people. It also brings inner peace.
This analysis is about the mentality that Western Culture generates, in the last half century predominantly through the cultural prominence of the United States. This is a mentality — that despite ardent protestations to the contrary — is held in high status and copied around the world, as well as assimilated through the modes of cognition and selective attention shaped by the use and over-use of the latest technologies. This mindset –which in the US includes anti-intellectualism, complacency, avid materialism, and often misapplied post-modernism – makes it easy for all forms of mass media to distort and manipulate. I will focus on the culture of spin that came to reign supreme in the US since the 1980’s and spread like corporate wildfire across the word. I will especially examine the tributaries of conformism, the self-deceptive ways in which people try to resolve cognitive dissonances, the power of unconscious norms and biases, cultism, as well as fallacies of logic and other forms of manipulation.
And on the other hand I will examine the attitudes and practices that develop a special sensitivity in the mind and the freedom to think for oneself. The air smells a lot sweeter in that state of mind! The book pivots on the things people care about most, yet often ignore or betray: things like truth, integrity, meaning in life, and most of all deep happiness. How does personal deep happiness relate to the ability to think for oneself: this is one thing I hope to explain.
Several clarifications to start with:
When I speak of consciously becoming happier, I am very cognizant that many people have rarely tasted happiness of any kind, and that those who have are exceedingly fortunate. In no way do I minimize the great difficulty — for the large part of humanity not blessed by the kind of genes, bio-chemistry, environment and experiences conducive to basic wellbeing — to experience joy, inner peace, satisfaction and the privilege of pursuing self-actualization, as in Maslow’s pyramid of needs.
I use the word “political” to refer to all power relationships. Not only to designate the mechanics of government, campaigns, parties, elected officials, etc. Nor do I use it pejoratively as meaning: “insincerity in the service of your own agenda”. When I refer to humans’ political psychology I am referring to all the ways in which humans engage in relationships that involve power. That is: all the ways they influence, dominate, are subservient to, relate with equality, cooperate, organize themselves hierarchically, etc. This can be within a couple, a family, an organization, an economic system large or small, a nation or the world.
In the Appendix section you will find something about my cultural experiences, so you can understand more about the perspectives that influence what I write. But I think it important to state at the beginning two guiding principles I hold to, that will echo in one way or another throughout the book: One is that if I am not honest with myself I lose touch with my soul (self, authenticity, and connections: from the personal to the universal). And if I lose touch with my soul my life loses the richness of meaning, the richness of every moment, and it gets disconnected from happiness (vitality, inspiration, authentic creativity, deep ability to connect, with the wellspring of joy and wisdom that I feel both “out there” and “in here”).
A different principle – this one about action in the world— is that if people do not speak out and act against injustice, they will lose the freedom they have, they will unwittingly collude in strengthening tyranny, oppression. This is true in nations, local government, all types of organizations and certainly in places of employment. I will later expand on this principle, and talk about the window of freedom and personal power that people need to initially have in order for it to apply. (When you have a gun pointed at your head or that of your children, it is too late.)
I am very interested in my readers’ ideas on these topics and I welcome a thoughtful dialogue with you after you have read the book. Please use the Contact page for your contributions. Thank you.