Why, we all want to know, do Republicans believe in nonsense that has been repeatedly debunked over decades, and in some cases 150 years since the Civil War? And, to be fair, why do other people believe even older nonsense? At the same time, why do they keep making stuff up? Several scientific studies have been done on various aspects of the problem, including research reported in our first book, When Prophecy Fails.

The key finding is that under certain circumstances disconfirmation of a prophecy or other prediction results in greater belief, accepting of flimsy excuses for what happened, and increased recruiting of others to the cult, which may or may not work.

These conditions hold in spades for the Republican Party, particularly since the beginning of the racist Southern Strategy and recruitment of Religious Right bigots, misogynists, and Mammonites. Below the fold we will examine some of the evidence and several cases, starting with the original UFO cult that is the main topic of the book and continuing to the current drive for impeachment. Then we can start to discuss what to do about all of that, particularly since various of the Republican factions are shrinking, and demographics are strongly against them. That will take us into brief previews of some future books in this series.

The conditions specified in the book for Cognitive Dissonance to result in strong attempts to grow a belief community are

  1. Deep conviction, not only that something is true but that it requires some particular action. Republicans, check. Obamacare is tyranny! Shut down the government! Outlaw abortion! Impeach the President! Suppress voting!
  2. Commitment, that is taking an action that is difficult or impossible to undo. Republicans, check. God, guns, and gays, notably, but hatred of and injury to almost every segment of society. Burn every bridge you come to.
  3. Specificity, so that disconfirmation is unequivocal when it comes. Republicans, check, in many though obviously not all cases. Romney lost. Shutting down the government had to be abandoned twice. Impeachment failed once. Marriage Equality, 29 consecutive Federal court judgments in favor and still counting, after years of passing legislative and constitutional bans. Obamacare will destroy the economy, and must be voted down more than 50 times, to no effect, no matter how many jobs have been created since, and no matter how many records the stock market sets. (But they did get Medicaid expansion in the states made optional by the Supreme Court, and many states turned it down.) Voodoo Economics, continuously for decades, most recently in Kansas. The lawsuit against the President, popcorn! Because there is admittedly nothing to sue over, or to impeach over, either.
  4. Disconfirmation, failure of the prophecy, is obvious and admitted. Many Republican issues, check, as you can tell from the excuse-making. "We didn't cut taxes hard enough." "They covered up the coverup." "The government cooked the numbers." "ACORN!" But we have to examine ongoing Denialism, particularly on Global Warming, too. There the markets are speaking, now that we have reached Grid Parity, and the ability to finance coal-fired power plants is rapidly going away. So we don't know how long they can keep up that belief, although we do know that after the next time we take the House it won't matter nationally, assuming that we fix voting and the filibuster and start passing bills that the public approves of. We can expect even more strenuous actions in Red state legislatures and among Koch-funded organizations to follow.
  5. Believers have strong social support for maintaining their beliefs. Conversely, this implies that the supporters would cast them out and shun them if they wavered. Check. The Republican Echo Chamber on one side, and the Tea Parties vs. the RINOs on the other.

Let's do one, unskewing the polls.

  1. Conviction: The idea grew up that all polling companies, even those run by Republicans, were skewing the polls toward Obama. Presumably the thought is that Republican polling companies are all run by RINOs.
  2. Commitment: Specific, intense, incorrect statistical work, starting with cherry-picking data, was needed in the unskewing work, while in the campaign Republicans, Tea Partiers in particular, could burn their bridges with every segment of society that they disfavored, thinking that it would not affect the outcome.
  3. Specificity: Romney was going to win big, no question, and no thought was needed for even the possibility of an Obama victory.
  4. Disconfirmation: Then Romney lost. He was blindsided by the result, but rallied and made a decent concession speech. Even the lead unskewer, Dean Chambers, admitted that Nate Silver was right and Romney lost, until he or someone came up with the excuse that it was all due to voter fraud and suppression of Republican votes, for which he offered no evidence.
  5. Social Support: The excuse was picked up by a large segment of the Republican base and many in the Echo Chamber. So it still goes on, and Republicans continue fundraising and recruitment efforts on that basis.

Many Republicans expect their voter suppression measures to counter the non-existent voter fraud and allow them to win the Senate in November; to take the Presidency in 2016; to be able to sue the President and win in court, even though it isn't an election; and even to impeach and convict the President, regardless of the numbers in the Senate. Republican Senators were ready to vote against Nixon over Watergate, weren't they? So why not Democrats when we come up with the goods? All because the polls on everything are cooked by Liberal and RINO polling companies, and the coverups of the coverups have not been properly exposed yet.

Obviously, not all Republicans fell into the unskewing trap. The RNC and the College RNC both commissioned evidence-based studies on how to reach out to women, minorities, immigrants, LGBTs, and others, and both groups got slapped down as RINOs by the Tea Parties, who continue to insult and injure these and other groups even more.

Similarly for predictions of Obamacare disasters. Here is a recent Diary quoting several Republican predictions that the ACA would kill jobs, set alongside the actual job numbers since the bill passed in 2009.

Jobs Report: 9.8 Million Jobs Created in Private Sector Since Obamacare Passed

The commitment to kill Obamacare is based on Bill Kristol's 1993 prediction that a health care plan in any form would constitute

a serious political threat to the Republican Party.
Dozens of repeal votes and other actions. No dates, but explicit and unambiguous results predicted. Total disconfirmation with every monthly jobs report for five years reported in the Diary. This is the Tea Parties' signature issue, and anybody who doesn't scream and froth at the mouth over Obamacare is a RINO to be tossed into the Outer Darkness.

Similarly for the Religious Right, which believes that God is on its side and that it is actually a majority, or very soon will be, no matter what the outcome of polls or elections. Thus Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Coalition's annual Road to Majority Conferences, and annual failures of many predictions. The majority will be achieved, according to speakers at these conferences, by casting out the RINOs and attacking everybody else, because God is On Their Side and only religious purity counts.

Similarly for the failures of various organizations calling for huge national demonstrations in Washington DC, including non-existent truckers shutting down DC, and the American Spring turning up to arrest Obama and Congressional leaders, and the call for 300 massive demonstrations against the children at the border. None of those failures has dented the faith that majorities in the US are for those issues. Believers are in no way embarrassed at making these national calls to action in the most public possible ways. In fact, such calls have been on the increase.

Each of the major Republican factions has done this on its particular pet topics.

  • Tea Parties on Mississippi Senate Primary (Black voters legally voting in the Republican primary is massive voter fraud, or Cochran sold out to Blacks and Liberals, or whatever.)
  • Fossil carbon interests on Global Warming (It's a conspiracy of nearly all of the climate scientists in the world, just so they can get grant money.)
  • Racist Birthers (some CT or other that Sheriff Joe or The Donald will uncover by next Tuesday.)
  • The whole party on Benghazi (Squirrel!)
  • The IRS (with the added bonus that crippling the IRS and denying it funding makes it unable to go after as many tax cheats.)
  • CTers claiming that Hillary killed however many to cover up whatever (The massive Right-wing conspiracy is just a massive Left-wing conspiracy.)
  • Religious Right Creationism ("Peer-reviewed science is the Kool-Aid of the left-wing Liberal Conspiracy.")
  • The current child refugee crisis (Obama made the children come over the border in order to pass Immigration Reform and get all of the Latino votes. Also Ebola!!! and smallpox!!! Andrape!!!)
  • The Religious Right again on Legitimate Rape, Personhood, and so on (Well, there you go.)
  • Gun owners have been predicting for years that the UN or the Obama administration is going to swoop down and confiscate all guns in the US as a prelude to total tyranny over everything, and that every action of the government is proof. Here is a new one: NRA warns ivory ban will make gun owners ‘criminals overnight’. This is about expanding the ban on trade in ivory to antiques, including ivory-handled guns and ivory bridges on string instruments. Actually, the story tells us that Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, which is much worse than the NRA, claims that the Obama administration may be using the ivory ban as a backhanded way of pushing a gun control agenda.
  • 1%er Voodoo Economics (The only problem is that we didn't cut taxes enough.)
  • The Echo Chamber on increasing employment (The Labor Department cooked the books.)
  • Tea Parties and others on the Obamacare train wreck (Well, something. Wait, I know! We can make it fail if we impeach him.)
  • Also, there is no War on Women, but Voter Fraud is a thing, claimed over and over in different ways, because White people are victims of racist oppression.
  • You should have no trouble applying the conditions from the theory to every issue that I have mentioned. Just look at who is doing it, what they are committing to, and what they said before and after it didn't happen. In particular, are they doubling down on any particular prediction, and are they increasing their recruiting efforts while chasing out the ideologically impure from their particular faction?

    The publication of When Prophecy Fails was hailed as a great advance in social science, but it was correctly pointed out that this isn't much of an experiment to hang a whole theory on. I have provided some references to further materials on this work below. Research continues.

    It is important to see whether we can poke holes in the theory, or I should say think of possible objections on which we could do further experiments and make further observations. You can find discussions of that in some of the books listed below for further reading.

    Can you spot any problems that need to be addressed?

    For example, after the prophecy failed and the group went big in the press, they broke up, because several leading members were threatened with lawsuits (including sanity hearings) and police action, or lost jobs, as a result of their actions. So there was very little followup with the members. What happened afterwards? We don't know.

    How critical is each of the five conditions described in the theory? We can't tell from one instance. So we would need to look at further cases, and at constructed experiments.

    Are there other conditions that the researchers missed?

    The Story of the Prophecy

    The UFO cult is lightly disguised in When Prophecy Fails, with names and places changed. Mrs. Marian Keech of Lake City, Michigan was really Dorothy Martin of Chicago IL, founder of the cult sometimes known as The Seekers and the later Brotherhood of the Seven Rays. Steel City is Gary, Indiana, and so on. I will stick to the names in the book.

    There is a bit of that background here.

    Wikipedia: When Prophecy Fails

    Wikipedia: Seekers (Chicago)

    Before the global flood and UFO prophecies, Mrs. Keech had studied Madame Blavatsky's Theosophy and been "cleared" in L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics, the pseudoscientific therapy of Scientology, among other occult and pseudoscientific interests. One day she began receiving messages by automatic writing, allegedly from her dead father, in a handwriting different from her own. These were supplanted later by messages from the Guardians of the planets Clarion and Cerus, starting with one called Elder Brother, then from Sananda, who later claimed to be Jesus, and to be living on a flying saucer. The Guardians also revealed later on that there were a number of spacemen living on Earth or visiting from time to time.

    The very first prophecy of destruction, some months later, was this jumble.

    …the Earthling will awaken to the great casting of the lake seething and the great destruction of the tall buildings of the local city—the cast that the lake bed is sinking to the degree that it will be as a great scoop of wind from the bottom of the lake throughout the countryside. You shall tell the world that this is to be, for such it is given. To you the date only is secret, for the panic of men knows no bounds.
    In fact, Mrs. Keech did almost nothing to tell the world until after the prediction failed, when the group went on a media blitz, in accordance with Festinger's prediction.

    After several further expansions, the prediction of catastrophe turned into

    • Egypt being remade into a broad fertile valley
    • The lost continent of Mu rising from the Pacific
    • The uprising of the Atlantic sea bottom
    • The sinking of the Atlantic seaboard
    • The sinking of France and England
    • Russia becoming a sea

    among other things, all predicted to start on Dec. 21, four months after the message on August 27. Within a year the entire surface of the Earth was to be under water except for the continents rising out of the oceans. The authors of the book do not specify the year of these predictions, which occurred in 1954.

    Those who failed to heed the warning would be drowned, losing their physical bodies, but taken to other planets to continue their spiritual development. The believers were also the chosen who would be taken up in UFOs by the Guardians to some other planet for spiritual instruction, and would return to a cleansed and innocent Earth to repopulate it with good people who "walked in the Light".

    There were 33 active members of the group in December, 1954, some of whom quit their jobs in preparation for being taken up, or had made other arrangements that would be difficult or impossible to undo. Many were brought in by Dr. Armstrong, a professor in another city who ran a discussion group on these and other occult prophecies. There were also members and hangers-on who did not believe in the prediction of the floods, and others who visited the group but did not join.

    Communications with the supposed Guardians were extremely erratic, not least because gullible members would interpret actions by non-members as direct commands from the Guardians. They had also decided that Festinger's neutral scientific observers were Guardians or spacemen sent by the Guardians themselves, and frequently tried to get them to reveal their secrets. In addition to Mrs. Keech getting messages from Jesus/Sananda, another member, Bertha in the book, started getting messages, sometimes conflicting, but usually in agreement, from the Creator.

    In one case they followed the instructions of a telephone prankster calling himself Captain Video, even watching the TV program intently for further clues. In another, five competing UFO cultists calling themselves Guardians appeared at the Keech house to get her to take back her stories, but when she refused after hours of concerted attack, they told her that she had passed the test. The members then congratulated themselves, saying that the five were obviously spacemen.

    In the week before the promised flood, there were several instances when members thought that they were promised that the Guardians would take them up on their spaceships, for which they prepared themselves by removing all metal from their clothing and gathering in specified places. Thus there were multiple disconfirmations leading up to the big day.

    Before that, the group was very cautious about communicating with outsiders, not seeking publicity or converts directly. After each disconfirmation, the group made various excuses, such as getting messages from the Guardians claiming that the previous failure was really a test, or a drill, and ultimately that their faith and steadfastness had led the Guardians to cancel the catastrophe. After each such incident, the group opened up communications somewhat, talking more to the press and reaching out more and more to possible converts, telling them more and more about the prophecies which they had previously kept secret from all but the inner circle. After the ultimate failure, they went national in the newspapers.

    The final disconfirmation came on the night of Dec. 21, when the faithful were prepared to be taken up on the UFOs at midnight, with the initial flood expected in the morning. When that entirely failed to happen, the group was severely sad and confused, but at about 4 in the morning Mrs. Keech got a message saying, in part

    …from the mouth of death have ye been delivered and at no time has there been such a force loosed upon the Earth. Not since the beginning of time upon this Earth has there been such a force of Good and light as now floods this room and that which has been loosed within this room now floods the entire Earth.
    This they took instantly to mean that because of their faith the cataclysm had been called off and the entire Earth rescued. Another message followed, saying that this must be a Christmas message to the People of Earth, and was to be released immediately to the newspapers, along with the time of the message, 4:45 AM.

    At this point one member quit, but all the others rejoiced and turned their efforts to telling the story to newspapermen whom they had been spurning, calling newspapers and wire services, writing press releases, and as soon as possible conducting interviews. Mrs. Keech, who had never talked to the press directly, started by calling the local paper and demanding that they wake up a reporter who had previously written a short piece about them, the one that originally attracted the attention of the researchers months before. Although they maintained their ban on photographs, they released their previously restricted and even secret printed archive and voice recordings, and they got a message offering to make new recordings for any news outlet, or indeed anyone, that asked. At eight that morning they heard the first of their messages on network TV news.

    They also made a series of further predictions while seeking guidance and reassurance from the Guardians. They still believed that strangers calling on the phone might be spacemen, and that almost anything said could be a coded message, so they took to recording all incoming calls and analyzing them at length. In fact, they took to demanding orders from anybody they supposed was a spaceman. They began collecting stories of the natural disasters such as earthquakes that happen somewhere in the world every day, as evidence that the catastrophe had indeed begun before it was called off.

    The next day a message revoked the prohibition on photographs. The press responded enthusiastically, though only for one day. Mrs. Keech then received a message ordering the group to sing carols in public on Christmas Eve and to invite the press, promising that the spacemen would appear in a flying saucer. A raucous crowd attended, prompting neighbors to call the police.

    Chapter VII of the book, Reactions to Disconfirmation, describes individual reactions to these events. I will skip over it except to say that the researchers were particularly pleased with the confirmations those reactions gave of various points of their theory, specifically about who fell away and who became more active.

    Mrs. Keech later became Sister Thedra and founded the Association of Sananda and Sanat Kumara, in Mt. Shasta CA, where I was learning Zen at Shasta Abbey. I never met any of them that I know of but we were aware of their presence among the other cults, such as the I AMers (St. Germain Foundation) and those claiming that aliens or members of an ancient civilization were living inside the Mt. Shasta volcano. The Association disbanded after Sister Thedra's death, when she announced that she had delivered all messages necessary.

    Non-Republican Examples

    There is a persistent delusion in portions of both the Republican and Democratic parties that a convincing win in a particular Presidential election or taking a significant majority in one or both Houses of Congress means the permanent eclipse of the other party. This is held to, and there are attempts to spread it, even in the face of the following defeat. Third parties are much worse about believing in their importance and their prospects even after a loss, whether led by such as Ralph Nader or Strom Thurmond.

    (I hold that the Republicans are imploding, but not just because of the last two Presidential elections. They are being killed by demographics, by the loss of large numbers of young people, by their implacable hostility to everybody and everything, and by their increasingly vicious factional infighting. All four factors continue to increase.)

    Examples of radically failed predictions and claims of impossibility in fundamental physics and math are rare, but not unknown. They tend to provoke strong backlashes to the new findings. Minor predictions fail all the time. In fact, they are supposed to, if scientists are doing meaningful experiments to test new ideas. Negative experimental results can lead to abandonment of a theory, or to improvement. You can tell that it's an improvement if it is agreed that it passes the next round of tests.

    Thus the failure to detect proton decay required physicists to return to the Standard Model, and abandon certain Grand Unified Theories. Nobody made an excuse such as decays happening in a way we couldn't detect, since you can't hide the resulting positrons.

    On that point, when Wolfgang Pauli predicted neutrinos to explain missing energy in radioactive beta decays, he declared

    I have done a terrible thing, I have postulated a particle that cannot be detected.
    but it was OK. He was wrong. It's just very, very hard to detect them unless you know how to get them in huge numbers at high energies, as we do. Nowadays, the predicted particles that we can't detect are supersymmetric particles and dark matter, which may or may not be the same thing.

    Here are some of the best science and math failures I know of.

    In the controversy between Newton and Huygens over the nature of light, with Newton holding that it was made of particles or corpuscles, and Huygens that it was made of continuous waves, further experiment resulted in the wave theory taking hold, but with some denial, particularly in the UK, where resistance lasted longer than elsewhere. It turns out that both are right, or equivalently both are wrong. Light consists of discrete photons that have both electromagnetic (electroweak at high enough energies) and probability wave properties. At the same time, Aristoteleans rejected both theories into the 19th century.

    After Leverrier successfully predicted the existence and orbit of Neptune from its gravitational effects on Uranus's orbit, he attempted to do the same for Mercury, to explain the advance of its perihelion, which is more than could be explained by the gravity of other planets. No matter what he tried, nothing was ever found in the predicted locations. The notion that Newton might be wrong about gravity got almost no traction during this time, but decades later Einstein found the true solution in General Relativity, which was so strange that many physicists refused to believe it, even after Eddington confirmed that starlight bends around the sun in a total eclipse twice as much as Newton said, and just about as much as Einstein said. Nowadays, you cannot run the GPS without GR time calculations, and we have plenty of other confirmations.

    The Michelson-Morley experiments, on their face, demolished the concept of the Luminiferous Ether being motionless in absolute space, since that cannot support the speed of light being constant for all observers. Several attempts were made to shore up the idea until well after Einstein's Special Relativity became the preferred theory, which took many years. His Nobel Prize was for the photoelectric effect, one of the foundations of quantum theory, and not for either version of relativity, which both remained too controversial.

    Einstein throughout his life refused to accept the probabilistic nature of Quantum Mechanics, even when experiments based on his objections verified it, including his prediction of maser and laser emissions.

    There are still proponents of Cold Fusion, and there are still attempts to spread variants of this delusion, even from time to time here on Daily Kos.

    Early in the 18th century the mathematicians Saccheri and Lambert thought that they had found mathematical proofs that Euclidean geometry was the only one possible, and Kant thought that he had proven it by philosophy in 1781. Beginning early in the 19th century, Gauss, Riemann, Bolyai, Lobachevsky, and others then proved that it wasn't. Kant is still taught in every university in the West, and most elsewhere.

    Georg Cantor's work on the infinity of infinities, starting in the 1870s, met the greatest hostility to a math idea in history, though not the longest-lasting. That honor goes to zero and negative numbers, starting at least in Greek times. Even some Christian theologians claimed that Cantor's theory was blasphemous, attempting to negate the unique infinity of God. Poincaré called his ideas, "a grave disease", while Kronecker called him a "scientific charlatan" and a "corrupter of youth". Resistance from Intuitionists who rejected non-constructed infinities continued unabated into the 1920s, with Brouwer and Heyting trying strenuously to spread their point of view until it was shown that Cantor's theory could be modeled inside Brouwer's.

    Giuseppe Peano put a lot of work into creating a set of axioms for the natural numbers, basically the counting numbers, and Dedekind proved that all models of the natural numbers were isomorphic, that is, of the same structure, in second-order logic, where we deal in sets of sets of numbers. This turns out not to be the case in first-order logic (restricted to sets of numbers). We can construct explicitly first-order systems to which Dedekind's proof does not apply, because you cannot even say "All properties of numbers" or equivalently "All subsets of the set of numbers" in a first-order theory. As a result we can define consistent arithmetics containing effectively infinite numbers. Then when we construct rational numbers as ratios of natural numbers we also get infinitesimals, which Cantor thought he had proven impossible. The original objections to infinity go back to the Greeks, and had a particular resurgence in Bishop Berkeley's objections to infinitesimals in Newton's calculus as "the ghosts of departed quantities".

    Because of the controversy over who invented calculus first, Newton or Leibniz, British mathematicians refused to use the Leibniz dy/dx notation for well over a century, claiming that Newton's clumsy ẏ ẋ fluxion notation was superior. They thus excluded themselves from all further research in analysis until Charles Babbage and others in the Analytical Society overcame resistance at Cambridge, establishing

    the principles of pure D-ism in opposition to the Dotage of the university.
    For Further Reading

    Much more is now known about Cognitive Dissonance, in theory, in experiment, and in observation of various groups and issues. It may be that after we have gone through my initial book list, we should come back and look at more of it. Feel free to make suggestions or raise issues.

    There have been several editions of When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study, originally published in 1956 by the University of Minnesota Press, then in 1964 by Harper-Collins. The latest appeared in 2011, from Wilder Publications. There is also a Kindle version.

    The next two titles carry the science forward until fairly recently. Consult their bibliographies for far more studies. Social Science Citation Index notes where each study has been cited in later work in any of the top journals, and is routinely used for getting the most up-to-date materials in any field, as well as for assessing the impact of a publication crudely just by counting citations. There is no free version, but it can be accessed in almost any university library. Students and graduates can commonly get accounts at no extra charge.

    Cognitive Dissonance: Progress on a Pivotal Theory in Social Psychology, by Eddie Harmon-Jones, 1999

    Cognitive Dissonance: 50 Years of a Classic Theory, by Joel M. Cooper, 2007

    Here are some related titles.

    When Prophecy Never Fails: Myth and Reality in a Flying-Saucer Group, by Diana G. Tumminia, 2005. This extends the Festinger theory in an investigation of the Unarius UFO group in 2001.

    Lubavitcher Messianism: What Really Happens When Prophecy Fails? (Continuum Studies in Jewish Thought) by Simon Dein, 2012. Why followers believe that Hasidic Rabbi Menachem Schneerson is the Messiah, and is not dead.

    This book list appears in the article on cognitive dissonance in The Skeptics Dictionary, which also tries to poke holes in the theory.

    Ariely, Dan. (2008). Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. HarperCollins.

    Festinger, Leon. A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (Stanford University Press 1957).

    Gardner, Daniel. 2008. The Science of Fear: Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn't--and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger. Dutton.

    Gilovich, Thomas. 1993. How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life. Free Press.

    Gilovich, Thomas. Dale Griffin and Daniel Kahneman. 2002. eds. Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment. Cambridge University Press.

    Groopman, Jerome. M.D. 2007. How Doctors Think. Houghton Mifflin. My review of this book is here.

    Harmon-Jones, Eddie and Judson Mills, editors. Cognitive Dissonance: Progress on a Pivotal Theory in Social Psychology (American Psychological Association 1999).

    Hyman, Ray. "The Mischief-Making of Ideomotor Action," in the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine 3(2):34-43, 1999. Originally published as "How People Are Fooled by Ideomotor Action."

    Kahneman, Daniel. Paul Slovic, and Amos Tversky. eds. 1982. Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases Cambridge University Press.

    Kida, Thomas. 2006. Don't Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking. Prometheus.

    Levine, Robert. The Power of Persuasion - How We're Bought and Sold  (John Wiley & Sons 2003).

    Sutherland, Stuart. 1992. rev. 2nd ed. Irrationality. Pinter and Martin.

    Your Next Assignment

    The Theory of the Leisure Class, by Thorstein Veblen, is our next reading. There are several printed editions, and also online texts at Project Gutenberg and elsewhere in various formats.

    We would call this today The Theory of the 1%. We will focus on two major concepts, Conspicuous Consumption and occupations honored for the display of prowess (force or fraud) rather than productivity. The essential point is to make wealth unmistakable, and to claim that being wealthy makes the rich smarter and more moral than the less rich, and to take that claim right down to the bottom of society, where poor Whites have been able to claim that they are at least better off, and actually better and more deserving people, than Blacks. The 1% also claim historically that men are inherently better than women, so it's OK if women do real work and don't get paid for it, or are treated as property, more or less like slaves, and have no right to their own opinions, or to make their own decisions. This then feeds into Religious Right misogyny, where religious authorities are part of the leisure class, doing no productive work and often operating by force and fraud themselves.

    We will note when Cognitive Dissonance comes into play, when such opinions lead to confident prophecies that then fail abjectly, and thus to ever-more-strident asserting of the opinions and the prophecies.

    Much of our reading as we continue on will be on the negative side, What's the Matter with Republicans? But we have two positive theories to look forward to, the recent theories of Cooperation and Learned Helplessness, with its converse, learning not to be helpless. Experiment shows that animals and people once brought out of helplessness cannot be taught to be helpless a second time.

    We will apply both theories to elections, where we need to engage with many Republican supporters over the long term about how Republican policies hurt them, while we can help, and we need to overcome long-running and strenuous Republican efforts to convince Democrats that voting accomplishes nothing for us, and to convince Republicans that they are helpless to do anything but oppress Democrats. It turns out that there are more than enough unregistered Democrats in several Southern states to flip them permanently, and that tens of millions of dollars has been committed to doing just that in several states each. It also turns out that large numbers of young people raised in bigoted Christianity and Republicanism are finding that they are not that helpless, and falling away in droves.

    Thus we come to the Rev. Dr. William Barber's Moral Mondays concept of the Third Reconstruction, and the third time giving Southern Blacks and others an increasingly effective right to vote and have that vote mean something. Even in Mississippi we are seeing Black votes mean something statewide, and the Tea Parties going into a tizzy in response.

    Book List

    • When Prophecy Fails, by Leon Festinger et al., Cognitive Dissonance resulting in denial of or transparent excuses for the most obvious facts Aug. 4
    • The Theory of the Leisure Class, by Thorstein Veblen, Conspicuous Consumption and the delusion that richer means morally and intellectually superior, at all levels of society, plus slavery and oppression of women Aug. 11
    • The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer, ideology
    • Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View, by Stanley Milgram, the classic Yale study on getting people to harm others
    • Conservatives Without Conscience, by John Dean, applying the Milgram experiment results to post-Watergate Republicans
    • Learned Helplessness: A Theory for the Age of Personal Control, by Christopher Peterson, Steven F. Maier and Martin E. P. Seligman, how animals and people can be taught to be helpless, and also taught not to be, which we will apply to GOTV
    • The Evolution of Cooperation, by Robert Axelrod, including how non-cooperation and oppression come about and can be undone
    • The Lucifer Effect, by Philip Zimbardo, the Stanford Prison Experiment; how power and powerlessness both corrupt and damage participants
    • The Jack Acid Society Black Book, by Walt Kelly, a pointed and comic look at the paranoia of the John Birch Society, which is still very much with us
    • The Varieties of Religious Experience, by William James, which we will use to examine Evangelistic and Creationist claims to own the frame for the religious debate

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 10:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Psychology of Conservatives and Liberals.

Your Email has been sent.