Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

There have been many attempts to explain why Trump voters remain loyal to him. Given that Trump is an obvious bully, con man, hypocrite, boastful sexual predator, overt racist, pathological liar, and a rich kid who’s never done a day’s work in his life, many “analyses” get stuck at the “what in hell is wrong with these people?” stage. There are, however, some common analyses that make sense in part. We’ll get to them shortly.

But let’s first take a look at the best psychological explanation I’ve seen of why Trump voters haven’t fled him in horror. It’s “A Neuroscientist Explains What Could Be Wrong with Trump Supporters’ Brains,” by Bobby Azarian, a scientist affiliated with George Mason University. Azarian cites four reasons why many of Trump’s voters stick with him. (We’d encourage you to read the entire article.)

  1. Azarian quotes psychologist David Dunning as follows regarding how woefully misinformed many Trump voters are: “The knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task — and if one lacks such knowledge and intelligence, one remains ignorant that one is not good at the task. This includes political judgment.” Azarian adds, “Essentially, they’re not smart enough to realize they’re dumb.” (Obviously, not all Trump voters fall into this category. Azarian doesn’t add, but should, that desperation and frustration will often lead people to take a chance, even a remote chance, on damn near anything that promises relief.)
  2. The second component in loyalty to Trump is fearfulness: A great many of Trump’s followers, especially die-hard conservatives, are fear driven. As Azarian puts it, “Science has unequivocally shown that the conservative brain has an exaggerated fear response when faced with stimuli that may be perceived as threatening. . . . These brain responses are automatic, and not influenced by logic or reason. As long as Trump continues his fear mongering by constantly portraying Muslims and Mexican immigrants as imminent dangers, many conservative brains will involuntarily light up like light bulbs being controlled by a switch.”
  3. Fear of death increases the effectiveness of Trump’s fear mongering. Azarian notes, “[W]hen people are reminded of their own mortality, which happens with fear mongering, they will more strongly defend those who share their worldviews and national or ethnic identity, and act out more aggressively towards those who do not. Hundreds of studies have confirmed this hypothesis . . . By constantly emphasizing [supposed] existential threat, Trump creates a psychological condition that makes the brain respond positively rather than negatively to bigoted statements and divisive rhetoric.”
  4. The fourth reason for Trump’s hold on his core voters is his showmanship: he’s a master at keeping his audience engaged. As Azarian says, “His showmanship and simple messages clearly resonate at a visceral level. . . . He keeps us on the edge of our seat, and for that reason, some Trump supporters will forgive anything he says. They are happy as long as they are kept entertained.”

There are other factors in Trump’s support that Azarian doesn’t mention, though many others have; the following are all commonly cited, and all have some validity.

An important factor is that conservatives, more so than progressives, tend to live inside a media bubble, that is, they seek out news and opinion outlets that reinforce their pre-existing beliefs, fears, and prejudices, and “cluster around,” as a 2014 Pew report put it, a small number of news sources or, often, a single news source: Fox News. Not coincidentally, Fox and other right-wing media outfits, such as Breitbart and Sinclair Broadcasting, deliberately and consistently trigger Trump supporters’ fear response. Trump supporters tend to live in a news/opinion echo chamber where it’s “all fear all of the time.”

Another factor in Trump’s continuing support is that a great many Trump voters are in real economic distress; many are stuck on or near the lowest level of need: basic survival. Economic insecurity is the rule in the United States now — as an example of this, approximately 60% of Americans say they couldn’t handle an unexpected $500 expense without going into debt. Billionaire trust fund baby Trump talks about “jobs, jobs, jobs,” and pretends that he’s a friend of those who work for a living, and many working people are so stressed and desperate that they grasp at the straws he throws them as they sink ever further into the economic quicksand.

This wouldn’t be such a problem if the Democrats weren’t controlled by corporatists (those funded by and serving the interests of the corporate world and the 1% who by and large own it). The corporate Democrats have controlled the party for roughly four decades, and when in power (Clinton and Obama) have done essentially nothing to address the ever-more-urgent problem of economic inequality and the despair and anger it spawns, even when they’ve had huge majorities in Congress. Instead, they’ve focused on identity politics issues that do not in the slightest threaten the financial interests of their corporate backers. (Of course, issues such as LGBT and women’s rights must be addressed — but it’s absolutely crazy to make them your primary focus while ignoring the 800-pound gorilla of economic inequality.) The corporate Democrats appear to be (and to a great extent are) elitists who are unconcerned about the economic well-being of average people, and who have been skating by for decades on the anemic message that “we’re not as bad as the Republicans,” while standing for essentially nothing.

That explains the astoundingly low rate of voter participation in American elections. In 2016, only 59% of those eligible voted — in a presidential election; in midterms the percentage is much lower — and a good majority of those who didn’t vote were low-income people, many of whom could have been reached with a message about jobs  and reducing economic inequality. The corporate Democrats wouldn’t even touch those and related issues, such as healthcare for all, and as a result huge numbers of people sat on their hands or voted for third-party candidates — or voted for Trump. (In the 2016 election, 41% of those eligible didn’t vote; Clinton received the votes of 28% of those eligible; Trump 26%; and about 5% went to minor party candidates.)

The only rays of hope are that there’s a revolt in the Democratic Party against the corporatists; Trump’s hardcore supporters are a minority of, at most, 35% to 40% of those most likely to vote; Trump is so loathsome, vicious, and dangerous that people opposed to him can’t wait to get to the polls; and Trump’s economic policies will screw his working class supporters in short order, and some of them will realize it — eventually.

These are small rays of hope, but they’re better than none.


Johann Hari

“For thousands of years we’ve known that if you think life is only about money and status, you’ll feel miserable. We know that a steady diet of junk food will make you sick. A steady diet of junk values does the same thing. . . .

“An intrinsic value is something you do for the joy of doing it. An extrinsic value is something you do because you have to. Dr. [Tim] Kasser found that when societies move toward extrinsic values, depression increases.

“A few years ago, Melania Trump was asked if she would have married Donald if he was not rich. Her answer was stunning. Do you think he would he have married me if I was not beautiful? she replied. This is a clear example of living extrinsically.”

–Johann Hari, author of Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions, in interview with Eleanor Bader

(The entire interview is well worth reading.)

Mr. Fish Donald Trump graphic

“Why the stupid so often become malignant – To those arguments of our adversary against which our head feels too weak, our heart replies by throwing suspicion on the motives of his argument.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human

(graphic by Mr. Fish)

(For the last few months we’ve been running the best posts from years past, posts that will be new to most of our subscribers. This is an expanded version of a post from 2014. We’ll be posting more blasts from the past for the next several months, and will intersperse them with new material.)

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The media is abuzz, and friends have been calling me, about the so-called Super Moon. We’re having one tonight, and according to the excited local media (TV weather forecasters) we’ll be having two more in January. Wow! . . . Well, maybe.

In reality, there’s nothing to get excited about here, folks: the (full) moon will be at perigee (its closest point to the Earth) and about 14% larger in diameter than it is at apogee (its farthest point from the earth), and only about 7% larger than the full moon is on average.

As regards brightness, the moon at perigee is about 30% brighter than at apogee, and about 15% brighter than average. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? — until you realize that the eye’s response to increases or decreases in brightness is far from linear, and that the sun is approximately 400,000 times as bright as the moon. Thus, the average ratio of the sun’s brightness to the moon’s is about 400,000 to 1, and the ratio of the sun’s brightness to the “Super Moon’s” is about 400,000 to 1.15.

So, if they didn’t read the hype, and hence didn’t expect to see something, very probably 99% of people wouldn’t notice these rather subtle differences in the moon’s appearance. And the other 1% would be amateur and professional astronomers who’d be aware of them, but wouldn’t get excited about it.

There are lessons to be drawn from this.

As Oscar Wilde put it in The Critic as Artist, “[Journalism] keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.”

And as Wilde put it so well in The Soul of Man Under Socialism, “[T]he public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing. Journalism, conscious of this, and having tradesman-like habits, supplies their demands.”

There’s very little to add other than that journalism has advanced significantly since Wilde’s day and now manufactures things not worth knowing.

BOOTLICKING, ger.  A popular American mass participation sport which is rapidly displacing baseball as the national pastime.

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– definition (not photo) from the revised and expanded edition of The American Heretic’s Dictionary, by Chaz Bufe, the best modern successor to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary

American Heretic's Dictionary revised and expanded by Chaz Bufe, front cover

Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey are here in Arizona, up in Wickenburg at The Meadows, a very expensive ($58,000 for 45 days) 12-step treatment program.

This is ridiculous on more than one count, most importantly that Spacey and Weinstein are not afflicted with “sex addiction.” Rather, they’ afflicted with power-over-others “addiction,” and the abusive behavior that results from it. Give people power over others, and it’s a safe bet that a great many of them will abuse it.

Second, “sex addiction” is not a recognized disorder in the standard handbook on mental disorders, the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (5th ed.). It’s a pop culture term dating from the 1980s, whose roots seem to lie in the anti-sexual attitudes of conservative Christians and in the authoritarian, prudish feminism of figures such as Andrea Dworkin. It’s more of the “same old same old” pathologizing of sex that’s been such a dreary part of American life for centuries.

Third, the type of “treatment” Spacey and Weinstein are receiving for this trumped up malady is 12-step treatment, which is ineffective across the board. (See “Alcoholics Anonymous is Not Effective” for info on the granddaddy of and model for all subsequent 12-step programs; see also the authoritative Handbook of Alcoholism Treatment Approaches, by Reid Hester and William Miller.)

So, Spacey and Weinstein are receiving (insofar as it’s 12-step based) ineffective treatment for an imaginary addiction, while their real problem — their willingness to use their positions of power to exploit and abuse others — goes unaddressed.

In the end, it seems that all they’ve done is find a convenient way to remove themselves from the spotlight, while giving the appearance of doing something about their awful behavior. They’ll emerge from rehab in January, their PR flacks will proclaim them rehabilitated — and they’ll quite probably go back to business as usual, insofar as they can get away with it.

That’s a shame for both Spacey, Weinstein, and their victims, and for the rest of us, because sexual abuse by the powerful has wider than individual implications. It’s a symptom of the sickness at the heart of our current authoritarian, hierarchical political and economic organization that gives some vast power over others. This whole affair could have spurred much needed discussion about that sickness. But it hasn’t, and likely won’t, especially as it’s being addressed as a matter of individual failure rather than pervasive sociopolitical failure.

“Perhaps, if the existence of an evil being were allowed, who, in the allegorical language of scripture, went about seeking whom he could devour, he could not more effectually degrade the human character than by giving a man absolute power.

“. . . birth, riches, and every extrinsic advantage that exalt a man above his fellows without any mental exertion sink him in reality below them. In proportion to his weakness, he is played upon by designing men, till the bloated monster has lost all traces of humanity.”

–Mary Wollstonecroft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women