Yale psychologist John Bargh: ‘Politicians want us to be fearful. They’re manipulating us for their own interest’

The Guardian
Yale psychologist John Bargh: ‘Politicians want us to be fearful. They’re manipulating us for their own interest’
Decca Aitkenhead
8 December 2017

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have free will – a book by a US academic has analysed the unconscious, evolutionary instincts driving modern society and the results are a chilling indictment on how far we are yet to come.

As the year’s end draws near, many of us look back and reflect on what we got right and got wrong during the past 12 months. For some, this will be a less agreeable experience than for others, but however you feel about your behaviour in 2017, you will almost certainly assume that the choices you made were your own.

You could not, according to John Bargh, be more wrong. The Yale psychologist has just written a book, Before You Know It, about the eye-opening extent to which our actions are dictated by forces within us to which we are almost entirely oblivious. Who knew, for example, that we feel less hostile to people different to ourselves after washing our hands? Or that the reason why you’re feeling so friendly is the cup of piping hot coffee you are holding? Or that parents who want to encourage their children to be generous will have more success by turning the room temperature up than by telling them to share? Bargh’s book, as Malcolm Gladwell puts it, “moves our understanding of the mysteries of human behaviour one giant step forward” – not least in helping make sense of some of the big stories of 2017.

The 62-year-old American is a big, smiley man, but his demeanour is at odds with the rather depressing message of his work. Human beings’ brains, it explains, are primed by prudent and rational evolutionary instincts to trust people who look like us, and to fear those who look “other” as a threat. This goes some way to explain why, despite all of modern society’s efforts to promote progressive values of openness and equality, and for all our stated intolerance of prejudice, social progress is so agonisingly slow. That’s pretty dispiriting, isn’t it?

“Yes, I hate to say it, but yes. Democracy is an advance past the tribal nature of our being, the tribal nature of society, which was there for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. It’s very easy for us to fall back into our tribal, evolutionary nature – tribe against tribe, us against them. It’s a very powerful motivator.” Because it speaks to our most primitive self? “Yes, and we don’t realise how powerful it is.” Until we have understood its power, Bargh argues, we have no hope of overcoming it. “So that’s what we have to do.” As he writes: “Refusing to believe the evidence, just to maintain one’s belief in free will, actually reduces the amount of free will that person has.”

If unconscious racism is an ancestral legacy, it is also reinforced by contemporary culture. Bargh offers a study of popular prime-time US TV shows – Grey’s Anatomy, CSI, Bones – in which participants who had never seen the programme before were shown scenes in which the main character interacted with either a black or white character. The scenes were edited, however, to show only the main character. The audio was also removed, so that participants could see only the main character’s non-verbal communication – facial expressions, gestures, body language – towards the off-screen character. They were then asked to judge how the visible character felt towards the unseen character.

“These are shows, remember,” Bargh says, “that intentionally tried to have equal-power black and white characters. It’s not like the black people on the show are all the criminals, and the white people are all the detectives. They have the black detective and white detective; they actually have equal power.”

The findings were chilling. The main character was consistently judged to be conspicuously more positive towards the show’s white characters, and more negative towards its black characters.

“They don’t script it that way. And it’s not intended by the producers or actors of the show. There are programmes that do intend it – but we’re even talking about the ones that don’t, and it still has this massive effect. It’s conveyed so powerfully to people watching that, after they see it, they have more negative automatic attitudes towards black people. The research found that the more they see of shows like that, the more they have more of a racist attitude.”

Anyone who has ever wondered why minorities often object about what colour a doll comes in, say, might reconsider their scepticism about the importance of culture after reading Bargh’s book. He presents a study of two sets of Asian-American five-year-old girls, who were asked to perform maths tests after being “primed” with activities designed to trigger their unconscious sense of identity. One group was asked to colour in pictures of Asians eating with chopsticks; the other to colour in pictures of a girl holding a doll. The first group dramatically outperformed the second in the maths test. By the age of just five, they had absorbed the cultural stereotypes that Asians are good at maths and girls are bad.

“These Asian-American girls are not hearing at home that girls can’t do maths,” Bargh points out. “These are Harvard preschool kids; the parents are, like, tiger mums and dads. A lot of them brought the children into the study thinking that being in this Harvard study at age five would help their girl get into Harvard at age 18: that’s how motivated they are. They’re not the ones who are telling the girls they can’t do maths. It’s in the culture we soak up, without even knowing it.”

Bargh decided to test his own unconscious racial bias, using a complex system of word association and physical reflexes devised to eliminate any possibility of him consciously dictating his responses. He was dismayed to discover that his unconscious associated “white” with “good” and “black” with “bad”. However, he found he could override his bias by deploying the power of imagination. He sat the tests again, and got opposite results, “simply by really trying to feel as if I was a black person. Now obviously with no experience, it’s laughable that I could try – but I really did try to convince myself temporarily that OK, I’m a black person. And I reversed the results.”

In a fascinating study conducted by Bargh, participants were invited to imagine they had a superpower that rendered them safe from all physical harm, and were then quizzed on their social attitudes. Half the participants were liberals, and half conservatives. The imaginary superpower had no impact on liberals’ social attitudes. “Feeling physically safe,” however, “significantly changed the conservative participants’ social attitudes to being similar to those of liberals.”

This worked, he explains, because research has found that “conservatives have larger fear centres of the brain. They’re more concerned with physical safety than liberals.” Once we feel afraid, our own fear can further distort our perception of actual danger. For example, research has found that when people become new parents of a tiny, vulnerable baby, they begin to believe their local crime rate is going up, even if it is falling. “That happened to me,” Bargh admits. “After my daughter was born, suddenly we felt that the neighbourhood was getting so dangerous that we had to leave.”

Even more pertinent to current world events is Bargh’s research into sexual harassment. In the 1990s, an esteemed law professor had studied supreme court cases of sexual harassment and concluded that 75% of the accused genuinely did not realise they were doing anything wrong. Intrigued, Bargh devised a study to see if this could really be true.

Participants were asked to fill out an anonymous questionnaire devised to reveal their willingness to use power over a woman to extract sexual favours if guaranteed to get away with it. Some were asked to rate a female participant’s attractiveness. Others were first primed by a word-association technique, using words such as “boss”, “authority”, “status” and “power”, and then asked to rate her. Bargh found the power-priming made no difference whatsoever to men who had scored low on sexual harassment and aggression tendencies. Among men who had scored highly, however, it was a very different case. Without the notion of power being activated in their brains, they found her unattractive. She only became attractive to them once the idea of power was active in their minds.

This, Bargh suggests, might explain how sexual harassers can genuinely tell themselves: “‘I’m behaving like anybody does when they’re attracted to somebody else. I’m flirting. I’m asking her out. I want to date her. I’m doing everything that you do if you’re attracted to somebody.’ What they don’t realise is the reason they’re attracted to her is because of their power over her. That’s what they don’t get.”

Perhaps the single most confronting revelation of Bargh’s work is its implications for consumer capitalism. It’s not that our economic model makes us sad – although it does – so much that making us sad is good for consumer capitalism.

He describes a study by a Harvard social psychologist. “It found that sad people not only buy more, but they pay more. They’re willing to pay more because, basically, when we’re sad, we want to change state.” Someone feeling sad would rather spend £100 than £10, “because it changes the state more. And stores know this.”

Ever wondered why shops like to pipe out mournful music, or why Walmart plays Céline Dion on a loop? Well, Bargh grins – there’s your answer.

“They don’t want us to be happy; they want us to be sad. Politicians want us to be fearful. All these things are not in our own interests at all. They’re manipulating us for their own interest, and against our own, and I think that’s horrible.”

Before You Know It; The Unconscious Reasons We Do What We Do, by John Bargh, is published by Penguin Random. To order a copy for £17 (RRP £20) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders minimum p&p of £1.99.

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Yale psychologist John Bargh: ‘Politicians want us to be fearful. They’re manipulating us for their own interest’

Singapore Palestinian Film Festival 2017: Adela Foo

Doyenne.Sg
The Singapore Palestinian Film Festival 2017: Adela Foo
Lee Ying Ying

Organiser of the Singapore Palestinian Film Festival 2017, Adela Foo, sheds some light on war-torn Palestine and what drew her towards the region.

More than two years after the war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict left its citizens displaced and unable to resume their daily lives. Citizens of both war-torn states have experienced immense grief and loss, and Israelis living in border towns have lived their days fleeing from rockets fired from Gaza into Israel. It is a fact that the average Singaporean cannot possibly imagine life on either side.

This is why Adela Foo intends to open our eyes on life in Palestine.

Adela Foo is the organiser of the Singapore Palestinian Film Festival 2017, which aims to dispel common stereotypes surrounding Palestinians living in Palestinian territories in the Middle East. The media often depicts Palestine as an unsafe and unstable state, but the truth is far more nuanced than that.

You might wonder why Adela is so drawn towards Palestine and the Middle East, but spend a little time with this Arabic and Classics major at Bard College, a private New York liberal arts college, and you’ll understand why. Admitting that she’s the only one in her class majoring in both Arabic and Classics, the zealous girl lets on: “because really, who wants to learn Arabic and then Ancient Greek on top of that?”

Adela turns serious: “However, I have always been in love with Classics and knew that I wanted to major in it, especially after taking Daniel Mendelsohn’s class on the ‘Odyssey’. As for Arabic, I was particularly interested in learning more about the region after studying about the Arab-Israeli conflict in junior college.”

Arabic is an extremely intricate language and difficult to master. Yet, Adela dismissed thoughts of giving up learning Arabic after “running away” to Egypt last summer, and her parents had since set aside their disgruntlement about her majors. “To clarify, I didn’t actually run away, but simply did not tell my parents that I would be attending the Arabic Summer Intensive Program at Al-quds Bard (AUB). After my father found out, I actually think he was slightly impressed by my commitment to pursuing my studies,” says Adela.

“After running away to Egypt, I realised what a rich and incredible history this region has from times of antiquity to our present day and age. How could I ever give up studying either subject?”

Even though Adela grew up post-911 and witnessed how the image of the Arab world became associated with hostility, she never believed that people could be born as terrorists: “Perhaps that seems idealistic and naive, but it’s just something that I never really bought.” Let’s hear more from the dedicated 21-year-old.

Doyenne: Tell us about the complexity and diversity of Palestinian culture.

Adela: This is what Palestine is to me: babies with the bluest eyes, girls with curly, red hair and liquid brown eyes; when we’re roaring across the highway, there’s a 50% chance that you’ll see the craziest kinds of rock formations and there will always be a flock of goats or donkeys under the flyover.

The worst thing that someone can do is to invite you into their homes for tea, cooking an entire meal for you, and then giving you a bed to sleep in for the night without even knowing your last name.

D: Do you think that the media often portrays Palestine in a bad light?

A: Well, that really depends on what media you subscribe to, doesn’t it? I think in general, the media tends to cover stories in Palestine that are either about rising tensions between both parties in the conflict, or the inability of either side to come to an agreement about resolving the conflict. Either way, I think people’s takeaway from the media’s portrayal about Palestine is that the entire country is unsafe, unstable, and inherently dangerous.

When I was living in the village of Beit Sahour in the West Bank in Palestine, I felt very safe. The atmosphere of the neighborhood was calm and the only ruckus was when children were playing football in the streets and neighbours placed their chairs at the gates of their homes to chat.

However, I am also very aware of the fact that this is one aspect of Palestine that I had the privilege of experiencing. What I experienced in Beit Sahour cannot be taken to echo all of Palestine.

D: Are your classmates also passionate and outspoken about this topic?

A: My classmates are even more passionate and outspoken about this particular topic. Because of the Palestinian diaspora and the fact that my college has an exchange program with a Palestinian university, there are always Bard students who are Palestinian. Perhaps this human factor allows the community at Bard to see the conflict in a more humane light, that these are people too whom we should care about.

Additionally, there are student-run clubs such as Students for Justice in Palestine, which constantly invites speakers to come and speak out against the conflict. Another interesting club is the Bard Palestinian Youth Initiative, which is committed to sending a group of Bard students to Mas’ha, a small village in the West Bank to teach high school students through our “Language and Thinking” program. It is an introduction to the liberal arts and sciences with a strong focus on writing.

D: You’ve gained quite a bit of traction online in a short span of time. How do you feel?

A: I feel incredibly grateful for the amount of support shown by Singaporeans towards supporting the first ever Singapore Palestinian Film Festival! My greatest hope is that even after this festival ends, Singapore’s society will become more permeable with regards to being more informed about the Palestinian conflict and hopefully, taking a stand with it.

D: Doesn’t tackling a complex issue scare you?

A: Not particularly. I constantly remind myself of the bravery of a lovely feisty old grandmother whom I lived with last summer in Palestine. If she could live through it all, what do I have to fear?

SG-palestinian-film-festival-doyenne.sg_
Date: 19 – 22 Jan, 2017

Venue: The Projector

Films that will be screened: Speed Sisters, Sling-Shot Hip-Hop, The Wanted 18, The Time That Remains, Broken Cameras.

Singapore Palestinian Film Festival 2017: Adela Foo

Why Chan Chun Sing Poked Chee Soon Juan

Thread of Events:
• No Free Trade Without Freedom
• Free The Singapore Media

Summary: SDP’s Secretary-General Dr. Chee Soon Juan had published in The Huffington Post two opinion pieces, “Without Freedom There Is No Free Trade” and “Free The Singapore Media And Let The People Go“, on November 13 and December 11 last year, respectively, that were critical of the Singapore Government. In his letter to The Huffington Post, Minister for Social and Family Development Mr. Chan Chun Sing of the PAP took issue with the publication for giving Dr. Chee “considerable but undeserved attention and space“.

The following Mothership posting supposes the reasons why Minister Chan Chun Sing poked at Dr. Chee Soon Juan.

Mothership
5 reasons why Minister Chan Chun Sing decided to poke Chee Soon Juan via Huffington Post
Martino Tan
16 January 2015

To many, Mr. Chan’s reaction might appear unprecedented as he came off strongly to skewer Dr. Chee and going on the offensive. After all, Mr. Chan did not appear to have any beef with Dr. Chee publicly on previous occasions. However, if we looked beyond the theatrics, we can examine how this might just be the most calculated move in Mr. Chan’s political career thus far. Here are five reasons why Mr. Chan may have decided to have a go at Dr. Chee:

1. Mr. Chan is the Minister at Tanjong Pagar GRC, a seat likely to be contested by Dr. Chee.

At the launch of the SDP’s General Election campaign on January 10, Dr. Chee said that the party could contest at Tanjong Pagar GRC. He had earlier shared that SDP had begun ground work in Tanjong Pagar since 2011.

Although Tanjong Pagar GRC is widely known as Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s stronghold, Mr. Chan is the only cabinet Minister in the GRC. Therefore, it was left to him to fire the first salvo.

2. Mr. Chan is troll baiting Dr. Chee, so that Dr. Chee can commit himself at Tanjong Pagar GRC.

Tanjong Pagar GRC was the only GRC that experienced a walkover in GE2011. This means that Tanjong Pagar will be up for grabs among the opposition parties.

Between the stronger WP and the weaker SDP, it is a no-brainer that Mr. Chan wants to get Dr. Chee to commit to contesting in Tanjong Pagar GRC. If WP wishes to contest there, SDP’s involvement will split the opposition votes. And it is much safer for the PAP to go toe-to-toe with SDP than WP.

3. Mr. Chan wants to remind Singaporeans about Dr. Chee’s past. 

Over the past few years, Dr. Chee has done a good job in rehabilitating his image as the elder statesman of opposition politics. He sounded reasonable when he urged bloggers Roy Ngerng and Han Hui Hui to apologise after they were accused by many to have heckled the special needs children at Hong Lim park.

At the risk of looking and sounding rather petty, Mr. Chan chose to remind Singaporeans about Dr. Chee’s past. Perhaps Mr. Chan was concerned that Dr. Chee’s track record would not be closely examined during the GE campaign, since the focus would be on WP.

In the letter, Mr. Chan reminded Singaporeans about Dr. Chee’s dismal electoral records, his ungentlemanly conduct in ousting gentleman Mr. Chiam See Tong, his dismissal from the National University of Singapore, and him being sued for defamation by both PAP and the opposition.

4. Criticising Dr. Chee is a rite of passage for PAP politicians.

In 1992, then PM Goh Chok Tong proved his personal popularity as a Prime Minister by thrashing Dr. Chee in Mr. Goh’s only by-election and Dr. Chee’s maiden election. Mr. Goh garnered 72.9% of the votes, while Dr. Chee received 24.5% of the votes.

Dr. Chee was Mr. Matthias Yao’s whipping boy in the 1997 General Election. After Mr. Yao defeated Dr. Chee by 12,546 votes (65.1%) to 6,713 (34.9%) in the GE, Mr. Yao was promoted from Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of State.

Therefore, it appears that any PAP stalwart who wants to prove his calibre must go through the rite of passage of hammering Dr. Chee Soon Juan.

5. As one of the fourth generation PAP leaders, Mr. Chan has to lead by example. 

In the 2013 PAP convention, Mr. Chan said that the PAP must continuously and strenuously defend the common space for people to speak up, because if it does not, then others will occupy the space and make them irrelevant.

“We must not concede the space – physical or cyber. We will have to learn from the 1960 generation of PAP pioneers – to fight to get our message across at every corner – every street corner, every cyberspace corner, be it in the mass media or social media. We will have to do battle everywhere as necessary.”

Since Huffington Post is a space that is dominated by Dr. Chee, Mr. Chan felt the need to reclaim the space from Dr. Chee.

Read all the comments to the full article at http://mothership.sg/2015/01/5-reasons-why-minister-chan-chun-sing-decided-to-poke-chee-soon-juan-via-huffington-post/

#Sg #Singapore #Singapura #thelioncity #littlereddot #LeeKuanYew #LeeHsienLoong #CheeSoonJuan

Why Chan Chun Sing Poked Chee Soon Juan

HuffPost Responds To Chan Chun Sing

New Nation
HuffPost responds to Minister Chan Chun Sing: Chee’s 2 articles represent 0.0001% of content we publish a year
15 January 2015

In a sharply-worded statement, Huffington Post has responded to Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing.

This after Minister Chan chastised the publication in a statement on Jan. 15, 2015, for giving Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) Chee Soon Juan “considerable but undeserved attention and space” on their website.

Chee had previously written two articles for HuffPost, titled Without Freedom There is No Free Trade and Free the Singapore Media and Let the People Go, on Nov. 13, 2014 and Dec. 11, 2014 respectively.

In his diatribe against the website, Minister Chan also called Chee a “political failure” and insinuated he is not an honourable man.

In response, HuffPost replied Minister Chan by explaining that Chee’s contribution of two articles in reality made up only 0.0001% of content they published in any given year, and therefore, the accusation that he received undeserved space is uncalled for.

This is compounded by the fact that Chee’s articles were competing for eyeballs against cat videos and other shorter articles on HuffPost showing people face-planting that were more shareable in nature.

Moreover, as an American media, HuffPost said it is not up to them to judge people based on how well they did in life thus far, but what people can do to contribute to society in the future. 

HuffPost then wrote that they would allow Minister Chan himself to contribute articles to them if he is so inclined to be heard on such a platform, but that time spent writing articles for a blog-like website might not justify his ministerial salary.

HuffPost then wrote: “We wonder how much did it cost taxpayers for Minister of Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong to write this article for The Straits Times?”

The Straits Times article mentioned above by Huffington Post is originally linked at http://www.straitstimes.com/news/opinion/more-opinion-stories/story/wp-town-council-and-the-sound-silence-20141210 but is now broken.

Taken from http://newnation.sg/2015/01/huffpost-responds-to-minister-chan-chun-sing-chees-2-articles-represent-0-0001-of-content-we-publish-a-year/

#Sg #Singapore #Singapura #thelioncity #littlereddot #CheeSoonJuan

HuffPost Responds To Chan Chun Sing

Free The Singapore Media

The Wall Street Journal dated Nov. 28-30 published an article titled “A New Vision For Singapore” by Opposition politician Dr. Chee Soon Juan. Read the article here: https://politicalher.wordpress.com/2014/12/01/a-new-vision-for-singapore/. After a series of reactions in Singapore, Dr. Chee writes the following article in The Huffington Post (HuffPo), a US online news aggregator and blog offering original content. HuffPo won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012 and was ranked The Most Popular Political Site by eBizMBA Rank.

The Huffington Post
Free the Singapore Media and Let the People Go
Chee Soon Juan
11 December 2014

My op-ed in the Wall Street Journal “A New Vision for Singapore,” or rather what happened following its publication, is an example of what has to change in Singapore.

I had first offered the piece to the main daily newspaper, the Straits Times. It was not accepted for publication. This is not surprising as in the nearly a quarter-of-a-century of my involvement in opposition politics in Singapore, I have not had any opinion piece published in the Singapore press even though I have contributed articles in many international newspapers in the past.

My piece in the Wall Street Journal elicited a predictably heavy-handed response from the government. The Straits Times and other pro-government news sites ran identical reports titled Singapore responds to ‘dishonest’ commentary by Chee Soon Juan in WSJ. My piece was nowhere in sight.

The ‘dishonest’ label is one assiduously cultivated by the riling People’s Action Party (PAP); it is the favored tactic of the ruling party to character assassinate its opponents.

In this instance, the charge is already an improvement compared to earlier criticisms. In a courtroom hearing in 2008, Mr Lee Kuan Yew testified — after consulting his doctors — that I was a “near-psychopath.” A Straits Times columnist even penned an editorial confirming the diagnosis after looking up a medical website. Mr. Lee’s successor, Mr. Goh Chok Tong, declared that my integrity was suspect, vowing that the government “would try and annihilate” me. The third and current prime minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, said in 2006 that I was a liar and added for good measure that “he’s a cheat, he’s deceitful, he’s confrontational, it’s a destructive form of politics.”

The condemnations were not just in word. I was sued for defamation by the three prime ministers and made bankrupt (for which I recently managed to annul after paying off a reduced amount of the damages), imprisoned and fined on more than a dozen occasions, and banned from running for office for nearly 15 years.

I am not the only one so targeted by the government. Many before me have suffered greater abject fate, some imprisoned without trial for decades, all branded societal menace by the state media.

If all this sounds archaic, that’s because it is. PAP is clinging to a past that has long since finished.

When the party came to power in 1959, it, with considerable help from the country’s British overlords, locked up its political opponents, including journalists whom it deemed unhelpful to its agenda.

Through the decades, the party’s grip on the media tightened, resulting in the present situation where every Singaporean TV channel, every radio station and every newspaper is owned and run by the state. The World Press Freedom Index 2014 ranks Singapore 150th out of 180 countries. Even Myanmar does better at 145th.

The control of the media and the heavily financed propaganda has held Singaporeans in utter thrall, enabling the PAP to rule uninterrupted for more than half-a-century. Even today, albeit with less of a swagger due to push-back from the online community, the party continues to dictate to Singaporeans what they should read, watch and hear.

The state-controlled media shield the ruling class from being responsive to the needs and aspirations of the common people. They have put reason and intellectualism to sleep and, as a result, stymied development.

Such kind of politics cannot continue, not if Singapore is going to graduate into the next phase of development. The ruling party must stop attempting to conquer people and, instead, move to contest policies. It must end the political solipsism from which the PAP arrogates unto itself sole ideological legitimacy and turn to a contemporary pluralism where differences in opinion are debated, indeed celebrated.

If the country is going to survive the next phase of technological advancement in an increasingly competitive global environment, politics in Singapore must evolve in tandem. Starting with the media.

Singaporeans have a lot to offer to the world. We built this island-nation to what it is today and we can build an even better country for tomorrow. The only thing that is holding us back is the anachronistic political system and the received opinion among the public that democracy threatens progress.

To this end, Singapore must free the media. The government must let the people go.

Read the comments to the full article on http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chee-soon-juan/free-the-singapore-media-_b_6306736.html

#Sg #Singapore #Singapura #thelioncity #littlereddot #CheeSoonJuan #LeeKuanYew

Free The Singapore Media