I've taken to calling a lot of so-called "conservatives" "cons", because so many of these people, at least their politicians, advocates, activists and speakers, are confidence people (con artists) and all of them are huckstering policies and concepts that are inimical to the people in the crowds they work. To be fair "confidence" artistry is as old as trade and almost the definition of politicians. So I wanted to explain the distinctions. But then as I researched I saw that the psychology involved is more than just legitimate advocacy. Cons use fear to permanently change people.
Root of Huckstering - definitions of the terms
Con is short for con artist. Though it is shorthand for "conservative" in the way that modern so-called conservatives behave. Since convincing, building confidence in schemes, and getting folks to follow one is part of being a politician, calling conservative politicians cons is almost an oxymoron. All activists are trying to convince people to do something, but a con artist is trying to convince people to do something that isn't in their own interest, or more accurately is in the "private, separate interest" of the con artist. So conning people, works along with bribery, violence and extortion, to get people to go along with income transfers and policies that hurt them. A con artist gets the oppressed to go along with the oppression. And when in power is getting folks to not recognize tyranny for what it is as con artists usually don't use violence up front.
Conservative con artistry is aimed at something kind of dark.
All Activists use psychology but....
All activists, salesmen, hucksters and politicians use psychology to win recruits and followers. It's the job of the ancient tools of rhetoric and the modern tools of advertising to interest and excite listeners (or readers) to step up and follow a program or buy a product, and activists and politicians do just that. But there is something special about conservative cons that draws from their emphasis on negativity.
Playing on Negative Emotions
Conservatives also build a base by exploiting psychology. Consciously or unconsciously they exploit emotions like anger, fear, and other negative emotions. These seem to be programmed into the brain:
The Cambridge Journal article notes that:
"differing political views are ubiquitous and deep-seated, and they often follow common, recognizable lines. The supporters of tradition and stability, sometimes referred to as conservatives, do battle with the supporters of innovation and reform, sometimes referred to as liberals."
They further note that:
"A rapidly growing body of empirical evidence documents a multitude of ways in which liberals and conservatives differ from each other in purviews of life with little direct connection to politics, from tastes in art to desire for closure and from disgust sensitivity to the tendency to pursue new information."[citation below]
It seems to be built into a psychological dichotomy in us humans that conservatives prefer negative emotions. Ring of fire reports on that study:
“[N]ot only do political positions favoring defense spending, roadblocks to immigration, and harsh treatment of criminals seem naturally to mesh with heightened response to threatening stimuli but those fostering conforming unity (school children reciting the pledge of allegiance), traditional lifestyles (opposition to gay marriage), enforced personal responsibility (opposition to welfare programs and government provided healthcare), longstanding sources of authority (Biblical inerrancy; literal, unchanging interpretations of the Constitution), and clarity and closure (abstinence-only sex education; signed pledges to never raise taxes; aversion to compromise) do, as well. Heightened response to the general category of negative stimuli fits comfortably with a great many of the typical tenets of political conservatism.”
Ring of fire further quotes:
“Thus, it is reasonable to hypothesize that individuals who are physiologically and psychologically responsive to negative stimuli will tend to endorse public policies that minimize tangible threats by giving prominence to past, traditional solutions, by limiting human discretion (or endorsing institutions, such as the free market, that do not require generosity, discretion, and altruism), by being protective, by promoting ingroups relative to out-groups, and by embracing strong, unifying policies and authority figures.”
Producing conservatives through propaganda.
It's my belief that this conditioning starts with children, as I want to think it's mostly choice (and not merely wiring) whether a person is primed for negative reactions or positive ones, it is disturbing to read data that shows it is conditioning. And yes while Liberals are often negatively motivated by reaction to what conservatives are doing so neither is exclusively the province of just one orientation. Still fear-mongerers and those affected by it, do or advocate violence and harm to others. They don't just seem cruder and more insensitive, the measures show they really are.
Some folks may be born as cons... or created.
BF Skinner and Conditioning
These findings confirm almost a century of disturbing science and pyschology. I remember how in his book Walden II BF Skinner described a behaviorally conditioned Utopia (which actually was extremely frightening when you read it critically) and he also wrote "Beyond Freedom and Dignity" where he is quoted:
"What do we mean when we say we want to be free? Usually we mean we don’t want to be in a society that punishes us for doing what we want to do. Okay -- aversive stimuli don’t work well anyway, so out with them! Instead, we’ll only use reinforcers to “control” society. And if we pick the right reinforcers, we will feel free, because we will be doing what we feel we want!"
He was more right than I thought. And the right has intentionally been using that knowledge.
That is what demagogues, preachers, activists and politicians have been doing for centuries. Unfortunately fear and loathing motivate people negatively. In his books he showed that aversive reinforcers actually make society more violent and nasty. Behavioral therapy is out of style largely because it "works" but not in a way that benefits society.
The dynamic of operant conditioning is regressive and con leaders have known for years that they can condition people into conservative (negative) reactions through repeated stimulus and fear-mongering. There is a method to the madness, and while one might not be able to pray away the con once it is wired in, prayers, preachings, childhood stories, and repeated lies can instill fear -- and that changes the dynamic of the brain itself.
And there are plenty of studies that indicate that that is the case. Unlike being Gay, one can be turned into a conservative (brainwise) through fearful and traumatic experiences in childhood. This is not only true in humans, it is also true in animals.
“Animals placed in traumatic, fear-inducing situations around the time of puberty show high and sustained levels of aggression later in life. And while rats cannot substitute for humans, the scared rats also showed changes in hormone levels, brain activity, and genetic expression that appear very similar to traits observed among troubled and unusually violent people.”
So there is method in the Right Wings Madness. They scare people, and aim to scare them, starting during puberty, with the goal of permanently changing their brains and making them conservatives. Trauma (fear and violence) even makes them less intelligent. Those exposed to fear and stress were:
"found to have deficits in verbal declarative memory function based on neuropsychological testing. Studies, using a variety of measures (including the Wechsler Memory Scale, the visual and verbal components of the Selective Reminding Test, the Auditory Verbal Learning Test, Paired Associate Recall, the California Verbal New Learning Test, and the Rivermead Behavioral Memory Test), found specific deficits in verbal declarative memory function"
I like to hope that traumatized people can be converted back to a more optimistic normal, but I know they are conditioned into it. That the effects are bio-chemical. So I'm no longer that optimistic. Just as it may not be able to "pray away the gay", it's may not be possible to pray away the con, but the job of the con artist, activist and politician to try.
I had a different article in mind when I started writing. But this is enough for this post. It's depressing and a bit traumatic to read that the very things that scare conservatives make them act the same way. The right of course will put out the tu quo que argument that the left does it too. Well fearmongering is never right. The only thing preventing us sometimes from solving problems is our negative reaction to negativity.
Can we pray away the Con? Pray away the fear? Man I hope so.
Links and Sources:
- Ring of Fire Radio
- Cambridge Journal link:
- Ring of Fire:
- BF Skinner sources:
- Beyond Freedom and Dignity:
- Walden II
- Quotes from Skinner:
- Childhood trauma articles: