Reverse Psychology Is an Untapped Political Gold Mine
If you don’t think for yourself, someone else will.
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“The ability of America’s dysfunctional public discourse to turn every morally complex question into a referendum on two extremely simplistic and diametrically opposed slogans is astonishing.”
— Yascha Mounk
In the past 15 years, political polarization has soared in America. The left and right halves of the country disagree on the issues by an average gap of 39 points. Over half of us now see other Americans as the biggest threat to our way of life. When it comes to policies like abortion, gun laws, and immigration, political differences are to be expected. But we now find a way to divide ourselves over everything, from vaccines, to voting methods, to standardized testing. Matters that should be of universal importance become tribal badges about which half the country virtue signals while the other half remains obstinately disinterested, regarding anyone who is as an other. Concern about anti-black racism, transphobia, or misogyny is the domain of the left. Caring about the opioid epidemic, fatherlessness, or the struggles of men and boys is coded as right wing. If one side says it, the other side must oppose it.
The quintessence of this idiocy occurred in the summer of 2020, when manic anti-woke troll James Lindsay, reviled in progressive circles, tweeted that two plus two equals four. This kicked off several months of discourse about how two plus two may in fact equal five, and how mathematics are an expression of white supremacist Western chauvinism. This actually happened.
Hyper-partisanship has achieved the kind of collective dumbing down of society that could only otherwise be accomplished by fortifying the food supply with lead or mandating that every newborn be punched in the skull. We have become a mass of mindless drones driven not by our own values or principles — no one has any — but by knee-jerk reactivity to whatever those we hate say or do. And it’s only a matter of time before people begin cynically exploiting this for gain. Our political landscape has created the most fertile environment imaginable for weaponizing reverse psychology. A vast, untapped gold mine of opportunity is just waiting for a relatively small number of influential individuals clever and savvy enough to make use of it.
Imagine Donald Trump Jr., Steve Bannon, and Tucker Carlson publicly endorsing Medicare for All, arguing that white life expectancy has been falling, and that single-payer healthcare is the only way to stop white genocide. It’s soon endorsed by David Duke; and The Daily Stormer, Breitbart, OANN, and The Federalist pick the story up and cover it favorably. It trends across social media. Vox, Buzzfeed, MSNBC, and the rest of left-media start critically reporting on it. #MedicareForAll begins appearing in the profile bios of Trump supporters, right next to #Trump2024. MAGA hats and Confederate flags start showing up among supporters at political rallies for candidates running on Medicare for All.
The result would be catastrophic for the fate of universal healthcare in America — a blow more devastating than any conventional political tactic could possibly manage. To get the ball rolling would only require the coordination of a small handful of prominent individuals convincingly pretending to support something they inwardly oppose for reasons that would nauseate their opponents. The chain reaction that follows would happen organically.
On the flipside, imagine Joy Reid and Nikole Hannah Jones arguing that gun regulation is white supremacist, and that all blacks should be armed. Picture far-left activist groups endorsing nuclear energy by arguing that the radiation will turn everyone trans. What if Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo began saying that immigration was racist because it spurs economic growth that disproportionately accumulates to white people? Or if Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, and the New York Times Editorial Board endorsed a vast increase in police forces across the country to enforce anti-racism policies? You want to destroy your most mutually hated enemy’s ideas? Then enthusiastically endorse them. This is simultaneously a satire waiting to be written and a playbook waiting to be cracked open.
There is an esoteric technique by which we might avoid this spiral of dark comedy, known in the lore as “thinking for yourself.” To those unfamiliar, let me explain. You see, contrary to what you may have been told, there is more to life than what tribe you belong to. And your tribe, believe it or not, is sometimes wrong. That’s it, just breathe, there you go. Using group associations as a shorthand for which ideas are good or bad is a poor method. While our minds can never fully separate message from messenger, we should strive to evaluate ideas on their merits rather than the group or type of person we correlate them with.
How well does an idea fit with the evidence? How strong are the arguments in favor or against it? Is it ethical? Does it stand to be effective? How well does it accord with our values or principles? What are our values and principles? These are immeasurably more useful in determining whether to support or oppose something than which “side” it’s associated with.
It seems a silly prospect, at first glance, to consider the strategic deployment of reverse psychology by political actors, but crazier things have happened. There has never been a confluence of technology, tribalism, cynicism, and post-truth such as now exists. We are uniquely primed for exploitation. Critical thinking is the best insurance policy. A life thought through and thought-out isn’t foolproof. There’s no formula for perfection, and even the wisest can be wrong. Thinking for yourself also costs more in time and energy. But what that effort buys you is vastly lowered odds of being a vacant automaton ripe for manipulation. It grants you greater versatility to course correct if you are initially led astray. At bottom, it buys you a measure of autonomy. I’d say that’s a pretty good deal.
See also: “Groucho Marxism and the Prison of Tribalism”
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Funny that you call the guy saying 2+2=4 the troll
Maybe, just MAYBE, the absolutely maskbrained IDIOTS on the left who spent months arguing about this, and how math is racist, are the problem?
If this COVID1984 madness made you want MORE govt involvement in healthcare, then I really really don’t know what to tell you…places that had single payer were mostly worse about having govt intrusion into their lives during this for one very simple reason: the more govt giveth, the more govt can take away, and the more they think they OWN you.