Psychology is an interesting field of science that potentially can explain how people behave, why they behave that certain way and what triggered their action. In essence, psychology tries to map out the mental mechanisms of a human being’s brain, and thereby increasing our collective knowledge of who we are and what we could expect of ourselves as well as other people.
In this sense, psychology offers a framework for studying man that is not present in other social sciences, even though the basic assumption in economics covers the aggregate of these mechanisms in a formal and simplified way. Psychology should be interesting to us, since it strives to understand and explain why certain people develop a passion for justice whereas others have “no problem” with working as concentration camp guards. The mechanisms of the human psyche is the direct cause of such personalities and convictions, not genetics.
Whether psychology can explain and make us understand how and why people adopt certain political views we will find out. It is however likely that there are mechanisms in our minds that trigger certain beliefs and thus that these beliefs are products of something. My personal passion for justice, as a basis for my conviction that liberty and nothing but liberty is the natural right of all men and women, has to come from somewhere. To some extent it is a conscious choice, but it is presumably to a greater degree a product of my mind valuing logic over emotion and a certain sense of justice over other kinds of justice.
If psychology has the potential of explaining why people take on certain ideas and develop convictions and beliefs, it also has a potential of explaining how people in great numbers tend to adopt a single, aggregate view that does not necessarily fit with the principles held and championed by the individual.
In a new article published today on LewRockwell.com I discuss such a phenomenon: pro-war libertarians advocating a continued war on Iraq and even wars on other countries. As libertarians, they should have a distinctly individualist view of man as well as the world, yet pro-war libertarians tend to argue “we” have a responsibility to protect “our values” and “our way of life”.
Who are the people included in this “we”? Obviously, the pro-war libertarian includes him- or herself, but only in an indirect sense. When demanding that “we” do something about the threat to “our culture” by the peoples of the Middle East, they are not the ones signing up for service in the US army or navy. Rather, they invest their precious time to argue the importance of other people sacrificing their lives for the common good – a view naturally scarce among libertarians.
The fact that many of these pro-war libertarians are non-Americans yet call for the United States government to carry out their deeds, is interesting in many ways. These individuals adopt a rights-based-sounding argument, yet who are really rights-bearers and who are simply subjected to the rights of peoples, nations, or other aggregates?
The view expressed, and the arguments put forth, are in essence individualist reasoning applied on states, nations, and cultures. The “we” used in the arguments is but a trick to include the listener in the victim of the presumed conflict, and thus make him or her more prone to “understand” why it is important to “fight back”. In reality, this “we” means “I” but in the sense only a statesman uses it: meaning “I, the nation” in a very Louis XVI sense.
What is under attack, and thus needs to be protected by waging wars, is the concept of “our nation” or “our culture” – and this ultimately includes you and I, and makes us responsible for whatever is going on in the world. This point of view implicitly, but necessarily, subjects the individual to the collective and even makes the individual essentially worthless: the collective needs and values must be protected and fought for.
This is where psychology could really make a difference through finding the mechanisms in our brains causing some people, who are (or, at least, were) fully convinced libertarian individualists, to adopt a very opposite viewpoint yet keeping the principles intact through ignoring the inherent contradictions in the arguments put forth. Many pro-war libertarians have not changed their principles or convictions, but the fact that they identify a threat they find personally terrifying has made them adopt a contradicting set of arguments, which they incorporate in their libertarian set of values.
The pro-war libertarian, at least the ones who are symptoms of this phenomenon, embed their new nation- or culture-based convictions in a hard-core libertarian lingo so as to make them appear as true libertarian arguments. Whether this is a mechanism of the brain to protect itself and the person from identifying the conflicting views adopted, or whether it is a means for justifying a change of heart is yet to find out.
Read the article Blinded by Hatred? On So-Called Pro-War Libertarians. Comments on this blog post as well as the article are appreciated. Submit them on this blog or e-mail the author.