The Psychology Of Socialism In America: And Elsewhere

The Psychology Of Socialism In America: And Elsewhere

From my perspective, as a psychologist, the reasons for the growing  popularity of Socialism in America (and elsewhere) basically have to do with many elementary principles of psychology and the equally basic principles of animal behavior.

These basic scientific principles strongly tend to yield certain behavioral outcomes in animals, the world around.

Though we often do not think about it, humans are animals. After all, we are not vegetables or minerals…so we are animals. Both logic and mature psychological scientific experimental research strongly support that our emotions and behaviors are influenced in ways similar to the other animals on earth. Yet, few among us understand any of the details of this amazing perspective of modern psychological science.

In his powerful book: Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1972), B. F. Skinner explained how this great problem blocks the maximization of our individual and collective human potential. Reading his book will inform you of this relatively new perspective and may dramatically transform your thinking. You will learn a great deal about the determinants of human behavior and also the success and failure of evolving cultures…including our own.

The following are facts about how human nature interacts with some principles of psychology and behavior. I judge that they also help explain why socialism and communism can be so attractive to people everywhere.

  1. Animals prefer to get more rewards, easier, with less work.
  2. Animals prefer to find ways to make #1 happen more often.
  3. Animals prefer to get their rewards sooner than later.
  4. Animals prefer to find ways to make #3 happen more often.
  5. Animals prefer to get bigger rewards than smaller ones.
  6. Animals prefer to find ways to make #5 happen more often.

When animals are used to getting rewards easier, with less work; sooner than later; bigger than smaller; and getting all of this to happen for themselves with less effort, this tends to weaken their their tenacity and perseverance. Therefore animals who experience this learning history are prone to “give-up”, or “quit trying” when rewards, for any reason, suddenly become 1. harder to get, 3. are obtained later than sooner, 5. become smaller than bigger, or 6. happen less often than more often. In fact, this frustrating chain of events all too often tends to produce hostility and aggression between classes of individuals, fighting between tribes, and wars among civilizations.

Of course,  if animals have never been trained, or somehow learned to work hard to get their rewards they will be prone to showing a lack of persistence.

When rewards have slowly, over time, become harder to get, animals tend to continue to work harder and not to give-up or quit working quickly. They have learned to “hang in there” because, in the past they have learned to work hard to achieve their rewards. They are more likely to work harder to get rewards, “when the “going gets tough”!

When rewards are in short supply animals are more likely to look around, to”forage” to get (# 1, #3, and #5, in order to secure the highly rewarding consequences of 1, 3, and 5.

The following is an unusual perspective. But, please stay with me for the surprising outcome of chain the events described above.

A. If animals had a bar or button to push that made items 1., 3., and 5. happen more and more often in their lives, they would push this them more and more frequently because these low-effort responses would be so very powerfully rewarded. 

B. These elementary principles, and others not listed, are subsumed under a Law of Psychology, named the Law of Effect. This is one of psychology’s premier laws, that allows us to predict how the occurrence of rewards will change the behavior patterns of animals.  A simple explanation of the Law Of Effect is: Consequences Control Behavior.

I wonder if you can anticipate what I will say next about why Socialism is growing in popularity in America.

C. Humans are animals. Therefore, they are subject to all of the principles and behavioral outcomes listed above.

D. “Modernity” is a relative term though history (I.e., sleds vs. wheels; wells vs. aqueducts, horses vs. cars, ovens vs. microwaves, trains vs. planes, etc., etc., etc.). Modernity tends to make 1., 3., and 5. more easy to achieve. Successive generations of youth within a modernizing society tend to become more susceptible to giving-up or not trying when faced with the inevitable greater demands for effort that will face them in young adulthood. It tends to be true of modernizing societies that as children develop they encounter greater complexity in their lives and they also encounter greater demands for them to do more work per units of time. As a side-note; this may help to explain why, the world around, within rapidly modernizing modernizing societies, when various population behavior problems, as well as anxiety and depression  show increasing rates of occurrence.  

E. Finally, under these conditions, clever and unprincipled power-hungry politicians target their reward-deprived citizens with promises of free money, services, and opportunities in exchange for their votes. If this potentially accelerating self-defeating sick-sociopoliltical mututal reward system continues, the outcome becomes predictable.

The society becomes increasingly weakened by socialism/communism and begins its relative decline.

There are other events and cultural evolutions that are stimulating the popularity of socialism in America, so please stay tuned for more on this topic!

V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D., 11/26/19

Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Indiana University South Bend

President, Behavioral Psychological Family Services

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