On 7.05. Kristin was encouraging me to publish my idea how to get (largely) rid of the world’s nuclear weapons with the words “Men vågar vi inte tro att temat intresserar alla Tigrar?”.
Having some experience with such actions, I was expressing some scepticism, but promised anyway to do it. As I did on 9.05. (“Nuclear weapons – how to get rid of them”). That was now 8 days ago. As I vaguely remember, there was once upon a time a saying “Tigern tiger inte” but, instead, the silence is absolutely deafening.
As I was already mentioning, I do have some experience with such (non-) reactions, thus, am not really surprised. Still, basically I do not write in this blog for the purpose of feeding my cynicism. Thus, instead of letting loose an avalanche of nasty formulations, let’s have a look what to make from the situation:
(a) there is the possibility that the whole idea was simply too unfamiliar to readers (if there were any), so that they were quite unable to connect to it in any way, shook their heads, shrugged their shoulders and turned to other matters;
(b) another possibility is that there were ideas/assumptions in the text which were perceived as completely impossible (in which case one could have pointed these details out in some comment, opening the way for further thoughts and explanations);
(c) and of course there may still be mental mechanisms at work which are known to researchers of political psychology (and may be worth a discussion during the next session – on 24.05. – of the Political Psychology Group):
I begin with some rumour that the ancient Persians were in the habit of discussing every important problem twice, one with a sober head and once under alcohol. The possible wisdom in this may be that sober heads may produce very logical/sophisticated/impressive/seemingly wise proposals, but that it turns out under alcohol how much MOTIVATION there is (if any) really to get active about them (“… sounds all very beautiful, but …”). And a more modern formulation of a similar problem may be the distinction between THE EXPRESSIVE RESPONSE and THE INSTRUMENTAL RESPONSE. The first of these we are pretty familiar with from any bigger demonstration: there are things going on which one does not like and then one goes to demonstrate very loud and clear one’s dislike of the situation (or of somebody whom one things responsible for it) while the suggestions how to deal with the situation will tend to be rather simple and straightforward. This MAY sometimes help to get some politicians going about the problem, which CAN even result in a satisfactory solution. But there can easily be problems which are too complicated for this way (which is why in 1968 and after some straightforward suggestions were criticized for being “voluntaristic approaches”, and by that not practicable). One can demonstrate in the streets of Helsinki against the big powers’ nuclear weapons as much as one ever likes, but will not be able to get rid of them that way. In which situation an instrumental response is needed (such as my suggestion concerning nuclear weapons is intended to be), i.e. a suggestion which can be very unappealing but still be the only one which might work.- In this context one can also point to Daniel Kahneman’s rather recent (and best-selling) book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”; instrumental responses requiring slow thinking … .
Unluckily there is in the choice between expressive and instrumental responses at least one additional complicating factor, namely IDENTITY. In 1968 and after there were working-class heroes for whom it was simply “un-proletarian” (in the sense of “un-American” or – from Hitler’s times – “undeutsch”) to waste any thought on psychology. And in matters of nuclear and other weapons it may feel to some peace activists simply incompatible with their identities to even think about the acquisition of weapons (or even, as suggested by me, the establishment of STILL ONE nuclear-armed agency). Because, having a strongly-felt identity will often mean that one sees oneself as a member of a group which holds a morally higher ground than any opponent does, so that even to consider actions which go against the principles of the group to which one belongs would (it is felt) mean to give up the high moral ground and become something like “a bad person”. – Well, I do not really wish to advise people to become bad persons, but I rather think of suggesting that people should consider seeing themselves as something like “engineers of history” in the sense suggested by Bertolt Brecht (especially in his “Lehrstücke”) and also by Marx (who suggested that man should become “master of his history”). Also such “engineers” will prefer expressive responses (among others, because they feel so much better), but if these do not work, then they will look for possible instrumental responses and try those.