And what does this new research on activists say to libertarians?

A new study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology suggests that social and political activists may be harming their own causes.  Here is a piece in the Pacific Standard that highlights the study and summarizes its finding thusly:

Why don’t people behave in more environmentally friendly ways? New research presents one uncomfortable answer: They don’t want to be associated with environmentalists.

That’s the conclusion of troubling new research from Canada, which similarly finds support for feminist goals is hampered by a dislike of feminists.

Participants held strongly negative stereotypes about such activists, and those feelings reduced their willingness “to adopt the behaviors that these activities promoted,” reports a research team led by University of Toronto psychologist Nadia Bashir. This surprisingly cruel caricaturing, the researchers conclude, plays “a key role in creating resistance to social change.”

Or as the study itself notes:

Ironically and despite good intentions, therefore, the very individuals who are most actively engaged in promoting social change may inadvertently alienate members of the public and reduce pro-change motivation.

This is probably not that surprising to many libertarians who have seen “civilians” turned off by their fellow libertarians, especially Randians, Free Keeners, and drug legalization advocates, who act in socially inappropriate or off-putting ways.  Repeat after me: public displays of nudity in the town square are not going to make people excited about the ideas espoused by libertarians.  It might be fun to do (political activism as consumption behavior), shock Mom and Dad (political activism as rebellion), or show your purity (political activism as religious signaling).  But it isn’t all that likely to make people want to join your cause – and may help create negative stereotypes that harm it.

And now we have some social science research to support my own position that we have a better chance of winning if we make the case for liberty calmly, rationally, and with a good sense of humor (and intellectual humility).  This will be aided by not dressing like a radical, even donning a tie, and maybe even bringing the non-political wife/husband along* to show you are a relatively “normal” person who has been able to convince at least one other person to freely associate with you!  Being rude, looking scrubby, and libertarian-logic-weed-guns-ban-pineapple-politics-1364612547smelling of pot probably isn’t going to win the day.  And yes, I’m engaging in grossly wrong stereotypes.  But the fact that these exist (and we know they do – just see to the right of this post one among many internet images mocking libertarianism), even if untrue, could mean a lot to the cause of liberty given the findings of this study.

Indeed, I may type up an IRB request soon to try and see if this research works with libertarians.

* Be careful using kids for this purpose unless they are old enough to be consenting adults.  I don’t like to see kids manipulated for the political causes of their parents.  So at least keep the kids from holding signs if you must drape them around you when you campaign for yourself or your cause.  The exception is showing your children on campaign literature since it signals important information about the person running (especially that the person may discount the future less than those without children).

12 thoughts on “And what does this new research on activists say to libertarians?

  1. Where were the public displays on nudity in a town square by liberty folks? I think that used to happen in San Fransisco but was banned. I remember learning about a old man from Texas that traveled to a small town in Vermont to do it, but then it was banned. I’ve never heard of a liberty person doing anything close to that. I’m just trying to promote honesty in blogging.

  2. Turn it around: I suspect that sales and advertising professionals (and perhaps others whose business it is to persuade, like conmen) are less political, evangelistic, and activist in their private lives. So why would activists behave in a manner detrimental to their stated goals? Because they have other unstated goals. I call these “Look Mom, I’m an activist!” activists.

  3. Not only is she clearly not nude, she actually changed policy in NH. Charges were filed. Then, charges were dropped after there was fear that the NH law she was charged with was unconstitutional. It put every police department in NH and the NH AG on notice to not enforce the unconstitutional law. In other words, it was a big win for women’s rights in NH. Personally, I support women’s rights but I understand that some men are against women having equal rights. That’s shameful! You do realize that the governor of NH and all for Congressfolks are female, right? I think the people of NH have spoken.

  4. Grover Cleveland, I’m noticing increasing numbers of libertarians giving up on persuasion, saying that it is hopeless for various reasons, e.g. parasites and predators will vote their interests, the sheeple have all been brainwashed by the public schools, etc. Lacking a simple red pill to wake people up, they are taking the agorist approach.

  5. So… valuable activism is doing something that you think is illegal and you know is offensive/shocking to people, only to find out that it was just legal and shocking to people, kind of like wearing a T-shirt that says “FUCK” on it… major blow for freedom there, guys.

  6. I personally don’t have a problem with someone making a political point by being obnoxious, but I would prefer that it was the tactic of last resort, rather than the first.

    But this is a clearly a ham-handed attempt to smear the libertarian movement with the actions of a vocal and obnoxious minority.

    You might as well claim all Democrats are actually Marxist terrorists because Joe Stack flew his plane into an IRS building.

    The fact of the matter is most libertarian activists are indistinguishable from most people you would meet on the street, except that they sometimes wear humorous propaganda in the form of t-shirts and buttons, and are typically much more easy going, friendly and reasonable than your average person.

    This latest smear (your mendacious meme-poster on libertarians makes this op-ed qualify as such) is highly encouraging to me, as it indicates desperation on the part of the status quo to keep liberals and conservatives in their respective cages so they can manipulate them for their own purposes. Please keep up with the logical fallacies and twisting of facts – It simply helps mint more libertarians!

  7. Squiggy, I’m confused. Are you saying women’s equality is shocking? I personally, even though I am a man, don’t think women are less than human. I don’t think women have less rights just because of their DNA. Anyone is welcome to think that women attending to live equally to men is shocking if they want, but women are humans and have rights.

  8. Jame Thomas, doing an excellent job of proving the point of the researcher. Your faux-surprise and attempts to confuse the idea that people in America react negatively to female toplessness (remember that Super Bowl where everyone flipped a shit over a nipple?) and the idea that recognizing that fact somehow denies rights to women rather than provides a clearer understanding of the ground from which you’re arguing is rather cute.

  9. Let me try… I don’t think people who shout “fuck shit cockballs motherfucker” over and over again in public have any less rights just because of the rate at which air passes over their vocal chords. Anyone is welcome to think that someone shouting “fuck shit cockballs motherfucker” is shocking if they want, but people who shout “fuck shit cockballs motherfucker” over and over again in public are human and have rights.

    Bobble-headed equivocation that denies reality and makes me feel good about how pure I am? I think I nailed it!

  10. The IRB is the embodiment of the federal HHS tyranny on campus. Your should run your study sans approval as a sign of protest (kidding). I also like the footnote about children.

    SteveC,be careful; it almost sounded like you were calling for the waking of the sheeple… http://xkcd.com/1013/

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