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 smelling 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).