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The video of Aiden Gregg’s talk about the psychology of political belief is now up and viewable

Yes, incoming from Simon Gibbs of Libertarian Home saying that the video of Aiden Gregg’s talk, that I earlier flagged up here as being on its way and worth a watch, is now there to be watched. In his accompanying commentary on the talk, Simon (after quoting me – thanks mate) lays out a lot of the data detail that I merely alluded to.

Says Simon in his email to me:

It could use some upvotes on reddit. Are you registered there?

Me? No. But maybe some readers are, and could oblige. And while they are about it, tell me more about reddit. I am starting to get the same feeling about the social media that I got about email, when I delayed bothering with that, way back whenever that was.

Commenting on my posting yesterday about the Alex Singleton book launch, “RogerC” said:

PR, marketing and in general the how of getting ideas out there and into people’s heads is an area where I’ve always thought we’re weak. Conversely, the left is very, very good at this stuff. They’ve been making a conscious effort to do it and to develop the techniques for a hundred years now, and their position has advanced immeasurably as a result. …

Agreed. There is a lot that we can learn from the statist left, whose success in spreading their ideas has been all the more remarkable when you consider how bad their ideas are and how much havoc these ideas have long been known to cause. Aiden Gregg brings his expertise as an academic psychologist to this same terrain, of how to present ideas in such a way that they are more likely to win widespread acceptance.

17 comments to The video of Aiden Gregg’s talk about the psychology of political belief is now up and viewable

  • If anyone else has any expertise in this terrain, I would like to help faciliate its sharing, by way of blogging, events and videos.


  • I upvoted it on Reddit. Btw, I made a Reddit page for Samizdata. Anyone can submit links.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    I don’t think there is anything we can learn from the left. Or more concisely, I don’t think there is anything we should learn from the left.

    I’ve been reading Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals recently, considered by many to be the very pinnacle of left wing rhetoric.

    It seems to me to be mostly about how to use the great unwashed to bring about what you want. It’s manipulative in the extreme. I’m of the view that if you want people on your side, they should be won honestly through discourse. And if you’re really going down the route of “They don’t know what’s good for em….”, then don’t resort to manipulation – come out and say it. Establish a benign dictatorship through force with the open goal of governing people’s lives who are too stupid to govern their own. Don’t pretend to be the former while really being the latter

    Personally I’d rather be on the losing side and keep my soul…..

  • Tedd


    I agree, and not just because I want to keep my soul. I see Alinky-ish manipulation as an effective tactic for achieving short-term goals, but the battle for a free society is going to be a very long one — three centuries running already, at least, with no clear end in sight. Those who value liberty have reason and, I think, evolution on their side, so the battle is theirs to loose. But it takes patience not to lose it.

    But I’m probably just saying that because of my psychological “taste buds.”

  • Laird Minor

    Sorry, JV (and Tedd), but I disagree completely. If you really have read “Rules for Radicals” you didn’t understand it, but rather were too swept up in objecting to Alinsky’s goals to see that the “Rules” are useful tactics for anyone. And they are not “manipulative” at all. Here is my summary:

    #1: Power is not only what you have, but what an opponent thinks you have.
    #2: Never go outside the experience of your people.
    #3: Whenever possible, go outside the experience of your opponent.
    #4: Make opponents live up to their own book of rules.
    #5: Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.
    #6: A good tactic is one your people enjoy.
    #7: A tactic that drags on for too long becomes a drag.
    #8: Keep the pressure on. Use different tactics and actions and use all events of the period for your purpose.
    #9: The threat is more terrifying than the thing itself.
    #10: The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.
    #11: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it.

    Which of these is “manipulative”? Only if you’re dishonest about your objective can any of these fairly be seen as such.

    And Tedd, the long run is just a series of short runs. If you don’t win anything in the short term you’re not going to win in the long term. Any anyway, the “battle for a free society” isn’t something that is either definitively or permanently won or lost; it’s an ongoing, perpetual struggle. Which really means that short-term victories are pretty much all that anyone can ever hope to achieve. It’s a sisyphean task, and we just have to keep pushing that boulder up one more time.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Laird, the whole objective of “Rules for Radicals” is taking normally politically inactive people, and using them to achieve the political end you decide is best for them. That is, without a doubt, manipulative.

    And what’s more the tactics themselves are immoral. In the text itself rather than the oft-quoted “short” rules he talks about trying to make your opponent embody evil itself, to deny them personhood lest you engender sympathy, simply switching to talking about something else when you’re losing and so on.

    These are not rules for honest debate. They are rules for lying on an industrial scale. It’s a book on what they used to call Sophistry. I started reading this book because I wanted to try and understand Obama, since he is without question the inheritor of Alinksky’s legacy.

    I have to say it has been helping…..

  • JV, having not read the book and going only by your comment, the book discusses both goals and means. The question we should ask then: can the means be morally useful to achieve goals that are materially different or even the complete opposite of the goals discussed in the book. Laird’s summary tells me they can, at least some of them.

  • Paul Marks

    Sadly I am forced to agree with J.V. on this one.

    Saul Alinsky advocates using lies (although he does not use the word) and dishonest character assignation (although he, again, uses his own web of words to mean this).

    Laird – where in those 11 principles you quote does it say “honestly explain the issue under debate and use both evidence and reasoning to win the argument”?

    It does not say that in any of the 11 principles you cite – and it does not say that for the reason that Alinsky (and his, Satanic [literally Satanic – check who the first edition is dedicated to] “Rules For Radicals”) hates reason. Just as he hated private property and respect for conservative social institutions (such as the family) upon which “capitalist” society rests.

    His methods are evil – and designed to achieve evil objectives.

    They can achieve no other objectives. Otherwise Mr Alinsky (who was not stupid) would not have openly published them. A defender of civilisation who uses these tactics will find themselves step-by-step destroying the very civilisation they set out to defend – by undermining its foundational rules.

    As for how to combat the evil of Alinskyism – it is not difficult (once one has fully understood that one is dealing with evil people – not “misguided youth” or “pranksters” or whatever they try to pretend to be).

    For example, a standard Alinskyite tactic is to mock the court (should they be defendants for various crimes). They should be given one warning (and only one). Should any mockery continue – they should be removed (instantly) and the trial continue without them. Should their lawyers (who will also be Alinskyites) try any mockery they should also be removed.

    As for the violation of private property in “protests” (another Alinsky tactic) – any violation of private property should be dealt with as what it is (a criminal attack) and responded to with all necessary force.

    These people are not engaged in philosophical debate (they are not interested in that) – they should not be treated as something they are not.

    As for a short account of Mr Alinsky….

    See David Horowitz “Radicals: Portraits of a Destructive Passion” (Regnery Publishing, 2012) Chapter Six.

  • where in those 11 principles you quote does it say…

    The fact that he does not tell you to do something does not preclude you from doing it you like. You can pick and choose from his rules or from any other list, and use them with conjunction with other rules from some other place. Or not. That’s what we have our own brains for.

  • Brian Micklethwait (London)

    There is a great deal more to the left than just Saul Alinsky.

  • Tedd

    It’s a sisyphean task, and we just have to keep pushing that boulder up one more time.

    That’s exactly my point. I don’t pretend to be an expert on Alinsky, but each of the principles you detailed (except #10) is really about appealing to people’s baser nature, which is the natural ally of progressivism or socialism, not liberty. In a democracy, progressivism is like entropy — what you’ll end up with if you do nothing. The boulder, and the hill we have to push it up, is to combat that tendency not with appeals to base human nature but with reason and appeals to higher values.

  • Paul Marks

    If one must quote the evil – then quote the “Darleks”

    “This is not war – this is pest control”.

    The Alinikyites are pests – they are too cowardly (or too sensible) to engage in open warfare (which might get them killed). But nor are they are interested in political economy – they do not even discuss it (they just engage in mockery and childish antics).

    They are pests – and should be treated accordingly.

    First and foremost.

    Defund them. No more tax money for them – or their “NGOs” (if they are really “non government” they do not need tax money).

    For example.

    Why shoot rioting students?

    Better to get rid of “student loans” (thus terminating the problem before it even starts). Sincere scholars would still go to university (people with a genuine passion for their subject) – but not the “well I could not think what I wanted to do – so I went to university” crowd.

    As for the “communities” they try and “organise”.

    If people are busy working for a living (as they would be if they had to work – no welfare) then they have no time (or energy) for antics.

    “The Devil makes work for idle hands”.

    Then make sure there is a price to paid for idleness – do not subsidise it.

    “But this will show us as brutal and lacking in compassion – exactly as they wish us to be seen”.

    No the Alinskyites what us seen as corpses (dead bodies – after they have executed us), never forget that.

    They only use mockery and lies to gain power – power they would then use to terminate their opponents.

    So do not be gentle in dealing with these pests.

    And it is not “compassion” to subsidise them with money taken by force from taxpayers.

    And there are ways to cut off the funding to RICH Alinskyites also.

    For example – who actually funds the “Tides Foundation” and the other leftist charities?

    Mostly people from the FINANCIAL INDUSTRY (even more, indeed vastly more, than the Hollywood people give).

    Dealing with them is straight forward.

    Get rid of the “welfare for the rich” – credit money expansion.

    If bankers (and so on) had to rely on REAL SAVERS they would have to be rather different in their behaviour.

    It is easy to mock the “bourgeois virtues” when you do not depend on real savers for every last penny your bank (or whatever) has.

    If you do have to depend upon real savers for every last penny – then you suddenly have to be very nice to “Mr Babbitt”.

    Also have some basic courage – not much is needed, just a bit.

    For example when Mr J. Jackson comes around demanding money with threats of protests – arrest him for extortion, and throw away the key.

    “But his people will riot”.

    What is meant by “his people”?

    Is some sort of ethnic minority meant? Is that not racist thinking?

    Still if they choose to burn their own houses down (and die of the cold in Chicago this time of year) that is an odd choice – but it should be respected.

    If they try and burn down the houses of other people they should be prevented from doing so.

    If need be by lethal force.

    Remember what Mr Alinsky said.

    “We should not keep going round quoting Mao about power coming from the barrel of a gun – not whilst the other side have most of the guns”.

    They only use mockery because they do not have “most of the guns” – the moment they do, we are dead.

    And mocking them will not prevent them getting to the position of having “most of the guns”.

    Presently (even now) “it would not be war – it would be pest control”.

    If (and it is a big “if”) ordinary people really grasp what they are facing.

    They must (not must not) be “led outside their experience” to have this thing honestly and clearly explained to them.

    And “our book of rules” should be simple – to defend against attack by all means necessary.

    And if that means defending against attack in the way the peasants of Indonesia did in 1966 – then the attackers (who would exterminate tens of millions if they had the chance to do so) bring it upon themselves. And the property owners (especially the SMALL property owners – they have not got the resources to leave the country, they have to fight or die) should be clearly informed of the threat of extermination that they and their families face.

    They choose Satan as their master (whether the Devil exists or not) – then, if they attack, let them be sent to join him. All of them.

    It is their choice – they do not have to attack.

    That is why Alinsky restored to mockery instead.

    Confident that his followers (his pests) would be subsidised by the very people who they (privately) wished to utterly exterminate.

  • Paul Marks

    No Alisa – once one starts playing by Alinsky’s rules (lies, mockery, dancing about and so on) the option of telling the truth and defending society is closed.

    That is the point – that is the real point of Alinsky rules.

    His real target was not even the wiping out of the property owners.

    No – he had a more important target even than this.

    The souls of his own followers – or potential followers.

    Once committed to his rules – they were damned. Whether Hell is a physical place or not is not the point here – they were still damned.

    Still that is a bit abstract.

    So I will end with a small practical example.

    The young Mr Holder used Alinsky style tactics to intimidate Columbia university to name a room after “Malcolm X”.

    Mr Holder should have been expelled – at once, without indulgence.

    It is rather unlikely that Mr Holder would hold a Justice Department position (let alone head it) without a university qualification (by the way, we are still not allowed to see the young Barack Obama’s Columbia thesis – does it even exist? if so what does it say?).

    But that depends on universities being voluntarily funded – depending on people such as Mary Stanford (of Stanford University – before her odd death)the person who Richard Ely’s Orwellian named “academic freedom” campaign was launched against.

    With voluntary funding it is rather unlikely that a student who engaged in Alinsky style intimidation would remain long.

    Alinsky style tactics only prosper because there is no PRICE for using them.

    Saul Alinskey sensed weakness – and used it.

    In a strong civil society his tactics would be useless.

    And they would certainly be useless in reverse.

    For example, should “right wing” students engage in the antics tht young Mr Holder did, they would be expelled instantly (and most likely arrested as well).

    The left are not weak – not “compassionate” (look at the “Fabian Widow”). Someone who uses such tactics on them would be treated without pity. Remember that G.B. Shaw and H.G. Wells only used mockery and lies because they did not have the power to do what they really wanted to do – physically exterminate their opponents.

    They said this themselves – normally with a little smile (to suggest they were joking), they were not joking.

    The tactics that Screwtape (in C.S. Lewis’s work) suggests for use against humans would NOT work on Screwtape.

    And remember even the junior Devil who Screwtape is advising ends up being Screwtape’s dinner. Screwtape did “love” him – but in the sense a cat loves a bird.

    The fate Mr Alinsky had in mind for his own followers.

    All that will work with Screwtape is to openly expose his works. To explain to people (quite truthfully) what they face.

    It is no different in secular matters.

  • RogerC

    Should we use Alinsky-style tactics? Certainly not, for a number of very good and practical reasons. One of these is that, once your people are in the habit of using methods such as polarisation and mockery, they end up stifling debate within your own ranks. That might be fine for a would-be totalitarian who’s interested primarily in obedience, but is no use at all to those of us who value actual freedom.

    However, just because we reject the use of a certain set of methods doesn’t mean we a) should not understand them thoroughly and develop countermeasures, and b) work hard to get our own ideas accepted into the vocabulary of everyday discussion. I suspect the two are linked.

  • Paul Marks

    RogerC – agreed.

  • Laird

    I still disagree. Alinsky’s tools are just that: tools. They can be used for good or evil, just as a hammer can be used to commit murder or to build a house. The criticism here conflates those rules with Alinsky’s own evil intentions, but in truth they are no more “evil” than is a handgun; what matters is how they are used. Mockery is a perfect tool to use against progressives, since they have absolutely no sense of humor and no appreciation for their own foibles. And personalizing a target is precisely what we do when we talk about Obama or Holder. Talking generally about “liberals” or “the progressive movement” gains no traction with the average voter; holding the actions of specific individuals up to public scrutiny (“Fast and Furious” was aided and abetted by Eric Holder, not by unnamed rogue BATF agents; the Benghazi murders happened because Obama and Hillary Clinton chose not to act) helps direct the focus onto the evildoers themselves, not merely their actions.

  • Tedd


    I agree with what you said about the actions of specific individuals, where it’s appropriate to bring that into it.

    Regarding tools, though, it’s a question of using the right tool for the job. The value of Alinsky-like tactics is their ability to help you “win” a debate when you don’t have the winning arguments, by personalizing every issue. But what is needed for reasoned arguments to prevail is to depersonalize the debate. Since I believe that I have reasoned arguments, for me using Alinski-like tactics would be taking the fight off my home turf. I don’t see the advantage.