“Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom.”
Alexis de Tocqueville
Thinking habits and strategies that help survival under an oppressive regime cease to serve you under democracy and economic freedom.
During democratic transitions, people adapt their actions according to the new circumstances relatively quickly, but the underlying thinking patterns, dysfunctional beliefs, social thinking, and mental models linger and have the potential to trigger a quick regression old, dysfunctional thinking habits at the first economic or security challenge. Fear creates a new terror-bonding reaction between people and their leaders, and once the process starts, demand for a strong leader and less oversight will find its supply.
Scholars of democratic consolidation (Nova, 2011 – pdf) grapple with the challenge to include the soft elements of transition and consolidation: the human element.
My project started off as an attempt to unearth the fundamentals of authoritarian thinking, a vicious, self-reinforcing cycle of thought patterns – with an intention to find remedies in the shape of behavioural nudges or changes in social thinking.
The gradual erosion of enthusiasm for freedom cumulate in anti-democratic sentiment, the helpless toleration of corruption, inaction in the face of state capture, and the erosion of social capital and trust.
The Vicious Cycle of Unfreedom
Elements of a self-reinforcing and self-fulfilling vicious cycle of authoritarian thinking pattern.
- Under the influence of fear, people seek individual paths to power and despise the weak (even though they will name very sound justifications, often cynical moral relativism).
- They blame the weak and the victims of oppressive measures to gain a sense of being on the side of the powerful.
- They neglect the possibility in peer-to-peer cooperation in favour of seeking individual routes to influence power.
- The phenomenon is not unlike Stockholm syndrome. It puts development on hold by reversing economic and political advances made during years of economic growth.