What Does the Project Do?

The research adopts the view that authoritarianism is a thinking pattern, a mental habit, a frame of mind that can be evoked – but we can also snap out of it.

Impatient? Jump right to the training

We all know how populism and authoritarianism is evoked. A good and unscrupulous orator can evoke authoritarian sentiment in just a few sentences. Prolonged communication in this manner, the constant reminder of threats (real or imaginary), the artful manipulation of fear and helplessness triggers the good, old-fashioned authoritarian sentiment, call it by any name.

But it is not a life sentence. People shift in and out of states of mind on a daily basis, and even though this particular mental model is pervasive and deep-seated, it can be brought to the light of day, consciously evaluated and put into its place.

We helplessly stand by and fret the arrival of that orator. And yet, we still don’t have the rhetoric and narration to counter it.

Authoritarianism may use the gravity of fear as an accelerator, but it is not insurmountable.

If appealing to fear triggers authoritariansim, what triggers the courage to freedom?

This project sets out to find the interdisciplinary means to weaken the grip of fear. Otherwise we will be left to fight its symptoms one by one, with no end.

The symptoms:

  • Populism,
  • extremism,
  • anti-immigrant sentiment,
  • hate speech,
  • xenophobia,
  • anti-semitism,
  • oppression of groups,
  • belligerence, warmongering,
  • paternalism, parentalism,
  • homophobia,
  • religious intolerance, etc.

A question well put is a question answered. If we find the angles through which authoritarianism is best understood, behavioural nudges and alternative thinking habits can be devised.

  • Find behavioural nudges to evoke citizen mentality and put people in the non-authoritarian frame of mind.
  • If a societal terror bonding had blurred the line between the perspectives of the leader and his subjects, can disentangling these points of view and restoring individual viewpoints help avert an authoritarian relapse?
  • What is the role of humour (especially political humour) in the maintenance and erosion of authoritarian regimes?
  • If appealing to fear evokes authoritarian helplessness, what triggers the courage to freedom and empowerment?
  • Authoritarianism erodes trust within a society. Fearful and helpless people neglect the possibilities in horizontal cooperation and look above for solutions. Can  social capital increase resistance to fear and the lure of authoritarianism?
  • One of the most telling symptoms is the absence of (individual) ambitions. One cannot afford to grow when he feels threatened – but it quickly becomes a self-perpetuating downward spiral. Implenting aspirational values is a proven tool to elevate thinking and empower people.
  • Does memetic vaccination work? Can it be put to use?

This part of the research contains possible behavioural or meme-hacks and will be collected under Solutions.

  • Nudges towards unfreedom are as old as politics. The politician always talks down, always reminds of threats (even if it’s just unpiad bills or old age), he is always alone on the pulpit, and the communication is always one-way. (When a clairvoyant offers the ghost to knock once for yes and twice for no, she offers exactly one more options than voting gives to the citizen.)
  • Forums of political behaviour (broadly speaking) should be furnished with reminders and behavioural triggers that help our self-respecting, better selves to take the mental driving seat.
  • Today, no one is doing this job. Governments, anti-establishment challengers, or corporations have no interest in this message.
  • Communication to counter populism and extremism should apply better crafted implied messages, based on the actual concerns behind authoritarian voices and behaviour: fear, anxiety, uncertainty, distrust, victimisation, learned helplessness, the need to scapegoat, the fear of failure and the glorification of cynicism.
  • Thinking habits and mental models can be dislodged not by head-on confrontation (which is pointless) but by tangential messages that don’t have to break down the shield of protected identity before reaching their audience.

“We forget that, although each of the liberties which have been won must be defended with utmost vigour, the problem of freedom is not only a quantitative one, but a qualitative one; that we not only have to preserve and increase the traditional freedom, but that we have to gain a new kind of freedom, one which enables us to realize our own individual self; to have faith in this self and in life.”

Erich FROMM, 1942

The need for the project

About the Project


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