Lies and spin. Violent aggression. Theft. Interfering in people’s lives. These four behaviours cause the great majority of human suffering and many deaths worldwide. Enabling individuals to change these behaviours would avoid 50 per cent of the cost of government, 75 per cent of injustices and 100 per cent of wars. Unfortunately, there is no one solution for changing these behaviours – but there are more and less effective ways. My research has helped identify a less effective way – voting at the ballot box for one or another dishonest politician – as well as more effective ways, for example the use of satire or ridicule to change the climate of thought.
Much of my work has focused on the question of whether being given a personal risk of sacking, imprisonment or public humiliation, based on the individual’s political record, might prompt a change in behaviour to reduce these risks. What we have found is that while risk information can alter a politicized individual’s perception of risk, on average it does not change their behaviour, their lust for power or their hatred for humanity. Few of them have what it takes to swim against the political currents of the time, or more prosaically, to bother to earn an honest living on the market as long as they can take their fill (and more) at the taxpayer trough. So, while exquisitely sensitive to risk information concerning immediate threats to life and career, politicized individuals often discount the risk of being brought to justice in the future against the pleasures of current power, fame and living very comfortably off other people’s efforts.
Formulating the reasons why communicating an individual’s risk does not generally change behaviour shifted my focus away from ethics-based interventions aimed at motivating politicized individuals to try to be honest, or peaceful, or simply to live and let live, towards less subtle routes to behaviour change involving treating them as the criminals and enemies of humanity they are.
The brobdingnagian task now is to systematically and split-infinitively describe the characteristics of environments that shape our behaviour – for good and ill – including physical, religious, epistemological, ethical, political and economic ones. At the Political Crime and Justice Unit that I direct, our current focus is upon the physical cues in our environments that shape politicians’ behaviour. These include the raised voice (with or without expletives), the spittle blob and the well aimed egg or tomato. The impact of some of these cues on behaviour can be large and, when repeated sufficiently often by sufficiently many people, can have significant effects. For example, from the results of our systematic review of 19 experimental studies, we estimate that removing and ostracizing the scum that have risen to the top of the septic tank that passes for government today, together with all their bureaucrat and academic hangers-on, would improve the quality of life for human beings in the UK by at least 66 per cent.
One barrier to applying the results of this research comes in the form of the ‘false agenda effect’. Put simply, those with an agenda to control others will promote anything that seems to make a case for that agenda, regardless of truth or of ethical concerns, and without any consideration of human rights such as liberty, property and privacy. Virtually all politicians, and some members of the public, are prone to this effect, reflected in the discourse of their personal choice and amplified by those that support or profit from a bloated, active political state, such as the mainstream media, arms manufacturers, bureaucrats and politicized academics and teachers.
Realising environments that enable more honest, peaceful and rights-respecting behaviour – for example, sacking all politicians, bureaucrats, BBC employees and politicized university professors, and cancelling their pensions – requires some level of public awareness of the truth. Evidence is emerging that public support for such interventions increases when individuals become aware of how badly they have been lied to and misled, when they become alienated from political society, and when they acquire contempt and loathing for those that have done these things to them. Such intervention will be perceived as effective at achieving the valued outcome only when it upholds, for all human beings, our right to behave according to our free and conscious wills in all situations not countermanded by any of the three rules of a free, civilized society. These rules are, first, objective justice for all; that is to say, each individual should be treated, over the long term and in the round, as he or she treats others. Second, moral equality and the rule of minimal, honest law. And third, respect for the rights and freedoms of other human beings.
Ironically, this means that there is now a vital new role for effective, honest communication of truth, ethical principles and the ideas of individual freedom, this time focused on increasing our support for interventions to get the politicized and their hangers-on off our backs, make them compensate us for the damage they have done to us, and let us live our own lives in our own way. How to increase public demand for such interventions is a research question to which my group and others in Umbrage are now turning.
Having eschewed research on honest and truthful communication as a poor means for changing behaviour, I now see it as core. Without public demand, the criminal scum currently in power, and their hangers-on, will continue to pollute and destroy our environments and to make our lives intolerable. With public demand, we have a sporting chance of getting rid of the bastards, and of implementing what we now know are the keys to a free, civilized society. That is, objective justice for all; the rule of minimal and honest law; and respect for the rights and free will of others.