The New Afrikan Independence Movement needs a psychological revolution. I don’t mean a change in the personal psychologies of those involved. I mean a change in the foundations of political action. Too long have developments been arrested by questions of “How do we convince the youth?” or “How do we acquire and retain recruits?”. The answer is provided by the science of psychology, specifically behavioral psychology and behavioral economics. The bourgeois “overlords” are kicking our ass in reaching the masses not merely because of funding and airplay, but really because of the fact that there appears to be this aversion to using the insights of marketing, public relations, and behavioral economics/psychology. This aversion isn’t unique to the New Afrikan Independence Movement (as the left has a generalized anti-science problem), but I am particularly perplexed by how quickly those in the movement or whom assert to be supporters, roll their eyes at requests to utilize a strategy based on a study in social science.
Psychology was originally the study of human emotion and character with the first mention of affective disorder (emotional dysfunction) being from an Egyptian medical textbook (Khalil & Richa, 2014). In the textbook, there is no mention of a separate “immaterial” entity called a soul (a point that will be relevant later) (Khalil & Richa, 2014), but there is this talk of emotions being expressions of energies of the (physical) heart. Through deep understanding of the functions of the heart and circulatory system, the Egyptian doctor believed that they could offer treatment for a patient’s emotional disturbances. We see here an early attempt to utilize science and observation for the sake of behavioral change.
Fast forward centuries later to the late 19th century, and we come upon the dawn of psychology as a proper scientific discipline. Wilhelm Wundt introduced structuralism (the study of the units of the ‘mind’) and the first laboratory for psychological testing (Mcleod, 2023). William James wrote the first textbook on psychology and advocated a theory of psychology called functionalism which was dedicated to understanding the reasons behind the operations of the brain (Mcleod, 2023). From there we get psychoanalysis, gestalt psychology, behaviorism, the so-called cognitive revolution of the 1970s, and in contemporary times, neuropsychology (Cherry, 2022). The reader may be confused about the quick detour into history, but I want to highlight that psychology is as varied as any other field of science. Psychology is bigger than sitting in a chair or laying on a couch to talk to a therapist.
The branch of psychology that I believe is the most important for the New Afrikan Independence Movement is Radical Behaviorism–the experimental analysis of human behavior created by B.F. Skinner. Mcleod (2023) explains that, “Behaviorism is a theory of learning that states all behaviors are learned through conditioned interaction with the environment. Thus, behavior is simply a response to environmental stimuli.” Radical Behaviorism isn’t a mechanistic theory as the definition given by Mcleod makes it appear to be. As Ahearn (2010) states, “[Radical Behaviorism] eschews mechanistic cause, accounts for both overt and covert behavior, and conceptualizes the organism as the locus at which behavior and environment interact (Hineline, 1990; 1992). That is, behavior evolves (or develops) for the individual in a complex manner that involves three primary sources of influence; genetic inheritance, contingencies encountered during one’s lifetimes, and the socio-cultural context in which the person evolves.” [My italics, al-Rashid]
By understanding that our activities are the result of a particular history of development, we are able to resolve questions about how to get people to do what we would like them to do. The issue with mentalistic views that say that we have some special entity that stands outside of the material world piloting our bodies is that it is unable to motivate a desire for looking into what influences a person or group. While it is nice to say that we are outside of the influence of nature; while it offers some feeling of solace in the face of a crushing social reality (capitalism, racism, sexism, etc.), it does nothing in helping us develop a technology of political transformation. If people are free from scientific analysis and application, then it means that political behavior is a result of random bursts of mental energy.
By turning to the scientific analysis of human activity (behavior), we can tap into the vast pool of data about the conditions of desired (prosocial) behavior. Sure, the settler-State funds these scientific endeavors to enrich themselves through learning how to better manipulate the masses, but this doesn’t mean we can’t use this data for our ends. Let’s take an example from a field called Behavioral Public Policy. According to a report by the World Bank there are at least 202 publicly supported behaviorally informed entities across the world (World Bank, 2019). The u.s. of amerika started looking into behavioral science in 2000, and officially began implementing it in 2006 with the opt-out pension plan (Pension Protection Act) (World Bank 2019, 148). In 2013, the u.s. launched a team to look more into behavioral science and what it could do in relation to public policy and compliance (World Bank, 2019). At the sub-national level (more local), cities like Chicago have utilized behavioral science to address various issues such as plastic waste. Indeed, according to the report, Chicago resorted to “Implementing a ‘bag tax’ on disposable bags, which has reduced disposable bag use by over 40 percent.” (World Bank, 2019).
There is more information in the report, which I will link in the reference section, but I include those sources in order to show that the Left in general, and the New Afrikan Independence Movement in particular, are seemingly late to the game regarding implementation of behavioral science. I’ll use another example to hammer home the point. In December 2021, the Behavioral Insights Team (BIT) published a summary report of a behavioral design test they did to increase youth participation in electoral politics. They wanted to test the effect of service learning (a civic education tool) on youth. The study found that it increased participation in acts like voting, protests, and organizing by 12% over baseline (Behavioral Insights Team, 2021). Petitioning saw a 15% increase (Behavioral Insights Team, 2021, p. 3). The greatest mediating effect (what allowed for the increase) was the increase in a feeling of self-efficacy (i.e. the belief that one has power to affect an occurrence and that said affect will be positive) (Behavioral Insights Team, 2021, p. 4). Basically, we can take from this that a program dedicated to showing the pragmatic implications of classroom lessons and providing chances for learners to apply those lessons increases their belief in their powers to effect change.
Hopefully the two examples I’ve provided demonstrate in some capacity the utility of behavioral science for political activity. I am advocating for the movement to learn how to “nudge” our people towards decisions more in-line with their long-term interests by utilizing the ruling class’s tools against them. In my view, the questions of political engagement and retention are questions of behavioral-psychological design. In essence, it is a question of understanding the collective biopsychosocial personality of our people and producing empirically grounded programs that are compatible with said personality. Only then will we be truly able to move from the pre-planning phase into the planning and, eventually, the evidence-based action phase.
Afif, Zeina; Islan, William Wade; Calvo-Gonzalez, Oscar; Dalton, Abigail Goodnow. 2019. Behavioral Science Around the World: Profiles of 10 Countries (English). eMBeD brief. Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group. https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/710771543609067500/pdf/132610-REVISED-00-COUNTRY-PROFILES-dig.pdf
Ahearn, B. 2010. The radical in radical behaviorism. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ie/blog/radical-behaviorist/201002/the-radical-in-radical-behaviorism
Behavioral Insights Team. 2021. Getting young people into politics through service learning. https://www.bi.team/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/NCS-and-Democratic-Engagement-summary-report-1.pdf
Cherry, K. 2022. A historical timeline of modern psychology. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/timeline-of-modern-psychology-2795599
Khalil, R.B. & Richa, S. 2014. When affective disorders were considered to emanate from the heart: The ebers papyrus. https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.ajp.2013.13070860
Mcleod, S. 2023. What is psychology?. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/whatispsychology.html
Mcleod, S. 2023. Behavioral approach to psychology: Definition, history, concepts, and impact. https://www.simplypsychology.org/behaviorism.html