The system of opinions as the target of our struggle
Wednesday December 20, 2006 20:12 by Ilan Shalif - AATW; A-Infos; Matspen Tel Aviv
Sowing the seeds of revolution
"Revolutions are made by people. Most activities by people involve some brain work. We always see and think about people's behavior, and sometimes even about the way they think, but we seldom take into consideration the knowledge acquired by scientists before it has been "digested" for us by "popular science". In a way this text does the work of "popular science" with regard to scientific findings relevant to the activities of revolutionaries within the capitalist system."
Psycologist and anarchist activist, Ilan Shalif, examines the human opinion system and demonstrates how an awareness of the system and how it works can benefit the work of anarchist communist militants.
Sowing the seeds of revolution
The system of opinions as the target of our struggle
by Ilan Shalif
People have lot of opinions on every thing - including the social system and struggle. Everyone has dominant and non-dominant opinions on each subject they can think of. In regular times, it is easier to influence the non-dominant opinions that may become dominant in other circumstances.
Revolutions are made by people. Most activities by people involve some brain work. We always see and think about people's behavior, and sometimes even about the way they think, but we seldom take into consideration the knowledge acquired by scientists before it has been "digested" for us by "popular science". In a way this text does the work of "popular science" with regard to scientific findings relevant to the activities of revolutionaries within the capitalist system.
Scientific research into psychology, and even more so into social psychology, has served to sharpen the observations of revolutionaries and other anti-capitalist activists. It sometimes gives a clear description of processes and facts that activists obtained only an intuitive first approximation of through experience. It has also revealed "subterranean" processes of which people only have a vague sense.
Revolutionaries, and particularly social class-struggle anarchists have found many direct action activities that enhance people's revolutionary zeal and draw others to cautiously join the struggle - mainly through trial and error. These days, however, it is hard to find - if at all - any integration between the relevant findings in social psychology and the wisdom accumulated by the systematic activity of anti-authoritarian anti-capitalist activists.
This text will not focus on the variables found, which are mostly relevant to the enhancing of the tendency of individuals to become rebels, but on findings relevant to the processes that influence the general population (and probably such people more than others).
The Opinion System
The human brain has the main responsibility for what people do, even though some behavior seems to be influenced more by other parts of the body...
The processes of the brain involve all the information stored during a person's life, but the main effects are of previous processes stored, called "habits" and "opinions". For instance, a person's brain stores all hir actual encounters with the police, (be it in the form of intimidation or, less commonly, help), all the stories that person has heard or read (including their mother's threats that failure to finish a meal will result in a visit by a policeman...), and most importantly how that person has summed up the above.
The motivation system which makes people "tick" consists of inborn basic emotions (like attachment, will, anger, disgust, etc.) and other primary physiological urges like hunger, thirst, etc. However, the actual thinking, opinions, and behavior is based on what is stored in the memory regarding previous actual experiences of satisfying these motivations (or frustration from failure to do so), about observations on the satisfaction and frustrations of others, and information supplied by others (including warnings about punishments by other people or "God".) [A]
The most amazing findings on the system of opinions which sums our previous experiences and thinking, and determines people's behavior is that it contains more than one opinion on each topic. For instance, a person may have an opinion about refraining from talking to strangers but a long, boring train journey may bring forward the opinion that talking to other people can alleviate boredom and thus even a stranger may be engaged in small talk.
It was found that actual behavior or the opinions people express depend on several groups of variables, not all of which have been studied.
For instance, many owners of services like hotels and shops who were contacted by phone and asked about their opinions said that they would not serve people of a certain minority. However, when people of these minorities presented themselves in person and asked to be served, most of those who had said they would refuse did not actually do so.
Some ignorant social activists who have no clue about the complexity of the system of opinions only focus on objective circumstances, claiming that only such facts are relevant. The crudest claim is that the occurrence of the worse will facilitate the revolution. 
Like another aspect of the psychological processes, usually called "psychopathology" and "psychotherapy", knowledge accumulated by humans helps them do better "in the long run" than they would by chance. However, only systematic research has revealed what is really fact and what is fiction. It is a pity that, because of old superstitions and stumbling blocks of the capitalist system, the application of these findings is only gradually spreading into the practice of professionals. 
The application of the findings of modern research in the psychological domain, and more so in social psychology, by anti-authoritarian anti-capitalist activists, is not free of superstition and stumbling blocks.
The most prominent obstacle is the low availability of relevant information in ready-for-use format by common people. Research is usually done within the capitalist establishment and the systematic application of the findings, or their popularization, only came about in order to benefit the capitalist system. Thus, in the case of "treatment" for individuals, applications were very slow to appear so as the role of professionals would not be jeopardized and the common ideology promoted by the system would not be threatened. The area where most research findings in social psychology have been applied is in the areas of public relations and advertising.
Activists too have some stumbling blocks. Part are the result of the suspicion that only scientific findings beneficial to the capitalist system are made available. People are not aware that the nature of the academic establishment pushes individual academics to research subjects and publish the results without finding out first who the results will serve. "Interesting" variables and personal bias make many scientists carry out research whose results are in contradiction with capitalist ideology. For instance, much research into the tendency to compete (pro-capitalist) or to cooperate (in contradiction with capitalist ideology) has revealed that in most circumstances people tend to prefer cooperation over competition (and more so in pre-capitalist societies).
Another stumbling block is an "ideological" one. Many anti-authoritarian activists are reluctant to face the fact that the processes relevant to leadership are not just a monolithic negative. Thus, we often ignore the fact that there is the important factor of "unofficial" leaders of opinions within the population, who facilitate the change in opinions of the population. Thus, in our activity we are not clearly aware of the processes involved, and more so when we are involved with grassroots communities. 
While doing propaganda and other educational activities, it seems we do not take into consideration those who are the non-formal leaders of the people whose opinion we are targeting.
Another point that needs clearer understanding is the fact that the effect of our activity is not so much the clash with the dominant opinion in the opinion system of people, but the inclusion and promotion of the opinions we favour in the background of their system of opinions. Thus, while the dominant opinion that "authority must be obeyed" remains dominant, the inclusion of the opinion that, in specific cases, disobedience may not be so wrong is not so hard to disseminate. Even more so when it does not directly attack the dominant one. These "background opinions" are thought to become dominant and replace the current dominant opinions in specific circumstances, such as political crises or uprisings within general society. For individuals, special circumstances like the indignation felt after a witnessing or experiencing a beating from a State agent's baton during a demonstration, can act as a catalyst in encouraging them to become activists. 
In addition, "subversive" thinking and opinions are introduced very easily when you "bribe" the person with pleasant feelings, like with a special melody or humour through jokes and satire.
Findings on the dynamics of the opinion system that each of us holds are most important in preventing activist "burn-out". Often we do not see the effects of our struggle on public opinion. Often we do not see the effects even on people nearer to us. But if we are aware that the opinion system is more complicated - with various opinions relevant to each subject - we can better influence and more easily observe the small changes in the less-dominant opinions held by the people around us.
For instance, even if public opinion does not reveal any improvement regarding one specific opinion, the fact that there is more tolerance for opposing opinions reveals changes in the secondary opinions. 
Thus, while the world capitalist system seems to be flourishing, old-timers can observe changes in the secondary opinions that people have, even though pro-capitalist opinions still dominate. The observed deterioration of the authoritarian opinions of people in society at large, and even more so in the younger generations and especially in children, is an early indication of approaching doom for pro-capitalist public opinion. 
A. Advanced research reveal that the contents stored in the memory are taken from it in a selective/dynamic way. So, for instance, when we are sad and alone, the memories we remember (construct in our awareness from the stored ones) are not the same ones as when we are happy and among friends. So is the case when we are in different environments and when other basic emotions and intensities of them are prominent. The same also happens with the habits and opinions that enter our awareness at specific times and determine our feelings and activity. Thus, in time of social turmoil an entirely "set" of habits and opinions is dominant.
1. This belief is so crude that it does not even stand up to a simple historical search. In most past uprisings, the contribution to the rebellion of the worsening of physical conditions is less prominent in comparison to such variables as aroused anger, hope, and the diminishing prestige of State authority.
2. Research in cognitive psychology has revealed that most "psycho-pathologies" are just the result of information processed in the brain - neuroses, personality disorders, etc. - or the effects of these on the physiology of the person - depression, psychosis, etc. It was also found that very often, when the brain re-evaluates the relevant previous processing, these "psycho-pathologies" dissolve. It was discovered that it is not too complicated to do, when one uses the wisdom of attending to the body's sensations, related to the "psycho-pathology", like the old Yoga Vepasena and more up to date techniques.
3. In research into the actual behavior of people it was found that within the community there are some who are "known" as being more reliable with regard to "advice on activity and opinions. It was also found that these non-formal leaders are usually regarded as such only in specific areas of expertise (like fashion, health, food, house maintenance, car repairs, etc.). Thus, people tend to ask the advice of one acquaintance regarding fashion, another regarding betting on the result of a football game, and yet another about personal problems, and so on.
4. The above is a common observation, that participation in direct action can have an important effect, both on marginal participants and observers.
5. For instance, while the dominance of negative opinions in Israel about the Palestinians remain strong, the increased tendency of the mainstream media to report on Anarchists Against The Wall activities and the increased tolerance of this within popular opinion, reveals an undercurrent at work. The gradual increase in mainstream Israeli media reports on anarchist direct actions over the last three years has come about in a such way as to indicate that many mainstream journalists are sympathetic to the cause and are less and less afraid to show it.
6. In fact, nowadays the percentage of formal marriages has decreased, school children have become harder to discipline, and even kindergarten teachers' authority is shaky.