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Polarize the Crowd via “Causes”

All of us, whether or not we’ll admit it, have the deep-seeded need to believe that our lives have purpose and meaning. As stated previously, in a world where truth is hard to find, many engage their efforts and resources in causes to try to meet this need. This is a simple, understandable, and even healthy concept that needs no elaboration. However, also as noted earlier, a compulsion toward activism can be exploited and abused. Sadly, when this occurs, those who have given their all to a movement are often left with little to show for their sacrifice. How can a motivation that starts out healthy become destructive? This occurs when the “cause” becomes the label by which people expend their energy, yet their connections with others are cut off. This may seem contradictory, but subtleties reveal when a cause is more destructive than it is good. Allow us to explain.

Many avenues of activism are based on a desire to help people. Obviously, lots of folks join up with this in mind. However, they may soon realize that it isn’t the “cause” itself that’s motivating them; it’s the fact that they want to help others. For example, if I (Allie Anderson) join an effort to raise awareness regarding human equality, my compulsion isn’t about bolstering the words “human equality,” which are touted in numerous arenas every day. Rather, it’s about the fact that I have compassion on those who don’t yet enjoy equality in all of its fullness, and I want to help remedy that. Essentially, my motivation for participating in the movement is my concern for people, not for the cause itself. As such, the program I join is merely a vehicle I use to take me to my goal regarding people.

Unfortunately, this simple line is often blurred; as a result, people who serve in movements that occupy similar spaces but who don’t see eye to eye often begin to see each other as enemies. This happens often, and is a sad exploitation of the energies of those who became activists so they could help people. Sadly, it divides them against their neighbors. In these cases, the movement itself hijacks the passions of those involved, and the connection to fellow humanity they sought—what motivated them to begin with—is unwittingly traded for loyalty to a faction.

The danger of a society that becomes heavily involved in pursuing causes is easily seen when it becomes divided against itself, which we see in spades during this current tumultuous time. Rather than having a population that unites to make the world a better place, many are at war with one another over issues such as methods, political correctness, and expenditures of resources. Soon, the good intentions behind the movement’s original goals are buried in division that turns the very individuals who joined to improve society against each other on the basis of technicalities.

Unfortunately, an added danger in activism is that, at the administrative and structural levels, causes are susceptible to being seized by individuals who have self-serving or ulterior motives. Considering the current state of events in our country, it’s easy to see that many organizations founded with good intentions have transformed into entities far different from what their original founders had in mind. This is the case with political movements, charities, philanthropic efforts, and, sadly, even religious institutions. Many of these were built upon the compassion, resources, dreams and visions, energy, blood, sweat, and tears of their originators, but subsequently, they evolved into something that more closely resembles a corporate machine.

Endeavors that begin with good intentions can become the means by which people are exploited, but we see it happen every day. Many of the movements that our young generations are caught up in are highly divisive—even when they operate under the heading of “equality.” Those who disagree with a particular worldview are considered enemies or radicals who should be feared, their statements even labeled “hate speech.” In such cases, those who once viewed the world as a place where all should be lovingly accepted soon find that they, themselves, cannot accept another because of these clashing perspectives.

Here is the crux of the issue: “Causes” are not people, and those who serve in them but lose sight of surrounding humanity are misled. Additionally, those who become detached from the original dream of these crusades’ founders can quickly realize they are passengers on a machine that has captured and derailed their original passions. Activism is only a vehicle by which one’s desire to connect with other human beings manifests. When it separates rather than unites people, the participants’ motives are exploited. Because of this, no one can find fulfillment by serving a movement, because the link with other human beings can perpetually be severed in the process. When the group is separated, it’s a type of sociocultural civil war (this is what we saw in our cities in 2020). In this way, movements that masquerade as the glue holding people together actually divide them, tying up resources, energy, and time. The sad cost is that the population—comprised of many who earnestly strive to make the world a better place in their own way—loses hope, feels defeated, and feels farther removed from finding truth (exacerbating the large-scale gaslighting going on). That which promises supporters a place of belonging and the pride of accomplishment only reveals rifts with fellow man. In this way, social and political causes can be (but aren’t always) the secular world’s counterfeit substitute for the camaraderie Jesus intended when He brought the Church Body together to bring light to the world. When they fall into this category, they always leave followers empty.

Learned Helplessness

Learned helplessness is a method of manipulation based on the premise that people, subjected to an undesirable element outside their control, eventually lose the power to remove it. For example, a man may finally resign himself to the fact that he’ll keep hearing the neighbor’s barking dog because his efforts to silence the animal have failed and the pet’s owner doesn’t respond to requests for action. A parent stops fighting with school administrators regarding “required” sex-ed classes she doesn’t want her daughter attending; she’s given up because it feels as though nobody is listening and her protests aren’t getting her anywhere. An elderly man in a care facility experiences a loss of vitality; as a result, he becomes inactive, relinquishing his independence and trusting the medical staff to care for his needs.[1] Again, this type of manipulation stems from the response to a situation—more specifically, it depends on a person’s sense of empowerment.

Here’s a quick illustration of how this works, using a financial analogy. Let’s say that two people—we’ll call them Judy and Steve—are given identical budgets, and are observed to see whether they are able save any money. Judy regards saving money as hard; she won’t be able to make it work. On the other hand, Steve thinks that it’s always possible to save money, regardless of how tight the funds. When financial hardships are placed on both to impede their ability to reserve any funds, each will respond by either feeling powerless and giving up or by realizing that he/she can control his/her own destiny and thus trying even harder to reach the savings goals.

Ultimately, it’s likely that Judy won’t have set anything aside—perhaps she’ll even have spent money that she could have saved. In fact, she probably thought she might as well enjoy any extra pennies, since saving them wouldn’t amount to much, anyway. The bottom line: Judy, the unempowered money manager, won’t even try. For people with this disposition, learned helplessness can be triggered by additional hardships or by making things easy enough for them that the attitude “why try?” is fostered.

At the end of the day—or the fiscal year—Steve, however, will likely have money set aside. That’s simply because his perception of his own power over the situation compels him to create opportunities for saving. He doesn’t reach his goals because it’s easy, but by pinching pennies, making sacrifices, cutting corners, clipping coupons, and practicing other forms of fiscal ingenuity. For Steve, the empowerment he feels fuels his motivation to create his own strategic opportunities.

However, the world is full of people who aren’t fully aware of their own abilities, or whose willingness to make the effort reduces over time because of resistance. For these folks, the more obstacles they face in meeting their goals, the more likely they are to stop trying. Worse, when complacency is rewarded, it serves a double whammy against their motivation to take power over their situation.

The way we most often see this manipulation method at work in today’s society can be summed up in the old adage, “Nice guys finish last.” Many who try to act nobly or with moral integrity face lots of opposition. For instance, consider the way many tax laws financially favor couples who are living together instead of those who are legally married. As another example, think about those who believe abortion is morally wrong but quietly accept that it’s an established practice now, because fights against its legalization and practice have been so regularly lost. In the same vein, most people are aware that child abuse is a rampant problem, but because they feel powerless to keep it from happening, they do nothing. Via these and many other ways that our culture has been shaped, low moral standards have been fostered and reinforced across the populace.

Another case can be seen in those who attempt to improve their situations by working full-time jobs or starting businesses. Often, despite tight finances, they don’t qualify for certain types of public assistance that would help them greatly when added to their existing—albeit inadequate—income. However, with no money coming in, they’re eligible for a larger level of economic help and thus they experience less financial stress. At this point, some may say that public assistance is where learned helplessness comes from, but it isn’t quite as simple as that. When our civic, socioeconomic structure is aligned in such a way that those who attempt to improve their situations are at less of an advantage than those who don’t, then the lack of effort becomes a positively reinforced behavior—and entrapment. Unfortunately, over a generation, children are raised believing that they, like their adult examples, aren’t powerful enough to improve their situations. When they try, taking on that first, entry-level job, they forfeit the assistance that would otherwise be available if they weren’t working at all. Without any post-high school education, minimum-wage-paying jobs are most likely all they’re qualified to obtain. Yet again, if they attempt to improve the situation by attending college or technical school, they’ll probably be overwhelmed by scholastic and employment duties, alongside being financially strapped. This, then, reinforces the notion that it’s easier to relinquish personal power in trade for being taken care of.

In the meantime, we lavish esteem upon the government we look to for our needs—the benevolent “they” that makes our laws, collects tax money, provides public amenities, and holds increasing sovereignty over the people in order to provide protection of and care for the masses. For those who suffer from learned helplessness, there’s no reason to challenge this entity, nor would they have the means. This is the trade that’s made when relying on a higher force to meet one’s needs: submission to that authority.

The best assistance that can be implemented in the public sphere is the kind that empowers citizens to become responsible for themselves again in every way. Merely allocating resources to people, assuming full care for their needs but never teaching them how to take charge of their own situation, ultimately disempowers those they claim to be helping.

Complicate Truth

Now let’s take a look at the spiritual aspect that exists when a crowd is manipulated into misconceptions regarding truth. In the beginning, God presented absolute truths that came attached to moral values. As time progresses, mankind has migrated farther away from those boundaries, trading them in for more palatable ones. Surely, the last few centuries have transformed the kernels of modernism into the full-scale rewriting of reality through what is now termed “postmodernism.”

Before the Renaissance, cultures were homogenized, and one’s role in society was predefined and predictable. But the Renaissance ushered in intellectual, cultural, religious, and economic changes that prompted people to begin searching for deeper meaning in the weighty matters of life, including philosophy and even personal depth, meaning, fulfillment, and liberty. Humanism sparked the intrigue of those who began to see the individual as “the center of his or her own universe and…personal achievement…[as] the noblest of pursuits.”[2] With the individual as the center of focus and personal fulfillment as the measure of success, mankind hit a new level of self-awareness. When the Gutenberg press was invented in 1450,[3] these ideas were further propagated in two ways: 1) Reading material became available to everyone, not just to the wealthy elite or the scholarly; and 2) Publishing was more readily available to those who wished to circulate new and radical ideas. Mainstream authorship began its slow migration away from traditional and biblical perspectives and began to indulge the “new” and “enlightened” ways of thinking. While many wonderful innovations came out of this time, the Renaissance also became the historical hinge upon which the ultimate authority of Scripture began to see competition from media that offered the idea that there are other ways than God for pursuing righteousness, fulfillment, and even entry to heaven. Each trail of thought flourished to the point that, after fast-forwarding hundreds of years, we entered the modern era—which in turn has grown into postmodernism. The differences between these periods and worldviews are many, but the one that best serves our study is the fact that the Renaissance opened a search for more elaborate realities humans could find, while the most recent age, the postmodern era, seeks to redefine that which is and carve it into that which we would have it to be. As Douglas Groothuis explains: “Modernism began with the attempt to discern objective reality without recourse to divine revelation or religious tradition, which it dismissed as merely culturally contingent and ultimately superstitious.… Postmodernists affirm relativism even at the level of language itself.”[4] In other words, our communication has changed to the point that we now define truth as being anything we perceive it to be. Truncating what could be chapters of elaboration, we land at such a simple assessment as this: It’s the shifting of “the truth” into “my truth.” The distinction looks and sounds small, but the repercussions are enormous.

UP NEXT: Society’s Wayward Search for Love and Truth

For more information on the topics covered in this article series, see the book Dark Covenant by Donna Howell and Allie Anderson, available below:

[1] Burger, Jerry. Personality, 10th edition. (Boston, MA: Cengage Learning; 2018), 363.

[2] Anderson, Allie. Unscrambling the Millennial Paradox: Why the “Unreachables” May Be Key to the Next Great Awakening. (Crane, MO: Defender Publishing; 2019) 32.

[3] “ Editors.” Accessed December 5, 2018.

[4] Groothuis, Douglas. Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism. (Downers Grove, IL: Green Press; 2000) 39–40.

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