My work as a psychologist suggests that five core concerns often dominate our individual and collective lives. These concerns revolve around issues of vulnerability, injustice, distrust, superiority, and helplessness. Briefly, for most of us nothing is more powerful than the desire to protect and provide security for the people and things we care about (vulnerability). We often react to perceived mistreatment with anger and resentment, and an urge to right wrongs and punish those we hold responsible (injustice). We tend to divide the world into those who are trustworthy and those unworthy of our trust, in an effort to avoid harm from people with hostile intentions (distrust). We frequently aspire to be better than others in some important way—perhaps in our accomplishments, or our morality, or our destiny (superiority). Finally, we strive to avoid the experience of helplessness, and instead do our best to control the important events in our lives (helplessness).
Political leaders should be responsive to these five core concerns in identifying broadly shared goals and pursuing positive social change. Unfortunately, the Bush administration and its supporters have instead chosen to exploit these concerns in an effort to promote their own narrow ideological agenda. Perhaps the most tragic example is the profoundly ill-advised and costly war in Iraq.