Helplessness: Can We Control What Happens to Us?
Control over what happens in our lives is tremendously important to us, and we strive to resist feelings of helplessness. But if we come to believe that our actions are futile, that to persevere is a waste of time and energy, sooner or later we stop trying. This sense of resignation can overwhelm the commitment and motivation necessary to achieve our goals. Even more, once feelings of helplessness settle in, they can be very hard to dislodge.
This isn’t only true for individuals. Groups too can feel powerless to improve their circumstances, either because their members think they lack certain capabilities and resources or because they see the larger system as rigged against them. Either way, a shared perception of helplessness represents a significant hurdle because effective political mobilization depends upon believing there’s some reasonable likelihood of success. Those who participate must think that their efforts are capable of righting the wrongs they see.
In short, perceived helplessness undermines individual and collective action alike. We can experience, witness, or learn about the most glaring injustices, but if we think there’s nothing we can do about them, we turn our energies elsewhere. These tendencies are well recognized by today’s plutocrats, who craft psychological appeals that use our perceptions about helplessness to their own advantage.
In POLITICAL MIND GAMES: How the 1% Manipulate Our Understanding of What’s Happening, What’s Right, and What’s Possible, I take a close look at four of the helplessness mind games today’s plutocrats routinely use: Change Is Impossible, We’ll All Be Helpless, Don’t Blame Us, and Resistance Is Futile.