Politics in Pavlov’s America

Watching the news

How Americans Barking are for Imaginary Treats

Donya Bavani
Staff Writer

In 1902, Ivan Pavlov introduced the idea of classical conditioning to the study of animal behavior. Little did he know that over a century later, his Pavlovian conditioning would be the very basis of the political crisis happening in one of the most powerful countries in the world.

The Pavlovian experiment started when Pavlov realized that his dogs were so used to him bringing them treats every time he walked in the room that they would salivate at the sight of him, even when he wasn’t in possession of anything edible. The constancy of the cause effect cycle of Pavlov’s treats had caused his dogs to respond to an unintentionally conditioned stimulus. One hundred and fifteen years later, history is repeating itself. This time, America has become the dog and popular media the stimulus.

Pavlov’s America can be described as an America where its citizens no longer have any valid political views. Politics has ceased to run on merits and experience, but rather on word of mouth. The population has developed several automatic reactions to the mention of anything remotely political. From a former reality TV star becoming President, to social media creating algorithms to falsely reassure people of their political opinions, politics is no longer a question of who can govern best, but a question of who can be more popular while doing it.

Don’t get me wrong, the concept of popularity over merit is anything but new when it comes to politics. In fact, in the 1960’s presidential election, many speculated that John F. Kennedy’s handsome TV appearance was what got him voted into office instead of Richard Nixon, but one would hope that after more than fifty years, the popularity craze in the political field would have died down.

There is no debate surrounding the fact that Donald Trump is not a politician. If we lived in a world where social media did not exist, the “self-proclaimed businessman” persona Trump has would have never been voted into office. But alas, every rude comment, every snarky remark, and every politically incorrect thought spoken by him travelled through social media at the speed of light and because of it being in the context of a presidential election, caused a nationwide Pavlovian response on the night of November 8th.

It might be too big of a generalization to say that in 2017, no member of the general public has any valid political views. However, the truth of the matter is that they have no way of acquiring nearly enough accurate information to form one. We are looking at the world through the eyes of a dog and the Pavlovian figure in this metaphor is conditioning us to react to something that simply is not there. We see the world through media that is tailormade to show us what we want to see. Essentially, we are surrounded by falsely objective news. There is no promise of truth in news that is made to make you react a certain way, just like there is no promise of treats in Ivan Pavlov’s experiment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *