Reinforcement has been a powerful tool for motivating people (especially children) to behave in specified ways. When a reward is introduced to modify or manipulate behavior, that reinforcement is deemed positive. The concept of reward attached to the behavior solidifies that behavior as habitual. When something aversive or repulsive is introduced to modify or manipulate behavior, that reinforcement is deemed negative. The concept of something aversive or repulsive – and the removal of these – can strengthen behavior as well. Academic psychology distinguishes punishment from reinforcement, because punishment “weakens behavior” and doesn’t reinforce or strengthen the behavior. Obviously these can be muddled though. People do often think of punishment as a negative reinforcement, since punishment not only weakens the behavior but should simultaneously strengthen the contrary behavior. When a child curses and their parent puts soap in their mouth, the cursing behavior is meant to be weakened; however, a non-cursing behavior is supposedly being strengthened as well.
With the rise of Modern Liberalism (and so egalitarianism), the use and perception of reinforcement has changed. Reinforcement is emphasized more so in such a society because it implicitly supports all behavior as an equally valuable form of human expression. When a society values all behavior in such a way, exploiting and manipulating terms like “diverse” and “enriching” which heap implicit praise upon every behavior, all such behavior is subsequently positively reinforced. Simply put, when every behavior is seen as something good those behaviors should also be reinforced. Each person see’s their different behavior as conducive and contributing to a “diversified” community, which thereby enhances that communities richness. Since reinforcement is meant to solidify a behavior, the emphasis upon and increase of reinforcement in egalitarian societies seems like a reasonable consequence of such a society.
Punishment of course is frowned upon in such a society (but not completely absent – behavior that threatens the autonomy of any self determining agent must be punished for the sake of preserving communal harmony, or the egalitarian state) . Otherwise, punishment suggests that some behavior ought to be weakened, which in turn suggests that some behavior is wrong (and so not conducive to the enrichment of diversified communities). Punishers are considered “Extremist” because any communication of belief, whether by word or deed, that in any way suggests that there is anything superior to “communal harmony” becomes hostile and dangerous. Thus, the person administering punishment will weaken a behavior not in line with “The Truth” or “God” or “Right and Wrong” (words found in the “extremist” dictionary). Where objective standards exist, there are clear demarcations of behavior. Those behaviors are reinforced while the host of other behaviors not consistent with this standard are punished. Thus, many kinds of behavior are deemed not worthy kinds of behavior. But how can this be in an egalitarian society where all behavior is an equally valuable manifestation of human expression? It cannot be this way – all behavior must be reinforced (as long as it does not threaten the autonomy of other individual agents determining for themselves who they wish to be). The obvious emphasis on reinforcement today makes sense but also often reaches points of absurdity. We celebrate perversion, conflate and dilute mistakes, we cheer on choice for choices sake, and we give trophies to losers. What else can one conclude except that every possible decision, choice and consequence must be congratulated (and so reinforced) in some way?
Any democratic society is particularly susceptible to quick change because of the phenomena of what I call here “Democratic Affirmation”. A movement only need to exploit it some how to instantiate itself as the fundamental principle of that very society. The phenomena of “Democratic Affirmation” is simply the group (any group) acceptance of your vocalized thoughts and opinions. This is important in democratic areas because individuals have an urge to share their feelings, thoughts and opinions, and their beliefs being consistent with their “God given right of free speech” and entitlement to “their own opinion”. The very nature of a democratic society urges us to “voice our opinions”. But it is not only the sharing of those thoughts that matter; it’s the acceptance of those thoughts that matter as well, for in democratic societies truth often gets conflated with “majority acceptance”. While the acceptance of an idea or thought by a group does not actually make a thought true, in democratic societies it has a psychological effect on the carrier of beliefs and thoughts in such a way that one feels more confident and comfortable holding those thoughts and beliefs. It is not impossible to hold beliefs or thoughts that a majority of people reject, only tedious and irritating because of perpetual ridicule and ostracizing. People would much rather hold a belief that is “democratically affirmed” than a belief that is not. A “democratically affirmed” belief creates an ease of life; a more peaceable living. That is perhaps a negative quality of democratic societies – the truth alone is often not enough; others must accept it too in order for us to feel comfortable espousing those truths our self.
In my estimation, “democratic affirmation” is quintessential positive reinforcement in democratic societies. When people nod their heads, say “Yes, that’s absolutely right”; when they agree with us, and when they praise our thoughts as wise, or when they applaud our remarks, or scream “Amen”, all this serves as reinforcement of our ideas. When truth gets wrapped up in “majority approval”, the affirmation of our thoughts becomes powerful. It is simply a truism – we want others to hear and affirm our thoughts as valuable and true. The danger here is that a democratic society is left particularly susceptible for any movement to exploit this phenomena for its own advantage. A movement would only need to normalize it’s crowning principle (Egalitarianism in this instance), which will in turn normalize and familiarize the effects of that principle (effects like homosexuality, transgender, multiculturalism, white privilege, etc. in this case). Normalization engenders the unquestionable quality of the effects. That is, just as an example, homosexuality is completely fine and normal without question (because egalitarianism is presupposed as the groundwork of all else, unquestioned, simply accepted). Any contrary thought stands outside this and thereby becomes unfamiliar, strange, unfavorable – “abnormal” . “How can people think like this?” you will often see of hear when a person dares to suggest an opposing view point. These remarks are usually made dogmatically and unconsciously due to the conditioning of reinforcement, particularly “democratic affirmation”. There is an absence of real understanding here; however, powerful reactionary behavior is initiated when people hear or see remarks that oppose the solidified norm (again, here egalitarianism). One only needs to scroll through social media comments on political matters to witness the profoundly uncritical remarks but unconscious reactionary behavior of liberal people today.
What has happened? With egalitarianism as a normalized principle of society, “democratic affirmation” shifts to accommodate it. In public spheres, we celebrate and affirm the thoughts and beliefs of others which also happen to be consistent with egalitarianism. The affirmation serves as a reinforcement of mental behavior. People’s thinking and intellectual life become solidified once affirmed and thereby creates the illusion that their beliefs are true (since truth is often wrapped up in majority acceptance in democratic societies). The psychological effect of this makes the belief holder confident and sure in their beliefs. Challenging this person makes no sense, because their conditioning makes it impossible – to them, questioning their beliefs (which have been affirmed) already discredits you. You’re wrong before you even get to make an argument. “Democratic affirmation” validates those thoughts consistent with what’s deemed normal. The opposite of “democratic affirmation” should be obvious and clearly an equal form of reinforcement.
The struggle to challenge Liberalism is far more complex and dense than many Conservatives imagine. Groups of people everywhere are affirming or rejecting thoughts as good or true based primarily on the normalization of egalitarianism. People are affirming one another’s thoughts and beliefs as true, or they are rejecting them as false. As people are repeatedly rejected they are reinforced towards a continued behavior, as they are affirmed they are reinforced towards a continued behavior. Rejection reinforces us to remain silent, even if we disagree. This way we don’t invite any unwelcome confrontation. Affirmation reinforces us to confidently speak up and out about those things we have been affirmed in speaking. In effect, every day common people are doing the “ground work” and advancing Liberalism. Therefore, challenging Liberalism head on only means failure. The only people who will affirm you are the small minority of people who have already been rejected by the majority of people influenced by the egalitarian principle of our society. If we wish to save our society from the damaging effects of Liberalism, we must find away to inform and utilize “Democratic Affirmation” again.