Letter: Neuroscience and Politics

by Andrew Majeske

I received an email this week from “Davis Dems” promoting a webinar about using neuroscience to help structure communications designed to stimulate a certain segment of potential voters to vote, and in this case to vote in a way that aligned with progressive democratic (the political party’s) values. The methods used by the organization called Galvanize Action, and an explanation of the research on which their methods are based, can be viewed here: https://docsend.com/view/6mvgqc7ik23yjr3a

I happen to agree to a large extent with the progressive “values” that Galvanize Action seems to represent. I worry though that “the tailored messages” that Galvanize Action “tests and deploys” are developed by essentially weaponizing a combination of neuroscience and big data.

Galvanized Action proclaims that these messages are “targeted to select voters,” with the objective of moving these voters along the trajectory of “their values.” But I fear that the arms race surrounding targeted political messaging of this sort is leading in a very dangerous direction for our democracy. The ammunition, these neurally empowered messages, when targeted and fired, cause(s) people to vote, and to vote in a certain way. This militarization, occurring at the cutting edge of political activism, strikes me as profoundly morally neutral; the entire political spectrum of our country, as well as enemies seeking to influence our democracy to their own ends, can and will make use of these weapons.

I fear we have already begun to slide down a very slippery slope. While it is likely too late to slow or stop the use of the rhetorical weapons that have already been developed, or to control the strategic means by which the message payloads are delivered, it is clear that a full public discussion of this phenomena, and how to respond to it, is long overdue.

About The Author

Professor, McGeorge School of Law, John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY); Adjunct Professor of Law, McGeorge School of Law

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