The American Morality Trap, Part Three

If this series of articles did to you what I hope they did, then the way in which I manipulated your feelings might be of some use to you in your normal lives. So, how did I make you feel hostile and united with your countrymen in article one and defensive and persecuted in article two?

1. I appealed to your basest sources of identity. Almost none of you chose your nationality and yet, for whatever reason, most of us take the location of our birth very seriously.

2. I called another group dangerous and, in doing so, appealed to your notions of “us” and, more important, your notions of “them.” South Korea and the United States actually have a good relationship and yet, it was not even remotemly difficult to create an “us vs. them” in the articles. Imagine how easy this would have been to do with rival nations.

3. I avoided specifics. Notice how I never discussed individual people in my articles. That’s because nations are abstractions. They don’t have feelings, they don’t have motives and they don’t have dreams. People, on the other hand, are concrete and, since I was trying to make you patriotically incensed, it was important that I avoided anything with which you might feel empathy.

4. I used logical fallacies. I used the ad hominem fallacy to dehumanize the “other” and, in doing so, help you forget that I never once mentioned why the “other” behaves as he or she does. Let me explain further. In the “Koreans are a menace” article, I never even hinted at Korean motives for competing with Japan or attempting to counter China alone. Ditto in the “Americans are lunatics” article. I didn’t want to explain Korean or American motives because I wanted you to feel patriotic and righteous. That’s hard to do if the audience has actual understanding. I also sprinkled in appeal to authority fallacies, in-group bias and fallacious a-priori assumptions about good and evil.

5. I took advantage of the fact that almost every patriotic person will take an attack on their own country as a personal attack. I don’t know why, but we internalize our own nationalities. However, when I attacked another country, you treated it as an abstraction – as something outside and not completely real. This is why patriotism makes hypocrisy so easy and, indeed, if you look again, you will see that both articles were practically the same. From this position of hypocrisy, only your national allegiance is actually connected to a person.

I sincerely hope that you, reader, might recognize these tricks the next time you see them. Appeals to your basest identities are, as far as I can tell, the direct precedent to almost every mass atrocity of the last 100 years. While it’s possible for someone to manipulate your patriotic feelings for good, they are much more commonly used when an authority figure would like to do something horrible.

Further reading:



  1. […] betting you feel conflicted right now. Please click here to read part four, where I explain the ways in which I manipulated your feelings in parts one and […]

  2. Chas Warren · · Reply

    I am not a patriot, and not a nationalist, so your trap wasn’t sprung. But I do appreciate what you did here; great rhetoric, skilfully deployed.

    1. Thanks, Chas. How did you feel when I described Korea, then?

  3. Victor Wooddell · · Reply

    I applaud your exercise. The world needs more of this. I have provided a more extensive response over on TV Tropes:

  4. A most excellent exercise Ben. If you look into the process of nation-building and how it also gives a way to create national identity, you’ll see that many of the points listed here have been manipulated as a means to an end.

    1. The original conception is that this sort of internalized national identity is one of the best ways to get people to do stupid or horrible things.

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