The Principle of Substitution

Back in the 1970s there was an end of the world cult that had gained some recognition, mainly, I think, because they had actually predicted a specific date for the end of the world and were not asking their members to give all their money to the cult. The several thousand members had disposed of all their possessions in preparation for “the end.”

The date came and went and the world survived. The cult leader said he had misinterpreted God’s word and set a new date for “the end.” Remarkably, almost none of the cult members left. The date came and went two more times and, again, almost no members leaving the cult. After the third miss the cult leader declared that the world would not, in fact, end, and that the cult members’ devotion had saved it. Almost all the cult members accepted this line. For all I know the cult is still going strong, joyful in the knowledge that they saved the world from destruction.

Have you seen those commercials where an expensive consumer good, get rich scheme, or exercise doodad is offered for thirty days free of charge, with not even shipping fees charged if you decide to return it? Wonder how these people make a profit? Wonder what this has to do with cult behavior?

The common thread is what Dr. Robert Cialdini calls the “principle of substitution.” If the original reason we have chosen to make a decision (End of the world, free for thirty days) disappears, we will find another reason to justify our decision rather than admit we were wrong. Almost nobody ever returns their “free for thirty days” items, and few people discard a belief even when proven completely and utterly wrong. We can all probably remember a time when a family member or significant other engaged the principle of substitution, and, if we’re honest, we can probably remember doing it a few times ourselves.

This is why “climategate” is not the nail in the coffin of the man-caused global warming cap and tax scam. It’s not just that there are thousands of people and hundreds of corporations who are sucking on the global warming teat, many of whom, as we’ve seen, will do anything to keep the gravy train running, it’s that there are millions of ordinary people who have been duped and will never admit it. These folks will not admit they were suckered and will seek new reasons (which the vested interests will eagerly supply) why we must enact cap-and-tax lifestyle restrictions. We’ve already seen an example of this type of manipulation with the rebranding of “global warming” as “climate change.” Many will continue to believe in man-caused global warming and would do so even if the earth entered a new ice age. It’s not because they’re bad people, or that they’re stupid, it’s because they can’t help it any more than I could send back last year’s exercise DVD’s even after it became apparent that I wasn’t going to work out for an hour a day. It’s the principle of substitution.