The “Just Enough” Policy: Behavioral Control of Collective Protest through Minimum Reward


Anthony J. Marsella, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

Why are American Citizens . . . ?

What does it take to awaken the American (USA) people to the egregious political, economic, and moral abuses and violations of their Constitutional rights and privileges? What does it take for the American people to demand changes in existing government and corporate political, economic, and social policies and actions limiting accountability, transparency, and participation? What does it take for the American people to successfully reduce the concentration of power, wealth, and position favoring a few and denying equality and opportunity for the masses? Why are American people failing to respond to the numerous crises in American society that reveal widespread corruption, cronyism, and incompetence in public and private institutions and organizations? Why are Americans savoring the fruits of consumerism, materialism, commodification, competition when the consequences of these institutionalized values are destructive for individuals and the social fabric? These questions are but a few of the many questions being asked daily across America and the world. At issue is the disproportionate absence of silence, passivity, and activism.

I am not speaking here, nor am I advocating, of widespread rebellion or revolt, even as some voices have called for these as solutions in the face of a creeping oppression. Rather, I am seeking an understanding of why so few protests have emerged and been sustained across time and place? No one can deny the existence of protests from both “liberal/progressive” circles, (e.g., OWS, Wisconsin Teacher Unions; LBGT organizations) and conservative/tea party circles (e.g., border immigration, abortion rights, gun ownership rights). Yet, in my opinion, these protests have been focused on specific causes, often informed by narrow ideological reasons. I am seeking an understanding of the sources containing a broader and unified protest seeking to re-claim and to improve upon America’s inspired heritage of human rights — a protest to reclaim “moral authority,” “national identity,” and “social and civic responsibility,” not through guns, violence, and anger, but through virtue.

It must be asked whether current divisions across gender, racial, ethnicity, social class, political, wealth, regional, and religious boundaries have limited any collective citizen response challenging the concentration of power, wealth, and position that seeks national and global domination. In my opinion, the concentration denies citizen participation by controlling means, motives, and consequences of national activism, especially by creating divisions across diverse population sectors. Although developing diverse identities is to be encouraged because diversity is the essence of life itself, a sense of unity is lost as too many are denied equality.

“How much diversity can a society accept before it collapses? And how does the fraction of a society lend itself to external control and domination by those with wealth, power, and position? For me, the answer is simple: “A society can assume unlimited diversity, as long as it provides equal access to opportunity.” It is the disproportion in opportunity, rights, and freedoms that lead to resentment, struggle, and violence. The USA needs a national vision identity that recognizes and accepts the conditions required for civility and citizen accommodation in our global era, including (1) an appreciation of the value of diversity, (2) a willingness to accept interdependence ethic, (3) the commitment to nonviolence/nonkilling, and (4) a belief in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

What has emerged, unfortunately, in the USA is a “limited good” mentality1 in which gains by one group or sector are considered losses by another, because there is only so much “good” to go around. But while this may be, in part, an accurate appraisal of our global situation, there are forces at work that seek control from the age-old divisions rooted in concentrations of power, wealth, and position. Choose your century, country, or cause, and “concentration” will always be the root of problems.

In today’s global era, filled with challenges that defy solution (e.g., population increases, poverty, violence, wars, environmental pollution, crime), “control” by a few (e.g., 1%, bankers, dictators, corporate royalty, Davos faction, monopolies) has become the means and the end. In the USA, which leads the world in military force, financial wealth, corporate cartels, and exportation of popular culture, “control” is essential to preserve an existing state of affairs that denies equality, and promotes homogeneity. The USA has the world’s largest military budget, highest medical costs, greatest number of prisons and prison inmates, and greatest divisions of wealth (e.g., 1% versus 99%). What this enables — indeed ensures — is the opportunity to implement a “Just Enough” approach to keeping collective control.

The “Just Enough” Principle

The answer to questions raised in the opening of this article may reside in an organized effort to control behavioral responses by making use of a well-known psychological principle that offers “Just enough.” This principle pairs a positive behavior with a “sufficient” reward to maintain control of desired outcomes. While there are increasing signs of American citizen discontent with both government (e.g., 6% citizen satisfaction with Congress based on surveys, election defeats of incumbents) and corporate (e.g., community activism, OWS, union protests) sectors, collective discontent has been denied, contained, or suppressed. The well-known words attributed to Queen Marie Antoinette — actually penned by Jean-Jacques Rousseau — capture the exigencies of the situation. “The peasants have no bread, let them eat cake (brioche).” No, no, no, never give too much! The key is “Just Enough!”

  • Just enough comfort, to keep them pacified;
  • Just enough tolerance, to keep them silent;
  • Just enough patience, to keep them waiting;
  • Just enough doubt, to keep them wondering;
  • Just enough satisfaction, to keep them content;
  • Just enough humiliation, to keep them humbled;
  • Just enough force, to keep them controlled;
  • Just enough deceit, to keep them believing;
  • Just enough confusion, to keep them bewildered;
  • Jus enough money, to keep them grateful;
  • Just enough vilification, to keep them angry;
  • Just enough sorrow, to keep them dulled;
  • Just enough entertainment, to keep them pre-occupied;
  • Just enough suspicion, to keep them paranoid;
  • Just enough patriotism, to keep them feeling exceptional;
  • Just enough comfort food, to keep them lethargic;
  • Just enough uncertainty, to keep them fearful;
  • Just enough secrecy, to keep them guessing;
  • Just enough “dumb” movies and TV shows, to keep them dumb;
  • Just enough partisanship, to keep them divided;
  • Just enough fear of job loss, to keep them passive;
  • Just enough force, to keep them hesitant;
  • Just enough technology changes, to keep them hypnotized;
  • Just enough media collaboration, to keep them ignorant;
  • Just enough freedom, to keep them thinking they have choice;
  • Just enough surveillance, monitoring, and archiving of privacy, to keep them ignorant of understanding emerging technological realities;
  • Just enough beer, grass, dope, and dancing to keep them laughing;
  • Just enough violence, to keep them violent;
  • Just enough celebrities, to keep them dreaming;
  • Just enough stereotyping, to keep them biased;
  • Just enough advertising, to keep them buying;
  • Just enough hope, to keep them hopeful.

The Paradox of Advances and Losses

Virtually everyone, except perhaps the very young and uninformed, is in disbelief at our national situation. Most adults never imagined a world filled with so many challenges to security, health, and wellbeing. Old timers (i.e., over 70 years) ask, “How did it all happen? It’s not just the changes, but the speed of things!” They gaze into their memories, and utter those timeless words: “It seems like only yesterday.”

There are, of course, many positive changes occurring, especially in our social fabric and formation. Long denied civil and human rights are increasing across different population sectors. Advances in medical sciences and practices fill us with awe as countless lives are saved, and longevity increased. The list is endless, and should evoke optimism. But amid the advances, are losses that bring a sense of insecurity and fear.

That is the paradox! The mix of advances and challenges leave us filled with ambiguity. We become immobilized as we search for answers, or yield to complexity. Conscience calls, but trade-offs are calculated. Citizen activism is rising, fueled by access to information and knowledge previously unknown. Whistle blowers risk pain and punishment, as conscience rises in the face of injustice. Who or what is the foe? We are told that the process and product of globalization has resulted in increases in health, wealth, and happiness. But is globalization really hegemonic, controlled by a few nations, corporate monopolies, and powerful individuals.

The concentration of power, wealth, and position is, in my opinion, our greatest threat. It seeks a homogenization of social orders, cultures, and fundamental values. In the heady post WWII days, a strong sense of national pride and identity was natural. But! We were warned by Eisenhower of the impending dangers of a “Military-Industrial Complex,” and the capacity of this Complex to dominate our nation’s future. Eisenhower, unfortunately, did not tell us the Complex would grow, and become a “military-industrial-congressional-educational-moral-technological-cultural-managed complex,” now resistant to change because of complexity, resiliency, and concentration of wealth, power, and position.

There is a calibrated mental calculus now in use by those with wealth, power, and position. They are firmly entrenched in every institution, and their interests are narrow and self-serving. We argue over the benefits of capitalism and other neo-liberal policies even as neo-cons re-assert their interests. And through all of this, the “Just Enough” principle is played out confusing, immobilizing, frightening a public unaccustomed to the unfolding changes. Is this a planned conspiracy? I do not know! I do know the wealthy, powerful, and positioned know each other, gather, and benefit from their relationships. I know they function in secrecy, while our privacy is removed. They set the vision. Their appointed “acolytes” implement the vision. Conspiracy? “A rose by any other name, is still a rose.”

What we have today is not much different from the gilded-age period when monopolies in banking, steel, oil, and transportation brought together “barons” in Jekyll Island, Georgia. Together, they grasped their mutual interests. Today we have a return in the form of “Big” agriculture, banking, education, energy, finance, medicine, military, pharmacology, transportation, and on and on. The times return!

The words of an old Arab saying come to mind: “The times are father to the child.” We are experiencing a time of “Just Enough!” The question remains to be answered whether “Just Enough” will be understood, questioned, and replaced by “Not Enough?” Resentment is “smoldering”! Citizens recognize the tactics being used. That may be the topic of my next commentary: Behavioral control through oppression. Ahhh, the endless historical story!


  1. George Foster (1965). Peasant society and the image of limited good. American Anthropologist. Limited good refers to the concept that in peasant societies the world is seen as a “competitive” place in which “goods” are limited, and so distrust, envy, jealousy, and resentment ar3e fostered. Hmmm?


Anthony Marsella, Ph.D., a member of the TRANSCEND Network, is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii, and past director of the World Health Organization Psychiatric Research Center in Honolulu. He is known nationally and internationally as a pioneer figure in the study of culture and psychopathology who challenged the ethnocentrism and racial biases of many assumptions, theories, and practices in psychology and psychiatry. In more recent years, he has been writing and lecturing on peace and social justice. He has published 15 edited books, and more than 250 articles, chapters, book reviews, and popular pieces. He can be reached at


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 30 Jun 2014.

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