Take a moment and imagine you could affect the outcome of an election. Imagine, just for a moment, that your words could impact another individual; that you have more power than you give yourself credit for...
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-=[ The Runaway Society]=-
I don't give a damn about semi-radicals...
This is not a time of gentleness.
It is not a time of lukewarm beginnings.
It's a time for open speech and fearless thinking.
-- Helen Keller
Towards the end of Emile Zola’s Beast of Man, an engineer and a fireman are quarreling in the locomotive of a passenger train. In his rage, the fireman has stoked the engine’s fire into an inferno. They grab at each other’s throats, each trying to force the other through the open door. Losing their balance, both fall out and perish. The train rumbles on at breakneck speed. The passengers, soldiers en route to the war front, are sleeping or drunkenly unaware of the impending disaster.
Zola’s story has been seen as a parable of modern runaway societies. Those supposedly in charge, embroiled in their own personal dramas, paralyzed with performance anxiety, or caught up in their ambitions, have left the driver’s seat. Meanwhile we, their oblivious passengers, are about to pay the price.
A common conservative strategy is setting up government agencies for failure (via taking away funding, for example) and then blaming any failure, not on deregulation, but the very agencies they set up to fail. We ignore the fact that a gun endows people -- many unstable -- the power to inflict destruction like no other instrument. Sure pencils don’t cause people misspell words, but let me see how many people you can shred with one pencil as opposed to an assault weapon.
The genius of the conservative movement lies in how they have convinced you that a regressive rather than a progressive tax structure is better for you (they call it “tax relief”). It’s how they convinced a number of you to go along with trickle-down economics -- an economic theory no real economist has ever backed.
In any case, our opinions are most often driven by the beliefs -- or better put: by the metaphors -- we live by. Conservatives have known this for some time and that’s partly why you voted for Bush and why you vote against your own economic interests, or find some identification with something called a teabagger. Conservative operatives discovered long ago that people vote their values, not on the issues. Therefore, if you can frame, say, “family values” in a conservative way, you have co-opted the most important metaphor we all live by -- families.
Progressives have labored under the false notion that reason or issues should come first. Yes, issues are important, but people vote on values (frames) and if you can’t connect with people on values, you will never get your agenda on board. Let’s take the following facts as an example:
On the Iraq War, an overwhelming majority of Americans want a timetable for pulling out our troops. On economic policy, most Americans support stronger government regulations to protect citizens. On trade, polls consistently show the public is very suspicious of the free trade agreements that have hurt the middle class. On health care, surveys consistently show that about two-thirds of those asked desire a government-guaranteed universal health-insurance system -- even if that means higher taxes.
If the mainstream is more left of center, then why aren’t these issues on the table for public discourse? Why? Because they haven’t been framed adequately. One of the ways issues are framed is through repetition. Jon Stewart from The Daily Show has made a career highlighting hilarious video clips of the right-wing noise machine using the same words over and over on the same day. This is a very effective way to express and embed an idea. The words come with frames of reference attached. Those frames in turn latch on to and activate deeper, subconscious frames. When repeated over and over, the words serve to reinforce deep frames by actually strengthening neural connections in listeners.
In that way, I can stand up on a stump and yell out catch phrases like “family values!” or “tough on crime!” and immediately in your brain a barrage of conservative-framed issues appear. I can blurt out, “tax and spend” and immediately conservative frames come to your mind. “Tough on crime!” “Traditional marriage!” “Choice!” For the last 40 years, a vast media network of think tanks, newspapers, radio and TV shows have embedded these values into the mind of unsuspecting or apathetic Americans, creating a passive mindset. Shit, people in France, who are taking to the streets to fight for their equal share are wondering, “Have the Americans fallen asleep?” Sadly, we have, and the train is hurtling towards sure disaster...