In my last post (echoed by Rob Bluey here) we mentioned the so-called ‘structure of social change’ or the "political production cycle" a la Bluey. Here’s the process again: big idea, big idea passes to policy shop sausage grinder, which in turn get turned into popular messages. At the macro level, that’s the process, anyway. (I also argued that we’re stuck at the policy shop stage - think tank bubble - and have underinvested in messaging and implementation.)
But how does social change happen at the individual level? I’d argue, by in large, you have to invert the structure, i.e. reverse the process. In other words, you don’t start with big ideas for most people. You start with messages. Stark. Emotional. Once you resonate with someone emotionally, then you can begin to propose policies or offer big ideas. But the initial prick of emotion is the wedge-point upon which the rest gets built (even principles).
So, begin with emotional appeals. How do you get someone’s attention? Narratives, images, stories of real people with real feelings and vaguaries like ‘change’. Emotion. Consider the following two narratives:
- More than 140,000 people died in the bombing of Hiroshima during WW II.
- Elizabeth White is only three years old. Yesterday, her father held her wrist firmly against the kitchen table and hit her fingers one-by-one with a hammer.
Which one has more rational gravity? Okay. Which one has emotional gravity? Emotional gravity almost always wins.
The Left figured this out a long time ago. That’s why everything goes back to “the children.” Think of the global warming commercial with the kid on the train tracks—engine bearing down. Think of the piecemeal regulation and socialization of healthcare (they started with SCHIP, children’s Medicaid). How can you deny any child healthcare?
Of course, we prefer the rational argument. Yes, we feel. But we subordinate our emotions to wider considerations. (Lefties tend to emote first and rationalize ex post.) We should all hope to engage in rational discourse. But the left has abandoned this tack in exchange for ad misericordiam fallacy as tactic. It’s cheating, yes—well, if your standards of discourse come from a logic textbook. But in the marketplace of ideas, we have to sling all sorts of hash. Tit. For. Tat. So that means the Freedom Movement has to take up similar arms. Find the nerve. Strike it. Rational arguments and big ideas come later. (But if you’re going to do it, do it well.)
For example, libertarians try to explain the concept of “concentrated benefits and dispersed costs” when it comes to wasteful government expenditures and other lefty fetishes like light rail. Reasonable criticism to be sure. But most people don’t get it. Why not start with emotion? For example:
Rhonda Smith is struggling to make ends meet. But new regressive rail taxes mean she’ll pay $X more per year for a boondoggle she’ll probably never ride. New taxes rip off the poorest people in our community so wealthy commuters can ride overpriced trains (because they refuse to take buses). Shouldn't we be protecting people like Rhonda? So much for "progressive."
Okay, so maybe there are better examples. Criticize by creating.