Sunday, June 24, 2007

On hearts and minds

Glenn Greenwald's new book, "A Tragic Legacy" will be hitting the shelves soon and the discussion has already begun.

Paul Curtis at Alien and Sedition has traded posts with Chris Floyd at Empire Burlesque on whether Greenwald's thesis that Bush's Good vs. Evil thinking has laid low the American experiment.

From Chris Floyd on the assumption:
that we can somehow eradicate the inherent irrationality and imperfection of the human mind through "foundational work" and disseminating new "meta-frames" amongst the populace, then again, I'm not sure how far we'll get with that.
I have to agree. Such faith in reason reinforces the "liberal elite" stereotype that George Lakoff has criticized, that we believe somehow the truth will set men free. The GOP does not believe that. For Republican P.R. shops, truth and lies are morally equivalent and equally useful for advancing the agenda. They have been rather successful in promoting their brand by using propaganda and advertising techniques that target the non-rational mind. (See: Frank Luntz.) They appeal first to people's guts, not their heads.

As I recall, in "The Closing of the American Mind" Allan Bloom lamented how Americans tend to believe they came up with their ideas and feelings about the world themselves, oblivious to the political and philosophical (often foreign and centuries-old) debates that undergird "their" thinking. But we face a problem of practical politics today. The spinmeisters have used that lack of historical reference and their media access to retrain minds: make them think your way and make them think it's their idea. Explaining Manicheanism to voters or debating whether it was present even during the Cold War is beside the point. It matters more that people think and feel what they do than how they arrived there.

As important as it is, in a sound bite culture progressive "foundational work" will include efforts much less lofty than a colloquy on Manicheanism and the future of the republic. It will be much grittier, and done with an eye to how little reason really has to do with how people choose leaders and their political philosophies. We have to learn to communicate in words and pictures. We have to change how voters think by first understanding and changing how they feel.

Like it or not, it's the way things are. In many ways, we have to get out of our heads and out of our own way. We have to take our meta-frames (that should be in ironic double, double quotes) to the streets and to the people. They won't come to us here in cyberspace in the numbers we need to win.

Many of us - like Greenwald - use our blogs to help reason out the best strategies for doing that and for countering the conservative agenda. We are in some sense the think tanks. We may or may not be the ones who do that grunt work (I do both), but it must be done and we must enable, support and encourage those who do.

While we yearn for new visionary Jeffersons and Madisons, it took the Washingtons to till the soil with blood before democracy could be harvested. That's a more dramatic description than today's situation, but the principle is the same. We need to have boots on the ground in our towns and neighborhoods winning hearts, not minds. Win people's hearts and their minds will follow.

1 comment:

Winter Patriot said...

very good post. you make a lot of sense. thank you very much.