Accelerating The Future Of The Nation

Progressives have gotten a little better at telling stories. We have started to understand that the conservatives have undermined us on family, future, government, jobs. The good news is that the future is actually catching up with them. (The future has a liberal bias!) We saw this with marriage deregulation – all their rhetoric couldn’t prevent it from just happening. But we can help accelerate the future. And we can do it with language.

Let’s do a thought experiment.

Conservatives and people who aren’t dyed-in-the-wool liberals believe that principles A, B, and C are important for making good moral decisions. What the right wing has done is say their policies are aligned with A, B, and C. And they say progressive policies are against A, B, and C. (Irrespective of either the facts about the policies or of how well the policies actually align with A, B, and C.)

On the other hand, liberals say “We think principles A, B, and C are illogical, small-minded, and unimportant. We’re not even going to try to address them. In fact, we’re going to ridicule you for believing them. We’re going to present our policies as aligned with D and E, which are clearly the logical and meaningful ones.” Again, irrespective of whether A, B, and C really are important to consider and whether progressive policies do align with A, B, and C or not.

(The hilarious sub-story to this is that liberals often use those same principles A, B, and C in other domains than politics to inform their decisions, totally blind to the fact that they are being inconsistent between domains.)

There would be six aspects to addressing this thought experiment:

  1. Recognize that this is happening.
  2. Realize that working within the A, B, and C framework is going to be more fruitful. This is the point of this site, and other sites like Talk Like A Liberal and the Winning Words Project.
  3. Formulate expressions of progressive policies that align with A, B, and C. While not forgetting about D and E.
  4. Showing how right wing policies actually fail to align with A, B, and C.
  5. Rebutting anything from the right wing about our policies not aligning with A, B, and C
  6. Getting others, especially Democratic campaigners, to take up the work we do in 3, 4, and 5 and use it in the field

Principles A, B, and C are not just made up for the sake of this example. They are actual dimensions of moral decision making, as discovered by various researchers including Jonathan Haidt (see his TED Talk on this topic). They are:

  • A. In-group loyalty
  • B. Respect for authority
  • C. A sense of purity and sanctity

Principles D and E are not just made up either, they are:

  • D. Fairness and reciprocity
  • E. Prevention of harm to oneself or others

This is a simplification and only part of the story. But it’s basically correct. The rest of the work of this blog is to do steps 1-6 above related to this:

  • Convince you that it’s true.
  • Convince you that it’s important
  • Give you tools to make use of the information.

We progressives can make a lot of progress just focusing on this use of language. Let’s do it.


Some Bads Are More Equal Than Others – Or Why OWS Protesters Should Keep Their Clothes On

Error 404 - Need to avoid tactical errorsCreative Commons License photo credit: mclapics
Error 404 - Need to avoid tactical errors

In my last post I talked about how “Bad is stronger than good” is playing out in the Occupy Wall Street movement, and elsewhere. But I also mentioned some specific tactical mistakes that some people in OWS are making, such as running around nude at OWS events.

In the context of attempting to make OWS a national movement that attracts people from across the political spectrum, people running around naked is a pretty big “bad.”

The reason it’s a bigger bad is related to a whole other set of cognitive concepts that Jonathan Haidt talks about in this TED Talk, which I will try to summarize. Haidt identifies five dimensions along which people make moral – and hence political – decisions. These dimensions are:

  • Fairness/reciprocity
  • Harm/care
  • Group membership
  • Purity/sanctity
  • Authority

Simply put, liberals weight the first two much more strongly than the last three (which many liberals weight negatively, in fact), while conservatives weight all five dimensions strongly – they are equally strong on the first two as liberals, but much much stronger on the last three.

Now, think about the 1%/99% message – the central message of OWS. It’s primarily focused on the first two or Haidt’s dimensions – fairness (it’s not fair that the 1% has been able to amass so much wealth), and harm (because I can’t get a job, I can’t take care of myself or my family). One immensely clever aspect of the OWS movement has to be to articulate the 1%/99% divide, since it also activates the “group membership” dimension – essentially everyone can recognize themselves as being in the 99%.

But OWS has problems with purity/sanctity – because it’s a bunch of people camping out, which is a dirty, smelly experience at best – and with authority – because it’s intrinsically in opposition to various authority figures, such as the police, the city governments, and the owners of the places like Zucchotti Park.

So when you add in a naked man, which is horrendous from a purity/sanctity point of view, and not good at all from an authority and group membership point of view, (and at best neutral on fairness and harm) you suddenly have a very strong set of Bad that outweighs, for conservatives, the fundamental position of OWS. And, to be honest, it doesn’t do much for the liberals who are supporting OWS in the first place either, although they are generally not going to judge.