Friday, March 07, 2008

Learning from the Cultural Conservatives

Sara Robinson's excellent series on the Cultural Conservative movement is a must-read.

Part I: Messing With Their Minds
Every facet of our looming disaster was dictated by bankrupt conservative ideas; yet our very ability to visualize fresh alternatives has been constricted by the frames they deliberately laid around our language and discourse. Most of the country finds it hard to even contemplate or discuss our predicaments in anything but conservative terms. It's clear they've done more than merely mess up our country; they've also, quite intentionally, messed with our minds.

Part II: Talking Up The Worldview
[Conservatives] understood from the start that their ideas (which, frankly, don't stand up nearly as well in the face of clear rationality) would need to be aggressively promoted and sold, using emotional appeals that went to the heart of human beings' deepest desires and motivations. People don't commit their time, energy, and fortunes to a movement because it's all so logical and sensible. They join up because they've taken the movement's worldview deep into their hindbrains as their basic model of reality, and made an emotional connection to the ineffable feelings the movement deliberately stimulated -- in this case, fear, hate, and xenophobia as well as solidarity, reverence, hope, and security. In this model, the ideas only exist to provide a way to rationalize and express the deeper feelings the movement has already activated through other appeals.

Liberals operate from a position of strength on the battlefield of ideas -- and this may be why we consistently overvalue reason and undervalue emotional appeals. Our ideas do have a strong intellectual appeal. But we tend to forget that they also have a far healthier emotional appeal, since we don't have to resort to stimulating fear and hate to get people to buy into them. Still, we've been notoriously terrible at stirring people's more positive and hopeful emotions, and getting them to resonate on a soul-deep level with the values that define our worldview. Clearly, we could stand to learn a thing or two from the conservatives about how they did this.

Part III is due on Monday (presumably 10 Mar 08).

(h/t to Orcinus)

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