How to turn trolls into your best friends

February 23, 2017 at 9:40 am

In the movie Thank You For Smoking, the main character Joey Naylor, a lobbyist for the tobacco industry, has a great scene with his son that talks about how he wins.

His son asks him what happens when he’s wrong. Here’s the quick transcript of the scene:

Joey Naylor: What happens when you’re wrong? Nick Naylor: Whoa, Joey I’m never wrong.
Joey Naylor: But you can’t always be right…
Nick Naylor: Well, if it’s your job to be right, then you’re never wrong.
Joey Naylor: But what if you are wrong?
Nick Naylor: OK, let’s say that you’re defending chocolate, and I’m defending vanilla. Now if I were to say to you: ‘Vanilla is the best flavour ice-cream’, you’d say…
Joey Naylor: No, chocolate is.
Nick Naylor: Exactly, but you can’t win that argument… so, I’ll ask you: so you think chocolate is the end all and the all of ice-cream, do you?
Joey Naylor: It’s the best ice-cream, I wouldn’t order any other.
Nick Naylor: Oh! So it’s all chocolate for you is it?
Joey Naylor: Yes, chocolate is all I need.
Nick Naylor: Well, I need more than chocolate, and for that matter I need more than vanilla. I believe that we need freedom. And choice when it comes to our ice-cream, and that Joey Naylor, that is the defintion of liberty.
Joey Naylor: But that’s not what we’re talking about
Nick Naylor: Ah! But that’s what I’m talking about.
Joey Naylor: …but you didn’t prove that vanilla was the best…
Nick Naylor: I didn’t have to. I proved that you’re wrong, and if you’re wrong I’m right.
Joey Naylor: But you still didn’t convince me
Nick Naylor: It’s that I’m not after you. I’m after them. [points into the crowd]

This scene illustrates one of the greatest issues that I see liberals struggle with in the public sphere:

We think we win when we win a logical argument.

Professionals like Nick Naylor understand that you win when you win someone over.

No amount of hard work is going to pull people up if they don’t get paid for working hard

February 29, 2016 at 11:06 am

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One of the things corporate special interest group marketing takes advantage of is differences between the generations and their understanding of the economy.

You’ve seen the memes. The most famous example was Mitt Romney characterizing 47 percent of Americans as lazy.

Typically, I see posts like this on the Internet:

A Baby Boomer friend of mine explaining how hard he’s worked. A Baby Boomer friend of mine explaining how hard he’s worked.

Implicit in my friend’s post is the idea that anyone can pull themselves up if they just work hard.

The problem is that things today are very different. There are no more paper boys. Or pensions. Hell, newspapers may not even be around much longer.

What my Baby Boomer friend experienced was very different than today’s reality. Because of these life experiences, it’s often difficult for Baby Boomers to understand just how different today’s economy is from the economy of the 1950s and 1960s.

How can you help people like this (especially in your own family) understand the realities of today’s economy?

Who framed George Lakoff?

November 30, 2015 at 5:45 pm

Not long ago, a good friend and I had an e-mail thread about framing. He took issue with one of my definitions of framing as “genuinely communicating your beliefs.”

In his words:

“Framing” is when you successfully communicate your beliefs in the language that appeals to your intended audience.  For example: tailoring your language and metaphors to veterans (“honor” and “duty”) or to union members (“solidarity” or “standing shoulder to shoulder”) or to soccer moms (“our children are our future!”).  Framing means using the reference points which already exist within your audience’s mind to explain how your political issue fits into their preconceived notions.”

His view is that framing is using language to explain something to someone in a way that makes sense to how they already think. Framing is simply using the right language. This view goes something like this: We just need to use the right language or words. We just need to develop the right message.

Here’s Bill Maher expressing a similar view:

Democrats need to stop despairing about the gloomy midterm predictions, and realize there’s actually a glimmer of hope, and it has to do with suicide. Let me finish. For decades now, liberals pushed the issue of assisted suicide, and it got nowhere. Then, they started to call it ”aid in dying”, and its approval shot up 20 points and it’s now legal in 5 states. That’s the power of language.

While I believe this gets part of it, I’ve come to believe that framing is about more than just language.

George Lakoff delivers a lecture George Lakoff. Photo CC2.0 courtesy of Pop!Tech

Recently, George Lakoff spoke about this misconception:

So people never got that idea. They thought I was talking about language, about messaging. They thought that there were magic words, that if I gave the right words, immediately everybody would get it and be persuaded. They didn’t understand how any of this works. And I, coming into this, didn’t understand what the problem was. It took me a while to figure it out.

What is framing then?

Robert Reich’s “Saving Capitalism” or how to have better conversations about the economy

November 6, 2015 at 7:19 pm

A few weeks back, I saw Robert Reich speak at Joseph-Beth Booksellers here in Cincinnati. He is an outstanding speaker and if you ever have the chance, go see him talk. Brilliant. Funny. Experienced. Gregarious. He is just as good in person as his writing.

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He started out by joking that his new book alienated everyone. He said, half the people I spoke with said, what needs saving? And the other half said, why save it? First of all, I could tell he spoke with a lot of people on both sides because he spoke about the elephant in the room – how the conversation is so often framed. And second of all, he used this as a great segue to how to get out of this trap we so often face, that the conversation comes down to some kind of less government/more government argument. The beauty of Reich’s book isn’t necessarily economic. The beauty of it is that Reich understands how to have better conversations with people about the economy. This ability to have better conversations about the economy is important because almost every discussion relates back in some way to our views about the economy. Every one. So today, I’m going to set aside self-publishing and talk about a few of the things Reich said, because this is a conversation I have with people all the time, and his new book, Saving Capitalism.

Distribute it right to begin with

June 26, 2015 at 10:26 pm

Corporate special interest groups have hit upon a very powerful framing of the economy and government that involves something they call “redistribution”.

It has been played over and over in the media more than any annoying pop ballad I can remember. So much so in fact that I bet you could describe the framing w/o me saying a word.

It looks like this:

You earn your money. It is yours. Then the government takes it away in the form of taxes (often referred to as theft) and gives it to someone who hasn’t earned it (redistribution).

When people you know say “socialism,” it is this process of taking from the “deserving” to give to the “undeserving” they are talking about.

I state this argument as strongly as possible here because this is what we’re up against. Professional, audience-tested propaganda.

If we, when you are talking to people, fall into arguing the side that wants to “redistribute,” you will be seen as someone who wants to use government to take away and give to the “lazy” or “undeserving”.

There is an easy way to flip this framing and talk about the actual situation with people you never thought you could reach.

All you have to do is talk about distributing it right to begin with.

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Rich people paying rich people to tell middle class people to blame poor people

April 14, 2015 at 2:14 pm

This is perhaps the best description I’ve seen of Fox News (and AM talk radio for that matter).

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I saw this in a tweet today, but it appears it’s been around for a bit. Apologies if you’ve seen before but thought worth sharing.

How to get the most bang for our activist buck

April 8, 2015 at 12:40 pm

A number of recent comments and posts have talked about how we can become more active. One of the things I’ve heard is that we need to hit the streets and that people here are more interested in blogging than in organizing.

I agree that we should be looking to do more, to run for office, to work with different campaigns, to look for opportunities to get involved, and think this conversation is great.

I also believe that the most important thing we can do is write. Here’s why.

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Vaccinations are about freedom, just not Rand Paul “freedom”

February 6, 2015 at 12:36 pm

Chris Christie said on Monday: You know it’s much more important what you think as a parent than what you think as a public official. And that’s what we do. But I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well, so that’s the […]

The Big Ideas Project and how to get everything on our Christmas policy list

December 16, 2014 at 11:04 am

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee recently launched The Big Ideas project.

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At this site, people like you and me can submit ideas we have for a better country. It’s a great idea.

Some ideas from the current front page include:

  • Debt-free college
  • A law to regulate out-of-district money in elections
  • Full employment
  • A basic income guarantee
  • Reversing Citizens’ United
  • Expanding social security
  • Etc.

The trouble I have is that I want all of these things. I don’t just want to focus on one or two.

I want major change. So I asked myself the question: What’s holding us back from major change?

I believe the biggest thing that’s holding us back from doing these things is a corporate special interest group idea. It’s the idea that government should serve the interests of corporations and this will, in turn, be good for everyone.

I know, crazy right? But a lot of people have bought into this notion because it has been sold to us as “freedom” in the form of smaller government.

The corporate special interest marketing and educational campaign has been so successful, in fact, that it dominates public discussion and opinion to the point where I don’t think we’re going to get anything on the PCCC’s wonderful big ideas list until we can convince more people that there’s a better way.

That is, the proposals on the big idea list make sense to us because we believe in a different definition of our country. We believe our country is a democracy that should start with people and we believe freedom is about opportunity and shared prosperity.

All the policies at the big ideas site make sense to us because of these beliefs. The problem is they don’t and won’t make sense to many, many people unless we first revive ideas about democracy.

This is why my big idea is about how to revive democracy and make possible more of the policy ideas on the big ideas list.

Top tip for talking about the economy: Use the active voice

October 8, 2014 at 4:42 pm

Do you need to be an economist to talk about the economy?

Sometimes I think we think that. “We” being people and “that” being “a Ph.D. in economics is needed.”

If we cede the economic conversation to corporate special interests, however, we lose on issue after issue to the laissez-faire economic story: “Let the markets work.”

At the “Pope is Dope” messaging session this year at Netroots, the panel was asked: What is the biggest mistake people make in conversations?

Without hesitation, Anat Shenker-Osorio responded: “Overuse of the passive voice.”

“People do things,” she said, “If you don’t make it sound like it’s people caused, it is cognitively impossible for it to be people fixed.”

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