What You Just Said Hurts My Head

We’re all familiar with the feeling of cognitive dissonance, when suddenly we’re forced to hold two contradicting ideas in our heads. Maybe we’ve just heard unflattering news about someone we respected, or have been presented with facts that challenge a deeply held worldview. As any communications expert will tell you, we tend to deal with this kind of dissonance by simply rejecting the new information as incorrect, unreliable, or purposefully misleading.

NPR recently ran a story on this topic that went a little deeper, exploring how partisan beliefs interacted with challenging facts. Dartmouth College political scientist Brendan Nyhan and Georgia State’s Jason Reifler began looking into why it is, for instance, that Democrats currently believe the president has little control over gas prices, while six years ago they believed that President Bush could do something to lower them. Republicans have just as predictably switched position on this issue. Partisans, it seems, can reject facts they earlier believed – facts that probably don’t mean much to them, really – in order to stay aligned with their party loyalty.

Party loyalty is one way to describe a more deeply held worldview, but I think an even better term is core values. We belong to certain political parties because they have become a stand-in for those values. So we reject or accept facts that question or support our party loyalty (the president has little control over gas prices) because doing so reinforces our belief that our core values are right. And that we are right. President = party = core values = core identity. So it’s important to us that our party's president does the right thing.

So how do we approach audiences armed with facts that are likely to contradict their firmly-held beliefs? NPR reports:

Nyhan and Reifler hypothesized that partisans reject such information not because they're against the facts, but because it's painful. That notion suggested a possible solution: If partisans were made to feel better about themselves — if they received a little image and ego boost — could this help them more easily absorb the "blow" of information that threatens their pre-existing views?

Nyhan said that ongoing —and as yet, unpublished— research was showing the technique could be effective. The researchers had voters think of times in their lives when they had done something very positive and found that, fortified by this positive memory, voters were more willing to take in information that challenged their pre-existing views.

Interesting, and useful if you’re talking one-on-one and know your subject enough to evoke such specific memories. But what about messaging to the masses? I think the answer is values again. By appealing to people’s notions of what we as a country hold dear, and how those values make us our best selves, we give them a bit of an ego boost.

For instance, the topic of immigration can cause many audiences a fair amount of cognitive dissonance. The dominant narrative tells us that many immigrants are criminals just for being here, and are taking jobs from native-born Americans.  Of course, the facts don’t support either of these storylines. But many an immigration advocate will tell you that simply relaying to folks that being here without papers is a civil, not criminal, violation; or that study after study shows that immigrant workers have no affect on unemployment rates, does not change minds. But what if we made people feel a little good about themselves first? Could they better handle the dissonance?

We could start by reminding people why immigrants want to come here –for opportunity, because of our freedoms, to be a part of something we all love. We can remind people of the other aspirations that most of them believe make this country great: our values of treating people equally and fairly, our values of community and voice, our ambition to make things better and try new things.

Now clearly, those stories can go in a number of different directions and cause their own dissonance, particularly among progressives. Sure, we value equality, but then why do we stand for income and racial disparities? And doesn’t our ambition sometimes cause us to leave whole groups of people behind? No, we don’t always live up to our aspirations. But they’re still good ones. And they do make a lot of people feel good about the country, and perhaps as an extension, themselves.

Like any messaging strategy, opening conversations with values is no silver bullet guaranteed to ease the way for all challenging ideas. But if we know that throwing facts at people doesn’t work (and actually pains them), we need to rethink how we use those facts. Otherwise, they’re not just useless, but actively harmful to the cause.

Autocritiquing Occupy

Via Stoller on Twitter, a blog hoping to elicit a constructive dialog on the Occupy protests and the future of the movement.  In response to George Lakoff's How to Frame Yourself advice to Occupiers at Common Dreams, one post in particular stands out:

1) Lakoff’s insistence that the movement focus on getting candidates with “its moral focus elected in 2012.” I couldn’t agree less. If OWS turns into a get out the vote drive for the Democratic Party, it would be a betrayal of it’s raison d’etre and its resonance with people who are thoroughly disillusioned with the political process, particularly after 2008, when Obama managed to sway a lot of people with his soaring rhetoric and promise of renewal. Election season is already well underway; the Republican candidate will be decided by January and Democrats will try to convince liberals and progressives to fall into line behind Obama. The possibility of OWS running its own candidates in this short period and with existing campaign finance laws in place, or supporting politicians from the existing bipartisan pool who share its ‘moral values,’ are slim to none outside of a few local races.

Agree that any appearance co-option by the party would dissolve what momentum is possible quickly, but I'm also reminded of watching the tea party in 2010 with their litmus tests and the "other" kind of influence they had on the elections (Sharon Angle, O'Donnell come to mind).  Anti-establishment and in the spotlight only gets you so far.  The tea party's influence on 2010 wasn't so much the candidates they ran and it definitely wasn't their independent fundraising as a "movement," but the exponential effect they had on disappointment with the Democratic Party.  They got out the vote.  Much more could be said about the decline of tea party popularity since.  Was it always going to fade, or are they paying the price for a hard line approach that a majority of voters now blame for gridlocked government? 

So you can't run your own candidates in 2012, but you can find issues or even specific legislation to rally behind.  Does a candidate have to be right on every issue to get some support, or can a candidate be right on the most important issues and draw the crowd?  And what about influencing members of congress throughout the campaigns?  You're not getting the ear of a single Republican, no question. 

I'm not sure the right answers for the movement.  Questions of where things could go and the role of Occupy in 2012 seem almost two separate dilemna's, yet in the end they'll be tied together.

Without a tangible influence of some kind in 2012, we won't be hearing much about Occupy after the elections.  Unfortunate reality, sure, but still the case.  Anyway, go speak your mind.

 

Get In The Game!

If Obama and The Dems want to learn the game they might want to spend A Weekend At Bernie's: (from Huff Po)

Sen. Sanders isn't a Democrat (he's an Independent socialist who caucuses with them), but he has a lot to teach progressives inside and out the party about how to stand up for what's right: Detach from party leaders, hang tough, and be prepared to walk away if you can't negotiate something reasonable. He's fighting for better policies -- and ones that the public strongly supports. (Our American Majorityproject has more details.)

Let's hope they're paying attention across the country -- and at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue

There's more...

Get In The Game!

If Obama and The Dems want to learn the game they might want to spend A Weekend At Bernie's: (from Huff Po)

Sen. Sanders isn't a Democrat (he's an Independent socialist who caucuses with them), but he has a lot to teach progressives inside and out the party about how to stand up for what's right: Detach from party leaders, hang tough, and be prepared to walk away if you can't negotiate something reasonable. He's fighting for better policies -- and ones that the public strongly supports. (Our American Majorityproject has more details.)

Let's hope they're paying attention across the country -- and at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue

There's more...

Get In The Game!

If Obama and The Dems want to learn the game they might want to spend A Weekend At Bernie's: (from Huff Po)

Sen. Sanders isn't a Democrat (he's an Independent socialist who caucuses with them), but he has a lot to teach progressives inside and out the party about how to stand up for what's right: Detach from party leaders, hang tough, and be prepared to walk away if you can't negotiate something reasonable. He's fighting for better policies -- and ones that the public strongly supports. (Our American Majorityproject has more details.)

Let's hope they're paying attention across the country -- and at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue

There's more...

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