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I think you're right that the poison runs deep. It's a huge job trying to imagine countering it. One thing kcurie suggests, though, that it may be useful to underline -- he says we need two narratives, one situated in the enemy's symbolic world, to attack it and break it down, the other in ours, our own myth. (brunoken picks this up and elaborates on it in his comment, too).

kcurie suggests turning their narrative round: this economy isn't working, for example. And there, your list of suggestions fits in perfectly.

OTOH, there's a base of people who will warm to redefinitions of wealth and value and who will support a line like "we are as rich as the poorest among us" -- and that base is currently flagging and needs energising.

In other words, we need to attack the enemy's myths and influence potential "swing voters"; but we also need to encourage and enable our own base with reformulations of our own myths.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Apr 13th, 2006 at 03:14:46 PM EST
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You have a general tendency to say the things I think better than myself. And in a shorter and more direct way.

This is exactly what we need to do.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Thu Apr 13th, 2006 at 05:54:31 PM EST
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Another conventional wisdom belief we have to get rid of is that there is one best way : of writing things, of taking actions.
It depends on the medium and on the target. You have to be snappy on a TV show. You have to make things sound simple when addressing the man on the street.
Only dropping a few ideas here, and my contribution will go no further, for reasons well familiar to those directly concerned.

As Migeru rightly pointed out to me when I was still an idealist on certain things, this is not a democracy round here. And I do not believe in the concept of benevolent dictator.

When through hell, just keep going. W. Churchill
by Agnes a Paris on Fri Apr 14th, 2006 at 09:30:23 AM EST
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Agnès, does this thread look like the work of a dictator, even benevolent?
We're all thinking out loud, putting a lot of effort into this thing, and it's a real collective endeavor. And it's not like we're looking for "one best way" of anything, so I don't understand what your point is.

You're free to think it's pointless. We'll keep chugging along, and hopefully bring out soething worthwhile.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Apr 14th, 2006 at 03:10:49 PM EST
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I agree about the two pronged attack. But I might be a bit more radical about what the liberal message should be.

I think if you try to map social justice into traditional economic terms, you're perpetuating the same framing that the right uses. You're also trying to wrest control of it from them. That's a very difficult thing to do.

If you want to get really ambitious about this, a new mythology has to replace economic mythology completely, all the way down.

Economics is only tangentially reality-based. It's a measure of belief in an abstraction called 'value' which is entirely subjective, and sometimes looks very much like it might as well be faith-based.

The problem of how to distribute resources and manage and develop assets isn't unreal at all. But the way it's done today measures the wrong things for the wrong reasons, and then draws the wrong conclusions.

Reality-based economics would have to balance real resource shortages with an explicit concern for long-term husbandry and world-wide humanitarian welfare.

This is the polar opposite of today's economics, which is based on implicit assumptions that benefit the oligarchs and monopolies at the expense of everyone else. It's not just about numbers, it's about using a discourse to evangelise a value system. By agreeing with the discourse people are herded towards the implied values.

So a replacement has to do the same, but for benign reasons. It has to be built on different implicit values that can be reduced to simple and manageable concepts that are equivalent to today's 'growth' and 'unemployment' and 'productivity.' The reason these are memorable is because they can be propagated as sound-bites that appear simple and self-evidently important.

In fact they're complicated, and not self-evident or easy to understand at all. But that isn't how they appear. And that's why a slogan isn't going to work as a replacement for them. Because you can always argue with a slogan. But - so we're told over and over - you can't argue with 'economic realities.'

So the challenge becomes - can progressive aims be reduced to metrics labelled with simple names for essential concepts like environmental health, sustainability, etc, that have the same sound-bite quality?

Once you have simple definitions of your goals, and simple labels for them, you can start creating lobbies,  pressure groups and even parties that will push the relevant metrics in healthy directions. But the concepts have to be very clear and very simple. Something like 'social justice' is still too abstract, I think. So promoting 'social justice' will never have more than a minority influence, even for progressives. Because unless it can be folded into a reworked economics it's unlikely to get to the top of the political agenda.

As an example of how it's gone wrong in the past, take a word like 'sustainability'. This has a very simple, concrete meaning - if something is unsustainable, you will run out of it.

That shouldn't be a complicated idea. But consider what 'sustainable' means to most people. I'd guess the reality-based foundation won't be there for them. What they're more likely to associate it with is rather fringey and eccentric hippyish romanticism about self-sufficiency. A bit wacky, and hard to take seriously.

It's that disconnect with reality that has to be bridged. What we have now is a system that pretends to define reality while mostly being based on hand-waving and woo-woo, with a side order of bullying and oppression.

A replacement has to seem just as real and just as inevitable, with the difference that it really will be real and inevitable. E.g. if you cause global warming, there will be huge economic costs. If you don't use water intelligently, there will be huge economic costs. If you start wars, there will be huge economic costs. And so on.

I think calling it 'reality-based economics' is a start. After that it gets more complicated - but as a goal to aim for, I think it's worth considering as a beginning.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Apr 13th, 2006 at 06:08:14 PM EST
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Excellent comment, and I think you're dead right. Perhaps there is a slight misunderstanding (not your fault) about Jérôme's and my contribution above, in that we suggested and bolded themes that look as if they are finished slogans. We've all seen, in the American left blogosphere, endless frustrated discussions of the type: "The Dems should say this... We should say that...", and our points above might have appeared to fit roughly into that category.

But I believe Jérôme (and I'm sure in my case) meant to suggest a basic, essential point on which we needed to found our thinking and discussion. As I said, we need to redefine the notions of wealth and value. The other side's trick, as you say, lies in

using a discourse to evangelise a value system.

The religious hint there is not misplaced. We are talking about generalized myths and belief systems. Turning them upside down is a work on a par with creating a new religion. We need to start at the bottom and define a new system of value and wealth, then articulate it into discrete elements and metrics. What I think Jérôme and I were suggesting, and you in fact took up and moved forward, was that we should look at the twin foundation of humanity and the planet as reality-based sources of a new narrative.

Pace kcurie (I'm thinking of his citing the tree falling in the forest), when the planet goes kaput, it will be for real, and screw perception. There's also a question about how much oppression people can bear without noticing they're unhappy. (It's only a question, I admit). But I think it's an advantage we have that the ruling economic dogma today is not reality-based. We can debunk it through the attack prong (this system is specious, it exists only to enrich a tiny number), while offering a new, reality-based version of value that may encourage our base and (sigh, the religious analogy again...) make new converts.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Apr 14th, 2006 at 02:42:42 AM EST
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As an oblique comment on this :

There's also a question about how much oppression people can bear without noticing they're unhappy.

here's a quote from an excellent comment by DeAnander in RadiumSoda's diary Chomsky Interviewed by Irish Times :

I don't think it's coincidental that the "generation of rebellion" in the 60's were the children of security and affluence.  it was that sense of security that gave them the chutzpah to dream of a better world, instead of negotiating each his/her own desperate accommodation with the overlords for bare survival.  failing that sense of security, the other thing that sparks open revolt seems to be genuine despair:  a loss of security so complete that, having "nothing to lose," the disenfranchised will risk their lives just to strike a blow at the overlords (or whomever they think the overlords are, or sometimes just whomever they can reach or blame locally).

the intellectual and strategic space in between Fat Happy Rebels with an optimistic vision of making life better for all, and Thin Miserable Furious Rebels swearing to leave at least a scorch mark somewhere on the System with their last breath, is a vast gray area of fear, compromise, caution, grim endurance, selfish private manoeuvring, hoping that whoever gets smashed next won't be me, desperate attempts to believe elite rhetoric so as to stave off despair, etc....  in other words the mentality of survivors in a prison or camp:  take it one day at a time, keep yer head down, there's no percentage in trying anything, you'll never get enough people with you 'cos everyone else is thinking cautiously just like you are.  kick in a healthy dose of Stockholm Syndrome and Prisoners Dilemma and it's not surprising that the system works and that Bush and his merry men are laughing all the way to the offshore bank...

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Apr 14th, 2006 at 04:18:34 AM EST
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in other words the mentality of survivors in a prison or camp:  take it one day at a time, keep yer head down, there's no percentage in trying anything, you'll never get enough people with you 'cos everyone else is thinking cautiously just like you are.  kick in a healthy dose of Stockholm Syndrome and Prisoners Dilemma and it's not surprising that the system works and that Bush and his merry men are laughing all the way to the offshore bank...

jesus, DeAnander is good.

Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer. - Charles le Téméraire

by marco on Fri Apr 14th, 2006 at 12:58:48 PM EST
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we should look at the twin foundation of humanity and the planet as reality-based sources of a new narrative.

a reality-based myth.  muy interesante indeed.  this starts to blur the distinction between myth and theory, the former traditionally associated with irrationalism and subjectivity, the latter associated with reason and objectivity.  perhaps this should be an explicit criterion of our myths, that they should be as empirical, consistent, and explicative as possible, in short, that we make our political myths as close to scientific theories as possible.  with the crucial caveat, however, that we emphatically acknowledge that our myths -- just like scientific theories -- are not the final Truth, that they are provisionary, dynamic, and evolving.

then what would the role be for values in such "scientific myths"/reality-based narratives?  if science is supposed to be objective, then wouldn't making our myths scientific rule out human values?  no.  because the objectivity of science deals with the quantities we measure; however, it is our value system (i.e. our interests, our perspectives, our assumptions) that determins what we measure and how we do so.  most importantly, our values are the only thing that by which we can say if a particular measurement is good or bad (e.g. participation rate of labor force, unemployment rate, percentage of unemployed persons in the population, GDP, body fat index, etc. are all things to be measured; but it is our values that assign relative importance and desirability/undesirability to each of these categories of measurements as well as to the range of measurable quantities within each category.)

We need to start at the bottom and define a new system of value and wealth, then articulate it into discrete elements and metrics.

discrete elements and metrics.  sounds like a plan.

Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer. - Charles le Téméraire

by marco on Fri Apr 14th, 2006 at 01:48:38 PM EST
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discrete elements and metrics.  sounds like a plan.

I was taking up these ideas :

It has to be built on different implicit values that can be reduced to simple and manageable concepts that are equivalent to today's 'growth' and 'unemployment' and 'productivity.' (...)
can progressive aims be reduced to metrics labelled with simple names for essential concepts like environmental health, sustainability, etc, that have the same sound-bite quality?

from ThatBritGuy's comment. Is it a plan? It would certainly involve structuring interconnected memes that would need easily graspable names.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Apr 14th, 2006 at 04:12:24 PM EST
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I agree very much.  I meant, Sounds like a good plan, a sound approach.  And I had the same response to ThatBritGuy's emphasis on discovering and defining the cencepts -- memes, as you put it -- to start building this myth/theoretic structure.  Perhaps these are the "elements" you refer to.  And I would agree that "metrics" are just as critical, as they introduce objectivity into our observations as to how well our myth/theory corresponds to our experience of reality.

Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer. - Charles le Téméraire
by marco on Sat Apr 15th, 2006 at 12:34:41 AM EST
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Here, here.
by andrethegiant on Fri Apr 14th, 2006 at 10:12:13 AM EST
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I think calling it 'reality-based economics' is a start. After that it gets more complicated - but as a goal to aim for, I think it's worth considering as a beginning.

I certainly do, too.  But your comment brings up a very, very difficult issue:  When we have two or more conflicting versions of what is "really real".  I think conservatives will argue just as forcefully that they desire -- and already do espouse -- a reality-based economics.  And when you point out to them that "if something is unsustainable, you will run out of it," they will say, "Actually it is sustainable.  Here, read this study by Professor Greenhousewarmingisnothappening, and this study by Professor Oilwillalwaysbeplentiful."

One of my best friends from college, whose intellect I hold in very high respect, is convinced that global warming is a myth (the non-reality-based kind.)  He points to several studies written by various professors challening global warming, and most of all he points to the cyclical nature of ice-ages and warming in earth's history.  Doesn't he have the same right as you to develop an economic theory based on his own version of reality?

In the end, I believe our myths must be as close to scientifically valid as possible, but we must be aware that grounding our economics and our myths in "reality" and science will not in and of itself be enough.  In addition to communicating myths to the public, we will have to back up those myths with the scientific evidence that we choose to make our own reality -- and hope that the public will adopt those scientific theories as their reality, too.

Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer. - Charles le Téméraire

by marco on Fri Apr 14th, 2006 at 02:08:17 PM EST
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Of course people have the right to develop their own systems or choose to believe in whatever version that is on offer. As far as people who insist global warming isn't happening, we might think they're in denial, and therefore not especially easy to deal with. And we don't have to persuade everybody. We're not totalitarians. What we do want is at least to level the playing field, rather than take the flow of non-reality-based nonsense we're subjected to now. Level the playing field and perhaps start winning the game... ;)

Yes, you're right about subjectivity, as I hinted at in another comment below: we need to examine

the base of what is false about the current economic "wisdom" and what seems to us (can't do better than that -- but either we try, or we don't) true about the real state of economic relations.

There's another reason for trying to stick as close to reality as possible, and that is that the other side really does have the communications clout to explode in short order any notions we might put out that are one-half as phantasticall as their own. Something that's too far removed from reality, as DoDo points out below, just isn't going to work.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Apr 14th, 2006 at 03:53:13 PM EST
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Something that's too far removed from reality, as DoDo points out below, just isn't going to work.

Indeed.  As "stable money" spouting financiers discovered in 1929, as Republicans are starting to discover re: Iraq, and, I'm afraid, as American and Chinese Pollyannas are going to learn if and when the dollar starts sliding down (though here I tread quickly into waters that go over my head.)

In the end, reality always catches up and sorts the less reality-based myths from the more reality-based myths.  However, in the process, bad things like wars and depressions all too often happen.

Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer. - Charles le Téméraire

by marco on Sat Apr 15th, 2006 at 12:45:05 AM EST
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