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I saved up this monster thread for weekend reading as I knew it would take some time -- chewy stuff, thanks all for a thought provoking discussion.

I have seen this same dilemma plaguing progressive/radical activists over and over again.  On the one hand as Enlightenment-fans, we are unalterably attached to facts.  "Reality-based" is a proud label for most of us, and having seen in history books and in our own lifetimes the results of manipulating populations with propaganda and mythology, we have an instinctive horror of "dumbing it down" or "tarting it up" or other variations on lying to people.  And we keep thinking that if we only show them the facts, they'll come around to our side of the net.  I mean, the facts speak for themselves, right?

OTOH we have to admit -- based on our very own, scientifically rigorous, rationalist, quantified, clinical psych studies of human cognition and socialisation -- that much of human decision making is based on pre-rational or irrational processes.  The evidence is pretty clear that most/all of us "think in stories" rather than "thinking in numbers" or "thinking in facts."  Even when we learn to think in facts and numbers and syllogisms, the chitchat of narrative and symbol flows right along underneath.

Thus kcurie's insistence that for social change one needs a set of stories, a mythology, a narrative that places policy within a framework of meaning and purpose ... though I would have resisted it with distaste and indignation even ten years ago... makes a lot of sense to me today.  It also fills me with all the wariness and caveats expressed by others, above.

I suggest just a few "counterpoints" or "Eulenspiegeln" that might serve.

They say: Growth.  This is a central shibboleth of the whole neolib conceptual schema.  With [infinite] "growth," there is always the promise of pie in the sky any day now, because the larger and larger pie will have a bigger tiny slice for you and me as well as the huger enormous slice for Richie Rich.

I suggest that We say:  Health.  I suggest that we start talking about "healthy" economies  and economic health and national health, rather than economic growth.  I would even suggest pointing out that when you have a "growth" in your uterus (or your prostate for the outies among us) it is not necessarily a Good Thing.

Another random idea:  "The Economy is US".  Meaning, if we're not doing well then by definition the economy is not doing well.  We have to stop this reification and alienation of "The Economy" as an abstract entity divorced from the population.  This gets back to Jerome's "We are as wealthy as the poorest among us," and I venture to suggest that this connects very well with one of the most famous sayings of Jesus from the NT:  "Even as ye have done unto the least of these..."

Next, with "The Economy is US" plus Health as fundamental building blocks, we can do the comparison and metrics game.  I think we can do very well with comparison tables of doctors per 1000 population, infant mortality, maternal mortality, percentage of children with cancer, percentage of children illiterate/hungry, percentage of children with diabetes, etc etc.  National pride is a persistent emotion, but it need not be centred on "having more nukes than those other guys".  It might be centred on a deep pride in having clean and law-abiding cities, or world-beating literacy and infant survival rates, or a very low incidence of homelessness and hunger.  We can get competitive over being good, as well as over being mean.

Next, I offer the bumper sticker slogan, "Trees Don't Grow on Money Either," as an entry into the idea that Health (Health is the only Real Wealth is an enduring folk saying... "as long as you've got your health," so it is not a stretch to get Wealth=Health into the public mind) is the same as Wealth when we are talking about topsoil, water quality, forest cover, health of wild and domestic life, fisheries, etc.  The idea of "healthy" (i.e. robust, functioning, sustainable) wetlands, forests, farms, lakes, rivers, coasts is a powerful idea.  Everyone knows the difference between a healthy, happy child or pet or livestock animal and a sick, pathetic, endangered one;  to get people engaged with Health not as a shallow ego-fad for body building and dieting, but as an attribute of cities, agriculture, wilderness, watersheds, etc., should not be that much of a leap.

We are as wealthy as our forests, rivers, lakes, fisheries, etc are healthy.

Next I'd like to engage that meme from upthread about "Speed and the Self Made Man," and counteract that persistent (and somehow quaint, C19) banner with countermemes:  "Slow Down" and "We are Family."  The Slow Down meme is already out there in the Slow Food movement, but that's a very restricted audience.  I think it could be a very attractive meme for millions who feel overworked, overstressed, overhurried;  the idea of slowing down (slowing down overdevelopment, slowing down the pace of work with flextime, reduced working weeks, etc, slowing down the pace of motor traffic in urban residential and shopping areas, slowing down to enjoy a leisurely train journey, etc) has I think some shine to it for hustling, hassled contemporary people.

We Are Family is not only an obsolete pop hit, but a way to take "family values" and use it to undermine the Self Made Man and the Agonal Hero ideal.  It ties back in to "the Economy is US", and here's another folk saying that may play well:  "We're All In This Together."  I'd contrast this cooperative or affectional rhetorical model with the currently prevailing "wisdom" by calling the prevailing model what it is:  Predatory.  Comparing "the law of the jungle" (which the neolibs and wingnuts persist in elevating as ultimately "natural") to the affectional and mutually beneficial bonds of the family (which they can hardly pretend is "unnatural" after all that preaching they do about Family!).

Another common folk saying might be "The Canary in the Coal Mine," i.e. what happens to the weakest among us is symptomatic or predictive, and indicates what could happen to you and me next;  this is in contrast to the "throw them to the wolves" model in which jettisoning the weakest is seen as improving our chances.  A labour solidarity campaign might start with "When NAFTA started I wasn't worried because I knew it would only be sweatshop workers who lost their jobs..." followed by the outsourcing of call centres and then software and hardware engineering;  an echo of the old "when they came for the Communists I said nothing" confession.

Soundbites are not really my thing, as my habitual verbosity attests.  But I think there's a wealth of soundbite potential in:  fairy tales (many of them have morals that directly confound the stories of the rentier class), NT bible stories, folk sayings, and "common sense" as in family life and finances.  How about "Family Friendly Economy" as a way of describing Europe?  instead of being "not business-friendly enough" it could be "more family-friendly than US or UK".  "Would you rather your economy was Business Friendly or Family Friendly?"

well I am more comfortable with numbers myself, so I think this is all I have to contribute to the Department of Propaganda.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sun Apr 16th, 2006 at 12:58:33 AM EST

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