Tue Apr 18th, 2006 at 02:57:52 PM EST
This week has seen in ET and Kos a good deal of writing and effort to discuss the situation the left-wing policies are facing in the US and most of Europe. We are not heard, we do not know how to fight, TV is killing us, we have to develop a new medium, they are building and financing think tanks in Europe. Jerome has made a superb effort to deconstruct the assumptions and the conventional wisdom that the elites digest. But the most important gun they have is not the think tank, or the media...what they have and we do not have is a MYTH.
I think that nobody can doubt now how powerful myths are. Myths, in the anthropological sense, is a whole narrative that explains the world.. and this is what the right has, a myth to explain the economic world where the policies that are ruining our economy in the medium term (and making some people mega-uber rich in the meantime) come naturally. Their myths is very powerful because it explains everything. It has been worked out using billions of dollars in great think tanks and Academia. If you really want to know more about myths..well Levi-Strauss is the way to go.
The question here is...what can the left do? This is a diary to sum up what I think are the most relevant points made in the blogs and some new points coming from a personal perspective (where physics and maths are mixed with basic anthropology). Some of them are already conventional wisdom in ET and in the US left. I would just try to clarify why they are so important. Others will sound crazy to you...Good, excellent...we can discuss them.
Follow me if you want to know how to change the world..."Of course a small group of dedicated people can change the world. Actually I do not know of any other way" (M.M.)
Back from the front page
First thing you must know is the answer to the following question: there is sound if a tree falls and there is no one around it? well, you should know the answer by now. It is NO, a big NO. If a democrat stands up and fights and nobody reports it, it just plainly did not happen. If there is a narrative about democrats not fighting back and there is no one reporting when a democrat fights back, there will never be a change of narrative.
So, if you do not have a media that reports you are doomed. And when I say report , I mean taking the general narrative of the left in this particular piece of information. You know is not the same "Half a million people demonstrate for illegal aliens among violent riots" than "Half a million people demonstrate for immigrants rights among strong social bonds". And this is why the US has much more problems to develop a left-wing message than Europe. In Europe there is indeed media that would report and listen to our interpretation of the reporting. We just need to create the proper myth and expand the means to spread it. Unfortunately US has none of them. It is extremely hard to find any reporting in US, but there is something worse, there is no mainstream media that would listen or promote and alternative symbolic universe or narrative than the right-wing one.
Everything in the US is read along the lines of reform, efficiency, individual freedom, moral values...and as one of the best comments I have seen around said: "they actually do not mean anything but you know where they are coming from". Of course, reform could be about improving the relation of wage and work, but it will never be. Of course, efficiency could mean to have meetings between workers and management about how to best improve the future of the company, but it will never be. Of course, moral values could mean no one in the world without food and shelter, but it will never be. Why? Because the myth behind has nothing to do with the narrative we would like to associate this concepts with.
Here is what the US needs in the media landscape:
-Air America radio in 600 stations all across the country.
-Pacifica radio in more than 200 station in all main cities
-The blog community joining efforts to produce fairly constant new video and radio material.
-CNN or MSNBC being bought by a left-wing group and transformed in a left-wing media
-The other channel news network transformed in a "balanced" news outcast. Fox must remain as it is.
-On of the three big (ABC , NBC or CBS) bought by new owners and give a social-democrat slant to the economic news. This same one should increase the level of reporting covering all left-wing activities.
-New ventures like A. Gore to make people generate the material on TV.
-An international channel paid by subscribers (Like INN) to cover all world events.
-Facilitate the entrance of BBC and other independent outlets in the US.
-A chain of small left-wing papers in small cities of rural America.
It is quite a lot , isn't it. Well this is what you need to have a level playing field. The big newspapers can go on as they are.
And here what Europe needs
-We need the equivalent of the PRISA group in Spain in every single country. In Spain, beside the standard left-wing outlets, they have a conglomerate of radio stations and one TV station which is mainly partisan and exactly on the center-left (never a conglomerate on the hard left, never, it is a bad idea). Some of the countries do not have this structure: Italy, Germany and Poland are good examples. The situation of France is more cumbersome.
-We need a world alternative news outlet like the future INN
In Europe our work is actually much more easy. Fortunately in Europe the newspaper landscape is already balanced. Fortunately there are already independent left-wing outlets. Unfortunately some countries lack a center-of-left TV and radio chain.
Well, maybe you would like to know the reasons of the above mentioned items. Well, I think some of them are conventional wisdom. What is not conventional wisdom is that until we do not get ALL of them most of our efforts will be diluted. It does not matter to have Air America if you do not have one channel news network to receive your input. It does not matter to have one channel medium if you do not have an international news with aid from the audience. Why? It is a little more complicated than synergy, and also more complicated that the pure Left-Wing noise machine. It is the multiple source phenomena of validation, which includes all the above and much more. Before going into it, let me add here that once you have two or three of the items in place, the rest will be much more easy to achieve (I would go for Air America, news TV channel and INN as the first steps..the rest will come easier then)
What do we need the media for? This will explain why we need exactly the above-mentioned list.
To understand why we need this media you have to make yourself a question: watching TV makes you stupid or people that watch TV are already stupid... or in other terms, was Hitler so powerful because he and GBL knew how to manipulate the masses, or was the German people who empowered Hitler because he said exactly what German wanted to hear at that time. This is the key question. If you think TV can manipulate, then you need to control all TV because the one that controls TV controls the political landscape. If you think TV does not affect people (you are already a right-wing if you watch FOX News) you just have to look for the places where the political symbolic universe of a person is created.
This is a vital anthropological concept that I do not understand how the left fails to get it. It is not frames. Frames is about winning a debate. The question is, how come these two guys that discuss (using the proper frames if they want to spread their message) came to have the political ideas that they have? Answer this properly and then you know what to do. The question is where a symbolic political universe is created. Where the political description of the world is obtained.
Anthropological answer: You can only think in mythical terms. As much as you dislike it (maybe, not me), you can not create your own symbolic universe, you just take one of those out there and adapt it to your own necessities, vital experience, family, past.. For example, if you like science is because you like the myth of rationality, you think ration makes people better and this world better. If the rational myth would not be there..well there would be no science whatsoever. In the same way, you can believe the myth of progress or not believe it. You can believe that having rich and poor people is disgusting or just plainly normal... you can believe in social darwinism or just plainly hate it. How and when you decide which myths fit you, which ones you hate? How do you construct your symbolic political universe? How do you establish the links that connect the dots. And when do you decide how much you care, this is, how many myths are going to be important for you, and which ones wont? This is the difference between someone willing to fight for a cause and someone who would only vote for a cause. Between someone who would look for information about the world at any cost and someone who would just sit on TV avoiding political news.
So here is my answer.
I would say that for most people political perception and its symbolism are created in other areas and that TV can only, listened and watched at the proper time, reinforce one of the options. Once the symbolism is fixed, TV is useless for changing minds. It is only useful for pandering the base, create a noise machine and, if you control it broadly, set the terms of what "can be thought" (it can not control the limits of the debate because you already have your universe) by means of narrative.
That said, there is always roughly 10-20 % (maybe 30% in the US) of subjects extremely affected by the latest general political perception. They are people who are mildly into politics but not strongly. They normally have a very strong feeling about some subject outside politics running their life but they do care about the general political situation in fuzzy terms because of their relational role in the society (imagine a housewife going suddenly to work for the administration, or a taxi driver listening to the radio all the time). Unfortunately this is a percentage that can easily swing an election. The main goal of the right-wing is to increase this ratio by whatever means. The goal of the left-wing should be to diminish this ratio by whatever means.
But it also needs to enhance the symbolic resources to generate supporters when and where it matters...and this is out of TV....in high school years. Yes, it is there.. from 14 to 20 that your political symbolic universe is created independently.. meaning you can have strong swings (do not tell anybody since only the right-wingers are supposed to know and use it to generate disconnecting universes, people that would never get into politics) while earlier the political universe is non-existent or strongly fixed (yes you can be 12 and have a very strong political universe... but do not say that to anyone since children are supposed to be stupid). After 20 you can only change your political universe through the process called "enlightenment". Interesting process that would need another diary and one of the reason why right-wing invested so much in radio during the 80´s: it was their only way out at that time. They needed converts and pandering the base, and only radio can do both at the same time.
As you see, we need the TV and the media for different things:
-First, pander to the base, tell those that already have your political vision that they are not alone.
-Second, try to affect the political perception of those which have not a fixed political universe but it is still a "rewarding" universe. In other words, convincing the swing voter... but the real swing voter. The swing voters ARE NOT, and I repeat, they ARE NOT those in the middle of the present political spectrum. Armando in Kos has been very clear on that (although he never gave a general framework and only political framework for the 2006 elections, the truth is that what he says is universally valid). Those swing voters are those who do not have a strong structured symbolism, they do not care about not having it but they are nevertheless formally interested. At the present time they can be right-wing, left-wing or center, it does not matter. They would vote according to the general perception they have of the media.
-Third, be a vehicle for the transmission of a mythology, so that whenever someone acquires it in any other place it can have the reinforcement effect of telling them that it is not a fringe universe...being fringe is a very powerful tool to discredit...but this is another topic. And TV is as good place as any other to market myths.. so if you give enough different material they can even take it.
-Fourth, discredit the right-wing political symbolism to move the general spectrum. When what it once was right-wing becomes center what was left becomes fringe left....and nobody considers it seriously anymore.
-Fifth, and this the less important. Use frames to convince already political motivated people. Once in a while you get the phenomena of "transformation-enlightenment"...Anybody interested in "how I was ditto-head and I saw the light" book (or confession of a ditto-head)...enlightment processes are important. Unfortunately there are not enough. No importnt for us except for knowing better the cracks on their system. In any case, to get these conversion, radio is a better place than TV. Actually radio alone is enough (this is why Air America Radio is a win-win strategy)
So, this is why you need the media for. Now, it is clear why you need all the media at the same time. You can not do everything with one media outlet. You need two or three to pander the base and not be a fringe. But you need a couple of mainstream stations that take seriously your cues so that other people do not see you as fringe. You need the different connections between the different media to create a myth and spread it. And finally, you need different slightly versions of the same myth out there to fit better the different approaches to politics.
It is time to go for the role of think tanks and blogs. We do not need a highly structured set of thinks tanks, but we need some of them. And, of course, we need blogs.
Blogs is a medium but it is also a place to discuss and create the mythology. We can push others to change the media landscape, and we must do our part. But the main tools the blogs have are participation and socialization. We need blogs to discuss how we construct our myths and how to kill theirs. But we also need blogs to create social bonds. We need to connect with those fixing their political universe.
Fortunately this is what Kos is getting. Blogs are for discussion as a gathering place but they are not powerful in the sense that they can no spread the myths created farther away from the core. He is right about that. He is not right about the influence of socialization. In Kos' analysis of attending mass demonstration you can see this fundamental flaw: He thinks you go to a demonstration to defend a cause. No... you go to a demonstration to be with others. This is what makes demonstration successful or not. It is not about what the media in the US says (no way they are going to cover it properly) but about the bond you create. Notice the success of the immigrant rallies? The anti-war demonstrations in Europe? We did not go with our pet subjects. .we went to join others. Blogs is probably not the best place to generate a demonstration but it is the perfect place to make/create other social gatherings. It is very difficult to invite someone on line. It is so easy to invite someone to a party. Kos , Booman ET are not (or only or mainly) about parties. They have to generate their own brand of gathering. The only problem Nomad notices is that "not making" a party is even easier.
So blogs can change the future in many ways, the best one is to socialize people without fixed political universe and the second best is by creating a better mythology that their mythology thanks to common interaction.
Here is where think tanks come to play. We need only a couple of them, not a lot, because we only need coordination. A couple of think tanks are enough to coordinate and polish the different myths coming form the roots. The roots is the perfect place to discuss them, because we immediately feel by common interaction what it is going to work. A cracking idea is immediately accepted by a good deal of slightly different symbolic universes. A think tank needs to find and prepare the people that would better deliver them in the media. Frames and targets. One think tank to prepare people for debate. Another one to target the audiences that are the real SWING VOTERS. The same goes for political campaigns.
Now I finish it with a final note. You have to attack their symbolic universe using their symbolic universe and, at the same time, create your own alternative symbolic universe. Both. So we need so called "infiltrators" too. There MUST BE 2 myths proposals completely different (you have to know that the target audience is different) coming from the roots. One with our own universe, one with them. About their universe.. it is very easy .. you have to turn the tables around. "The world economies are really stagnant , we need to improve efficiency and increase the dynamics of the economy.. it is therefore vital to INCREASE the minimal wage..." You should take care not to use claims that they could dismiss on their own terms as stupid or irrational...so I would go for minimal wage and improve the environment of investment PROTECTING SMALL COMPANIES AGAINST BIG COMPANIES. These are just two examples of using their symbolic universe.
Now, it is also vital to create ours...recall: explain all your narrative with small details, we have to create this narrative (our duty in the netroots), it is a history about something, a bad company, a bad investor, a poor child... and then conclude with a big concept (responsibility, common good, fair taxes, whatever).. over and over again, repeat it everywhere to everyone, send people on TV, radio.... Then you reach the "three lines" state, where our concepts become a manifesto in itself.. And from the general concept you go back to details (as Kos has said once and again, general principles first, then policies derive from it naturally, he forgot that you need a narrative before getting the three lines as a manifesto). You apply those simple principles to political decision only when you are asked. It turns out then that a subgroup of the contrary universe has exactly the same solutions as we have...and then we have OUR conventional wisdom. .not theirs....or even better, we have a compromise between our ideas and our slightly different ideas.