Our message is getting out. That isn’t the problem. Those of us advocating small government and big liberty have more people, resources, arguments and tools than ever. But culture is still going the other way. Why is that?
Basically, they have adopted a winning strategy, one that our side has yet to counter. They know culture is persuaded more by emotions than by arguments.
Critical thinking, and rational, detached evaluation of facts are not how we live. Otherwise, Superbowl ads wouldn’t be worth millions. We are informed as much — or more — by our emotional impulses, as by rational beliefs. Like it or not, we lag behind the Left on the effective use of “narrative” to steer public opinion. Their tactic remains more or less the same, and they’re not even secretive about it.
Think of instances where we’ve seen huge shifts in public opinion, the kinds you would never have predicted. That’s where you’ll find it. Whether those changes are good or not are secondary. For now, we’re discussing what makes culture exchange one set of values for another.
Some examples include public attitudes toward smoking, impaired driving, marriage, terrorism, homosexuality, gun ownership, environmentalism, sugary foods … anything, really. The formula doesn’t change much. The goal is manipulating public opinion: paint things you like favorably, things you dislike unfavorably, and (especially!) polarize the issue.
Take, as an example, smoking. The “educate them” rational approach (typically the default approach of conservative politics) taught people the connection between smoking and illness … to no effect. I remember mocking health warning labels when I was a teen smoker.
Here’s the other approach, still using smoking as the example.
Create an enemy — “Big Tobacco”. Publically demonize that enemy. Maximize the emotional (not intellectual) arguments against smoking, e.g. smoking isn’t “cool”, it’s a weakness. Claim that smokers are Big Tobacco’s victims … repeatedly. Get Hollywood involved. Use new-found public sympathy for the victim, and antipathy for the villain, to change laws to “protect” or “empower” the victim, and punish the culprit.
Peer pressure to conform will energize public enforcement of the new normal. Use bylaws, taxation, and nuisance legislation to maximize compliance. Experts know best, so it’s “for our own good”. When possible, elevate a champion of the cause, “underdogs” are preferred. Barb Tarbox was a Canadian anti-smoking advocate “unable to quit”, and eventually died of cancer. She fit their model of both champion and victim perfectly.
The tactic is repeated with Environmentalism. Originally, we wanted clear rivers, clean air and reduced littering. Then the environment became trendy (thank-you, lobby groups) … rainforests, ozone, acid rain, etc. Although bottles and newspapers were recycled long before it became popular, lobbyists began to nag us about recycling. Children were targeted with cartoons (i.e. Fern Gully), and programs at schools “building awareness” (aka “moralizing”).
They personified the Earth itself, celebrating it with a pseudo-holiday. We were polarized as either “hurting” or “friends of” the Earth — indifference equaled hostility. (friend/foe dichotomy.) Industry was vilified as heartless polluters. TV shows and movies incorporated the storyline and added made-to-order heroes (Erin Brockovich, Avatar).
Public morality began to conform to their engineered peer pressure, pressure they used to force compliance when skeptics resisted. “You’re not going to put THAT in the garbage, are you?” Before long, you have lightbulb legislation, Carbon Credits, Al Gore, garbage police and an entirely new moral code.
Homosexuality, a “psychological abnormality” in the 70’s, became an “alternative lifestyle” in the 80’s. Next, the narrative taught us that homosexuals are perpetual victims of abuse. Film no longer portrayed them as creepy guys in seedy bars and leather chaps but as the friendly neighbor in Will And Grace … sympathetic and sophisticated (always attractive, too). More recently, the mere mention of someone’s homosexuality required the shibboleth: (“not that there’s anything wrong with that”) until it became accepted as the new normal. Victim status is a shield against criticism, so disputing “the script” was assumed to be evidence of “bigotry”.
They invented the so-called “homophobe” — the enemy required to properly polarize the issue. “Homophobe” quickly rose to one of the most socially damning insults we could offer, and was used to silence dissent. Pastors faced Human Rights tribunals for quoting scripture. In one short generation, public opinion has turned 180 degrees. “Chick-Fil-A” gets blowback for verbally affirming traditional marriage in the same year that Dan Savage rips apart Christianity in his defense of “alternative lifestyles”. But one mustn’t criticize Savage … that’s “homo-phobia”.
We see rare (accidental?) transparency in Eric Holder’s quote:
What we need to do is change the way in which people think about guns, especially young people, and make it something that’s not cool, that it’s not acceptable … we changed the way that people thought about smoking, so now we have people who cower outside of buildings and kind of smoke in private and don’t want to admit it.
They even pledged to dramatically change society, remember? But we didn’t take them seriously. Result? You can’t even buy a Big Gulp in NYC anymore. While we sit idle, the landmark distinctives that once defined our culture are being redrawn to their specs. As they get better at it, and bolder, it will only accelerate.
They have well-defined social engineering goals, and know how to achieve them. If we seriously plan to engage culture, we will need something more effective than political position papers. We will need to either neutralize their tactic, or leverage it against them.
Image: Spannende Geschichte [Exciting Story]: Nachlass Clemens von Franckenstein (1875-1942); source: Dorotheum; public domain/copyright expired