Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tension And Habitat Part 6: Summation

The previous five pieces in this little series have emphasized habitat as an envelope-concept: a framework for comprehending the development and persistence of various social, economic, and political pathologies. That was my entire intent in writing them. A couple of readers have written to ask why I thought it a constructive use of time and pixels. The time has come to answer them.

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There are many conceptual envelopes applicable to political dynamics and tensions. Habitat is merely the one I've chosen to exploit. It's not inherently more significant than any of the other approaches; it's merely one that hasn't been used until now. Neither does it provide an especially potent insight into how America's prevalent pathologies could be undone. But it does provide its own insights, and its own indications of directions to be followed. That's sufficient justification for exploring it.

The constitutionalist / traditionalist / libertarian-conservative Right has had enormous difficulty in countering those pathologies. Its spokesmen and activists have tried one strategy after another to gain a purchase on our devolution and mobilize Americans into reversing it. We've had little success, despite frequent, ingenious reconceptualizations and shifts of emphasis.

That doesn't mean we should give up and let Leviathan roll over us. It does mean that we have to become more inventive. Indeed, given the failure of past monothematic approaches, I submit that our overarching need is to become concurrently inventive and mutually supportive:

  • Any approach anyone can conceive should be developed and tried;
  • All approaches should be wielded concurrently;
  • Differences in approach must be prevented from engendering hostility or fostering isolation;
  • When one approach fails with a given target, another must be deployed, until something has been found that produces ingress.

Habitat-analysis is merely one more arrow in our quiver. If it has some virtues, we should exploit them. If it proves insufficient with a certain target populace, we should prefer another scheme in approaching that sector. Add it to the persuasive arsenal, try it out when appropriate, and note where it hits and where it misses. That is all.

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I was once briefly acquainted with a drug-legalization advocate who expressed great frustration at his inability to get his message across. He was intelligent, knowledgeable, impassioned, and perseverant: a good combination of characteristics for anyone resolved upon a public campaign. In appearance, he was a classic "hippie:" long hair and beard; tie-dyed shirts and ragged, multiply-patched jeans; sandals twelve months a year. I sympathized with him -- always a good starting point -- and proceeded to quiz him about his methods and his target audience. This is what I learned:

  • Drug legalization was his sole political passion;
  • He approved of the use of recreational drugs;
  • He targeted middle class, preponderantly Caucasian audiences;
  • His talks were heavy with details about the history of recreational drug use in the U.S.;
  • He routinely brushed aside questions about how to prevent young people from becoming recreational-drug users.
  • He tended to be combative toward those who disagreed with him on this subject.

My acquaintance's approach was poorly matched to his preferred audiences. They demanded a completely different approach -- possibly a completely different proponent, as well. His conceptual envelope disallowed the recognition of that incongruity; as far as he was concerned, anyone who failed to see the inescapable implications of his arguments was simply too stupid to bother with.

Does that sound to you like a formula for success at persuasion?

The above is a specimen of intellectual rigidity -- a lack of versatility when confronted with failure. He who fails, not once but repeatedly, must find some versatility within himself if he's going to keep on trying. Versatility in the political marketplace demands that one have more than one set of intellectual and rhetorical tools. Any and every concept that might be the key to opening some minds -- not all, just some -- should be kept available for when it might prove instrumental.

Perhaps my acquaintance could have used habitat as his conceptual foundation. Perhaps by suggesting that drug prohibition creates a habitat that all manner of corrupt and evil forces can and will dominate, he might have reached the audiences he targeted. He never tried it, so we'll never know.

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The future is looking grim. I hardly need to tell any regular reader how much we have to worry about. No matter how they turn out, the November elections won't cause us to reverse course and sprint briskly away from disaster. At best, we'll dig in our spikes and stop rushing pell-mell toward the abyss. It will take much more, and much longer, to get back on a wholesome, freedom-respecting political basis.

We need keys to the minds of our fellow citizens. Not one key, but many.

Every concept, every analogy, every parallel we can draw between the hazards of our time and any well-known period in history or easily grasped aspect of Nature should be available for use at all times. Politics doesn't sit isolated in the vacuum, giving birth to itself; it arises from the assumptions and convictions prevalent among a nation's people. Changing those assumptions and convictions isn't something we can accomplish with a single skeleton-key concept. As with any other undertaking, we need the right tools for the job -- and the job will change with every individual we confront.

If you really want to avoid a complete descent into tyranny, and have no stomach for a violent revolution, arm yourself conceptually as well as with "beans, bullets, and Band-Aids."

You have my contribution.


Anonymous said...

When they turn the pages of history, when these days have passed long ago
Will they read of us with sadness for the seeds that we let grow
We turned our gaze from the castles in the distance
Eyes cast down, on the path of least resistance

The hypocrites are slandering the sacred halls of Truth
Ancient nobles showering their bitterness on youth
Can't we find the minds that made us stong
Can't we learn to feel what's right and wrong

Cities full of hatred, fear and lies
Withered hearts and cruel, tormented eyes
Scheming demons dressed in kingly guise
Beating down the multitude and scoffing at the wise
Can't we raise our eyes and make a start
Can't we find the minds to lead us closer to the Heart

LindaF said...

The drug legalization crowd have always irritated me - they focus on the wonders they believe will follow legalization, without dealing with likely consequences:

- more underage people using
- more drug-related traffic accidents
- increase of addiction

As a teacher, I see that even with strong penalties against use, a certain percentage of the students will indulge. It WILL increase in the aftermath of legalization. The pre-20th century situation, where there were no legal restrictions on kids drinking, led to child drunks in the streets (see the Jacob Riis photos of slums in that time period). Does anyone really doubt that such could easily occur again?

Francis W. Porretto said...

It's not really on-topic, Linda, but the arguments over the War on Drugs aren't about Utopias or panaceas; they're about better and worse. Trade-offs, as Thomas Sowell would say. Would the situation be better or worse if recreational drugs were legal? It's an arguable point -- I happen to think the answer is yes -- that involves several factors, including whether a regulatory regime such as that which applies to alcohol should be instituted.

The stories Riis told were, first of all, dramatized; second, they were unverifiable; third, he was writing about the period before there was any alcohol regulation of any sort. Whatever your convictions about recreational drugs -- and I think we share this one: that they're extremely bad for you and that any sensible person would avoid them -- it's always wise to avoid comparing things that are greatly dissimilar in important ways. That certainly applies to alcohol consumption in the pre-Prohibition years and the contemporary use and availability of banned recreational drugs.