Thursday, March 19, 2020

A Pit Stop On The Road To Victory

     A warning to my Gentle Readers: This piece will range across several subjects. Yet if you think about it, you will discover an underlying unity. Moreover, its thrust is critical to political outreach and, quite possibly, the survival of the United States as a largely free society. Therefore I implore you to read with attention.

     The late Henry Hazlitt, for many years the economics writer for major newspapers including the New York Times, did the world an incalculably huge service when he wrote this:

The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.

     That is “The Lesson” that crowns Hazlitt’s best known book, Economics in One Lesson. It serves not only as a rebuff to shortsighted hawkers of policies that target only a narrow group of interests or a short-term development, but as a definition of economics itself. For what is economics, after all? It’s the study of what people do to get what they want, and the consequences of their decisions. “The consequences of their decisions” can be widespread and long-lasting; to cut off one’s attention to them before the ripples have dampened fully is to betray one’s duty as an economist.

     But Hazlitt, a man of unusual modesty despite his attainments, refrained from asking the “other question:” why people want what they want. It wasn’t in his bailiwick, so he left it for others to address. (Subsidiary questions — for example “Why is Smith willing to pay $X for Y but not $X+1?” — live in the borderlands that lie amidst economics, anthropology, and psychology.)

     Yet he who seeks to motivate people must focus on “why.” Some “whys” are individual only; others affect large numbers of persons, perhaps even unto the whole of Mankind. The most successful motivators are they who grasp the “whys” that unite us, the “whys” that divide us, and how best to appeal to each variety.

     Let’s turn briefly to an art that’s more individually focused: the art of salesmanship. An old joke has much point:

     The manager of the superstore was almost finished training the young, newly-hired salesclerk when he remembered to mention “The Related Sale:”
     “When a customer asks for help finding a particular item,” the manager intoned, “always ask whether he might also need a related item. For example, if he comes in looking for razor blades, ask whether he has enough shaving cream and after-shave. If he buys one or both it will increase the sale, and your commission.” The young man’s eyes lit up at learning this powerful sales technique, and he set off to his work with evident enthusiasm.
     Only an hour later the young salesclerk escorted a customer up to the front of the store, loaded down with fishing rods, line, nets, boots, waders, and mirabile dictu, the brochure for a small powerboat. The total came to just under a hundred thousand dollars.
     The manager, who was standing nearby, was impressed, to say the least. He asked the young clerk what had just happened to produce such a tremendous checkout. The young man ascribed it to “The Related Sale.”
     Puzzled, the manager asked, “Related to what?”
     “He came in for a box of tampons for his wife,” the young clerk replied, “so I said, “Well, sir, it looks as if there isn’t going to be any action around your house this weekend, so why not go on a little fishing trip?”

     To sell a man something has certain preconditions:

  • He must need or want it, or be induced to want it.
  • He must be persuaded that it’s worth its price.
  • He must not have a higher-priority use for the money.
  • He must not have moral or ethical barriers to the purchase.

     Clearly, the motivations of the salesman are less important than those of the prospective customer. The effective salesman must be aware of this. His focus must be entirely upon the customer’s motivations. (Of course it must respect the customer’s means as well.) If he should lose that focus, the sale will not occur.

     But appealing to a man’s desires is seldom best done by direct assault. Most people have an intrinsic resistance to “being sold.” There’s something about the notion that’s offensive, probably the implied manipulation. When possible, it’s best for the salesman to be indirect. The importance rises with the price of the item involved.

     But what does it mean, in salesmen’s terms, to be indirect?

     Perhaps the young salesclerk in the joke above provides a pointer.

     In the realm of politics, salesmanship becomes a matter of mass analysis:

  1. What do people want?
  2. What can they be induced to want?
  3. What do they fear or detest?
  4. How can their resistance to those things be increased or decreased?

     (For “people” in the above, it is sometimes appropriate to substitute a more concentrated demographic or cohort. That’s most of what’s meant by identity politics.)

     Whether a particular political campaign is “selling” a candidate or a policy, those questions remain paramount. But here as in individual salesmanship, there are consequences to “making the sale.” Another part of the art of political salesmanship is the treatment of undesired consequences:

  1. Minimizing the anticipated ones;
  2. Shifting the responsibility for bringing them about;
  3. Shifting the responsibility for coping with them.

     Politicians themselves tend not to be skilled at indirection. They promote their favored policies by talking up the predicted benefits and averting discussions of undesired consequences. After a policy is enacted, they prefer to grab the credit for good developments and point fingers at their opponents — real or imagined — for bad ones, whether or not those actions are objectively defensible. Such directness is one of the reasons Americans are largely skeptical, even cynical, about the political class. But a politician can acquire allies, and some of those allies can be more skilled at indirection than the politician himself.

     We of Liberty’s Torch have written on several occasions of the importance of the major media and its all but open alignment with the Democrat Party. The term “major media” should be understood to subsume journalism (printed and broadcast), education, and entertainment. Persons in those trades advance according to their skills at promoting a particular world view: not the facts alone, but a causal structure implied to lie behind the facts. This is most evident in fictional entertainment, slightly less so in education and journalism. Yet the skill is a central asset to anyone in any of those fields.

     Here we come to the new pejorative of our era: “The Narrative.” The term is used derisively when applied to media attempts to promote a notion that runs contrary to observable fact – remember, after the 2004 attempt to slander President George W. Bush with forged papers from his Air National Guard days fell apart, the protest that “the facts were wrong but the narrative was right?” — but its importance to the power of the media to advance specific concepts and policy models cannot be overstated.

     For a narrative must embed a causal structure: an explanation of the “whys” that lie behind some development, real, imagined, or proposed. If the hearer accepts the narrative, he does so because of its similarity to the ways he has already seen people act, react, and decide. A skillfully crafted narrative has immense persuasive power – and they who rise high in the media are those who are best at concocting and purveying such narratives.

     It has often been said, most notably by Margaret Thatcher, that “the facts of life are conservative.” And indeed, they are – but we know from experience that facts alone are insufficient to prevail in political conflict. People seek to understand the “whys:” causal structures they can accept as valid, owing to their own experiences of the world.

     Consider for a moment why accusations of low or criminal conduct lodged against politicians are so easy to believe. We’ve seen enough such accusations substantiated to have formed a causal structure for ourselves. It runs roughly like this: The higher a man rises in politics, the more likely he is to be a deceitful, venal son of a bitch. So accusations receive a kind of conditional pre-acceptance in advance of evidentiary substantiation; they fit our internal narrative about political advancement.

     The late Marshall Fritz, founder of the Advocates for Self-Government, made it an explicit mission for freedom lovers to “Get the Blues:” i.e., to persuade the master communicators of our nation to come into the liberty movement. Fritz’s analysis indicated that the natural communicator is emotionally oriented. That is, he addresses people’s emotions, including his own, as the critical elements in our decision making, and he speaks to them intentionally and directly.

     The natural communicator naturally gravitates to occupations that employ his communication skills. That is, he is most powerfully drawn to working in journalism, education, and entertainment: the Left’s bastions, by its hegemony over which the Left has dominated political discourse in these United States for many decades.

     They who dominate the “gatekeeper” institutions have striven to prevent a counteroffensive by the Right against their hegemony. But at least one of the three Left-dominated fields has opened to other voices in recent years: entertainment. In fiction, whether books or videos, the gatekeeper institutions have lost their grip, owing to the development of the World Wide Web as a means of reaching others.

     Likely no one foresaw this development. It was an unintended consequence of the development of broadband Internet access and other digital technologies. But it offers us in the Right an opportunity that we must not squander.

     “Politics is downstream from culture.” – Andrew Breitbart

     The key to the successful exploitation of our opportunity is the development, encouragement, and celebration of our storytellers.

     There aren’t many well-known Right-leaning storytellers. The “above-ground” or traditional gatekeepers in the world of fiction – the publishing houses of New York and London, mostly – were conquered and colonized by the Left some time ago. If anything, Hollywood and the “content providers” who feed the television industry are even more thoroughly Left-owned than the publishing houses. So an Andrew Klavan or a Clint Eastwood who manages to penetrate their defenses is a rare jewel.

     But we have the Web...and Amazon.

     Whatever the leanings of Jeff Bezos or anyone he employs, at this time Amazon is open to any kind of fiction from any source, regardless of political or ideological perspectives. There are other channels of lesser importance, but Amazon is where by far the greater part of the action is. Writers, filmmakers, and creators of other kinds of fiction can distribute through Amazon without fear of censorship, certain kinds of pornography being exceptions.

     If you’re Right-inclined, can imagine, compose, and tell a decent story, and aren’t exercising your gift to the fullest, whether through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, or any of the alternatives...why sit you there idle?

     All the sorrows of life are bearable if only we can convert them into a story. – Isak Dinesen

     There's nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. – Tyrion Lannister, in the concluding episode of Game of Thrones

     A capable storyteller must work with the foundation of all human action: emotion. He must be able to depict the emotions of believable characters under trying circumstances, and to show how those emotions direct and power their decisions. These are the building blocks of any plausible narrative: believable people compelled to confront difficult circumstances, doing what they think is best to cope, and changing according to the consequences. Whether his story is to be tragic or heroic, these are the elements every storyteller must marshal and control.

     Stories are the fuels that can bring us political victory. “The facts of life are conservative,” and when embedded in a story with a plausible causal structure, about believable people facing difficult choices, they create a convincing narrative that makes the reader / listener / viewer say “Yes, that’s how it is and must be,” even if only to himself.

     There’s help available. Many, many books on writing and storytelling are available to him who likes the idea of creating fiction but isn’t confident in his skills. This one and this one are even free of charge. And of course, reading extensively in your preferred genres will help you to acquire the necessary sense for its requirements and perimeters. But the commitment – of time, creative energy, and emotional investment — must be yours.

     Dale Carnegie wrote that what many people need to get off their asses and into motion is a challenge. Get ‘em to ask themselves if they’ve got what it takes! Well, fellow Rightist, we’re looking for a few good storytellers: the kind that can dramatize what we know about the facts of life in a memorable narrative. So, you think you’re pretty good with words, do you! But you haven’t yet employed that facility to any great effect? Then it’s time you were asked:

Have you got what it takes?

     All that’s at stake is the survival of the last kinda-sorta free society on Earth, so what are you waiting for?



Dare I direct you to my (six part so far, probably going to do one more) series on my political evolution?

Paul Bonneau said...

"Persons in those trades advance according to their skills at promoting a particular world view: not the facts alone, but a causal structure implied to lie behind the facts."

Even just reporting facts involves choice of which facts to report and which are not considered germane.

I think the people in journalism think of themselves as doctors with the power to fix the human condition. Remember the old lefty term "consciousness-raising"? It must be a lot more exciting to think of oneself that way, than to just be a reporter of dry facts.

"If I had to point out the characteristic trait that differentiates socialism from [a proper view of the political economy], I should find it here. Socialism includes a countless number of sects. Each one has its own utopia, and we may well say that they are so far from agreement that they wage bitter war upon one another. Between M. Blanc's organized social workshops and M. Proudhon's anarchy, between Fourier's association and M. Cabet's communism, there is certainly all the difference between night and day. What then, is the common denominator to which all forms of socialism are reducible, and what is the bond that unites them against natural society, or society as planned by Providence? There is none except this: They do not want natural society. What they want is an artificial society, which has come forth full-grown from the brain of its inventor... They quarrel over who will mould the human clay, but they agree that there is human clay to mould. Mankind is not in their eyes a living and harmonious being endowed by God Himself with the power to progress and to survive, but an inert mass that has been waiting for them to give it feeling and life; human nature is not a subject to be studied, but matter on which to perform experiments."
-- Frederic Bastiat

Thanks for bringing up Marshal Fritz. As far as I can tell, he was an angel, likely the most decent man I have ever met. I ran into him when he was promoting the idea of separating school and state.