This is likely to be one of my more discursive pieces – I’m warning myself as well as you, Gentle Readers – so please bear with me as I strive to organize it.
In keeping with the old dictum that the presentation of an important idea should have a tripartite structure:
- Tell them what you will tell them;
- Tell them;
- Tell them what you have told them.
…I’ll “lead with the lede:” You are helpless before any phenomenon whose causal genesis you do not understand and address. An excellent illustration of this critical bit of wisdom goes as follows:
You’re standing at the bank of a river when you see someone in the water, flailing helplessly, unable to get out. You jump in, rescue him, and return to your previous position…when another flailing about-to-drown victim floats by. So you jump in again, rescue him, and return to your previous position… when still another flailing about-to-drown victim floats by. You jump in a third time – you’re getting pretty tired by now – rescue him, and climb out…when yet another victim floats by…
Got the idea? Clearly, someone upstream is throwing people into the river. Your energies are finite; should the progression continue, you won’t be able to save any further victims of that fellow’s viciousness. Rather than jumping into the river over and over, what ought you to be doing instead?
I shan’t insult my Gentle Readers’ intelligence by telling you.
Back when I was freshly involved with the Libertarian Party, there was an energetic and highly insightful man named Marshall Fritz, who had just founded a remarkable new organization: the Advocates for Self-Government. Marshall was a former salesman for IBM, who understood more about promoting an idea than the rest of the liberty movement put together. He once summed it up this way: “Anything worth buying has to be sold.” Liberty – political freedom – is not an exception.
In early 1987, I attended one of Marshall’s lecture presentations, in which he used a simplified version of the Keirsey/Bates personality inventory to make some significant points about persuasion styles. Marshall’s inventory emphasized four major categories:
- Green: Idea-oriented: Concerns himself with ideology and analysis.
- Brown: Organization-oriented: Prefers defined hierarchies and rules.
- Red: Action-oriented: Never mind all that theory and planning; let’s get to work!
- Blue: Emotion-oriented: Feelings uber alles.
In Marshall’s talk “Liberty, Strategy, and Victory,” he made three major points:
- Political persuasion is partly a skill, but also partly an aptitude;
- Aptitude for communication and persuasion is strongest among the emotion-oriented;
- Therefore, for the liberty movement to make real progress, it must first “capture the Blues.”
It sounded good at the time. (To a lot of liberty-minded folks, it sounded wonderful, a genuine breakthrough. Hope was that hard to come by.) But as the years have passed, it’s become clear that Marshall’s strategy hasn’t yielded the results for which he hoped…and I think I know why.
While Marshall Fritz was correct, as far as I can tell, in his assessment that the Blue / emotion-oriented group contains the most effective communicators and persuaders, there were more questions to be asked:
- What do the Blues believe?
- Why do they believe it?
- Whom are they most effective at persuading?
At the time, no one thought to ask them. Yet the answers will tell us why Marshall’s strategy has failed.
The Blue / emotion-dominant orientation is the shallowest of the four orientations. It doesn’t just prioritize feelings over any other consideration; it refuses to address any other consideration. The reasons for this are not far to seek.
Strong emotions, of the sort that can energize a Cause Person, are very nearly all-consuming. They take up so much bandwidth and personal energy that little remains with which to analyze, organize, or act. Moreover, the state of personal commitment they evoke bears a great similarity to a religious faith: it becomes central to the holder’s identity, such that any departure from it feels personally threatening. Thus, its grip on the Blue it seizes is extremely difficult to relieve…in some cases, impossible.
Blues are massively overrepresented on the political Left, which emphasizes emotional appeals and claims of “unfairness” and “injustice.” As reporters and other media-engaged types (e.g., writers, actors, musicians, and other entertainers) are almost always Blues, their near-unanimous Left-alignment ceases to be a puzzle. Equally so, the extreme difficulty of winning a successful, Left-affiliated reporter or commentator away from the Left should not puzzle us. Examples of such disaffiliations are rare.
Could we reasonably expect a Blue, given his emotion-dominant psyche and his consequent attachment to the emotionally-founded politics of the Left, to give serious attention to the far more analytical and evidence-based claims of the Right? Could we expect him to take a sincere interest in the political and economic causes of human misery while “People are suffering! We have to act now!” — ? And if not, how could we expect him to treat them fairly in his communications with others?
The deep cleavage in Americans’ attention to various media outlets tells us a great deal as well. Who listens to whom, and why?
As a rule, Blues listen to Blues. Persons most susceptible to emotion-oriented appeals will find their greatest satisfaction in those sources that offer exactly that. Browns and Reds will find little in the offerings of the Blues to satisfy them, while Greens will reject their pitch as at variance with both evidence and reason. But Blues are also inclined toward evangelism and activism. That gives them a natural advantage in persuasion, even of persons whose emotions aren’t as strong as a true Blue’s. Most of us hate to see a relative or friend upset or disappointed by us. We’re likely to sympathize with them for reasons other than the magnetism of their chosen Causes, at least to the extent of offering lip service.
Thus, media dominated by Blues and Leftist opinions will have an overrepresentation of Blues among their devotees…indeed, usually a majority. Note that those cohorts tend to be younger than the general American population. This is also to be expected, as youth correlates with the strength of empathetic and sympathetic inclinations. While it may sound cynical, it is also undeniable that it gets easier to shrug off someone else’s troubles after you’ve accumulated a few of your own.
Blues will regard communicators oriented toward analysis and the study of traditional methods of dealing with socioeconomic problems as “unfeeling,” perhaps even “heartless.” “People are suffering! How can you just sit there?” If you’ve never heard a Blue say something along those lines, you’re a member of a tiny minority.
In this latter connection, remember the sad case of USA for Africa. That campaign to aid the starving peoples of Ethiopia and Sudan raised millions of dollars and resulted in thousands of shipments of food and other relief items to those countries…nearly all of which disappeared into some dictator’s or warlord’s hoard. The actual effect of the shipments was to further empower the very brutes whose depredations had reduced millions to the edge of starvation or beyond. Those who donated to the campaign were emotionally gratified by it. How many of them reflected thereafter on what their donations had actually wrought?
The above summarizes my thoughts on why Marshall Fritz’s “Capture the Blues” approach to libertarian outreach failed to achieve its objectives. You cannot get people whose pleasure and pain centers are activated exclusively by emotional matters to pay attention to reason and evidence – and therefore, you cannot make them into apostles for it. Moreover, those who already attend to them do so because their need for emotional stimuli is satisfied by what they see and hear, and would not be satisfied by an alternative emphasis.
All is not lost. Effectiveness in persuasion can be learned, even by those with only a minimal aptitude for communication. The challenge there is to cultivate not only the skills required for persuasion, but also the inclination to use them. Many Greens, Browns, and Reds are uninterested in or impatient with the task. We prefer to spend our time on other things. It takes a lot of convincing to sway a man out of his priorities, especially if they mesh with his natural inclinations.
Let’s close with some soothing music from the “Easy Listening” genre’s golden year of 1969:
Appropriate, isn’t it?