Controlling the Narrative: Part 2

I just posted about a discussion I’m involved with. In the post, I shared some of my comments from the discussion and explained some introductory thoughts about controlling the narrative.

Controlling the Narrative: Part 1

I had no clear intentions when I first posted in that discussion, but once I was engaged I wanted to follow it to the end. I don’t easily give up on a discussion or a topic when something catches my curiosity, when something gets caught in my craw.

The discussion thread is interesting for a number of reasons. It’s a textbook example of how to deal with different kinds of commenters. I’ve been in online discussions for years now and I know how to play any game anyone wants to play. I know how to handle the trolls, the ideologues, the apologists, the ranters, the nitpickers, the name-callers or what ever else. I’m not above anything. If I deem it necessary (or if I’m just irritated), I’ll call names and be rude, I’ll ridicule and cajole. But I’ll also provide data and make extensive arguments, be objective or share personal anecdotes. It’s important to always be ready to shift gears and meet any person on their terms or else force them to meet you on your terms.

  • One of my strengths is that I have stamina. Few people can outlast me in a discussion, few will do more research than I will. That isn’t a boast. It’s a fact.
  • Another important ability is to be clever (if only to keep the discussion lively and entertaining). I almost always can turn around any personal attack or intellectual argument. No mercy! Take nothing personal.
  • Last but not least, try to gain control of the rules of the game, try to enforce your own narrative. Don’t necessarily hijack a thread, but don’t be afraid of hijacking a thread if it serves some purpose.

The rules are very much different if you have regular discussions with the same people (assuming you want to remain friends), but dealing with random strangers on the internet demands guerilla warfare. I’m not in that discussion to make friends. I fully realized the people in that discussion were a mix. Some more smart, some less so. Some willing to play fair, some not. I was mostly just attacked and called names. My arguments were mostly just dismissed. But I did finally force a couple of people to take my view seriously once they realized I couldn’t be scared away or ridiculed into silence.

I had my ducks in a row and not even those arguing against me could deny that. I usually begin a discussion with by listening respectfully and gaging the atmosphere. I then present my view fairly and hopefully I get a fair response. If that fails…

I pull out the big guns and I bludgeon my opponent. I will offer fact after fact, source after source, argument after argument. As long as I’m dealing with someone above the level of idiot, I will persist. And if they start treating me fairly…

I’m more than happy respond in kind. Depending on my mood, I might even apologize. If I read negative intentions that weren’t there or that they claim weren’t there, then I’ll let it go and try to seek civil discussion. I’d always rather look for common ground just as long as the other person is willing to cooperate in this endeavor.

The problem with the discussion in question is that apparently no one wanted to seek common ground with me. I entered the disucssion in the middle of it. Another commenter had linked my blog and so I went to check it out, but already my views were being attacked. So, I immediately felt on the defensive. It didn’t seem that anyone actually wanted to have a rational debate of ideas and facts. Instead, it was an ideological attack-fest with most of the people on the opposite side of my own view.

Since I couldn’t force anyone to take my view seriously, the main thing I decided to do was to seek control of the narrative and so shift the power imbalance.  I pointed out this issue of narrative in my post about the movie Avatar (Avatar: Imagination & Culture). Conservatives have in the past been very good at controlling the narrative. Even now, Fox News has dominated political discourse by various means (Fox News Channel controversies). They don’t just report the news but actively create it. They promoted the Tea Party movement by (besides Beck’s 9/12) having Fox employees cheer on crowds as they filmed or even by using footage from entirely different events to make the crowd look larger. They’ve also been so devious as to alter pictures of Democrats and liberals by, for example, yellowing teeth or broadening the nose (to make the person look like a minority).

Fox News best strategy is latching onto a story and repeating it relentlessly until the rest of the media picks it up. For example, ACORN was given the Fox News treatment and by doing so they destroyed ACORN. Later on, it was investigated and it turned out to have been a fake scandal made up out of thin air, but ACORN was still destroyed and so mission accomplished. Even now, if you ask many people, they still think the ACORN scandal was real because innocence doesn’t make for as exciting of news as does scandal.

It’s all about controlling the story. I personally prefer truth, but I respect the power of story. Truth is great and story is powerful. Combined, they can lead to new visions of society.

This is where liberals come in. Conservatives are starting to lose control of the narrative. The culture wars have lost clarity and momentum. The faux patriotism from the Bush years has soured. This is why there has been a mass exodus from the Republican party. This past year Republicans have become the party of No and nothing else. Obama’s relentless preaching of bipartisanship (even if fruitless on the practical level) led to his controlling the narrative.

Liberals have an opening here. There are many narratives that can be chosen. In the discussion I’m involved with, I was using the narrative of shifting demographics and of generational cycles. Strauss and Howe are the guys who first told this story which they’ve titled The Fourth Turning and it has gained a fair amount of traction in the media and culture. Another narrative I like to use is that of Spiral Dynamics which presents an evolutionary view of human culture and it’s a very potent vision of what society can become (Bill Clinton was familiar with it).  George Lakoff has spent a lot of time putting forth his ideas about framing and politics which are insightful, but I don’t know that they’re ultimately compelling. Michael Moore has been one of the greatest proponents of the story about working class progressivism which has struck a major blow to the self-identity of the conservative movement.

Another area of liberal narrative is the New Age (which has incorporated many narratives into its own meta-narrative). I was raised in New Thought Christianity (which was a precursor of the New Age) and I’ve been delighted to see how New Thought theology has slipped into both evangelical Christianity and even into the mainstream culture in general by way of the New Age. Oprah has been a great proponent of the New Age vision (and I suppose she can be seen as a manifestation of the feminist narrative). A bit earlier than Oprah, Joseph Campbell helped introduce a new vision of religion and culture (his Hero’s Journey having inspired Star Wars).

Avatar is, of course, a great narrative and goes along with liberal narrative of many other movies (Star Wars, The Matrix, etc). In this time of burgeoning technology (3-d, internet, etc), movies are becoming more powerful and more widespread. Some other liberal narratives come from the comic book tradition (which was oppressed by the rightwing comic books code for decades). Some notable examples are X-Men and Watchmen. The greatest narrative of any entertainment might very well be Star Trek: The Next Generation which portrayed a future liberal utopian society.

Liberals have an opening here. The conservative narrative has been slowly waning and the liberal narrative has been slowly waxing. With Obama’s message of hope and change and his vision of bipartisanship (which the Millennials resonate with), liberals finally have the upper hand. The story that gets heard now will be the story that dominates for the next few decades (as the culture war narrative dominate the last few decades). I base that prediction on the narrative of The Fourth Turning. In a 1997 interview (Strauss’ Prophetic Words), Strauss forecast that:

“What could happen right at the start of the Fourth Turning is whichever dominant cultural view is in power when the emergency strikes that group could be out of power for a whole generation.”

Controlling the Narrative: Part 1

Below are some comments from a discussion thread I’m involved in at the moment. I thought it interesting because my purpose in participating has two parts.

On the surface, I’m just having a debate. I’m not all that concerned about winning the debate per se, but I am trying to make a good argument and clear up misinformation. My original purpose was merely to defend the research I had done since someone linked to my blog in the discussion (which is what made me notice the discussion).

However, once fully invested, my central motive switched to gaining control of the narrative. The whole discussion is an experiment of sorts. Those involved don’t quite grasp my real agenda and so they don’t know how to counter it. The reason I chose to seek control of the narrative is because, at first, no one wanted to fully engage the facts of my argument.

In more recent comments, one commenter in particular is trying to persuade me to play the opinion game. That is a fair game to play, but it isn’t the game I want to play. The reason I don’t want to play it is because it generally is a fruitless game which sometimes is the point. This commenter isn’t presenting any compelling narrative and so his best strategy is to distract me from my narrative… not that I think he is consciously strategizing. 

The opinion game is not too dissimilar from how Republicans have been playing the obstructionist game. This past year, Republicans were obsessing over and complaining about every little nitpicking detail. It’s the game one plays when one is out of power, when one isn’t in control of the narrative.

If you’re simply interested to read more about my views on controlling the narrative and how it relates to public/political discourse, here is the link:

Controlling the Narrative: Part 2

And below are my comments from the discussion:

http://www.topix.net/forum/source/kdvr/TA3MUPB6NGSBEJ7QK/post195

cjrian wrote:
Media Matters as an unbiased reference?
NPR ?
Air America (now defunct)??
Media Matters recieves its funding indirectly from George Soros via the Tides Foundation, the Arca Foundation, the Peninsula Community Foundation, and the San Francisco Foundation. MM is a total tool of the Left, willing to push-poll, lie, and consults OganizingforAmerica (Obamas info site) for so-called “truth”.
NPR has a VERY Left leaning bent and always has. Garrison Keillor, “All Things Considered”, Daniel Schorr.
Air America was ONLY formed to counter Rightwing talk radio. It was so far Left, it was falling off the edge of the Earth.
These are not unbiased sources!!

Still with the liberal bias? I showed you the study about NPR. You just deny the study based on no counter evidence. Show me a study that shows NPR has a strong liberal bias. NPR may once have been liberal because it used to do real investigative reporting, but ever since it began to get large corporate funding it hasn’t been liberal beyond a few minor exceptions of moderate liberals.

Air America was a response to rightwing media. That was part of my argument. Rightwing media is very powerful. Air America and other liberal radio have shown high ratings in certain markets, but radio stations are mostly now owned by large conservative corporations rather than by local people and community groups. I’m surprised you didn’t notice this explanation as it was in the blog post I linked earler.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010…

Part of the problem is definition of terms. What conservatives call “liberal” would be considered moderate, centrist or even slightly conservative in European countries. I’m willing to concede that, according to your conservative definition of liberal, most of the media migth be liberal, but that doesn’t really mean much of anything. It’s similar when conservatives call Obama a progressive, a socialist and/or a communist. Sure, according to the conservative worldview, almost everything is to the left. However, real progressives, socialists and communists are probably more critical of Obama than most conservatives.

Some of the media has a liberal bias and some of the media has a conservative bias. According to mainstream US political ideologies, I don’t think mainstream media overall is biased in any particular direction. But, relative to Europe, US media probably has a conservative bias. More importantly, I’d look at the biases in different markets. I don’t know about tv and cable, but Fox News has been very successful in controlling the narrative. Radio of course is dominated by conservatives and one study shows op-ed columns are dominated by conservatives.

The only place where liberals have a clear and strong dominance is on the internet. Liberals use the internet for news more than any other demographic and so you find liberal news sources online. A favorite “liberal” news source of mine is The Young Turks which is hosted by Cenk Uygur who is a former Republican who voted for Obama and yet is constantly critical of Obama for not being progressive enough. Cenk started his independent news company online and has remained online. His show is one of the most popular on the web. He doesn’t accept advertising money and relies entirely on subscribers.

It’s true that reporters and journalists lean left, but not radically left. On the other hand, editors, management and owners of news organizations lean right. The reporters and journalists are employees who are hired and fired by those who lean right. Pew shows the most strong Republican demographic has the highest rates of business ownership and highest rates of those who trade stocks and bonds.

http://www.topix.net/forum/source/kdvr/TA3MUPB6NGSBEJ7QK/post197

cjrian wrote:
Now, if Conservatives dominate newspapers how was their reporting so sympatheric towards Obama/Biden and negative towards McCain/Palin?

Why did the media focus on Obama? Many reasons. He was young, photogenic, energetic, charismatic, inspiring, great speaker, first black candiate, etc. Most importantly, the American public liked him more which was demonstrated by his winning the popular vote. I was just looking at poll data that shows that at the time even Libertarians liked Obama.

So, the media focuses on what happens to be popular. During Bush’s administration, when patriotism and war-mongering was popular, the media focused on that. Initially, the media didn’t strongly questione or criticize the reasons for the war in Iraq or the constitutionality of the Patriot Act. Any liberal who stepped out of line, such as Bill Maher, was attacked and vilified. This is just the way mainstream media operates.

http://www.topix.net/forum/source/kdvr/TA3MUPB6NGSBEJ7QK/post209

raysmom wrote:
Crier, that was a good one about the “Madoff numbers”, hehehe. But I think when you take the number of registered voters, the Dem & Republican numbers, and weigh them with certain variables it comes out pretty even in undergraduate education, the Dems having more advanced degrees.
But frankly, I don’t even think that formal education means more politically knowledgable. Take my neighbors (please, lol). A nice cross section of educated people. The liberal Christian psychologist, the liberal “spiritualist” MBA, the moderate IV specialist nurse, the liberal ex-Catholic pharmacist married to an ex-Army doc who now works for Kaiser, the uneducated King Soopers lifer. They all have strong opinions about Obama and ObamaCare, two for and three against. But NONE of them read the local paper in it’s entirety, let alone the WSJ or any diversity of publications, and none of them know the first thing about the bill or about any political issues, really, just stuff they pick up along the way, mostly from their peers who are equally ignorant! This is for both sides of the issue, remember. I think most people vote the way they do more from basic ideology, party politics, and personal experience/situation than from knowledge of the issues, no matter how educated they are.
The whole “I’m smarter than you are” thing is way overblown in estimating who the “better” party is. And there is no real way to prove it. Just as there is no real way to prove that someone’s intentions are bad becuase of ideology. A useless and divisive endeavor, in my mind.

There are several reasons why I think it matters. Conservatives have attacked climatology scientists because 97% of them support anthropogenic global warming. It’s rather meaningless considering only 6% of scientists are Republican. Since Republicans lack higher education and professional experience in the scienes, then who cares what most Republicans think about science.

Most professors and most with graduate degrees are liberal. So, liberals and Democrats are generally more well-educated. That is important. Some counter with, “But they don’t have real world experience.” Pew shows Liberals as having the second highest rate (after Enterprisers who are approximately equivalent to Neocons) of business ownership and second highest rate of trading stocks and bonds. Liberals are well educated and they’re well informed in that they follow the news closely.

Even though Democrats include the poorest and least well educated, they still on average have higher IQs than Republicans. That is important considering that during the Reagan years Republicans had the highest average IQ, but that was the only period that Republicans have ever shown a higher average IQ. It was the high point of the GOP. No wonder conservatives like to reminisce about the glory of the Reagan era. So, why did a majority of the most intelligent and well educated people stop joining the GOP and instead became Democrats?

If I were a Republican or independent conservative, I’d be a bit concerned. This isn’t just an abstract idea. Polls show that Fox News viewers are the least well informed about health reform. Maybe there is a connection here. Also, the Millennials are the most liberal, most well educated and largest generation in US history. When you look at the Millennials, you’re looking at the future.

http://www.topix.net/forum/source/kdvr/TA3MUPB6NGSBEJ7QK/post210

cjrian wrote:
<quoted text>
Undoubtedly, some of that is true, but that doesn’t explain the chills up their leg(s). One of the PRIMARY tenets to good reporting to to remain objective. The Press behaved in more of a rah-rah squad fashion. This also does not explain the uproarious cheering when Obama was nominated and when he won the election. The Press was highly Partisan.

There was a brief period earlier last century when the Fairness Doctrine forced the news business to be fair and ethical. Over the decades, newsrooms lost independent control of their reporting. Upper management and ownership began meddling in the news business. Advertisers started to have great influence and news became more about entertainment and telling people what they want to hear. Straight news reporting never made much money and so the financing of it was cut which led to reporters doing less investigative journalism.

Obama was popular. At the time, everyone loved Obama, loved to hear him speak, loved the very idea of him. News corporations are primarily concerned about making money and reporting on what is popular is how money is made.

Everyone was swayed, the whole nation, including reporters. It’s no different than how the whole nation was swayed including reporters after 9/11. Humans are social animals. We’re like a school of fish who sway together in the same direction. Those working for news media (reporters, journalists, op-ed columnists, editors, management, owners, etc) are all just human like the rest of us.

Besides, the media is like an echo chamber. The story that becomes popular gets reported more and becomes more popular. News people listen to other news people. It goes across the ideological divide. It’s humorous to watch the back and forth between Fox News and those on the left (or what is considered the left in the US mainstream). Climategate, ACORN, Swiftboat… all of those started with a single report somewhere and then all the media jumped on the bandwagon. It turns out, for example, that the entire ACORN scandal was made up out of thin air.

This is why I don’t watch mainstream news to any great degree. I occasionally catch a video of mainstream news on Youtube or some other random site. But, like a good Liberal, I prefer sources outside the mainstream such as The Young Turnks. The young generation doesn’t watch mainstream news hardly at all. I suppose it’s older Democrats who watch the mainstream left-leaning media.

http://www.topix.net/forum/source/kdvr/TA3MUPB6NGSBEJ7QK/post212

Becky wrote:
Also I would not talk so much about the younger generation. I am a part of it and even I admit there is a lot of ignorance in the liberally brainwashed people of our younger generation.
Difference is I have lived on my own since I was 18, put myself through school, and don’t just blindly take whatever the news or some narcissistic presidential candidate said without looking beyond the smoke screens and crap.

I’m less interested in these ups and downs. Instead, what I try to understand are the larger trends. If you were familiar with the writings of Strauss and Howe (The Fourth Turning, Millennials Rising) or Spiral Dynamics as explained by the likes of Wilber, you’d understand what I’m talking about. It’s the broader context that matters the most when speaking about where the country (and society in general) is heading. This is why it’s a fairly safe bet to claim that Obama’s health reform and Millennials liberalism aren’t just flukes that will disappear.

During the last cycle of progressivism, there were paranoid pundits like Beck (Father Coughlin), communist fear-mongering, race-baiting, promotion of “white culture”, anti-immigrant sentiment (“Hyphenated Americans” which always makes me think of Palin’s opposite notion of “Real Americans”), patriotic fervor, Christian fundamentalism, preaching of family values, etc. It’s proof, when the rightwingers become loud, that a new progressive era has begun.

This is where my interest in health reform comes in. It is an important issue on its own terms, but it’s hard to understand it’s relevance in isolation. Only in the beginnings of a progressive era could a president spend a year fighting (using the 3d chess of bipartisandship) for health reform and get a bill passed. Obama may be fairly mild on the scale of progressivism, but he does understand the progressive vision and he knows how to preach it. In doing so, he has creating the ideological vision of an entire generation. All Obama has to do is pass a bill, any bill and there is no turning back. The first steps will be akward, but resistance will fade away.

During the Fourth Turning, the new institutions are implemented and established for the rest of the following cycle. This is why the New Deal programs are mostly still with us after all this time. Even Republicans won’t try to take away farm subsidies or medicare. You can later on bust the unions, but the victories of the unions remain (child labor laws, 40 hr week, minimum wage, overtime, safe working conditions, unemployment, disability, etc). Once put into place, all of society embraces the progressive policies and they then become the new status quo (which conservatives will defend in the next cycle).

So, the specifics of the health bill do matter, but not as much as the act of passing reform. One thing is clear is that if McCain had been elected no reform would’ve happened or even have been considered. By Obama being elected, the coming progressive era gets an early push.

First, the Republicans played hard ball by trying to obstruct all progress.

Second, when progress was becoming inevitable, Republicans started scrambling with their own hobbled together “proposals”.

Third, Republicans try to save face by pretending to still fight even when it’s clear that Obama will pass a bill.

Fourth, Republicans become resigned their loss and try to get some of what they want into the bill.

Fifth, Republicans accept Obama’s health reform and turn their attention elsewhere.