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There is a great deal of emphasis on “messaging,” which, as it is commonly used and understood among blogosphere politicos, means out-sloganeering the opposition. While this is a necessary aspect of the political strategic struggle we are trapped in, it is also a surrender to that which traps us in it, and a ceding of the subtler and more essential narrative to those positions which benefit most from the reduction rather than expansion of information. That which is less rational, and that which is less motivated by goodwill, gain strength from the characterization of the competing positions on diverse issues as mere opposite and equal ideological convictions, on an issue-by-issue basis. That achievement obscures the fact that underneath this issue-by-issue struggle is the deeper, more coherent struggle between reason and goodwill, on the one hand, and irrationality and indifference to the welfare of others (if not outright malice) on the other.

The remedy to this problem lies in adding a new layer to our efforts. We cannot abandon the superficial political struggle, the battle of messages in service to reason and goodwill on an issue-by-issue basis. But that does not mean that we cannot also confront the deeper and more consequential challenge of writing the underlying narrative in favor of reason and goodwill, not as they relate to each issue, but rather as they inform all issues. This is what I call “meta-messaging.”

Perhaps the subtlest and least “nailed down” aspect of my proposal (A Proposal: The Politics of Reason and Goodwill, The Politics of Reason & Goodwill, simplified, How to make a kinder and more reasonable world) is how to use frames and narratives in service to reason and goodwill. In the posts I linked to, I used the example of “A Christmas Carol,” which is both such a form of communication, and is a story about a magical analogy of such communication. Another that is very similar in both of these respects is Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Obviously, there is a Christmas “goodwill” narrative that is reinforced in several Christmas stories.

But many other narratives also qualify, including several fictionalized popularizations of real people and real events. Some examples are “Gandhi,” “Invictus” (which I just watched last night), “Amistad,” to name a few that come immediately to mind. There are real events, documented and incorporated into our national meme-scape, like Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial, and countless movies and stories that reinforce the idea that goodwill makes us whole and happy, whereas malice and extreme individualism diminish us.

There are competing narratives as well, narratives that glorify individualism, that make a virtue out of mutual indifference, that rationalize and justify social irresponsibility. In one sense, the political substructure, the zeitgeist, is the product of a complex articulation of narratives, and the political struggle at that level is over influencing how these narratives aggregate, what overarching paradigms emerge as a result. And that is the struggle that is most critical to win (see The Politics of Consciousness).

I believe that narratives informed by reason and goodwill enjoy a “comparative advantage” (as economists put it), particularly in the long run, for two reasons: 1) They engender a more pleasant feeling in those who embrace them than the opposing narratives engender in those who embrace those (just as Scrooge was happier when he embraced the former, after his transformation, than he was throughout the many years in which he succumbed to the latter, prior to his transformation); and 2) the slight but constant pressure on history favoring rationality, or “utility,” causes those arrangements which yield greater aggregate benefits to prevail in the long run over those that don’t.

So the challenge is to play on these advantages, but not to passively rely on them. We need to compose, coopt, weave together, reinforce, assemble, and disseminate “armies” of narratives which coalesce into the maximum transmission of the desired effect, using all of the skills of the human mind and of human organization available to us. This is the second component of my proposal, which forms a kind of bridge between organizing in service only to mutual goodwill (not substantive political agendas), and lubricating the means of making well-informed and well-reasoned assessments of what public policies serve goodwill on a societal-wide scale.

This bridge, therefore, needs to take existing narratives in a particular direction, emphasizing our interdependence, emphasizing our ability to use government as an agency of a collective will, emphasizing the logical extension of interpersonal goodwill into public policy goodwill, and emphasizing that this is possible, that this is plausible, that this is right and good and natural.

There are huge bodies of existing literature to build on, from ancient epic myths to historical chapters to triumphs of collective will over shared adversity and in service to shared aspirations. Think how often we do this using the “Apollo Moon Landing” narrative: Every time someone wants to argue in favor of a concerted national effort to tackle a national problem, the fact that we collectively landed a man on the moon is invoked as a narrative argument in favor of national collective action in pursuit of difficult to achieve massive goals.

But it has been, up until now, a haphazard, decentralized, seat-of-the-pants strategy, used sporadically in service to uncoordinated and disparate arguments. This, in a sense, is my central point: Rather than invoking powerful tools in scattered and uncoordinated ways, it’s time to make an effort to focus them on pressure points that underwrite the entire spectrum of reasonable policies in service to universal goodwill. It’s time to work on developing, consciously and painstakingly, one integrated, powerful narrative to reinforce one coherent and unifying pair of values, and by doing so, advocating for everything that adheres to those values.

Buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards

  • Mrs karn56:

    I got attracted to this site because I had this idea of Obama needing a think tank made up of common people who have good reasoning who have come from many states to meet online and discuss events and prospectives, which could then advise Obama to make better Policy for the middle class. So that good policy for all could be enacted.

    Perhaps I came from the same frame of mind but I am not such a wordsmith as you are. I had only had one year of college, and yet I consider myself intelligent because of my desire to overcome adversity.

    I nearly suffocated twice as a baby and had a severe concussion before I was six months old. I stuggled through normal public school as a slow learner but never once gave up and graduated from high school bottom of my class but at least I graduated. I finally went to college where I decided I really couldn’t stand struggling anymore. Was this it, will I forever be branded a witless fool unequal to my peers?

    I found myself a husband and got married for the security of it. I was cocooning myself, child bearing and being a wife, but I wanted more. When new age movement came I went to check out channeled masters but I questioned everything they talked about and did not half believe thier words. I critiqued everything and started examing my own state of mind through poetry and feelings.

    Through this process of self study I grew smarter, and not through college or academics. I discovered that the two hemispheres of the brain reasoned two different ways. One through wisdom based feelings the other through intellectual observation. My wisdom based feeling side of brain was stronger then my intellectual observation side. I pushed away the ego in charge of intellectual Observation because I decided I should go with my strength’s not my weakness.

    I began to understand that my soul was in charge of wisdom based feelings. When I did this I started to gain the abilty to connect even closer to this world like we were linked as one. I was traversing a area where few dared to go. I started getting a gift such as picking up others thoughts. I plainly heard the thoughts of my husband while resting in the back of our van during a long trip. This catching of anothers thoughts, was rare but gradually increased with time.

    I am sure by now you find my story incredulous and you are quite bemused by it. But I am not trying to sell you anything, I know myself and that is all I need to do.

    I started writing a book and the process of writing a book forced me to use my intellectual observation side of the brain which then began to catch up with wisdom based feeling side. All of this took over 20 years to do because I started around 30 and I am now 56 years old. It was only recently, about a year in a half ago, that I began to peak.

    Anyway I would like to be in on what you are doing if you would have me. It seems you have a wonderful idea to generate. I am very suspicious of events that I first thought would end as soon as republicans got in office and then they would calm down. But I am picking up trains of thought that is disturbing. I am not sure you would call it evil but it seems to be dark energy working to destroy everything we hold dear.

    This is upsetting to the earth, and because it does not know how to channel this energy it is becoming erratic. The earth is more connected to mankind then you know so it weeps like a small child crying in a closet. Well that is all take care and will check back soon.

  • Thanks for writing, Mrs. Karn. That’s an amazing life story! It’s not for me to judge or interpret, but only embrace and welcome. There is nothing in our diversity that anyone need to reject or challenge other than (when they appear) those things which are harmful to others or to ourselves collectively. Everything else is our resource and our strength. All humble people of goodwill committed to working together in service to our shared humanity belong united against all those who are driven by belligerence and fanaticism. Welcome.

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