What Have We Wrought: thoughts on freedom, taxes, capitalism and democracy

Part VII:  Thoughts on emotion, propaganda, racismand room for hope

Recently I attended a workshop by Drew Westen, author of The Political Brain, an investigation into the role of emotion in determining the political life of the nation. In this exploration of words and their emotive power and associations, he discusses how dispassionate rhetoric fails to win hearts and minds.  His analysis may be applied to any area of life, not just politics.

By applying Westen’s principles, I could see just how effective the right wing is in applying the propaganda techniques.  For example, a right-wing website I discovered recently that is typical, took complex issues like social services and appealed directly to emotion by saying that cuts must be made for the future for their children. The issue was oversimplified, omitting much and never mentioning that the wealthy pay less in taxes percentage wise than the middle class or that the military budget is obscenely out of control.

The euthanasia poster in Part VI essentially says, “Folks, that’s your money going to support people with disabilities.  You don’t really want that do you?  You want that money for yourselves and your children.” The message on right-wing websites is the same, if not so blatant.  And it appeals directly to emotion, not logic.  Seeing the emotive value puts yet another spin on it from the cognitive.

Even if that type of right-wing website−which encourages people to contact Congress−seems fairly innocent, it is not.  One could argue they have a right to their opinion, etc.  But if fascism is seen as a “continuum or a social relation,” then underlying the seemingly innocent rhetoric are messages that promote right-wing values.

I tried to find a website that would be called “conservative.”  I found several posts from black people.  These are far more subtle than the blatant racist sites available on the web. Instead they have black people talking about black issues.  For example on Townhall.com, Thomas Sowell trying to explain why it is the liberals fault that blacks disproportionately lost their homes during the mortgage crisis, conveniently forgetting that the bankers and mortgage companies and corporations made a lot of money on the mortgage crisis.  And were heartless about foreclosures.

Or a commentary by Star Parker, “The Poor Are Not Poor Because the Rich Are Rich,” which tries to explain away the racial disparity between white wealth and black wealth by talking about median vs. average wealth.  But whatever way she cuts the statistics, blacks still come out on the short end.

Here are her biographical notes:  Star Parker is founder and president of CURE, the Center for Urban Renewal and Education, a 501c3 think tank which explores and promotes market based public policy to fight poverty, as well as author of the newly revised Uncle Sam’s Plantation: How Big Government Enslaves America’s Poor and What We Can do About It.

AmazonOn this same website is this image, which promotes the myth of the liberal media.  There is no such thing.  Mainstream media’s bias is clearly to the conservative side.  Distorting the American mind?  I think the right has a firm hold on that distortion, although cracks are appearing.  Or maybe, to use a metaphor from nature, green is beginning to sprout through the concrete (see previous posts re Murdoch, Anonymous, Wikileaks).

Also of particular note on Townhall.com website is an advertisement for “Townhall Magazine.”  The headline?  “Controlling the Media:  George Soros,” in what is an obvious ploy to counter the Rupert Murdoch scandal by trying to create Soros as some sort of media king.  Soros, while he may be wealthy and liberal and supports liberal causes, is hardly the owner (and controller) of media that Murdoch is.

And what about those relatives and neighbors?  What are they in that continuum or social relation?  Will they read someone like Thomas Sowell and agree because they see his article as being so reasoned, not aware they it is reinforcing their web of right-wing beliefs. Star Parker’s article is somewhat less reasoned, but still reinforces people’s biases.  Those articles are just two examples.  Others abound on conservative and right-wing websites.

At the close of her article, Parker maintains that blacks need, guess what, “less government and more initiative:  She says, “The formula for more black wealth: less government, more ownership and initiative.”  In other words, if lazy black people would just pull themselves up by the bootstraps, they would get someplace, reinforcing a black stereotype.

In the meantime, government figures from the United States Department of Agriculture from 2008 and 2009 show that “food insecurity” rates are the highest they have ever been even in those years, which have not been as bad economically 2010 and 2011. Simply put, people are asked, “Do you know where your next meal is coming from?”

Very Low Food Security by Household Type

The prevalence of very low food security  in various types of households followed a pattern similar to that observed for food insecurity overall.

Prevalence rates of very low food security were higher than the 5.7-percent national average for:

  •  Families with children, headed by single women (12.9 percent).

  •  Families with children, headed by single men (8.3 percent).

  •  Black households (9.3 percent).

  •  Hispanic households (9.3 percent).

  •  Households with incomes below the poverty line (18.5 percent).

  •  Households in principal cities of metropolitan areas (6.8 percent).

The Food Action Resource Center (FARC) has just published a report on food insecurity.  Currently in many areas of the U.S. one in four families do not know where their next meal is coming from.  The statistics are not broken down by race, but the question remains, Are these people suffering because they lack the initiative to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, as Parker implies?  Or is it because, in spite of strides to the contrary, racism is alive in this country and so is bias against unmarried women?  The religious right promotes marriage, of course, but only of men and women.  If Mom is single (or gay), where does that leave Mom and Apple Pie?

What do we do?  All brilliant ideas are welcome.  And maybe we just use the tried and true: Perhaps we talk, gently, one to one, to our relatives, our friends, our co-workers, and discuss with them what we see.  Is that easy?  No it is not, by any means.  In America, we don’t talk about politics and religion.  That, of course, is part of the problem.  Statistics will be mostly meaningless to them unless we are able to reach them emotionally first.  They are caught in the web of their own beliefs.  We need to appeal to their emotions, to what we have in common, to long-held values that we share.

Story and song are still the best way to communicate among human beings, as they have been from the beginning of consciousness.  In our world of mass communication, for all its advantages, we don’t talk in person and one on one often enough.  But even on the internet [and iPods and iPads] story and song can help people understand and move people to action.

Sue Ann Martinson
Minneapolis, Minnesota   August 2011


There are many resources available.  A few are listed below.

The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation, by Drew Westen.  Connecting with people emotionally so they will hear your message.

Minnesota Arms Spending Alternative Project.  MNASAP.  Minnesota taxpayer spending for war far exceeds the state’s budget deficit.  What You Can Do.  MN ASAP  (www.mnasap.com)

National Priorities Project.  Here are all the statistics about the budget that you need in charts and easy to read flyers. Military Spending is 57 percent of the 2012 Proposed Discretionary Budget.  www.nationalpriorites.org.

Costofwar.com.  A website from the National Priorities Project.  Do you wonder how much your city or town spends on war?  And what you could do with that money to help yourself and others?  An interactive website that shows how much you spend on war, by state, city, town.

A national website with links to information.


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By Published On: August 19th, 2011Comments Off on Part VII: Thoughts on emotion, propaganda, racism−and room for hope/What Have We Wrought

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