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not “Morons”, and not any other insult commonly thrown around for the members of the 99% who support the 1%.  

So what are they?

Dangerous, and
Potential Allies

Yep, you read that right. And if you want proof that the current right wing of the 99% is ready to move into the progressive camp, look no further than the media empire designed to keep them in line.  The 1% don't spend freely, except in their own self-interest, but they have put a fortune and decades into a media and think tank structure designed for one purpose: divide and conquer the 99%

So, we must stop arguing both that the right wing is brainwashing people into acting against their own interests and then condemn the brainwashed for their actions.

We need allies, and few allies are as fired up as those who realize that our opponents have betrayed them. Take the example of Tea Party co-founder Carl Denniger's support for OWS and his belief that the  Republican Party "hijacked" his movement.  There are plenty more who feel the same way, After all, if the corporate American and the US government are merging into one, then the opposition to each can potentially do the same.

So let’s turn these potential allies into active ones. With a little imagination, and by understanding the the psychological gimmicks the 1% uses, we can

Turn their propaganda against them
Separate right wing leaders from those they exploit
Unite behind common goals.

I'll address each below using examples drawn from some of my previous posts.

I. Reversing the propaganda

Research indicates that a combination of hard-wired psychology and social pressure apparently leads to the following:

1.    Those of us at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale tend to oppose help for those at the bottom of it

2.    All of us tend to want to be better off than our peers, even if this causes us to lose out in real terms

3.    1 and 2 are likely exacerbated by fears of those different from ourselves

Now the good news.

A similar combination of factors seems to indicate that:

1.    We have an instinct for cooperation

2.    We feel a need to avoid completely unfair dealing with others

Here’s an outline of some of the backing research:

Again, first the bad news.

1.    Those of us at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale tend to oppose help for those at the bottom of it.

This Economist piece describes a series of experiments that shed some light on why this happens.

In the experiments:

sums of money, separated by $1, and informed about the “income distribution” that resulted. They were then given another $2, which they could give either to the person directly above or below them in the distribution.

In keeping with the notion of “last-place aversion”, the people who were a spot away from the bottom were the most likely to give the money to the person above them: rewarding the “rich” but ensuring that someone remained poorer than themselves.

Why?  There are probably many reasons, but at least one has to do with our preference for

relative vs. absolute advantage.  

Which leads us to:

2.     All of us tend to want to be better off than are peers, even if this causes us to lose out in real terms.

In their excellent book Connected, Christakis and Fowler discuss classic experiments that demonstrate that people tend to prefer earning $33 grand if their peers earn 30 to earning $35 grand if their peers earn 38.  They attribute this to a deep seated need in all individuals to compete effectively within their own social networks for survival and reproduction; this need overrides any logical recognition of the benefits of earning more in absolute terms. (More on Christakis and Fowler in the good news, below).

On to:

3.    1 and 2 are likely exacerbated by fears of those different from ourselves.

Here's another excerpt from the Economist article:

...Broadly speaking, countries that are more ethnically or racially homogeneous are more comfortable with the state seeking to mitigate inequality by transferring some resources from richer to poorer people through the fiscal system. This may explain why Swedes complain less about high taxes than the inhabitants of a country of immigrants such as America. But it also suggests that even societies with a tradition of high taxes (such as those in Scandinavia) might find that their citizens would become less willing to finance generous welfare programmes were immigrants to make up a greater share of their populations. Immigration can also subtly alter the overall attitude towards such matters in another way. A 2008 study by economists at Harvard found evidence that immigrants’ attitudes towards taxation and redistribution were rooted in the places they had left.

Social divisions also play a role in determining who within a society prefers greater redistributive taxation. In America blacks—who are more likely to benefit from welfare programmes than richer whites—are much more favourably disposed towards redistribution through the fiscal system than white people are. A 2001 study looked at over 20 years of data from America’s General Social Survey and found that whereas 47% of blacks thought welfare spending was too low, only 16% of whites did. Only a quarter of blacks thought it was too high, compared with 55% of whites. In general (though not always), those who identify with a group that benefits from redistribution seem to want more of it.

So to sum up, we don't want to be at the bottom, we want more than our peers have, and differences in complexion exacerbate these tendencies.  

The  is illustrated by the fact that prominent conservative US opinion leaders no longer hesitate to be openly racist in promoting their agenda  (see Hunter's Rush Limbaugh: Racist).  

Limbaugh, who once joined others in condemning Trent Lott's gaffe supporting Strom Thurmond, now makes no attempt to appeal outside of the white demographic.  Why? Combining fear of hitting the bottom with fear of those who look different is an extremely effective way to block economic progress.

Now for the good news.

In the later sections of Connected, Christakis and Fowler point out that our tendency to form social networks also leads to both cooperation and punishment of free riders (don’t worry: it’s the definition of a “free rider” that counts, not the existence of it.  More below.)  

They describe experiments in which pairs of individual were put in the following situation:  person A would have one chance to decide how to divide $10 between the two and the division would happen only if person B accepted.  If B refused, the deal was off, and each would get nothing.

Classic economic theory would suggest that, were both individuals acting rationally, person A would offer B one penny (the least possible) ad B would accept (since B would still be better off than before the offer).  

This didn't happen often.  The As usually offered significantly more than one penny, seemingly knowing that the Bs would never accept a lower offer. Further, in a variation in which person B had to accept person A's decision no matter what, significant numbers of As still offered more than the minimum.  These results seem to indicate an instinct for fairness and or/an expectation of retribution for unfairness and/or and or/an expectation of reciprocity (a powerful social influence tool identified and studied by Robert Cialdini, see my post on the Politics of Persuasionfor more details).

Again, the authors attribute this to a human participation in social networks.  However, this is cooperative behavior, which they theorize may be due to evolutionary forces that lead to survival through group action.

So we have both competitive and cooperative instincts.   The problem with deep seated instincts, however, is that they evolved to help us survive as plains creatures hundred of thousands of years ago, and our environment has changed so rapidly that our instincts haven’t yet caught up.

Some of the competitive instincts can hurt us as individuals and as an entire society. They can also be exploited by the ruthless.  Bad news.

But the cooperative instincts can save us.  Good news.

So let’s re-sum up these sets of instincts and see what has been done, and what can be done, with them.

The bad news:

1.    Those of us at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale tend to oppose help for those at the bottom of it.

2.    All of us tend to want to be better off than our peers, even if this causes us to lose out in real terms

3.    1 and 2 are likely exacerbated by fears of those different from ourselves.

What comes out of this?  When you add the fact that the simple meme Group A is hurting Group B (pointed out by Douglas Hofstaderin Metamagica Themas), you get a message formula:

(They) (are screwing you) (by helping free riders).  They will make  (you) (worse off than some other).

How does the right wing use this formula?  Like this:

(Socialist Obamanites) (are giving your money away) (to lazy bums). Soon you won’t be any better than (insert racial minority here).

This is effective.  It appeals to deep-seated fears and it spreads like wildfire.  But it is the content of the formula that is the real problem, not the formula itself.  And the right has no monopoly on the formula.

What if we take into account the good news that

1.    We have an instinct for cooperation

2.    We feel a need to avoid completely unfair dealing with others

And then both modify the formula and change the content?

Here’s a suggestion:

First, appeal to the cooperative instinct by emphasizing we/us rather than you.  

(They) (are screwing us) (by helping free riders). (We must act) or (we’ll ) (be worse  off than some other).

Second, change the content to reflect the real problem.

(Corrupt politicians) are (giving away our jobs) (to help tax cheats).  (We must act) or (we’ll be worse off than the Third World).

This is emotionally appealing as well as true.

II. Separating the Exploiters from the Exploited

Keep this in mind whenever you deal with the Tea Party:

Never attack a movement's members, always attack its leaders. Attacking movements backfires, and splitting them wins the fight.

Cognitive dissonance (the academic theory, not the common usage) suggests that attacking the supporters may actually increase their level of commitment.

This is what happened immediately after W stole the 200o election. Many of us, myself, included, basically said to his followers "F*ck you!  We'll win the next one", which caused them to circle the wagons, even as W was starting to screw many of his supporters.  Instead we should have pointed out said screwing

It works like this: Say someone has two contradictory  ideas: "I smoke" and "Smoking is bad for me".  This causes discomfort, which must be resolved.  Unfortunately, it is usually resolved in an ego- protecting way, so you wind up with something like: "Smoking isn't bad for me" instead of "I'm stupid to be smoking and should quit".

If we make fun of a Tea Party  supporters, they hold the following ideas": I like my candidate's ideas" and "All these people say the ideas are crazy".  Well, no matter what the evidence for the lunacy, that's likely to resolve into "the ideas are right" instead of "I made a mistake".  This is particularly true if they see criticisms as hostile.

On the other hand, if a supporter holds the following ideas "I like this candidate" and "this candidate just said that s/he is going to screw me personally ", the supporter is more likely to question the candidate.

For a great exploration of cognitive dissonance, see Tavris and Aronson's Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts.

Every time we paint the Tea Partiers with a broad brush as racist gun-toting lunatics, we harden their stances. We need to attack and expose the leaders who claim to support them while acting against them.

Apropos Rusty Cannon's Some Common Ground with Teabaggers? In which a Tea Party rant regarding the threatened destruction of Social Security is detailed, there is a lot of legitimate anger coming from these folks regarding the economy, it is just powering the wrong party.  No less a prominent leftist than Noam Chomsky has pointed out that the lack of an organized Left has allowed the Tea Partiers to take their grievances in the wrong direction. As soon as the right begins to screw them, which it will, we need to make the case that progressives can provide the real solutions to the economic insecurity that has caused so much anger.

So what do we do?  We need to show, loudly and visibly every betray of the economic (and privacy) interests of Tea Partiers made by:


Campaign contributors

Political advisors

Sponsors of right wing media outlets

Et cetera

III. Common Goals

Bono of U2 famously got conservative Senator Jesse Helms, who was no friend of the gay community, to fund AIDS programs in Africa.


He found common ground:

From a 2002 Guardian article on the relationship: (emphasis by TGW)

Meanwhile, the US wing of Jubilee 2000 hit on the idea of persuading the Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Baptist, to write a letter to Baptist churches across southern US states explaining the Biblical principles behind debt cancellation. Suddenly, Bono found he had access to a swathe of strongly Christian Republicans compelled by his Biblical theme - what Bono calls "the melody line" of his pitch. "We knew we had to get both sides," he explains. "So we got Billy Graham and the Pope and I went to people like Jesse Helms, who had been very tough on the the concept of foreign assistance and very bleak on Aids. He's a religious man so I told him that 2103 verses of scripture pertain to the poor and Jesus speaks of judgment only once - and it's not about being gay or sexual morality, but about poverty. I quoted that verse of Matthew chapter 25: 'I was naked and you clothed me.' He was really moved. He was in tears. Later he publicly acknowledged that he was ashamed..."

See The Art of Woo Using Strategic Persuasion to Sell Your Ideas By G. Richard Shell; Mario Moussa for a further exploration of this)

We can learn a lot from this. And we had better do it quick.

(Some of this diary is reposted from previous diaries and comments.  However, it is in a new context)

Persuasion is the key to success in politics, whether it is aimed at one decision maker in a private meeting or at a crowd during a grass roots action.  The example above shows how a little imagination can help us persuade even seemingly intractable opponents toward a goal we seek.

To duplicate Bono's success, we need to leverage a couple of very interesting psychological principles.

First, understand that, according to one view , each of us is a set of different selves belonging to differnt groups. Key to this is that, depending on which group we identify with at the moment, we act differntly.(for an excellent sumary of this see Wendy Wood's review article ATTITUDE CHANGE: Persuasion and Social Infuence

How does this apply to Bono and Helms?

Well, we can argue that each of them belonged to the following sets of groups:

Bono: youth, Irish, rock stars, progressives, Christians

Helms: seniors, Americans, conservatives, Christians

Bono was not able to connect with Helms through many shared experiences or values except one: their mutual membership in the group "Christians".  This was the first step in Bono's successful persuasion.

Of course, he had to go farther.  "Christian" means a lot of things to a lot of people, but a definate piece of common ground for almost all Christians is the life of Jesus as described in the four Gospels.  So after establishing the common ground of group membership, Bono strengthend the bond by drawing on the most important piece of common ground held within the group.

It worked.

So how can we make this work for us?

By understanding the ways we do this all the time. Every time anyone says "man to man", "as a friend" or "my fellow Americans" he or she is establishing common ground.   Learning the mechanisms behing this allows us to do it consciously.

A look a the six "weapons of influence" identified by pioneering social psychologist Robert Cialdini is in order(I've diaried about these before, but in a different context, so bear with me):

Reciprocity - People tend to return a favor, thus the pervasiveness of free samples in marketing. In his conferences, he often uses the example of Ethiopia providing thousands of dollars in humanitarian aid to Mexico just after the 1985 earthquake, despite Ethiopia suffering from a crippling famine and civil war at the time. Ethiopia had been reciprocating for the diplomatic support Mexico provided when Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935. The good cop/bad cop strategy is also based on this principle.

Commitment and Consistency - If people commit, orally or in writing, to an idea or goal, they are more likely to honor that commitment because of establishing that idea or goal as being congruent with their self image. Even if the original incentive or motivation is removed after they have already agreed, they will continue to honor the agreement. For example, in car sales, suddenly raising the price at the last moment works because the buyer has already decided to buy. Cialdini notes Chinese brainwashing on American prisoners of war to rewrite their self image and gain automatic unenforced compliance. See cognitive dissonance.

Social Proof - People will do things that they see other people are doing. For example, in one experiment, one or more confederates would look up into the sky; bystanders would then look up into the sky to see what they were seeing. At one point this experiment aborted, as so many people were looking up that they stopped traffic. See conformity, and the Asch conformity experiments.

Authority - People will tend to obey authority figures, even if they are asked to perform objectionable acts. Cialdini cites incidents such as the Milgram experiments in the early 1960s and the My Lai massacre.

Liking - People are easily persuaded by other people that they like. Cialdini cites the marketing of Tupperware in what might now be called viral marketing. People were more likely to buy if they liked the person selling it to them. Some of the many biases favoring more attractive people are discussed. See physical attractiveness stereotype.

Scarcity - Perceived scarcity will generate demand. For example, saying offers are available for a "limited time only" encourages sales.

For the purposes of this discussion, Liking, Commitment and Consistency, and Social Proof and Authority are the most important.

This overview  Robert Cialdini's offers further insight into these principles.  

(all emphasis in citations provided by TGW)


People prefer to say yes to individuals they know and like....Compliance practitioners may regularly use several factors....

Similarity--is a second factor that influences both Liking and compliance. That is--we like people who are like us and are more willing to say yes to their requests, often without much critical consideration...

Increased familiarity--through repeated contact with a person or thing is yet another factor that normally facilitates Liking. But this holds true principally when that contact takes place under positive rather than negative circumstances. One positive circumstance that may work well is mutual and successful cooperation....

Bono invoked the Liking prinicple by establishing his similarity to Helms on matters of faith.

Commitment and Consistency

People have a desire to look consistent through their words, beliefs, attitudes and deeds...

Good personal consistency is highly valued by society.

Consistent conduct provides a beneficial approach to daily life....

Helms was public about his Christain faith and would have felt compelled to act on it once he had begun to agree with Bono.  He would have also wanted to act consistently with the words of Jesus he publicly held as truth.

Social Proof

...People often view a behavior as more correct in a given situation--to the degree that we see others performing it...

Similarity--people are more inclined to follow the lead of others who are similar.

Helms, as a member of the group Christians, would feel a need to act as he saw his fellow Chritians acting.  Bono provided a model of a charismatic Chirstian whose behavior Helms could look to in order to validate his actions.  More importantly, Bono painted an image of a compassionate Jesus Helms could emulate.


By invoking the Bible and the life of Jesus, Bono appealed to the ultimate authority in the life of a devout Christian.

Okay, that's Bono and Helms.  How do we do it?

Look at all the groups we and our targets of persuasion might actually belong to. They may not be obvious, but they could be key. Whether the group is political, religious, cultural or any other type is far less ikmportant than how it can provide a path to persuasion.

Examples of groups with possible common concerns"

Parents: pollution, childhood disease, gun violence, education

Dog owners:  humane treatment of animals

Atheletes: diabetes, obesity, physical education

Frank Zappa fans: freedom of speech

Members of any of these groups can come from the whole range of the political spectrum.  However, focusing on the common group can make the policies more important than the politics.

So how to emphsize group membership?

On the most basic level, keep in mind the Liking principle. Other movements understood this. Look at films of the Civil Rights marches: everyone was in their Sunday best. When I see tee-shirted, bearded and pierced activists trying to get signatures and donations in a busy business downtown, it make me nuts. I have no problem with the style, but it would be more useful at a concert. If you want business professionals to stop and talk, dress like them. If you want Soccer Moms or NASCAR Dads to support you, don't bang a bongo at a World Bank protest, dress and act in a way that makes them sympathize with you; put on a sports jersey.

We need to be a movement, not an exclusive club. If that means doing the modern version of getting clean for Gene once in a while, we should do it.

Commitment and Consistency lends all sorts of possiblilities.  Common ground can be established though any publicized and respected statement or document:

    For example:

    The Bible: Many religious groups are to the right on social issues, but to the left on economic issues. According to legend, Henry Hyde one remarked of the US Catholic Bishops that "they are with us on abortion, but on everything else they are a bunch of socialists." The difference in the approaches of the two parties to these folks is: the Republicans ask for their votes based on their agreement on social issues while the Democrats wait for their votes based on agreement on economic issues.

     But, as Tip O' Neil famously said, "People like to be asked". The Democrats need to ask for religious voters' support based on the issues they agree on, just as the Republicans do. (For a very informative look at a religious group pushing for social justice see the Sojourners: Christians for Justice and Peace)

    The Constitution:  The Republicans made a strategic error by insisting that the Constitution be read aloud in the House.  From this point on, every time they propose an encroachment on the rights spelled out in that document, a Democrat can argue "this flies in the face of the Constitution, which I remins my collegue was read into the record at his/her party's insistence.  Have our principles suddenly changed?"

Authority would also be relevant to each of the above examples.

Now, the Constitution example above would have been in a public argument where one side scores point with the audience.  On a personal level, a persuasive dialogue could be more useful.  How could it work?

By owning the words.  Terms everyone uses can allow the side that defines them to establish and control common ground.  For example, everyone believes in "National Security", but few think about its definition.  Owning the terms can allow you to persuade others to endorse a policy.

Example dialogue:

Start with the premise that he purpose of national security is to protect the lives and property of the citizenry.  No conservative is going to argue with that.  Hell, throw in "from threats within and without" and you'll still get agreement.

So, with heads nodding all around start asking if they mind paying taxes for defense and security.

You'll get agreement.

Ask: do you like a good return on investment?


Do you lock just your front door and leave your back door open?

Hell, no!

So, do we defend just against outside threats or do we look inside as well?


Would you defend against a chemical attack in the US?

You bet?

No matter who it came from?

You bet: I'd start kicking ass!

So, if some terrorist put cancer causing chemicals in our water, you'd want to kick ass?


Well, let's go get (insert local polluting company here).  Grab your pitchfork.

Now rinse and repeat the argument for property.  Start talking about the mafia (who everyone will agree are criminals), move to people's back accounts, and end with Wall Street.

While this may only convert a few, if any serious conservatives, it will work on independents.  The key is defining the debate.  If you can do that, you win 9 times out of ten.

This can get even deeper, as you go from owning the tems to activating the worldview.  As mentioned above, one view states that we have differnt selves at different times.  Dovetailing with this view is George Lakoff's view that we all hold two concepts of family that guide our political views.  

As I understand it, here is a very simplified version:

1.  Politics are an expression of concepts of the family
2.Most people hold two concepts of the family simultaneously, though one is dominant:

     A.  Strong father (dominant in conservatives)
     B.  Nurturant parent (dominant in progressives)

There are many differences in the worldviews, but the key for this argument is that the strong father model holds that children ought to be taught to support and fend for themselves in an inherently bad world, while the nurturant parent model holds that children should be taught to nurture others in an improvable world.

However, a key thing to remember is that different models can be used by the same people in different situations or for different reasons.  A conservative can understand the dynamics of the Cosby show, for example; and a  pro-labor progressive can be very conservative at home.  How you activate a model with your message can make or break the success of the message.

So examples of how to appeal to conservatives include either appealing the nurturant parent model in them at a time when it is dominant (for example, in a relevant non-political group such as a large playdate) or,

Appealing in a way that works with the strict father model.  For example:

1. Frame corporate exploitation as a threat to young children who are not yet able to fend for themselves, as opposed to adults, who, in the strong father model, can fend for themselves.
2. Further frame this exploitation as interfernce in a parent's efforts to raise children (e.g. "How dare they use their money to tell you what to do?  Debt is their way of pushing you around")
2. Frame the corporate takeover of America as an interference just as dangerous, if not more so, than that of government.

See Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate--The Essential Guide for Progressives, by George Lakoff. See also: Cognitive Policy Wonks and The Progressive Strategy Handbook Project

The point of all this is that it is not enough to be right, you have to be convincing.  The opposition tells some very convincing lies, we have tried to answers them with unconvincing truths.  But convincing truths will win every time out of the box.

This is a key moment.  Let's grab it as one.


Recommended reading/listening/viewing  for radicals:

The incomparable Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals. Online preview here  

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. by Robert Cialdini. This is the single most valuable book I have read on how to persuade and how to avoid being persuaded.

Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate--The Essential Guide for Progressives, by George Lakoff. See also: Cognitive Policy Wonks and The Progressive Strategy Handbook Project

Frank Luntz: everything he’s written.  He's a conservative message master, and you have to know the enemy.    Remember the great scene in Patton, when the victorious general shouted: “Rommel! You magnificent son of a bitch!  I READ YOUR BOOK!”

Making the News: A Guide for Activists and Nonprofits, By Jason Salzman

The Campaign Manager: Running and Winning Local Elections, By Catherine Shaw

How To Win A Local Election,by Lawrence Grey

The Opposition Research Handbook: Guide to Political Investigations

Guerrilla Marketing

Chomsky.Info  Many of Noam Chomsky’s insightful and frightening analysesRobert Newman’s History of Oil Thanks to GreyHawk for recommending this.

Originally posted to TheGrandWazoo on Sat Oct 29, 2011 at 12:13 PM PDT.

Also republished by J Town.

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