This diary and others to follow (if people here find this one useful) was inspired by a diary from thereisnospoon, entitled: "No One Is Going To Save You Fools":
But until you understand just what you're up against and why, you're going to continue to lose, and look like fools in the process.
Barack Obama has indeed sold you out. He and many of his Democratic colleagues have sold you out on healthcare, and they've sold you out on financial reform. You were looking for a savior, and you've been had--not an altogether atypical result for those looking for a strong leader to "save" them.
While I don’t for a minute consider this community fools, I do share the authors opinion that you have been, are right now and likely will continue to be outmaneuvered to an extent that you are unaware of. I would not necessarily characterize every politician as a "sell out", but I assert that all politicians are part of an extremely sophisticated system that has numerous feedback loops designed to maintain the status quo and current balance of power. Unless the structure of the system is changed, replacing players within the system will have little effect. I will elaborate more on this at the end of this diary.
He hasn't done this because he's a bad guy. In fact, he's a great guy. I think he's doing pretty much the best job he can. He's sold you out because he's not afraid of you. And really, if I may be so bold, he shouldn't be afraid of you. You don't know who really runs the show, and you're far too fickle and manipulable to count on.
I’m always amazed on how easily people can be manipulated - what they perceive, what they believe and even how they think. Most people will deny this, but one can easily drive this point home with an experiment and a set of images derived from the following:
This is discussed on our blog with the other two images:
We have performed this experiment several times and get comparable results. We randomly assign participants into three groups. The first group is a control group that is shown only Figure 1. Somewhere between 55 and 60 percent of the people usually describe the image as that of a young woman. The next group was first shown Figure 2 for about ten seconds, followed immediately by Figure 1. Somewhere between 95 and 99 percent of the people usually describe Figure 1 as that of a young woman. The final group was first shown Figure 3 for about ten seconds, followed immediately by Figure 1. Somewhere between 90 and 95 percent of the people usually describe Figure 1 as that of an old woman.
For each of the primed groups, people’s interpretations were locked-in to the frame they were initially exposed to. It took less than ten seconds for this subtle influence to work its magic. What is most amusing is the conviction of the participants regarding their interpretation. If you pit a member of the second and third groups against one another, you often will have a heated exchange regarding how Figure 1 should be interpreted. If less than 10 seconds can have this effect, imagine the influence when we are repeated exposed to particular frames.
This is just perception. The research on psychological manipulation and persuasion is large and the results embarrassing for those who deny their susceptibility to this.
From thereisnospoon’s diary:
And each and every one of you is being taken for fools. You work for an election or two to put chosen leaders in place, and expect those leaders to work their "leadership" magic to ram reforms down the throats of the corporate sector, failing to understand just how fully the corporate sector holds the cards. It's not the campaign contributions: it's the persuasion money.
You're looking for a savior. And like that Savior of biblical fame, s/he isn't coming
I agree completely with the last two sentences. No one is going to save you. Quoting from Mahatma Gandhi: "You must be the change you want to see in the world."
From thereisnospoon’s diary:
If you want to win, you will ORGANIZE. You will organize in the same way the Right has done for the last 40 years, and you will spend money on persuasion, where it really matters. You will, in short, make the politicians as afraid of you as they are of them. The Right has built vast networks of think tanks, newspapers, periodicals, cable news channels, and political advocacy organizations to spread their finely tuned, well-honed messages. Their politicians may fail them, and their actual policies may be deeply unpopular, but their message machine nearly always works its magic to get them what they want, even when Democrats are in power.
In politics, persuasion and how you craft a message is critical. It is the same in business. Many people have heard of a USP - Unique Selling Proposition. This is just the tip of the iceberg – it represents a single piece of a marketing strategy. The marketing strategy, however, should not stand alone - for maximum effect, it should be aligned with the overall strategy of the business. I assert that the same is true in politics.
Fundamentally, strategy is about turning your goals into reality. In business, one typically has competitors. Most of the time, you are all completing for market share. In politics, you generally have opponents. Strategies that work well for managing competition may work less well or not at all when dealing with opposition. Nevertheless, one must start with an overall political strategy and then fine tune and hone your message to be in alignment with that strategy for maximal effect. This is the impetus for this diary. The diary from thereisnospoon focused on persuasion and message. Mine will focus on strategy. When I look at many of your opponents, I see outstanding strategy in play. I fail to see that on your side. Of course, we may have a difference of opinion regarding who your real opponents are. :)
One of my prime objectives in this first diary is to convince you of the importance of strategy and how, what initially may appear to be theoretical mumbo jumbo, has immense applicability. So what would be more relevant for this community than to examine the very purpose of DailyKos. For those who are open to the message, I’m confident that I can convince you of the importance of strategy. I’m aware that I’m risking turning a few people off because they might not like my assessment, but that is a risk I will accept.
Markos Moulitsas Zúñiga has stated quite clearly the purpose of DailyKos:
This is a Democratic blog, a partisan blog. One that recognizes that Democrats run from left to right on the ideological spectrum, and yet we're all still in this fight together.
Liberal? Yeah, we're around here and we're proud. But it's not a liberal blog. It's a Democratic blog with one goal in mind: electoral victory.
If everyone here agreed, I wouldn’t bother using this particular example. However, having read this blog since its inception, I know better. A poster by the tag dvogel001 wrote the diary entitled: "What is the real purpose of DKos?" not long ago:
Only 136 people voted in the poll, but 53% of those believed that: "The real purpose of DKos is...To elect more and better Democrats and promote a reform agenda." Even Markos stated:
And since we haven't gotten any of that from the current crew, we're one more thing: a reform blog.
The battle for the party is not an ideological battle. It's one between establishment and anti-establishment factions. And as I've said a million times, the status quo is untenable.
The part I want to focus on is "elect[ing] more and better Democrats." The author states: "we re-double our efforts at strategically replacing those with voting records not progressive enough for their constituents with better Democrats." This makes perfect sense, correct? There are "bad" Democrats in Congress who are not progressive enough for their constituents and the problem will be solved by replacing these "bad" Democrats with "good" Democrats.
So it appears that for some people on this site (if not a majority), the real goal is enactment of progressive policy and the strategy is getting more progressive (ie "good") Democrats elected. I also visit conservative blogs, and would it surprise you to learn that conservatives say the same thing? Just replace Democrat with Republican and progressive with conservative.
So, how effective has this strategy been? It would be good to have an objective measure. Some might recommend the following:
Look carefully on how this score is defined and calculated:
The Progressive Position" by definition, is the position of the majority of the Progressives. The "Conservative Position" is the position of the majority of the Republicans.
This is tautological in nature. You are really looking at the gap between the progressives and the conservatives. Yet, you could shift the voting record of every member of Congress further to the right without altering the gap.
There is no surefire objective way to compute how progressive, or for that matter how conservative, a member of Congress is. A lot of thought went into coming up with this methodology. That doesn't mean it can't be critiqued. What we have done is to try to take human beings out of the equation as much as possible.
While this is admirable, I don’t find this assessment measure useful for my purposes. Unfortunately, I have no objective measure here, so my comments will be subjective. It appears to me that many progressives are disillusioned with their success at getting Democrats elected. Electoral victory has been achieved, but that is not the ultimate goal is it? In the 2006 elections, Democrats won both the House and the Senate (the 2 Independents caucusing with the Democrats) as well as the majority of state governorships. You now have a substantial majority in the House, had the magic number 60 in the Senate and won the White House as of 2008. Yet, where is the progressive legislation? Where’s the true change?
As someone who knows just as many Republicans as Democrats, this was the same feeling many (true) conservatives had after the November 2002 elections. So what is the problem? From my perspective, this is exactly what I’d expect and predict. I don’t find it a bit surprising.
In reality this example is completely non-partisan. It is a common refrain from both Republicans and Democrats on how unresponsive members of Congress here in the US are to their constituents. It is conventional wisdom that most members of Congress are corrupt and if the people could just elect "good" Democrats or "good" Republicans, the situation would rectify itself. In other words, people need to vet their politicians better and be certain that only politicians that pledge to be responsive to their constituents will get voted into office. Conventional wisdom dictates that is a good strategy. It is just common sense that putting good people in the right positions will produce the desired results.
Well actually, if the structure of the system is such that there are strong rewards and threats (carrots and sticks) to follow big money interests at the exclusion of the interests of constituents, systems thinking predicts that will be the dominant behavior regardless of who is placed in the position. In other words, you can throw the bums out, replace them all with a new batch of politicians and still preserve the status quo. This phenomenon is very shocking to most people for two reasons – a common bias in thinking and a fundamental misunderstanding regarding how systems can powerfully influence behavior.
The common bias in thinking is called the fundamental attribution error. This bias occurs partly because of how human perception operates. When we look at a situation, we immediately notice individuals acting and making decisions. The context in which this happens is less obvious. Consequently, we often overattribute actions and consequences to individuals rather than to the constraints under which they operate. A person’s actions may or may not be deliberate or they may not even be aware of what they are doing. Finally, a person’s actions may have unintended consequences. One way to minimize the fundamental attribution error is to discern whether most people behave the same way when put in the same situation. In this case, the situation is more likely to be the cause of the behavior than the person’s disposition.
Our blog has more information on this error since it is so common:
When a new person is placed within a system in a role that is subjected to information flows, incentives and disincentives, conflicting goals and the constraints of that position, they begin to feel the pressures of that role and frequently respond in exactly the same manner as others have in identical situations. There are numerous examples that justify that assertion. One of the most famous is the Standard prison experiment. Twenty-four undergraduates were selected out of 70 to play the roles of both guards and prisoners and live in a mock prison in the basement of the Stanford psychology building. Roles were assigned at random. They adapted to their roles well beyond that expected, leading the guards to display to authoritarian and even draconian behavior, even when there was nothing inherent in their individual personalities to suggest that result. Results from other experiments are consistent with these conclusions. So in very complex systems with strict incentives and disincentives, conflicting goals and other constraints, undesirable behavior rarely changes when individuals are replaced unless the underlying structure of the system is altered.
I’ve mentioned systems thinking, but have not defined it. I’ll address this in another diary since it is vital to strategy. A good non-technical introduction can be found in this book by Donella Meadows:
From Thinking in Systems A Primer
Donella H. Meadows
Chelsea Green Publishing Company
She discusses this very common phenomenon:
Suppose you are for some reason lifted out of your accustomed place in society and put in the place of someone whose behavior you have never understood. Having been a staunch critic of government, you suddenly become part of government. Or having been a laborer in opposition to management, you become management (or vice versa). Perhaps having been an environmental critic of big business, you find yourself making environmental decisions for big business. Would that such transitions could happen much more often, in all directions, to broaden everyone’s horizons!
In your new position, you experience the information flows, the incentives and disincentives, the goals and discrepancies, the pressures – the bounded rationality – which goes with that position. It’s possible that you could retain your memory of how things look from another angle, and you burst forth with innovations that transform the system, but it'’ distinctly unlikely. If you become a manager, you probably will stop seeing labor as a deserving partner in production, and start seeing it as a cost to be minimized. If you become a financier, you will over invest during booms and underinvest during busts, along with all the other financiers. If you become very poor, you will see the short-term rationality, the hope, the opportunity, the necessity of having many children. If you are now a fisherman with a mortgage on your boat, a family to support, and imperfect knowledge of the state of the fish population, you will overfish.
We teach this point by playing games in which students are put into situations in which they experience the realistic, partial information streams seen by various actors in real systems. As simulated fisherman, they overfish. As ministers of simulated developing nations, they favor the needs of their industries over the needs of their people. As the upper class, they feather their own nests; as the lower class, they become apathetic or rebellious. So would you. In the famous Stanford prison experiment by psychologist Philip Zimbardo, players even took on, in an amazingly short time, the attitudes and behaviors of prison guards and prisoners.
Seeing how individual decisions are rational within the bounds of the information available does not provide an excuse for narrow-minded behavior. It provides an understanding of why that behavior arises. Within the bounds of what a person in that part of the system can see and know, the behavior is reasonable. Taking out one individual from a position of bounded rationality and putting in another person is not likely to make much difference. Blaming the individual rarely helps create a desirable outcome.
This is not something most people want to hear, because many people spend enormous amounts of time, effort, energy and money helping politicians get elected only to be disillusioned when the politicians don’t live up to their expectations.
Electing "good" Democrats or "good" Republicans will likely have no affect on the status quo. Just in the past ten years, corporations and special interests groups have spent $23 billion to lobby Congress and federal agencies. The influence-lobbying complex is estimated to be greater than 250,000 people for a mere 537 elected officials and are armed with a sophisticated set of rewards and threats to get their way. Until the structure of the system is changed, which by the way I assert has been deliberately and strategically engineered to work this way, tossing the bums out will likely have only minor effects.
One more point I’d like to make on this and the relationship of different kinds of thinking to strategy. Strategy is often counter-intuitive. In fact the best strategy is almost always counter-intuitive. It requires a different kind of thinking than the reductionist, analytical thinking emphasized in our educational system. Professional strategists are frequently called on to gut the opposition to a particular agenda. What are some good strategies for doing so? There are many and they fall into several different categories. There are of course defensive strategies. Mount a vigorous defense when the opposition comes after you. There are offensive strategies where you go on the attack. Everyone understands these. I personally avoid them if at all possible. The resulting situation can get messy, often ugly and can be unpredictable.
Are there other ways? Absolutely. If pulled off correctly, you can gut the opposition without the opposition even knowing they have been disarmed. Simply control and manipulate the opposition, preferably even before they get organized. An excellent strategy for disarming them is to have them sold on a strategy that will not work – a strategy that makes sense to the opposition because of their flawed thinking, but will in practice result in failure. You want them to become a hamster on a wheel. You want them to work harder and harder, move faster and faster, invest more and more resources...and get absolutely no where. And for those who will claim this is a conspiracy theory. HaHaHa. I guarantee you with 100% certainty this gets done all the time. I’m NOT suggesting that "electing more and better Dems" is an example of this. Nor am I suggesting that that "electing more and better Dems" is a bad idea based on your agenda. I just don’t think it is a promising strategy as is. I am asserting that flawed thinking can be used against you in ways you might not have even contemplated.
If you’re strategy isn’t working, maybe you should rethink your strategy.
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
The main purpose of this first diary is to convince you of the importance of strategy. Many of you want to advance populist and/or progressive policies and to be successful at that you will need more than strategy. You will need an entire infrastructure for idea and message generation, drafting of legislation, litigation, voter registration, media monitoring, public relations and much more. Nevertheless, it all needs to be driven by a coherent strategy. Strategy is your starting point.
We haven’t discussed what strategy even is or how one becomes a good strategist. I’ll address this in the next couple of diaries. I intend to post at least three diaries and then gage your response before I proceed further. I’ll post the first three in close succession and if there is an interest I’ll try and add one or two a month. Our organization has recently created a channel on YouTube, which you can find at:
The first video is an Introduction To Strategy. It is very general, but has some useful information that I haven’t touched on here.
A pdf summary of this video can be found on our website:
Almost everything on our website, our blog and our YouTube channel is fairly academic in nature. That certainly doesn’t mean this stuff doesn’t have immense practical applicability. That is what I will attempt to do with these diaries. I’ll try and show how this impacts you directly but I will also try and tie practical applications to the underlying theory where possible. I intend to keep these diaries educational in nature and non-partisan. Most everything I have to say could just as easily be posted on a Republican blog.
Strategy is a tool. It is also a multi-billion dollar industry.
From thereisnospoon’s diary:
As long as people like me are out there, and most of them are willing to work for the highest bidder, you'll need to stop looking for saviors, and instead learn to fight fire with fire.
The upcoming battles won't wait for us, and there won't be anyone coming to save us but ourselves.
Strategy is your fire.