Saturday, July 19, 2014

How to Win on Progressive Causes

Maybe this post should have been called how not to win on progressive causes. I'm always astonished at people who lose sight of what they're trying to accomplish by pursuing side arguments they poorly understand while their style of argument undermines even the side issue.

Maha at Mahablog has written extensively and wisely on the subject. Here's one of Maha's careful but blunt comments that comes right to the point as about clearly as one can:
Years ago I formulated a basic rule for successful demonstrating that I call the “Bigger Asshole” rule. The job of public protesters is not to change the minds of the powerful people they are opposing, but to gain public sympathy for their cause. Especially in politics, the powerful won’t change until they are compelled to do so by a sufficient critical mass of public opinion saying they must.

Maha elaborates further in the comment section of her post:
This is the whole point of the Bigger Asshole rule. You are not trying to change the minds of people you directly oppose. You are trying to win everybody else to sympathize with you more than with the people you oppose. Public support and sympathy give you some leverage to actually change things. Not having it means you are whistling in the wind.

Years ago, I talked about a related issue concerning what I called persuadables, the small but important percentage of people who are actually willing to listen. But Maha's point is a larger one involving a much larger group. One way to look at it is that when you argue with an opponent, you need to remember who the real audience is: the people who are looking over your shoulder and are listening in. How you conduct yourself is as important as what you say (as an example, you don't put up with bullying, but you work hard to make sure you don't become a bully yourself).

Monday, July 14, 2014

Reminder from the George W. Era

In 2004, near the end of George W. Bush's first tern, my wife and I were among several dozen people being honored for volunteer work for a government agency that has major environmental responsibilities in the local community. It was more a social occasion, but like a number of other volunteers, we were receiving our ten year pins.

There had been concern that some staff changes had been made and that one of our favorite people was more or less being kicked upstairs and sideways into a research program that kept him away from environmental issues. Weirdly, his replacement spent twenty minutes "honoring" Ronald Reagan, who had passed away a couple of weeks earlier. This was the year the Bush Administration spent an entire month honoring the former president. I can't recall anything like this in my lifetime. The period of mourning was usually a week or less when a former president died.

It didn't take long to figure out what was going on. We already knew that the longer than usual "mourning" was being cynically used by Bush to distract from his many problems. It quickly became clear that our new manager was a Bush person and she was thoroughly pleased to be spending twenty minutes talking about Reagan. Many in the audience, including myself, found ourselves looking at one another.

It was clear the new manager was a political appointee and not someone who had earned her way up through management. To this day, I'm not sure how many people realize many of these low level appointees from the George W. Bush years are still in positions that they might not have earned otherwise. In addition, it is highly probable that some of these appointees were illegal. The early 2000s were a strange era. We are in serious danger of that era returning if voters don't start paying closer attention to the radical right.

Why do I mention this? Because many politicians and officials on the right are bending and sometimes breaking the law to get their way. Even the Supreme Court, with Scalia apparently leading the way, is coming up with rationales that haven't been seen in almost a century.