A bit of simple framing and communication for forward thinking activists and candidates: A Long Title

In the interests of transparency, I have chosen to refer to those folks commonly known as conservatives as Backwards, which is a noun. Conversely, I refer to those who have been called progressives or liberals as Forwards. I do this because both the words liberal and progressive, and the word conservative, have been co-opted by any number of people claiming to be one or the other. Forwards are forward-looking thinkers who frame looking forward. Backwards are those whose framing moves backward or simply treads water.

I have no interest in merging these categories with political parties, although that would be tempting. I know Republicans who are forward thinkers and Democrats who are hopelessly looking backward. That is not the issue. For me, the idea is to live in the present moment, where we can reflect on and learn from the past and plan for and look to the future, together. This is, or should be, the goal of Forwards’ framing. They should start by talking about values before issues. This might seem unusual. Bear with me.

Framing requires we stay in the moment. The past has already happened and the future has not. We stay in the present because it is the only place that allows us to move someone’s consciousness from the past into the future. It is the anchor that lets us move from the dead values of the past to the possibilities of the future. As Richard Alpert once said “Be Here Now”. Only if we are in the moment can we really be with the people (or person) we are persuading. You have to be with them. They won’t go by themselves.

Staying in the moment means that we don’t talk about values we don’t share, neither partially or at all. We understand, respect and learn from the past but we don’t need to go and go and keep going there. We connect with people in the present to move them to a future you know will improve their lives. This means we must do a better job of respecting and appreciating all people and their values, regardless of who they are and what those values are. That’s a given. However, when speaking to anyone, either in person or through other media, we should really only talk about values we are certain we share with everybody, plus those we might share with each other. It is those universal, shared values that will move people.

Although we should respect Backwards’ values there is no reason to mention the values we do not share. Backwards already know their values. There is no need to remind them, as they will remind themselves quite easily and efficiently. It is also true that Forwards sometimes, actually often, well, to be honest, always, need to be reminded of their own values, as they tend to think their issues are values and they need to keep on topic. We must talk about our values as well as our shared values. The values we do not share, that is, if they are only Backwards’ values, should not be mentioned, except perhaps to acknowledge they exist.  Forwards’ values should always be mentioned if only to remind us of what they are.

Once again, please don’t start with values we don’t share, neither partially or at all. I cannot emphasize this enough, although I am trying. Of course, we should do a better job of respecting and appreciating all people and their values, regardless of who they are and what those values are. However, when speaking to people, either in person or through other media, we should really only talk about values we are certain we share with everybody, plus those we share with each other. Sometimes we need to persuade people to look deep enough inside themselves to realize that yes, verily we share those values. People won’t realize they share your values if you don’t tell them what your values are.

We need to articulate our values. This can be tricky for Forwards. Forwards often confuse issues with values. They assume their values are universal. Their issues reflect those ‘universal’ values, which they think everyone does or should accept as universal. This is part of the reason many Forwards cannot fathom how Backwards can disagree with their issues. They don’t understand the first thing about how Backwards values, how they think, and speak. They often don’t even understand how they think and speak themselves.

What are values? Values are the reasons why we promote issues. They are why we care about the issues. The issues themselves are not the reasons. They are not the why. Issues illuminate and identify problems. They lay the groundwork for how to solve them. They are the how. Policies are the proposed solutions to the problems. We only talk about policy at the very end of the conversation. Policies are the what. To reiterate, values are the why, issues are the how, and policy is the what. Never start with the what. Start with the why followed by the how. We are not talking about policy here. Policy is flexible, malleable. We start with the concrete, the firm., our values. Above all, don’t confuse the why. Issues are not the why.

So how do we distinguish values from issues? And what are some Forwards’ values? Consider the reason we care about an issue. Consider the why. Why is this issue important to us? For example, many Forwards have issue with the wide and widening income gap in America. Why? Because they feel all work is valuable and every worker should be able to support a family and have the stability of owning a home and the ability to do more than just survive. Notice that the only one of those things that could be considered a moral issue (and all issues are moral in nature) is the income gap. That is a thing, a problem to be addressed. Saying all work is valuable is not a thing. It is a concept, an idea, It is a reason for being concerned about the issue.

Politicians spend a lot of time trying to figure out what to do about issues. And Forward politicians don’t often talk about why they try to solve problems. They assume their audience knows why. The audience usually does know why but they would like to know the politician knows why too. Otherwise they tune out. They have heard politicians say they are going to do something many times but it rarely ever gets done. Other politicians answer a question by asking another question. People want to hear what you think. They already know what they think.

When a politician answers that ‘this is important and here’s why’ the audience might be inclined to think this person actually cares about my issue. They will listen. They will listen to how the candidate thinks the issue should be approached. When they say what they are doing or will do to solve the problem the audience is likely to think that if anyone can get this done maybe this person can. They might actually get something done.

To summarize, the values we do not share, if they are only Backwards’ values, should not be mentioned.  Forwards’ values should always be mentioned if only to remind us of what they are. To persuade start with the why to pique people’s interest and keep their attention. Modern people have been watching too many music videos. They have short attention spans. Then, address how the issue is should be dealt with. Is it feasible, does it have support, how can we can get it done? Only then should you say what you think we should do about it. People might think that you might actually care about them, that you aren’t just looking for their vote. They might even want to support you in some way, even if they don’t agree with everything you say. Why? Because you had the courage to say it.

Is that confusing enough?

Genetic Political Tendencies

I have heard it said that facts and evidence mean nothing to one third of all Americans. I’m not so certain that is true. I think that facts mean something to everyone. It’s just that one third of us accept different facts and evidence than perhaps you or I do. Or our neighbor. They accept the facts and evidence that support their world view. I believe world view has a genetic component but not in the same way the researchers do. I feel the way a brain processes information about how the world works has two variables and three genetic markers. Three markers using two variables give us four separate categories of person rather than a simple, dualist, two or a slightly more blended three.

Using X and Y to indicate the variables, a person spreading those variables over three markers could be XXX, XXY, XYY, or YYY. In this instance the percentages would breakdown to @ 25% per result. The two sets featuring three of the same would be at the opposite ends of the perception continuum and the other two would make up the middle 50%. The middle segment with 2 XXs would be inclined @ 33% to always agree with the triple X side, likewise with the two Y dominant segments. The remaining parts of the two ‘mixed’ segments would both be able to perceive the world in a combination of both X and Y. This gives us 3 segments of the population, one third of whom see the world predominantly one way, one third another, and one third a combination of both.

One might say that to divide the population genetically into three such segments one would only need two variables and two markers. This would play out as XX, XY, and YY. That would not take into consideration that politically there are those who lean left or lean right while in the middle segment. Three markers imply that there are leaners both toward the X and the Y even while considering only two variables. Our two party system is what constantly wants to push the four into two. At best it can only compress the demographics into three significant political teams

This, of course, is a crude approximation of how things really are but it does take into consideration that genetic traits are not distributed in a black/white, 50/50 manner. Certain genes are dominant, certain are recessive. Two parents, both with blue eyes, can have a brown eyed baby or a hazel eyed child. Two genetically conservative parents can have a liberal child or perhaps even an apolitical one.

The two opposing ways the brain perceives the world indicate a genetic predilection to accept informations and stimuli that support one worldview over the other and reject that which does not support it, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. But not everyone is so black and white in how they interpret stimuli. If we are to accept that the brain has anything to do with how we see the world politically we must accept that none of our brains are exactly alike. We can, however, approximate how the proclivities breakdown. The one third, one third, one third breakdown can clearly be seen in virtually any political poll. Regardless of how radical an idea is there will be somewhere between one quarter and one third of the people who support it. Approximately one third of those polled with be against supporting it and the other one third won’t be sure.

The Cognitive Linguist George Lakoff refers to those people called political centrists or moderates as bi-conceptuals. Two conceptual variables spread over three demographic segments. That middle third of the continuum, the ones who can see the world somewhat from both sides of the spectrum comprise this category of moderates or centrists, Lakoff’s bi-conceptuals. It is here where the almighty swing voter lives and it is there where politicians invest most of their energy. It is this emphasis on courting the swing voter that causes those on the edges of issues and the fringes of demographics to complain that politicians don’t listen to them and only come to see them when they need their vote. 

Scientists are finding that virtually all human activity originates in and is mostly controlled by the brain. Our brains are subject to genetic coding like any other part of our physicality. Genetics shows us that the differentiation between two variables is not split fifty/fifty but is spread over a spectrum of possibilities. The fact their are only two major parties fits cleanly with the two genetic variables in how the brain perceives politics. But the diverse dispersion of political views across the continuum always creates situations where it is difficult for the major parties to present a united front to the voter. In the long term, when push comes to shove in the voting booth the two variable choice lead to a nearly even split of the vote, every time.

I have found it fascinating that genetics appears to best explain the apparent contradiction of a populace with a wide variety of political views, when asked to choose between two choices, will split nearly even over a large sample. It may seem odd to talk about political viewpoints in terms of biology but politics is not the only field of social interaction where the biology of the brain must be considered an integral part of the dynamic. Scientists have now mapped the final parts of the human genome and slowly we will begin to see even more and more definitive connections between our genetics and our day to day lives.

As we slowly unlock God’s secrets we must also hand over our own secrets lest they yet divide us.

Culturally accepted norms and the value of work.

To my mind there is an underlying issue that is not being addressed in the issue of class warfare or economic inequity. There are several major goals of the average American that are not only tolerated but respected and nearly universally desired. People are considered smart and are looked up to for success in attaining these goals. In America they are socially accepted concepts, often supported by media and familial education.

These goals are to make money without working, get things without paying for them and to use whatever means you can to avoid paying taxes. You know it’s true. Culturally accepted and praised norms based on dubious values are responsible for plenty of our problems as a society. These false premises are primarily upheld by the passing down of those concepts from parent to child and have thus become cycles that are extremely difficult to break.

One example is our basic acceptance of violence as the preferred method of conflict resolution in America. Fathers tell their sons to ‘be a man’ and hit the other guy if he hits you. While this appears to be an effective way of resolving conflict the result is often an adult for whom violence is normalized. A young person need not be told to use violence to normalize it. They often see it on a daily basis in their own homes.

So much of the economic disparity in this country stems from a distorted view of the value of work. Why is the worth of a football player’s work or a professional corporate meeting attendee so much more than that of the woman who empty the trash at the office? Because we allow it to. As long as we acquiesce to the insistence that some work is more valuable than others we will have philosophical economic inequalities.

The wealthy are so often portrayed as hard working.

What about the wealthy who hardly work?

Contradictions. Or Contradictions.

There are a limited number of basic and meaningful things that happen in a human being’s life. There is nothing in this world that we can name that is infinite. Excepting perhaps infinity. The only thing that makes life limitless is the fact that it is limited. A relationship can be concurrently both absolute and relative. Herein we will be discussing contradictions, seeming and otherwise, and what they mean to us.

As we mature we find that life is not so complicated as we may imagine it. We are all prone to experience any or all of existence’s aspects, regardless of our particular viewpoint or place in life. These experiences can be felt as individually unique and separate from other people’s perceptions and consciousness. Or they can be known to be individualized, but related, experiences of those finite and essential human flavors. These states of being have infinite permutations. Our first contradiction.

Although not so complicated, life is never totally clear, cut, and dried. In the words of Winston Churchill, people’s and nation’s intentions are often “A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”. Life is full of these irreconcilable contradictions. What may be assumed to be an individual experience can subconsciously be informed by a group narrative and what may be thought of as mutual can in reality be simply an imagined commonality. Both of those points of view originate in obvious flaws, of thought, perceived reality, or ignorance. They can also come from the skewed views of normal unique to one’s family of origin.

A primary subconscious influence that distorts our perceived reality is the concept of privilege. Privilege is nearly always invisible to its owner. Its contradictory nature stems from the fact that it is a reality that distorts their perception of reality. The distortion, oblivious to the owner, all too often leads to the oppression of the unprivileged by the unaware, privileged soul.

People feel their privilege is normal because its subconscious nature is hidden. Its stark dividing of people from what should be shared humanity creates chasms unseen by the oppressor but painfully obvious to the oppressed. Sadly, there is nothing one can do to escape their privilege. And there are numerous kinds of privilege one carries, white, male, cisgender, and others, too many to name here.

Privilege is defined by what we are and not who we are. One cannot talk away or take away what someone is. But through love and education the privileged person can change who they are. There are many different types of ‘who’ that we can be, from artist to attorney, from republican to recluse, from self-conscious to self-aware. And there are many ‘whats’ as well, from British to blind to black to a baby. Anyone can be a ‘who’. An artist or CEO or homeowner can be black, Catholic, rich, poor, Danish. But only a white person can be white. That is a ‘what’. In essence ‘what’ is exclusive, and ‘who’ is inclusive.

Now, one might object, saying that an artist is a ‘what’, and thus exclusive. The taste test here is if others can profess to be artists. If there is the opportunity for inclusion, that is a ‘who’. If there is no opportunity for inclusion, that is a ‘what’. Only people with blue eyes can have blue eyes. It is an exclusive club. Regardless of who we are or profess to be the only ‘what’ that we all share is being human. Our only universally shared privilege is human privilege. We would do well to understand that human privilege does not guarantee that we will remain at the top of the food chain forever. We are not the end-all and be-all of existence.

As humans we all share many qualities. All humans are born with umbilical cords. Now that I think of it, all humans were born. All humans want to love and be loved. All humans want to be happy and have meaning in their lives. We all think and make decisions and worry and laugh. There are so many things we have in common. They are so basic as to be taken for granted and not considered as things that bind us together, small creatures on a small planet in a small galaxy in a vast multiverse. To awaken to these facts and embrace them is a step in the direction of successful human interaction.

Our differences color our world and allow for the precious contradiction of life itself. Christians tell us all humans are in the body of Christ, many into one. Hindus say that God multiplies himself infinitely, and every individual human is a part of God. We recognize the various colors on a TV screen as being different. But if the screen is entirely red we do not see any differences even though there are thousands of individual pixels. It’s easy to see differences and often difficult to see similarities. One thing for certain, when we are being born we are all the same and as we die we are all the same. What makes us think we are completely separate creatures while we are in between the two? We are all the same yet all different. A most sublime divine paradox. It is this contradiction that is the engine of a life that can contain both mystery and misery, both freedom and boredom. 

Life is not static. It moves. For life to move there must be different places. For there to be different places there must be different spaces and for each individual to exist they must occupy their own particular space. Two of us cannot occupy one physical space at once but any of us can occupy the same mental or spiritual space at any given time. Different and the same. How we can be one and many at the same time is a powerful contradiction, a mystical puzzle we can never solve. It is this paradox of time/space that we strive to answer all our lives, whether we know it or not. 

We all seek out differences to legitimize our own individuality but we also know in our deepest hearts that the things in life that truly matter are the things we all share, like family, and, hunger, and desire. I love being just like you. And I love being just me. Remember, there is a balance to life. If you won’t recognize me, I don’t have to recognize you. If you don’t respect me I won’t have to respect you. I grow weary of spending so much energy disliking people. I already love everybody, but if we are to like each other we must work together. We must love each other.

Love is the Alpha and Omega. If we can recognize and respect the love in each other it will go a long way toward making it acceptable to not like each other. And when it is acceptable to not like each other, because of the presence of divine contradiction, it is much easier to actually discover we do like each other. Regardless of what and who you are, when you occupy space in this world you create the boundaries for a place I can occupy. But it is all one space. And it is ours to enjoy.  

For this I am grateful.

On Each Side of the Equal Sign

It is important to consider the idea of equality as a contested concept with different meanings to different people. It’s just as important to learn the difference between equity and equality.

 Equality does not mean the same thing to different people. I have found that this discrepancy can lead to conflict and confusion when discussing the rights, responsibilities, social standing, opportunities, abilities, etc. of various peoples, both individuals, and certain demographics.

For example, to some, equality means everybody starts at the same starting line and uses their knowledge, skills, talents, and abilities, etc. to move ahead in a ‘race’ toward ‘success’. This view of equality is somewhat myopic in that it does not consider the fact that race, religion, sexual orientation, and supremacies based on numerous types of privilege do not, in practice, allow for everyone to start at the same starting line. This effectively negates the idea that everyone has an equal chance to ‘win’ the race.

One might attempt to justify that particular definition by referencing the Declaration of Independence quote “all men are created equal”. However the Constitution made it clear that, in the words of George Orwell, “All animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. According to our governing document blacks were only considered to be 3/5ths of a person and women were not allowed to vote or own property. Thus the reality of equality is and has always been dependent on evolution.

A different definition of equality allows for the fact that people have differing abilities, backgrounds, educations, etc. and it is reasonable to expect ‘the rat race’ does not lead to the same outcomes for everyone. This definition sees equality as equal opportunity, not with all other things being equal but with equity of opportunity based on accounting for the presence of societal roadblocks, many of which originate in privilege and supremacy. This gives us a hint at why equity is not the same as equality. But I digress.

This definition takes into consideration that while we are all equal in the sense that we are all born with umbilical cords we are not all born into situations that give us an equal chance to thrive. Poverty, racism, sexism, and other isms prevent many people from beginning at that hypothetical equal starting line. This definition sees us trying to balance these inequities (another hint) by making an effort to compensate for negative societal realities.

Both of these disparate definitions are based on a degree of wishful thinking. Certainly, when people start a discussion with different definitions of the same concept the situation is ripe for misunderstanding and argument. So when someone challenges your understanding of a concept, be it equality or freedom or security or any other, take a moment to listen to the other person’s arguments and see if you can determine if the disconnect originates in a contested concept with opposing definitions of terms. In formal debate, agreement on fundamental definitions of terms is very important. In informal debate perhaps even more so.

This brings us to the difference between equality and equity and the misunderstandings that can arise from it. These words are different in meaning, as much as some of us like to use them to mean the same thing. Words have power. Concepts that are in reality contested but assumed to have only one definition turn that power into power failure. Those false assumptions lead us into deep and murky waters in which agreement can easily drown. 

Simply put equality is about state of being and equity is about fairness. For example, equality is that the 100-yard dash is the same distance for anyone. Equity is the fact that there is a Paralympics that gives elite athletes with disabilities a fair chance to compete. Equality in golf is everyone teeing off from the same marker. Equity in golf is your handicap.

So when someone speaks about equity and someone else answers with a statement about equality they immediately are talking about two different things. The conversation then begins to deteriorate and an argument ensues where a discussion should live. These misunderstandings, based in language and syntax as they are, point to an almost desperate need for the pursuit of understanding among peoples, as a starting point toward good relationships, political or otherwise.

Understanding doesn’t require much more than calm patience, humble listening, and self-respect. That may be hard work but it doesn’t have to be difficult.

Oh, and one more thing, Privilege is about what you are and not who you are. Therefore you can’t talk away or take away one’s privilege but through understanding you can change who the privileged person is. That’s a conversation for another time.