by John Ross
Semantics: the historical and psychological study and the classification of changes in the signification of words or forms viewed as factors in linguistic development
What is wrong with Conservatives and supporters of the Second-Amendment? Why, in spite of their best efforts, do they continue to lose ground to those on the political left? The reasons are many, the causes varied, but simply put, it is because CONSERVATIVES DO NOT UNDERSTAND HOW TO COMMUNICATE WITH THE MODERN ELECTORATE.
“When words lose their meaning, the people will lose their liberties”––Confucius
THE LEFT vs. THE RIGHT
Emotionalizers vs. Intellectualizers
The left, politically, tends to attract people who speak and reason through their feelings. “I feel your pain.” “What a hateful thing to say.” “How will that affect the underprivileged…the children?” They speak in a language of feelings and it is reflected in the words they use. Those on the right, in contrast, tend to process information based on perceived structures of “reality” and what they perceive to be “common sense”. The gestalt of the left can be thought of as a gestalt of INCLUSION (based on feelings of togetherness) the gestalt of the right as a gestalt of UNDERLYING REASON AND OVERALL CONCEPTS. How do these groups interact within their own ranks?
Generally, when talking as a group, those on the right hold up topics or ideas as “the point” of the discussion; tact and politeness, although they may be important, are secondary to the ideas and “truths” that each is trying to defend or develop. Conservatives can, and often do, say things in their discussions and to each other that those on the left would consider insulting, but these things are not seen as offensive because individual words, even phrases, are secondary to the larger points and systems being pursued. Those on the left, in contrast, when interacting with each other, although also concerned with some point, are much more worried about not pushing their opinions to the level of personal insult––and are very careful to avoiding this––because the overall feeling of “community” and “group” is not to be sacrificed over abstract ideas; it is not uncommon for a member the group to intervene in the discussion between two other members to smooth things over if it is perceived that cohesiveness is being lost.
Understanding the Electorate
Consider our day and age. Do we live in a slower-paced or faster-paced world? Do more people read books or watch t.v.? Are you willing to read that thousand page book or would you prefer to see the two hour movie? Whereas baseball was once the national pastime, faster sports like football and basketball have overtaken baseball in popularity. What does this mean politically? Put simply, most people no longer have the time or inclination to learn advanced systems of logic or be persuaded through long lectures or explanations; instead, THEY RESPOND TO SOUND BITES AND APPEALS TO EMOTION. Does this make them easier to manipulate? Yes, but most people don’t care or even know they are being manipulated. It is hard enough just to hold a good job, run a household, and have time for the kids and recreation; when it comes down to these priorities or boring political discussions they’ll avoid the former. So what does this mean? It means that….
A fast-paced world full of people who reason emotionally equals victory for those on the political left
Why? Because acting and reacting emotionally is already in line with their natural communication style; no adaptation is required. To win, they must simply continue to act and speak normally. The very structure of the modern world puts those on the political right at a disadvantage. So what is to be done?
Framing the Debate…the Power of Words
Moderator: “What are your positions on gun control?”
Democrat: “We must protect the children in our society from dangerous maniacs.”
Republican: “In 1776, our founding fathers got together and……[candidate then goes on for as long as he can until cut off by the moderator. After the first three lines, Joe voter gets up and goes to the refrigerator; he gets back just in time for the next question].
Moderator: “Relay your positions on the purposed tax cuts.”
Democrat: “The tax cuts would help only the wealthy while hurting the poor and disadvantaged.”
Republican: “I resent those accusations. While the rich would get more money back according to basic economics….[candidate then goes into a lecture on the nature of capitalism and money, and Joe voter decides he had enough of that in high-school and turns the channel to MTV].
Result: Joe enjoys the night listening to rock and roll and goes and votes for the democrat in the election.
In the minds of those on the left, it is very simple. GUNS ARE DANGEROUS AND TAX CUTS HURT THE POOR. Is this true? In certain instances, but generally no. But it sounds good, and is easy for the average person to comprehend. What impression does the conservative give? That the world is a complex place and you, Joe voter, haven’t studied the issues enough to know what is true and what isn’t, and your laziness is having a detrimental effect on our society. Is that true? Yes. But because people in our society have been trained through the vehicles of pop culture to react and be influenced through emotions, THE FACT THAT THE CONSERVATIVE IS RIGHT will not help him on election day if his presentation is emotionally assaulting. Let’s consider some notorious examples.
“Homophobia” and the “Assault Weapons” Ban
Leftist: “I fully support the assault weapons bans. No one needs an assault weapon. Gay marriage? Anyone who is against it is hateful and homophobic.” Conservative: “Uh…there’s nothing wrong with my ASSAULT WEAPON”…and “I’m not HOMOPHOBIC”.
In this example, who framed the debate? The leftist. Did the conservative attempt to reframe the debate? No. If fact, the conservative did the worst thing possible. He actually strengthened and validated the original misleading “frame words” by repeating these leftist labels. Why does this happen? Because THOSE ON THE LEFT NATURALLY UNDERSTAND THE IMPACT OF WORDS better than those on the right. Why? Because they are emotionalizers who FEEL the impact of words more deeply than conservatives who tend to intellectualize. So what do those on the right need to know about communicating with the electorate in the modern age?
THE EIGHT RULES/HOW TO TURN THINGS AROUND
Are you a conservative? Do you really want to turn things around? Then here is what you need to do.
1) Do not unwittingly repeat inappropriate labels that the other side has floated.
In the game of persuasion, you give weight to the other side’s argument when you use the labels they chose. Lots of intelligent people on the right have started to figure this out. They realize that the associations people have to certain leftist labels need to be changed to the right’s advantage. However, they have no idea how to do this. They go into big long discussions about the nature of guns, and how SEMI-AUTOS (say the word ‘auto’ as many times as possible and really make the leftists giggle with glee) are very common, and how there is nothing WRONG (another point for the left) with them…etc..etc..etc…blah..blah..blah..blah. Who wins the public relations war when the game is played this way? THE LEFT. You can try and change the public’s perceptions through argumentation––usually a losing strategy––or enact change through what psychologists call “anchoring”. And how do you anchor the left’s labels to a bad (or good depending on the word and your purposes) feeling or connotation? By immediately countering deceptive labels with labels of your own. Every time they say “homophobic”, you say “deophobic”: fear of the ideas of God. Every time they say “assault weapon”, you say “defense device” or “freedom stick” or “child-protection tool”. Whatever you do, DO NOT REPEAT THE LABELS THEY FLOAT. That is what they want you to do; that’s their strategy. Don’t fall for it. Until the right figures this out, the left will continue to frame the debate to their purposes and the right will continue to aid the enemy in their own destruction.
2) Understand the impact of the words you use on the electorate…not just the impact that those words have on you.
Take the label “semi-auto” as an example. Anyone who understands guns knows that there is nothing wrong or inherently dangerous about a “semi-auto” gun. A large percentage of the guns in America are semi-autos. Gun owners can talk about semi-autos until the cows come home and not become anti-gun or become scared of the guns they own. However, those who aren’t educated hear the word ‘auto’ and imagine that a bunch of “gun nuts” are walking around with unregulated machine-guns and “oh-no, we have to do something about it.” You can understand what to do by first knowing what not to do. DO NOT ASSUME THAT USING THE PHRASE “SEMI-AUTO” (OR ANY OTHER WORD OR PHRASE WITH A POTENTIALLY NEGATIVE TIE ) WITH THE UNINITIATED WILL HELP EDUCATE THEM OR WILL HELP YOUR CAUSE. The more you do, the more you are violating rule number one and framing the debate to the left’s advantage.
3) Use already established associations…only later attempt to change those associations. (If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em…until later).
Psychologists know that a would-be persuader has two choices. 1) attempt to change the associations a person has to certain words or ideas or 2) use already established words and associations to your advantage. Get the order wrong, and you are in big trouble. Those on the right too often attempt to change a person’s associations before understanding what the person’s associations actually are. By doing this, they unwittingly insult the person emotionally and never get the chance to interact long enough to have any influence over that person. To win, you must understand those “buttons” that have already been trained into the populace and use them to connect with people emotionally so they will be motivated to understand the ideas you espouse.
EXAMPLE: “Gun control is classist, racist, and sexist. I don’t support those things.”
This is reversing a trick that is often played on the right by those on the left. By presenting things this way, anyone who argues with them seems to be supporting racism, classism, and sexism. It doesn’t matter if they are completely wrong in that assertion, it is usually enough to convince the average citizen not to listen to the counter-arguments of a “racist” because no reasonable person would. Can you, as someone on the right, feel good about adopting such a trick? Yes, because unlike the misleading assertions of those on the left, the above statement is true; you are simply using a citizen’s already established buttons to convince him of something truthful instead of using those buttons to manipulate him. Later, as a long-term result, the citizen’s associations and ideas will change, often on their own, when they realize they have been taken advantage of through their good, kind nature by those pushing destructive political agendas. If the right is ever to gain political ground, they need to understand these word capture techniques.
WORD CAPTURE: The idea is to capture and hold labels and phrases that the electorate already has good emotional ties to, and by so doing, control and frame the political debate. This is an old communist tactic. East Germany, for example, was called the GDR, the German Democratic Republic. Was it actually democratic? No. But by redefining the very meaning of the word “democracy”, those in power fortified themselves against their people developing a real understanding of principles that would have freed them. Consider the word “liberal”. By using this term for themselves––many on the left also call themselves “progressives”––leftists immediately associate themselves with progressive causes and values of liberty when their actual actions and attitudes support the exact opposite. How can conservatives fight this? By enacting truth in labeling rules in their own communications. Your effort should be toward capturing words like LIBERAL and PROGRESSIVE. Why? BECAUSE THEY ACTUALLY BELONG TO YOU. You’re the one who supports the ideas that will lead to a better future, and you are the defender of liberty, not them. So how do you do it? With responses like:
“The liberal thing to do would be to support liberty by opposing gun-laws and other government control schemes. We need to progress toward a future of freedom not a system that reenacts past tyrannies.”
In addition, sound-bites and phrases need to be developed that will aid in the word capture. LIBERALS FOR GUN-FREEDOMS and PROGRESS TOWARD LIBERTY. These are the type of slogans that need to be pushed (envision the bumper-stickers). The bottom line: label the opposition appropriately…“leftist”..“socialist”..“neo-communist”, and when you do use words like “progressive” and “liberal” take ownership of them by associating them with your causes––causes and actions that really do support “liberty” and “progression” toward an improved society.
4) Length matters.
A) Short, to-the-point assertions should always be countered with short, to-the-point responses.
“But if they just understood…if we could just educate them.” Yes, that would be great. But after the first three sentences, most people just tune out the same way they did when they were thirteen and were being lectured by an angry parent. Leftist: “Guns are dangerous.” Conservative: “Guns aren’t dangerous…there was a study recently…blah..blah…blah…” Instead, politely respond with a counter-phrase; try to make it just as short and to the point as the propaganda that requires your response. “Guns are tools.” or “Guns protect children.” If a person is pushing anti-gun nonsense, they probably won’t be convinced no matter what you say, but those listening in who are undecided will remember your short, to-the-point response, not just the leftist deceptions.
B) A simplification (even a dumb one) that requires a long response will win in the game of influence.
Here’s a classic: “We license and register cars…why shouldn’t we license and register guns?”
This idea is stupid. I could go on for fifty pages on why this is a manipulative comparison, but that’s the beauty of the question. It is easily discounted, but not quickly. Again, in the mind of the average person it’s, “Yeah, why don’t we register guns if we register cars?” The typical response from conservatives? A lecture…blah..blah…blah. WINNER: The leftist. Those on the right need to learn to play the same game. Here’s a response that works in a lot of situations: “Why are leftists so anti-freedom?” Not easily answered in a sentence of two. WINNER: the conservative.
5) A few shared labels that are mediocre are better than hundreds of words and labels that are great but aren’t shared.
In the mind of a conservative, a hundred good reasons is better than just one or two reasons. Logically, this makes sense. As far as persuasion, however, a hundred different people pushing a hundred different phrases just insures that no one’s message gets through to the electorate. Have you ever noticed that those on the left repeat the same things over and over? “Benefitting the rich and hurting the poor.” “That’s racism.” “I don’t support hate and intolerance.” It seems that no matter what the situation or issue, whether simple or complex, leftists manage to funnel everything into the frames of class-warfare rhetoric and hackneyed socialistic cliches. AND IT WORKS. Why? Because the message gets through. By their very natures, in their discussions with each other, leftists are searching for common ground, shared ideas, and when they all agree and FEEL GOOD, that is what they present to the electorate. What do conservatives do? Build up the house of their logic with a million different bricks. Sure, the house is a mansion and not a hovel; too bad no one is going to follow them down the road to that mansion because blah…blah…blah isn’t very motivating.
“The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly…it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.” –– Joseph Goebbels – Nazi Propaganda Minister
Until a number of gun-rights groups get together and decide on shared sound-bites and labels, the left will continue to have the advantage. To influence the electorate, phrases of influence must be shared (and pushed by a number of different conservative groups––which generally hasn’t happened), they must be emotional, and they must hit upon buttons that have already been built into the public through the popular media.
6) Do not counter a leftist idea in such a way that you support a different leftist idea.
During the Clinton Administration, the NRA (love ‘em or curse ‘em…I can never decide which) fell for this one. When the leftists in Congress attempted to push through a whole batch of new gun laws, the NRA responded with, “We need to support the gun laws that are on the books…this administration won’t even prosecute those criminals who are already breaking the laws we have.” Now the second part of this statement is true enough, and useful in that it pointed out the Clinton Administration’s hypocrisy and true purposes, but look at the first part of the statement: “We need to support the gun laws that are already on the books.” Do we? Sure that response countered a lot of the leftists’ fire, in the short-term, but it also had the NRA agreeing, in kind of a back-handed way, that GUNS LAWS ARE GOOD. A better response would have been, “Gun laws are classist, racist, and sexist. Why are leftists such hateful control-freaks?” This approach also would have blunted the attacks in the short-term, and wouldn’t have created long-term problems and default agreement with the very people organizations like the NRA should be fighting.
NOTE: for an entire list of inappropriate responses to avoid, look on the internet for the article “Give It to Them Straight” by John Ross, Author of Unintended Consequences.
7) Seek to influence not convert.
Does all this talk about propaganda, influence, and manipulation make you feel uncomfortable? “I hate it when those on the left simplify things to the point of stupidity…I don’t ever want to be that way.” “I don’t want to manipulate anyone…I want people to understand the truth so we will all be better, smarter citizens.” If this discussion brings up thought like this in you, you may be confusing “influence” and “conversion”. None of what has been said is meant to imply that all of your good reasons, all of the truth that you adhere to that keeps you on the political right instead of the left, should be removed from the political debate or that those reasons are no longer important or relevant. Far from it. The idea behind this information is to keep the voter emotionally connected to your points long enough for them to actually investigate. At that point, CONSERVATIVES WIN. Once they research the issues, they will learn that gun-control is just a manipulation being pushed on them by elitists who only want to subjugate them and deny them freedom; once they realize that “freedom is the greatest safety” and those who would enlarge government under the guise of “helping” are actually hurting the common man, THEY WILL CONVERT THEMSELVES. Conservatives far too often try to convince people through logic and reasoning without realizing that only emotion will push them to engage in the study of the issues long enough to be touched by greater truths.
8. You must stand for something…not just be against change.
“Conservatives” and “Progressives” or “Conservatives” and “Liberals”. Even these simple labels are an advantage to those on the left. How do these words translate to the electorate? Those on the left are trying to “progress” toward a better future. They want to move toward liberty. Those on the right want to “conserve” the past. And guess what? A lot of bad things happened in the past that people don’t want to repeat. Do conservatives want these bad things to happen again? Of course not. But you’d never know it based on the label conservatives have chosen for themselves. At this point in might be counterproductive to attempt a wholesale name change, but the right’s lack of semantic knowledge is again illustrated.
In politics, a defensive position is a losing position.
Do you think there is no chance of passing that pro-gun or a tax-reduction bill? Should you just sit back and fight against the bills the left is pushing? No! Only by pushing FOR SOMETHING can you compromise and win. If you are forced to compromise without pushing for a bill of your own, you do nothing but lose ground to the enemy. Even if you don’t think a bill will pass, push the bill anyway. At a minimum, it causes those on the left to have to spend time and money fighting your bills; they then have less time and resources to pursuit their own bad agendas. Also, pushing bills (even if doomed) allows freedom-loving Americans to identify bad politicians and hold them accountable for their voting records.
Every conservative needs to ask himself, “What changes do I want for this country in the future?” As long as conservatives think, “I don’t want things to change. The future scares me because things are always getting worse,” conservatives will never be able to relay a hopeful political message that is enlightening enough to get the electorate to side with them. We all know what bills and systems of thought we are against: those bills and systems that attempt to discount and limit the God-given freedoms mentioned in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. But what bills and ideals are you for? “Those that support the Constitution and Bill of Right.” Sorry, that isn’t good enough. The key word is CHANGE. It is the one great consistent in the universe. A better question and mind set would be: “What changes do I want to make to more fully take advantage of the ideals voiced in the Constitution and Bill of Rights?” Without such a “progressive” outlook, the right will continue to lose political ground.
Offense is the key. Be pro-active in the language you use; control the debate; don’t spend your time in defensive posturing fighting the labels floated by other side; instead, push labels that give you the argumentative advantage. And learn from the success of the left: adopt the left’s tendency to seek common ground and join groups that can collectively get through to the public. And as a conservative, continue to foster your own individuality so that, after citizens are attracted emotionally, you can aid in educating them to the BETTER, MORE MORAL ways of thinking that real Americans support.
FINAL NOTE: Copy this article (non-profit circulation is approved if copied in its entirety). Send it to your friends. The more people who understand and share these ideas, the stronger the ARMIES OF LIBERTY will be.