[Editor: Long ago, John Ross (author of Unintended Consequences) gave us permission to reprint his piece on The Semantics of Manipulation. (CLICK HERE for the original.) After watching some of the pro-gun speakers at the July 2022 Naperville Village Council meeting, we’re reprinting excerpts and adding some updates to help our GSL members & friends better articulate the pro-gun, pro-self-defense point of view to today’s oftentimes apolitical public…]
by John Ross (Updated/Condensed) – What is wrong with 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 pro-gun folks do not understand how to communicate with the modern electorate.
Left vs. 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.” In short, those on the left talk in fears, feelings and emotions while those on the right talk in science, logic and reason.
Understanding the Electorate
Consider our day and age. Do we live in a slower-paced or faster-paced world? Do more people read books, watch videos or surf the Internet? Are you willing to read that thousand page book, or would you prefer to see the two hour movie version of the book or better yet, a twenty-second distillation on TikTok?
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, people today 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. People are busy and they skim through huge amounts of information via the Internet and legacy media outlets. When it comes boring political discussions, they’ll avoid them. This means that in 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…” [Joe Voter and his girlfriend tune out and check their social media accounts]. The moderator calls time.
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 and girlfriend Jane go back to their Instagram and TikTok feeds].
Result: Joe and his girlfriend vote with the guy who wants to protect children from dangerous maniacs.
In the minds of those with a short attention span, the takeaway from the debate is very simple. They remember that guns are dangerous and tax cuts hurt the poor. In fact, those lines might be among the thirty-second summary presented on the evening news.
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.
8 RULES TO TURN THINGS AROUND
1) Do not unwittingly repeat inappropriate labels that the other side has floated.
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. 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.”
2) Understand the impact of the words you use on the electorate… not just the impact that those words have on you. Do not assume that using the phrase “semi-auto” or any other phrase with a potentially negative tie (like high-capacity magazines, ghost guns, bump stocks, etc.) with the uninitiated will help educate them or win them to your cause.
3) Use already established associations…
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. 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 racist, classist and sexist. Like most people, I don’t support those things.”
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. EXAMPLE: “The liberal thing to do would be to support liberty by opposing gun control laws and other government control schemes. We need to progress toward a future of freedom not a system that reenacts past tyrannies.”
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 few words, most people just tune out… EXAMPLE: “Guns are tools.” “Guns protect children.” “Armed blacks don’t get oppressed.” “Armed gays don’t get bashed.” “Guns save life” (or lives).
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?” In the mind of the average person it’s, “Yeah, why don’t we register guns if we register cars?” And the typical response from pro-gun speaker? A lecture…blah..blah…blah. WINNER: The leftist. Alternative to win: EXAMPLE: “Why are leftists so anti-freedom?”
5) A few shared labels that are mediocre are better than hundreds of words and labels that are great but aren’t shared.
Examples to use: “Benefitting the rich and hurting the poor.” “That’s racism.” “I don’t support hate and intolerance.”
6) Do not counter a leftist idea in such a way that you support a different leftist idea.
People on our side, including the NRA, sometimes say “We need to support the gun laws that are on the books…” Do we really? Doesn’t that sound like we are admitting, in kind of a back-handed way, that gun laws are good. A better response… EXAMPLE: “Gun laws are classist, racist, and sexist. Why are leftists such hateful control-freaks?”
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.” EXAMPLE: “I don’t want to manipulate anyone… I want people to understand the truth so we will all be better, smarter citizens.”
8. You must stand for something…not just be against change.
“Conservatives” vs. “Progressives”. 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. In politics, a defensive position is a losing position.
The key word is CHANGE. It is the one great consistent in the universe. A better question: EXAMPLE: “What changes do we want to make to more fully take advantage of the ideals voiced in the Constitution and Bill of Rights?”
Dress nicely. Business casual ideal. No t-shirts, camo or blaze orange.
Don’t use profanity.
Don’t make personal attacks.
Cite facts and sources. Don’t make things up.
Make sure your planned remarks can be delivered well under the time limit.
Don’t make personal threats.
Be short and to the point.
Use the “8 Rules” above.
Be as relaxed as possible.
Have a good time.