My brother-in-law used to have this quote in his email signature: “Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives. William A. Foster – USMC.”
It plays in my head whenever I read about slacktivism, essentially the social media idea of activism through awareness. Hashtagging is easier and provides instant gratification that bumper-sticker politics of years past didn’t, but it is the same thing. Advertise that you care, no actual action required. It must make sense to many in this relativist age when we tend to believe that perception is reality. If we say we care, then the “fact” that we care will change the world. Control perception and reality will yield.
Reality does not yield, as most of us learn. But the feedback response available in the social media age tempts us, even those who know better about words and action.
This is apparent in Right advocacy. We know we need converts to win elections. Our popular strategies—mimicking the Left’s “Rules for Radicals”, modeling behavior, supporting each other in spaces where we are preaching to the choir—aren’t working. We rely too much on the truth in our ideas. They are timeless and proven, but just as truth doesn’t require belief, it doesn’t compel belief, either. We need to persuade, and we have been going about it the wrong way.
Online debate is accessible. It grants us an illusion of connection that we don’t have in our harried and thin community lives. With its choose-your-own-anonymity and instant feedback, it encourages people to go for the win. It wants the lightning-bolt revelation in the comment thread and the satisfaction of closure. When we don’t get that, we tend to throw up our hands and lament that persuasion can’t be done. It can, with patience and perseverance. Most conversions don’t happen in brilliant instants. They happen in steps.
A Mind is a Difficult Thing to Change
I’ve read many conversion stories. From David Horowitz in “Radical Son” to NeoNeocon’s A Mind is a Difficult Thing to Change series, the details are personal, but the pattern is similar. From Neo-Neocon’s moment of realization, after years of gathering evidence:
I’d always known on some level that the press was using the photos as antiwar propaganda. But I’d also felt that the cause for which the propaganda was being shown was just, and that the facts we were told were correct and essentially complete. This new knowledge of the way the press had actually used these photos and failed to properly convey the stories behind them during Vietnam had far greater significance that it otherwise would have, because there were now harmonic vibrations with a host of other incidents such as the reportage on Jenin that had already partially eroded my faith in the press….
This idea reached critical mass during the process of reading and assimilating these articles, although it had actually been brewing for quite a while. The components were cognitive and emotional, and both were extremely intense. That synergistic effect accounted for the power of my response, the idea that this was a life-changing moment and that there was no going back. A bunch of unrelated pieces of information that had previously seemed disconnected and chaotic had suddenly fallen into place like the pieces of a puzzle and formed an image I could now read.
This image said: beware the press with an agenda. Some elements of the press seem to have had one then. Perhaps they had one now, as well.
Persuasion is simply about providing those unrelated pieces of information that eventually fall into place.
Don’t Go for the Win—Go for the Doubt
Just as pride cometh before a fall, doubt cometh before a change. Our media and cultural inoculation tells people they know everything, the science is settled. “Don’t you worry your pretty little heads,” the culturati says, “We, the intelligent people, will tell you what you need to know.” They reassure people to make them compliant. So we must rattle them.
Social media isn’t the best venue for this—D.C. McAllister has explained the winning long game of community restoration with actual connections—but it is hardly a useless one. We find doubt all over the blogosphere, especially for women, because the feminist revolution is a confused mess.
The Right, however, ridiculed for so long, tends to mock doubt. Remember the #solidarityisforwhitewomen primal scream from last summer? A male-feminist professor of feminism in California admitted that he was a fraud who, among other offenses against women, targeted minority coeds for sexual favors. Elite feminists defended him. They had propped him up for years with accolades and platforms for writing. Minority feminists had finally had enough, and Twitter registered their collective primal screams.
Yes, we on the Right did see the contradictions in how elite feminists walk all over women of color. We knew the realization was coming. A decade ago, we were hoping the realization was coming. Yet, when it did, we replied with mostly silence or gloating. “How stupid do you feel now?” tones might give us some smug satisfaction, but it isn’t a persuasive tactic.
Yes, we were right about foreign policy, Obamacare, Obama’s effect on race relations, and many others, and yes, we gloat less and more civilly than the opposition, yet it remains an unpersuasive tactic. Our snark is justified, but we end up repelling those most likely to listen. The middle-ground voter doesn’t like conflict. We can win our country back or nurse our righteous indignation, but not both.
The Key Is Personal Engagement
Where we find doubt, we should nurture it. Sympathy. Empathy. Listening. Encourage questions. What works will depend on the person and your relationship. Which gets to the essential element that we’ve all but forgotten in the intoxicating fog of social media: this can’t be done from a living room. It requires one-on-one engagement.
We do this, just not often enough. A story from the Ferguson riots:
[A] small band of (mostly) white people from (mostly) West County drove to Ferguson (and Dellwood) to shop tonight. We targeted the small businesses that were hit hard by violence–violence committed (mostly) by out of town agitators, criminals, vandals, and hooligans. We drove to Ferguson to make two statements with our actions: 1) Ferguson is OUR community, and 2) Ferguson is open for business….A gentleman (my age) in the salon (husband?) asked who we were with. I told him ‘St. Louis Tea Party.’
‘Tea party?’ he said. ‘You bad boys,’ and chuckled. Then he looked at me, very serious. He said, ‘The tea party came up here to do this?’
‘Oh, yeah,’ I said. ‘We don’t want to see Ferguson go south.’
He laughed. And he looked at me. Then he was quiet, lost in thought for a minute. When he came out of it, he was like our best friend. Laughing, giving us crap about stuff, telling stories. He admitted baseball can be like ‘watching grass grow.’
In that moment of reflection, I’m sure he was trying to reconcile ‘tea party’ with what he was seeing–four white people, ages 18 to 50, laughing, spending money, empathizing.
In that confused moment when the man tries to reconcile what he’s heard with what he sees in front of him—that’s where our ideas win. In one blow, the credibility of our opposition crumbles and a man looks with his own eyes. That’s when the truth stands a chance.
Our Progressive opposition draws its power from peer pressure and popularity. That’s the advantage afforded to them by leftist domination of the press and the university. When unanimity is punctured, the group’s power is greatly reduced.