You can define yourself as conservative, libertarian (big or small “l”), neo-reactionary, republican (big or small “r”), or use another term that puts you somewhere on “the right”. You might even be to the left on most issues but reject feminism. You can be a traditionalist Christian or secular Objectivist.
But to our adversaries, these labels matter little. We’re all full of hate, all either power-hungry bastards that like it when poor people suffer or idiots who “cling to guns or religion“. You haven’t rationally concluded after hours of investigation that decent men are getting screwed, you’re just afraid of losing your WHAM (white heterosexual able-bodied male) privilege.
You’re the enemy. We’re categorized not according to our specific views on certain issues but on whether or not we’re formidable. The Koch brothers support gay marriage, but their anti-Obamacare ads seem to be working. so they must be demonized. Socially liberal but in support of free markets? Not good enough. Socialistic in your economics but still pro-life? Not good enough.
Yes, they’ll tactically retreat, encourage primary voters to vote for the most milquetoast candidate possible, only to treat Mr. Milquetoast the exact same way they’d treat a genuine reactionary after they get the nomination.
We’ve been framed as mean, which puts us into a viciously effective bind. Be too critical and fall directly into the frame of bitter white-guy who feeds on hate, don’t be critical enough and come across as wimpy, uninspiring, utterly devoid of the alpha traits people seek in a leader.
Some of us don’t care that we’re considered mean and say what we want to say exactly the way we want to say it. Although this approach can inspire those of us who already agree, it turns off the ignorant who associate everything we stand for with abject cruelty.
Others care too much about the mean-frame. We water down our message so much we don’t even appear to have one, so worried about how our ideas will be received by others that we become willing to sacrifice our beliefs on the altar of public opinion.
Neither approach works, at least not enough. The former is more effective than the latter, but it can and does frighten away lots of people who could be on our side.
We’ve got to attack but be smart about it.
Although a Canadian reactionary himself, Free Northerner recently described how he would orchestrate a conservative resurgence here in the States. I could quibble with some of the details, but he demonstrates some great political instincts. He knows the importance of aggression and instilling fear into one’s enemies.
He’s correct about his assertions regarding “escalation dominance”. However, I would argue that our most urgent deficiencies in this regard relate more to our rhetorical inability to “escalate” and less with our willingness to use force. Yes, both are important. Nevertheless, thus far our political battles are still fought with words: bureaucratic directives, court decisions, laws nobody reads, votes, political ads, backroom deals, etc. Yes, guns are always lurking just beneath the surface whenever government is involved with anything. Still, we’re not seeing the National Guards of various states lined up against the Army. Yet. (We’ll see how that Nevada standoff goes.)
Ignorant and fickle as it is, public opinion still counts for something. Neither side is yet willing to use the force they’d like because both believe that doing so in the wrong way would push public opinion in the opposite direction.
We’re in the midst of a Cold Civil War, and as long as it’s still “Cold” our weapons of choice are verbal, not military.
Nevertheless, Free Northerner’s basic premise is fundamentally correct in that during our current battles, the left’s “escalation dominance” is substantial. Is Harry Reid afraid to accuse private American citizens of “un-American activity” or launch whatever accusation might pop into his head about Mitt Romney’s taxes from the Senate floor? Were they even hesitant to accuse Romney of causing a woman to die of cancer?
They throw out the nastiest attack imaginable, and the response is some variation of “they shouldn’t say that.” They throw a sucker-punch, and the response is just to claim it shouldn’t have been thrown. Sometimes the punches are blocked, but even if they are, there’s no disincentive to try again (and again, and again…). After all, if the worst that’s going to happen is some butt-hurt whining about how mean you are, why the hell wouldn’t you?
Why do they accuse us (and by “us” I mean everybody from soft-right GOP squishes to principled libertarians, conservatives, and neo-reactionaries) of being all sorts of horribly ugly inhuman monsters? Because it works. Why does it work? Because if you insult somebody to their face, and their response is to get defensive, it frames you as the alpha. You have no fear, and your opponent is weak.
So why not return the favor? Throw out whatever spurious accusations that might possibly stick, be alpha ourselves?
First, although I think we’ve got to get uglier than we’ve gotten, I believe that certain moral standards must be upheld. Ethical behavior is not necessarily detrimental or restrictive. On the contrary it can be a powerful weapon, if it’s framed properly. (But that’s for another post. For now, I’ll merely assert that I think we can still make loads of progress while maintaining certain standards, and I also reject the mistaken notion that moral=wimpy.)
Second, as I described above, we’ve been framed as mean, so whenever we attack it plays perfectly into their frame. The media helps with this immeasurably, doing no better to mediate our political discourse than a referee in the WWE.
Yet unless we learn how to achieve “escalation dominance” rhetorically, soon we’ll have to rely on it in the military sense that Free Northerner describes.
In future posts, I’ll elaborate on how to accomplish this in both how we appeal to the masses and for individuals we know in our daily lives. Some will never be persuaded, but others actually can be if we’re smart about how we present ourselves.
When I discuss how to spread our ideas to the general public, I’ll be referring to Free Northerner’s ideas, some of which fit perfectly into the framework I advocate.
But whether constructing an advocacy campaign or getting your buddy to swallow the red pill, certain rhetorical principles always apply. Framing (the correct mix of alpha dominance and more humanizing beta traits), disarming your opponent’s frame, claiming the moral high ground, blocking their blows, and inflicting a few of your own.
Sometimes, after winning a bout, the correct response will be to rub it in, to ensure that your opponent is genuinely afraid of attempting another attack. Other times, you’ll want to be magnanimous (something you can only be from a position of power) and invite the vanquished to re-engage you, only this time in a dialectical quest for Truth, not some bullshit rhetoric war to see who’s got the most clever one-liners.
You can use rhetoric alone to win a temporary ally (or frighten off an enemy), but only through dialectic can we guarantee that they won’t change their mind back the minute they see some cute political ad.
It’s disheartening to observe how effective the forces of lies have framed our politics and culture. However, when I observe how anemic the forces of decency have been thus far in response, it gives me hope. Perhaps if we adopt a strategy that isn’t quite so moronic we’ll actually have a decent shot.