I began this post as a sort of Cliff’s notes on the framing of the State of the Union address, but now have done the equivalent of ripping the page out of the typewriter, crumpling it up and tossing it in the can. Obama’s speech had a lot of great points, he is a good speaker and has good writers – the majority of Americans can rally around the majority of the ideas put forward in the speech. He does speak of values – which is where his progressive streak sparks a flame – then he snuffs it out when he tries to walk the fence for the sake of being “moderate”.
Americans aren’t moderates! It is popular to seem moderate and say you’re moderate, but in fact that is not how our brains operate. There are really only two positions for each detail of an issue – we agree or disagree, yes or no, good or bad – you can almost always break an issue down in this way. We answer those questions by checking our internal value system; is it making us feel empathetic (nurturing, caring) or judgemental (strict, authoritarian). The only other possibility is that of being apathetic or unaware; even if you are uninformed, malinformed, or ignorant you may have a strong opinion, as is painfully apparent today. We are like computers in that this system of forming opinions is basically a set of ones and zeroes.
Let’s try an issue.
We’ll use one from the State of the Union address that did not come off well, the portion about drilling for natural gas. Many Americans know this process to be called “fracking” and there is a huge controversy surrounding it’s use. The process involves drilling which automatically upsets a natural state at the drill site, but beyond that, certain unhealthy chemicals are injected under high pressure into deep layers of rock to release the oil and gas that may reside there. The side effects of this injection has been known to poison water supplies, harm humans, and do other environmental damages. This is the process that enables some Americans to set their tap water on fire as it is coming out of the faucet as is shown here. Obama spoke in favor of it creating jobs and energy safely. As he said those words many environmentalists began yelling at their T.V. screens because they don’t believe that fracking can be done safely – or even if it can, an actual sound environmental methodology will not be implemented. Many conservative minded folks mentally applauded the thought of creating new jobs and lessening the dependence on foreign energy sources. These two factions ask different question of this issue.
Conservatives focus on :
Does fracking create jobs?
Are they “good” jobs (long term, living wage, decent conditions)?
Is the end product affordable to customers?
Do we have a large reservoir?
Is the product (energy) necessary?
In addition to these questions, progressives also ask:
What impact does the extraction process have on the land/air/water supply, animal populations, and plant life?
What impact does the extraction process have on the health and safety of humans?
How does the extraction process have on the long term geophysical health (pertaining to fault lines, sink holes, bedrock stability)?
How does fracking compare to other extraction methods (in regards to all of these questions)?
Obviously the last four questions are not yes or no questions, but could be broken down even further to get to yes or no questions (i.e. does fracking have a positive impact on local water supply? local air supply? local soil contamination?).
The aggregate of all of these ones and zeroes is that those folks who mostly think in a nurturing and empathetic way are called “progressives” (or liberals) and can see issues in shades of grey. Folks who mostly think in an authoritarian and strict manner are called “conservatives” and they tend to see issues in either black or white. The progressive – shades of grey – thinking is due to the fact that progressives more easily see the multiple causes – more factors to consider – over a longer timeline that created (or might create) any given problem or issue. The conservative – black and white – thinking is due to the fact that conservatives only want to deal with just a few short term questions at a time without muddying the issue with extraneous information. We desperately need jobs and energy in this country so that sense of urgency may outweigh the importance of environmental impact for conservatives. Our environment is already overburdened with pollutants, so the negative environmental and health impacts would cause many progressives to reject fracking – though those impacts may or may not be felt immediately.
Interestingly the more short term a progressive feels about their solution/issue, the more authoritarian and militant they can get about it. Likewise, when a conservative is confronted with a wide range of the long term causes/factors to consider, and they embody the information, they care more, their view expands and becomes more progressive. Shouting facts at anyone does not cause them to embody information, a real connection has to be made and reinforced. This is the secret to winning them over to your point of view. Often times, when a real life, unavoidable, situation presents itself, it becomes more and more easy for someone to embody new info. For instance if a conservative lived near a fracking site and began noticing lesions on their skin, they might become very progressive about their views on fracking. Likewise, if a progressive is having a hard time feeding his family and a great paying job that supported fracking became available, he might decide to compromise his values to fulfill his personal responsibility and in effect become more conservative on that issue.
What most Americans think of as “moderate” is actually “bi-conceptual”. Bi-conceptualism is when we agree with a little from column A (conservative) and a little from column B (progressive). We call ourselves moderates because mentally we try to just average out our feelings and there is no party to identify with. We get disgusted with the words and behavior of leaders of both dominant parties and don’t want to associate with them. Moderate is used in lieu of “independent”. In a future post I will attempt to illustrate bi-conceptualism further. The important point for this fence is that when a politician – like Obama in his State of the Union address – speaks in a bi-conceptual way,the neurons excitedly firing for progressive values get neutralized by the neurons that fire for conservative values and vice versa. Whichever value system is referred to more – empathy/nurturing for progressives and authority/strict views for conservatives – sort of “wins” the battle in our brains. If both sides are equally activated, everyone walks away feeling “meh”. George W. Bush was popular because he was consistent in his speech and actions with his conservative value system; even when people were not thrilled with his decisions they knew what to expect. Obama thinks he’s being inclusive to mention conservative perspectives, but what he really does is undermine the confidence of the American people in being able to predict his actions. He would be better served and viewed as a stronger leader by all Americans if he was consistent in his speech and actions in sticking with one set of values.