Hennessy's View

non sum dignus

What If We Stopped Shouting?

I shout a lot.

Not with my lungs. With my pen. Well, not a pen, actually. With a wireless Bluetooth keyboard.

A few years ago, I shouted with my lungs at Tea Party events. I realized pretty quickly that shouting wasn’t doing any good. It worked at first. Shouting carried my voice to people who thought “no one believes what I believe.” Some people heard me yelling at the Arch and came out to see what the hell was going on.

“What’s that guy yelling about,” they asked the crowd.

“TARP,” someone answered.

“What about TARP?” the newcomer asked.

“He’s against it.”

“Well, I must be in right place.”

Pretty soon, though, everybody who was against TARP was out of the house and in the street. Then we started yelling about Obamacare. This brought out a few more people. At some point, a full 21 percent of American adults were yelling with us.

Then, I got tired of yelling. For one thing, my throat hurt. For another, I noticed our yelling wasn’t attracting any new faces. Everyone had heard what we had to say, and the ones who believed what we believed had come out to yell with us. Like wolves baying at a full moon.

We could find new things to yell about which might attract a few new people. This might also drive away some of the TARP people, though. Todd Akin tried this. And worked. A lot of people who don’t normally vote showed up to vote against him. And a lot of people who normally vote Republican either undervoted the Senate race or voted for McCaskill. (At least, that’s what they told me when their wives were around.)

No,  I think it’s safer to stick with a few things that we really, really believe. The things we first yelled about. Things like bailing out billionaire banksters, nationalizing private companies that make cars that kill people, and borrowing trillions of dollars to distract the kids from the trillions in debt we’ve already asked them to pay off. (Something tells me the kids wouldn’t have enjoyed the trip to Disneyland if they’d known we used their credit cards to finance it.)

I just looked at my Twitter timeline and realized I’m still shouting. But I don’t know why.

I shouted at Erick Erickson the other day. I feel better, but I’m not sure I accomplished anything.

Then, I opened up my Kindle version of P.J. O’Rourke’s fabulous work Don’t Vote It Just Encourages the Bastards . Here’s what I read:

I don’t think drugs are bad. I used to be a hippie. I think drugs are fun. Now I’m a conservative. I think fun is bad.

Wait, not that. I mean, yeah, I read that. And highlighted it, because it’s hillarious. But that’s not the part that triggered this blog. It was this:

My laugh was followed by an uneasy thought. Who was Rush Limbaugh shouting at? Was he shouting at Wesley Clark? I doubted that Clark listened to AM talk radio the way I listened to NPR, to get his blood pressure up. Besides, Howard Dean was already doing that for Clark. Was Rush Limbaugh shouting at uncommitted voters, hoping to scare them into the George W. Bush camp? Shouting “Hillary Clinton!” “Howard Dean!” “John Kerry!” over and over might have done it. But what uncommitted voter cared a spit about Wesley Clark? The person hearing the shout had to know enough about Democratic politics to know who Wesley Clark was and enough about Wesley Clark to know that he was a small pumpkin and a false alarm. Was Rush Limbaugh shouting at Hillary Clinton supporters to hearten them? At Dean supporters to energize them? At Kerry supporters to alert them? These people didn’t tend to be ditto heads. No, I realized, Rush Limbaugh was shouting at me.

That paragraph hit me. When I shout on Twitter, I’m shouting you. But you knew that. So I’ll let O’Rourke explain it, since he went to Harvard and I went to Fontbonne:

Me. I am to the right of … Why is the Attila benchmark always used? Fifth-century Hunnish depredations upon the Roman empire were the work of an overpowerful centralization of authority with little respect for property rights, pursuing a policy of economic redistribution in an atmosphere of permissive social mores.

I am a little to the right of Rush Limbaugh. I’m so conservative that I could talk Ellen DeGeneres out of supporting gay marriage. Gays wed, they buy a house, they have children, they encounter our public school system. Then gays vote Republican.

After I’d realized, in 2003, who Rush Limbaugh was shouting at, I performed an experiment. I listened to some more talk radio, watched some conservative television programming, and read some of the conservative books that were popular at the time. I listened to Michael Savage and Mark Levin. I watched Bill O’Reilly’s No Spin Zone and the Sean Hannity part of Hannity and Colmes. They did a lot of shouting. But they didn’t seem to be shouting at the potentially repentant sinner who had guiltily slipped in at the back of the congregation after emptying his bottle of malt liquor. Nor did they seem to be shouting at the abashed political wire puller in the middle pews, his conscience botherd by the electoral blood on his hands. No, Limbaugh, Savage, Levin, O’Reilly, Hannity, et al. were shouting at the pious women in the big hats standing blamelessly in the choir. That is, they were shouting at—with a change of gender and headgear—me.

I know I’m no Rush Limbaugh, but I recognized myself in O’Rouke’s words. I also recognized the left-to-right political migration of Irish and Jews—O’Rourke, Hannity, O’Reilly, Hennessy, Savage, Levin. When I was a kid, Irish and Jews all liberals, weren’t we? All the conservatives were English. Or Austrian. Except for Buckley, but he went to school in England, which is probably where the conversion happened.

If you were hoping for something profound, I think it’s time to warn you that I began writing immediately after reading the paragraphs I just copied from Don’t Vote. I realize now that I should have thought more, but here I am. Let’s make the best of it as we take this journey together. A journey that might end anywhere. Strap on your headgear and get ready to march.

Shouting: Who’s It Good For?

Except for alerting others who already believe what we believe, what good does shouting do? Many of us have stories of converting friends or family to our way of thinking, but did we shout them into compliance? If so, how long will their conversion hold?

And we probably didn’t conservatism into them by strapping them to a chair and reading The Federalist Papers. Or Common Sense. Or The Wealth of Nations or The 5000 Year Leap or Democracy in America or The Road to Serfdom or any of the other books that we form support groups to discuss.

Yes, our converts might read those books. Eventually. But the reading of our sacred texts is a symptom of conversion, not a cause. Maybe a symptom of doubt in their prior beliefs. If Al Franken were to take a year off to read the abridged version of The Road Serfdom, he wouldn’t become a conservative. He’d write “bullshit” in the margins 348 times. And he’d scribble down little snippets of the work out of context that he’d repeat endlessly to show the world that Hayek was a narrow, stupid, racist elitist who liked cutting the fins off fish and throw them back into the pond. “The semi-colon is racist,” I can hear Franken shouting, “and Hayek used seven of them one page alone!”

I know why we shout. It feels good. I don’t know what we expect shouting to accomplish. If you have some strategy for shouting, please share it in the comments. But also share some empirical evidence that shouting works.

Instead of shouting, what if we found a way to show people what life is like at the end of the road to serfdom? How would we show that? How could we help people feel that? How might they experience serfdom? What if we began with them?

Sure, there are some people, like Al Franken, who won’t be converted. But there’s a big group of people who vote wrong because they don’t know any better. They’re not hardcore leftists, especially Millennials, as Reason Magainze discovered in a recent survey.

Twenty-five percent of millennials identify as liberal, compared to only 14% of Americans over 30. However, most millennials are basing their choices onsocial issues, which they prioritize over economics when making political judgments. When we investigate liberal millennials, the report shows that only about a third of respondents describe their own liberalism in both social and economic terms.

One-third of one-quarter is … a relatively small number (0.0825). So ignore that eight percent. They’re Franken material. There’s hope for the other 92 percent.

Reason found even more contradictions in their poll:

This pattern plays out in policy stances too. Millennials tend to favor a larger, more active government with more guarantees, and are more sympathetic to socialism than older generations. But this isn’t absolute. When millennials are educated about the concrete trade-offs these policies entail, their support drops dramatically, even closing commonracial gaps in the process.

So how do we reach them, if not with hard, cold, boring, difficult to memorize facts?

George Orwell did it with 1984 and even Animal Farm. But nobody reads those books anymore. Or they’re guided in their reading by teachers who explain that Big Brother is actually Apple or IBM or George Bush and that the Department of Justice is Your Friend protecting your from abuses by these corporations.

Facts convince no one of anything, as science has shown again and again. But stories do. Because stories let us feel and experience. Great stories turn off our thinking caps and suspend our disbelief and let us feel what it would be like to be the character looking up at the etchings on the Ministry of Truth. Later, after we’ve felt something, the facts justify our new “beliefs.”

Back to my original question: what if we stopped shouting?


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