Friday, February 01, 2008

Popular Positioning

I would love to have my name associated with all of the sexy and popular issues of the day.

It would be great to have a magical thinking method that would let me poll the universe to find the popular positions and to jump to the forefront of the fray with some sort of thought provoking statement or catch phrase.

Come to think of it. Such magical thinking methods exist.

Unfortunately, legions of politicians (left and right) try using such techniques to throw themselves in front of any issues that poll well.

As it turns out. It is a breeze to spew forth with meaningless slogans about change or deep-sounding paradoxes. Read Mao's Little Red Book and you will have a life time of meaningless phrases for a fruitful political career.

The problem, of course, is that while our politicians sit by the polls and measure the effects of magic language, the actual issues that we need resolved fail to receive adequate consideration.

I think our country is desparate to find a way out of the malaise caused by the magic speak ... which is the rave in the political and media class.

One way to break the lure of magic speak is for people to make a mental effort to separate reasons for a position and the actuall position held by the politician.

In our current election, we see two great examples of the relations of reasons v. positions. John McCain voted against the Bush tax cut becuase the tax cut did not have corresponding spending cuts. This is a more fiscally conservative view than supporting tax cuts. Hillary Clinton says she voted to authorize use of force against Iraq because she thought George Bush would use the declaration in diplomatic efforts and not actually invade Iraq.

When drafting the US Constitution, the groups opposed to slavery insisted on counting blacks at 3/5th a person. Slaves were not allowed to vote; the anti-slavery groups sought to reduce the power weilded by the slave owners.

There are millions of cases where the reason behind a position is counter to one's first impression of the issue.

Anyway, I wanted to get back to the magical language.

Current politics seems to be driven by the desire for magical language. The moment we say the right magical words, we will have a social utopia.

The problem with the magical language (you know the thing where politics is driven by polls on the issues) is that the process ends up polluting the reasons behind our politicies.

When the reasons for our policies boil down to the image we want to project to the world, then we end up adopting a system of extremely weak reasons.

When we have poor reasoning behind our well intentioned (and well polled) positions on policy, we often find the poor reasoning ends up undermining our society.

This is why I went through the brain damange on the posts about the death penalty. My personal self image is that I am a wonderful person who is against the death penalty. However, I find that when I simply argue myself image, my arguments for my position come up weak. When I use weak reasons for my position, I find I actually create opportunities for abuse.

If the reason behind the abolition of the death penalty is simply the way the populace feels at the moment. Then we suffer the danger of abuses when public sentiment turns sour.

If the reason behind the abolition of the death penalty is because the high profile death penalty cases show our court system is corrupt, then abolishing the death is really an effort to hide the corruption of the court.

To make a truly substantial change, we have to make sure the reasoning behind our position is strong and well understood.

This type of effort is becoming increasingly difficult in a world where political hacks throw themselves infront of any popular issue.

For example, Libertarians have a very strong case that we should really only apply the force of government in specific areas. In the areas where we apply the government, the government should be the government. Unfortunately, this case is diluted by wanks who jump in the front of the line and start wanting to privatize necessary government functions.

The people who are best at poisitioning themselves in the political arena dominate the discourse, but these people fail to understand the reasons behind a position. We get people like George Bush who lowers taxes without lowering spending, and who jeopardize the future of the nation with absurd deficits. We have a peace movement where the loudest players in the movement are more interested in how the appear in the protest lines than in the real struggle to lay a working foundation for peace.

When our reasons are poorly founded, our efforts are ineffective and we end up undermining our society.

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