On Monday of this week, I had a conversation with a client about the normal stuff we talk about on a regular basis. Of course, the panic was a topic, as every business is figuring out what they need to do to keep the doors open in the panic. This person is generally sober minded and skeptical about most things. He is one of those guys, who can get wound up over little things, but those little things are stupid things. Otherwise, he is not the sort to mindlessly join the herd in the latest fads.
Anyway, I just assumed he was as skeptical as I was about the panic, so I said something along the lines of this being madness. To my surprise, I got a lot of push-back about how this is super serious. He did the old “my wife knows a doctor at some hospital and she said 70% of people will get this.” It is the Ferris Bueller gambit, in which a mythological expert several steps removed from the person, is the most reliable source of information on the planet about the subject.
Of course, I made the mistake I often point out in politics and that is I countered his claim with actual facts that anyone can look up. I pointed out that there are eight billion people on the planet. I told him more people have died from suicide in China than from this plague and China is the epicenter. My client listened, but it was quite clear he was on the side of strangers he reads on-line. Those people are much more convincing to him, because of something called abductive reasoning.
Abductive reasoning is where you start with an observation or set of observations and then you find the simplest and most likely, or what feels like the most likely, explanation for the observations. Greg Johnson talked about this in his review of Ben Novak’s Hitler & Abductive Logic. In this case, my client sees the panic and the outlandish actions of government officials and thinks, “What could be causing this?” The best answer, the one that is the simplest, is that the virus is the Plague of Justinian.
Later in the week, I had an e-mail exchange with someone, who is most certainly on this side of the great divide. The e-mail was about the cancellation of this year’s American Renaissance and other dissident events due to the panic. I once again assumed he was on the sober minded side of this issue, so I freely called it a panic. What I got was the old line about “If we can save just one life.” In this case, he thought staying home for a couple of weeks was a perfectly reasonable measure.
The mistake I was making here was in not talking to someone where they are rather than where I would like them to be. That is, this person is a non-technical person working in a non-essential part of the economy. He will get paid to stay home for two weeks, so this is a nice unexpected vacation. He also has kids, so he feels he has to be extra cautious, as people literally count on him for their existence. He’s never going to respond to facts and reason on this issue. He’s being justifiably selfish.
Both of these examples are useful in thinking about politics. The whole point of politics is to persuade people. Being right is a nice side benefit, if you are into that sort of thing, but it is rarely an essential element. People, even smart people, respond to emotional appeals and moral appeals before appeals to reason. Critically, only left-wing lunatics put politics ahead of their personal safety or the well-being of their family. “For the children” is a cliché because it was highly effective.
In this case, after the panic has subsided and we are evaluating the wreckage, most of the people who supported these measures will be right there with extreme solutions to remedy the fallout. The curve flatteners will be demanding a New Deal to restore the economy and boost the stock market. Many may even howl about the foolishness of destroying the global economy to save a few extra people this year. People are funny that way. They forgive and forget their errors first.
It will be tempting to remind these people that they were warned about the trade-offs, but supported the panic anyway. In six months, a lot of curve flatteners are going to be complaining about the downstream consequences to this. Just as facts and reason are of no use in this panic, they will be of no use in the aftermath. It is a lesson dissident need to take from this current crisis and put to use in the next. Like animals, people must be led, exploiting their naturally tendencies, not their reason.
That’s the hard part of politics for the sorts of people that naturally find themselves on this side of the great divide. The bigots and anti-Semites, of course, end up over here because they have nowhere else to go, but most people are led here, because this is where the facts led them. It is the rejection of emotional appeals and herd thinking that opened their eyes to alternative explanations for observable reality. It’s asking a lot to then resort to emotional appeals in order to do politics.
That said, it is not impossible. Midweek I had a chat with another client and this subject naturally came up. This person is a self-actualizing beautiful person. Having been bitten twice earlier, I was prepared this time. I mentioned that I was worried that about how the lock-down would keep the tens of millions of diabetics from getting their insulin. This person then told me their mother was on insulin. We chatted a bit about how shutting down the economy would stop all sorts of essential items.
I could tell his sense of well-being shifted on a dime. He went from being comfortable with the lock-down to suddenly being worried it would cause him real harm. The number of insulin users is less ten million. The number is less than half that, but we all know someone that takes the needle. We can feel that without thinking about it. The ten million number is meaningless. What resonates is the one, the one person we know, who is dependent upon insulin to remain on this side of the grass.
Ultimately, this is the age-old lesson of politics. Politicians are trained to personalize issues as best they can, because that resonates with people. The town hall debate is really just a form of the AA meeting. The politician is the counselor, leading the participant in telling their story. The politician provides affirmation and encourages the groups to share in that affirmation. This is the ideal environment for the relatable sociopath, which is why democracy loves the town hall style debate.
For dissidents, there will be loads of open doors in the coming months, as the public comes to terms with what has been wrought. Suddenly, there are going to be a whole lot of people looking for the simplest and most likely explanation for what they see happening around them. The normal political construct is not going to be enough to explain it. That means there is an opportunity to provide a personal and reasonable sounding answer that emotionally connects with them.
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