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by spocko

Preaching to the Choir and Teaching to the Choir: It’s Not a Waste of Time

3:16 pm in Uncategorized by spocko

The other day I was complimenting masaccio on his great piece, Mass Consumption Created and Killed the Middle Class and my frustration with some of Mark Blyth’s arguments in the Book Salon on Austerity: History of a Dangerous Idea.  I found one of his ideas lacking, the whole, “it’s not about the personal ‘individual moral failings of the bankers,’ but the system.”  Masaccio pointed out that, “…there must be 50 posts here from me and Cynthia and others showing how to prosecute these crimes. Not worth much I agree, but there is moral culpability.”

It is safe for people to support Blyth’s idea. “The cause was a set of structural incentives that allowed the growth of Too Big to Fail as a business model. That’s not about morality, its policy (failure).”

But this ignores lots of things that I think we need, including the need for a villain(s) for the narrative. In Anat Shenker Osorio’s book Don’t Buy It: Talking Nonsense About the Economy she reminds us that the “economy” is not a force of nature or a deity but is a human-made object. Someone(s) made those rules and decisions. We need to talk about the someones who set up the “structural incentives” and who created the policies. It might not be fair for us to focus on individual bankers, but it is the way that people understand stories.

Using personal examples helps us make sense out of complex information. And people within narratives are essential for our current media. The financial industry uses concepts like Blyth’s to move the focus from individuals to “systems.” Away from “morality” to policy. It’s a great way to diffuse responsibility so that no one is responsible.  (I’m watching Orange is the New Black, there are zero corporations or ‘systems’ doing time.)

When I worked with technologists and Ph.Ds in science they got frustrated when I asked them to explain complex things. “I don’t want to use sound bites! They aren’t complete!”  (Or my favorite,”If only the people I talked to were smarter!”)  I ask them for metaphors, drawings and examples. “But the metaphor is too simple, it’s much more complex!” I say, ‘I understand that, this is just a jumping off point. Publish the details for the people who will understand, but without a great metaphor you are going to lose this audience. Take the time to create a good analogy or a funny story to illustrate the principle.  Use a clever diagram  or find an personal example that works.”

Different methods work best for different audiences — give them what they want and embed what they need. I explain to clients that the goal is greater understanding for more people, not a validation of how dumb other people are and how smart you are. Maybe the goal is to sell the product. Great, explain why it will change people’s lives. Sometimes the goal is to change people’s understanding of how the world works or to drive them to action.   Perhaps your goal is to get someone investigated, arrested, tried and convicted. What methods will work best for that?

The preaching and teaching process takes time, repetition and multiple methods. Boring! TL;DR! People play different roles in the process. Sometimes you are the creator of the idea, other times you are the supporter and distributor (Share this on Twitter! Like this on Facebook, Something Something this on MySpace!) other times you are the listener or the actor.

Masaccio understands the frustration yet importance of repetition. So does the Shrill One. Seriously, how many different ways can Paul Krugman say, “Austerity bad.” before his beard explodes?

 One of reasons that the RW radio media got so powerful was they weren’t just “preaching to the choir” they were also “teaching to the choir” In this case, a new arrangement of an old song. And they aren’t afraid of repetition. Let me repeat that. “They aren’t afraid of repetition.”

They were teaching the new arrangement of an old song, one that couldn’t be sung in public anymore. The new arrangement got taught to others. People who aren’t singers heard it and thought, “I kind of like that melody” and started humming it to themselves day to day. Soon the song was sung and hummed every day by lots of people. Some got bored of it, and looked for new songs or arrangements, but others just liked to hear an old familiar song under a new arrangement. (There is something about music that not only lets us listen over and over, but makes repeated listening pleasurable,  e.g. Regina Spektor’s song, “You’ve Got Time” from Netflix’s Orange is the New Black.  Hearing the same words spoken over and over isn’t pleasurable.)

The media is driven by novelty. It’s not “news” if you repeat it over and over. Sometimes we need to create — and hear — a song and a chorus to push an idea or concept into our heads.

For a “song” to reach the world we need songwriters, music arrangers, choir masters, choirs, promoters and listeners. In my life I’ve written and arranged “songs” sang in choirs, sought out choir masters and told others about great choirs. Often I’m just a listener. I often think, “What can I do to make this great idea, concept, principle, ethical dilemmas or “song” move forward? One way for me is to encourage people like Masaccio to keep up his good work.  

What idea or concept do you want to help move forward? What is your role? Singer? Songwriter? Promoter?  Sharer? Listener? 

NOTE: The video I selected is from one of my favorite movie musicals. This actual song was arranged by Marc Shaiman, there is a section of the song starting at 2:03 that sends goosebumps down my back. I’ve just learned that this is called frisson, it’s a biological reaction to stimuli, and produces measurable results. As  Koudvorst say in the frisson subreddit, “frisson is a physical thing, you can feel it with shivers and goose bumps. It is not a moment of ‘oh that was nice’, it has a profound, and memorable effect.”  Think about that. What a powerful thing. It took a lot of people to make that happen. Wouldn’t it be amazing if our “songs” could produce frisson like actual songs do?

by spocko

How Do Justice Failures Affect You?

1:12 pm in Uncategorized by spocko

I used to work with a great organization called the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Beyond their four tenents of social justice, simple living, spirituality and community, they also had some interesting bumper-stickers. I’m a sucker for a good bumper-sticker.

One from Pope Paul VI said, “If you want peace. work for justice.

the winds of skagit.

the winds of skagit. by heanster, license via Creative Commons

I was thinking about that today after listening to Kevin Gosztola talk about his coverage of the Bradly Manning trial on the Sam Seder show. (You can listen to the show here, or watch it here, tell Sammy Spocko sent ya.)

Kevin talked about the Manning case, the legal definition of a whistle blower and how the government was all hopped up to get justice, but he was struck by how this cry for justice (and punishment) wasn’t being applied to people who had committed war crimes. Kevin is there every day, he knows how Manning was treated. He knows how he has suffered and what it has been costing Manning for trying to help expose bad actors.

And I thought. “How is the failure to bring war criminals to justice impacting me personally?

I think we have to make these failures of justice personal, otherwise it doesn’t matter, it’s just stuff happening to names out there.  (As we know, for the right wing making it personal means they or immediate family members have to be impacted, for those of us with a functioning empathic brain, it can be your family plus other humans and even animals.)

Then, after listening to Sam’s show, I was reading DSWright’s FDL piece about how the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has exposed offshore tax havens. The records detail the offshore holdings of people and companies in more than 170 countries and territories.

The leaked files provide facts and figures — cash transfers, incorporation dates, links between companies and individuals — that illustrate how offshore financial secrecy has spread aggressively around the globe, allowing the wealthy and the well-connected to dodge taxes and fueling corruption and economic woes in rich and poor nations alike.

Most of the companies exposed are based in Europe, there aren’t as many US companies on the list. But maybe that is a good thing, because after the Wall Street Banking Scandal I don’t have a lot of hope that simply exposing wrong doings in the US will lead to prosecution or justice.

My lack of hope in prosecution really sucks. I don’t wanna be one of those cynics saying, “Whatta ya goin’ to do? Them with the gold make the rules.”   In the past, especially during the Bush years, here was my trajectory when I read or heard a story about a failure of justice. “That’s wrong! That’s not just illegal, it’s unjust, it’s morally repugnant!”  Then I would think, analyze the situation and ask myself,  “What can I do about it?”  Finally I’d act.  Those were my three stages: Anger, analysis and then action.

So today, after hearing about natural and corporate people dodging taxes around the globe.  I wondered “When these corporations and people are exposed for their thieving ways, will there be any justice? If not, how does that affect me?

Both war criminals not brought to justice and companies that get away with defrauding and robbing people affect me. And it’s not just knowing that tax dodging costs individual taxpayers $1,026 a year. There are other ways that it hurts me, some small and some life transforming.

How about you? Can you see how justice failures impact your life?

One way I see it is in my economic situation, while the billionaires like Pete Peterson and the media go on about cutting deficits as if it Mr. Deficit is going to come into your house and take the food out of your mouth, the actual economy does lead to keeping food out of mouths.

Another way that I’m impacted are my  attitudes. I’m a real person (although only half human) my attitude toward the future have changed. There is a reason we see lot of dystopian SF these days.  The optimism of Star Trek was a selling point, “We will survive, grow and explore.” A negative attitude toward the future is shared by millions, and though you can’t always see it directly, it changes lives. It also moves markets. I wish politicians and prosecutors would understand this.

Prosecution of war and corporate criminals leads to hope. Hope leads to job growth.

Of course markets themselves don’t have emotions but that doesn’t stop  smarmy shows like “Marketplace” from attributing emotion to “the market” as if it were a person or, more usually, a deity we need to sacrifice human lives to make it happy.

I’m often amused how Marketplace often gives an arbitrary collection of stocks reasons for going up or down. “The Austeritians said the Dow looked pretty this morning so stocks were up 12 points. The tech-heavy NASDAQ  took a dive after the cute barista at Starbucks didn’t smile at him this morning. “Bonds were constipated as usual and are taking Kaopectate. “

I look at my usual anger, analysis and then action pattern and I now see how justice failures are affecting me. So what’s the action I can take? Help push for prosecution of war and corporate criminals could be one.  I don’t think we can count on prosecutors to take on exposed war and corporate criminals when they see something exposed. If we don’t push them, they will go after the little guys and whistle blowers because they have less resources.

Prosecutors need encouragement. So the next time you see a story that makes you angry that you fear is going to be a justice failure, consider how to push for prosecution or other justice.

Bringing justice to certain cases can have a much bigger impact on others than you realize.

If you want hope, work for justice.” -Spocko

Photo by Ryan Heaney released under a Creative Commons Share Alike license.

Cross posted to Spocko’s Brain