Sunday, March 26, 2023

Notes on The Persuaders

 _The Persuaders:  at the Front Lines of the Fight for Heartsm Minds, and Democracy_ by Anand Giridharadas

NY:  Alfred A Knopf, 2022
ISBN 9780593318997

Dividing to Conquer
(7)  “The IRA [Internet Research Agency] knows that in political warfare disgust is a much more powerful tool than anger,” [Darren] Linvill and [Patrick] Warren have written.  “Anger drives people to the polls, disgust drives countries apart.”

(33-34)  “The thing about our movement is that we’re too woke,” [Linda] Sarsour told me, “which is why we don’t have mass mobilization in the way that we should,”  In choosing the word “woke,” she was using a term that once had real meaning in a Black radical tradition - “Today our very survival depends on oiur ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change,” Dr King once said - and had since been co-opted by the political right as a catchall label for the more pluralist, egalitarian future than many white people feared.

(48)  The problem she [Loretta Ross] observed with one’s 90-percenters is that instead of focusing on the vast overlap, they fixated on the 10 percent divergence.

(49)  For an activist who works in coalition, 75-percenters require a further skill beyond what 90-percenters do.  You don’t merely have to tolerate others focising on different things, attacking a broadly similar vision of the prolbem in their own, distinct way.  You have to accept large islands of disagreement in a sea of assent.  With your 75-percenters, there is still so much you can get done together.  But [Loretta] Ross obsreved an excessive interest in that nonoverlapping 25 percent.  It was a scab people wanted to keep picking instead of doing the things they could do.

…You approach those people [50-percenters] by first accepting they don't want the world you want.  Their vision is different.  But if you can understand their values and needs and look for openings, as when Ross’s father fell into dread about his health care, you can, in addition to helping them, pry open a closed mind.

(50)  You have to spend a lot of time on the concept of fear, because a lot of people, particularly in that 25-percenter category, operate from platforms of fear,” she [Loretta Ross] told me.  “Fear of immigrants, fear of queers, fear of this, fear of that.  And so you can have really productive conversations talking about their fears, but you  have to take their fears seriously for them to even be able to listen to you.  If you dismiss their fears, they don’t listen.  They don’t think you’re taking the fact that they’re afraid seriously enough."

(51)  Loretta Ross:  “I think as part of the movement to end violence against women, we made some overpromises.  We told people, particularly rape survivors, that we could create safe spaces, when in fact all we can do is create spaces to be brave together."

(55)  She told them before they worry about those they were trying to win over, they should look at themselves. "You have to be in a loving, healing space to call anybody in,” [Loretta] Ross told me.  “You can’t do it from anger, because it's just going to end up badly.  So you have to asess why you’re doing it.  What’s your motivation?  Are you trying help this person learn, or are you actually trying to change them?”

Movement Building
(70)  Alicia Garza:  … the longer I’m in the practice of building a movement, the more I realize that movement building isn’t about finding your tribe - it’s about growing your tribe across difference to focus on a common set of goals.

(71)  Progressives, Garza said, too often seek out united fronts when, in fact, they should be forging popular fronts.  Drawing on Marx, she defines popular fronts as “alliances that come together across a range of political beliefs, for the purpose of achieving a short- to intermediate-term goal, while united fronts are long-term alliances based on the highest level of political alignment."

(74)  Alicia Garza:  So the moral of this story is how you make people feel matters.  And sometimes part of our purist cultre can be not having room for the waking among the work.  And because of that, we just kind of keep circulating among the woke.  Forgeting that the whole point is not to be cliques.

(102)  Kurt [white father of an adopted Afro-American child]:  “I think the Black community will go, ‘Great, big deal.  We've been grieving for hundreds of years.  So yay!  Congratulations.  Nice work,  Suck it up,  Change.  Let’s go.’”
NB:  But where do we go, what do we do, what is our defined task and common vision?

(119)  Personal narrative and emotional appeals were how a politics that presented like change but avoided real change were sold to people, so they wouldn’t notice how little they were getting.

(148)  Ben McDonald:  “Whenever you confront somebody and you win, don’t walk away from the table.  Always give them the golden gate of retreat.”

The point was not that you let the other side advance.  The word “retreat” was key.  That was the intransigent part.  You needed your vision of progress to prevail over theirs.  What was up for grabs was how it would go down.  Retreat itself was not negotiable, but there could always be ways of their retreating that bred resentment and made the conflict live on forever and other ways of retreating that made those who had lost or had changed their mind feel considered and seen, feel that they still had their dignity intact, which allowed them to let go of having to be right and having to win.

(192)  AOC:  “Some people are of the belief that electoralism is broken beyond repair and it is a dead end when you look at the profound influence of dark money and X, Y, Z ways that American democracy is fragile, imperiled, or broken.  The thing I keep coming back to is that it really isn’t one or the other.  It’s that we need each other.

“Ther are certain things that can be accomplished electorally that simply cannot be done with grassroots organizing,” she continued.  “There are some things that can be done with collective mass movement that will never be accomplished through electoral means.  And, in fact, going beyond that binary, both of these types of work and organizing are necessary for the success of the other.  Yet you will have hard-liners in both categories.”
NB:  “Use EVERYTHING!” as my old martial arts teacher would exhort us.  And there are more than just electoral politics and mass movements.

(202)  AOC:  I don’t value the things you think I value.  That precisely is the source of power.  The thing they fear the most is what they don’t control.

Anat Shenker-Osorio
(220)  The ranks of the persuadable change from issue to issue, year to year.  But [Anat] Shenker-Osorio thinks about it as a rule of 20-60-20.  When you ask people to rate their support for various issues (as opposed to parties, about which people are far more partisan and tribal), a fifth of people are committed to your side, a fifth of people are reliably for the opposition;  most people are “moderate,” which is to say their minds are in play.

(226)  Something struck her.  On Luntz’s tests, which tracked the attitude of base, opposition, and moderates listening to a message, the winning one was defined as that which raised base approval, raised moderate approval, and _reduced_ opposition approval.  Not the message that raised all three.

…It was that you should seek out ways to please your base, get it chanting in ways that encircled and wooed the persuadables, and, at the same time, alienate and marginalize the opposition.  The left needed, if you’ll pardon the expression, to dial for blue meat.

(228)  To sum up the [Anat] Shenker-Osorio method thus far:  Don’t dilute the vision to reach out to a middle that isn’t in the middle but is confused.  Thrill your base;  alienate the people who aren’t going to vote for you anyway but will do you the favor, if you’re setting the rhetorical agenda, of yelling your ideas all over town.  Don’t be afraid to call out, to woo the right people and drive away the right people.  And there was more.  These callouts, she argued, needed to be nested within a positive galvanizing mission that her allies on the left too often forget to include while deploring problems.

(231)  Voters aren’t stirred to reduce harm, Shenker-Osorio said.  They’re motivated to create good.  

...“Paint the beautiful tomorrow”

…”The entire premise of my work is, ’Say what you’re for.’  The rest is commentary.”

(231-232)  “I genuinely believe,” she continued, “it is a Republican wet dream that they have us talking constantly about everything that we oppose because (a) it gives them more airtime, (b) it scares the shit out of people, and when people are afraid, what they seek is a more authoritarian, more restrictive, more conservative kind of leadership and structure, (c) it has us not speak about what we’re for.”  She joked with colleagues that despite all her research into the nuances of different messages, there was really just one winning message for her side.  “That message is, ‘We can have nice things.’"

(235)  “What you fight,” [Anat] Shenker-Osorio likes to say, “you feed.”
NB:  Taoism, aikido

(238)  … the fight (for voting rights) should be characterized as seeking the freedom to vote.

… “We should care for our land, we should care for our earth, because it’s the American way.  It’s what we’ve always done.”  To her ear, this sounded off, because tradition, doing something because it’s what we’ve always done, is a frame that will never benefit the progressive left.

(240) The message ordering [Anat] Shenker-Osorio suggests instead goes like this:  shared value, problem, solution.

… A fundamental thing many people who disagree with you share with you is the desire to feel like good people.  If the message is venturing into challenging territory, it helps to ground it first in a shared belief.

(249)  What the recent surveys showed was that when you asked Americans of all persuasions what values they most cared about, freedom consistently topped the list… “This really, truly is, over and again, the core value Americans associate with this country,” Shenker-Osorio told the the group…
NB:  Freedom from or freedom for?

(253)  Shenker-Osorio:  “We don’t have time to be genuflecting at the altar of bipartisanship, and pretending that Republicans are a party, that they are anything other than an authoritarian faction.  We do not have time.”

(256)  An astonishing 17 percent of Americans were said to be QAnon believers now [as of 2021]
NB:  17 percent supported Dick Cheney after he shot someone in the face 

Deprogramming Cultification
(259)  Once again, they [deprogrammers after Diane Benscoter was with the Moonies] weren’t trying to make her believe anything particular in that moment.  They were illustrating the anatomy of brainwashing in general.  It was helpful that the manipulation in question had nothing to do with the Moonies, belonging to a completely alien situation.  People have less elaborate fencing systems to protect them from ideas on subjects they have little investment in.  So she could see the art of manipulation more clearly and objectively.  And then, having seen it, she could begin to make connections herself.

…Attempting to persuade her [Diane Benscoter] of new beliefs - of better biblical interpretations - hadn’t worked.  But making space for new beliefs to enter by deflating the old ones was more effective.

(262) Where cults thrived, something in the society wasn’t working right.

(266)  [Diane] Benscoter set up a nonprofit called Antidote, and these days it is in the early phase of a potentially vast project on how societies can vaccinate citizens against the virus of cults, disinformation, and manipulation.

… She wants to develop educational videos that might wake cult victims up, by playing on the only desire she has found can compete with the desire to have the world explained simply and totally - the desire not to be conned.  She imagines video listicles like “Ten ways to tell if you;re being psychologically manipulated."

(268)  John Cook, Monash University “a systematic, step-by-step process for identifying fallacies”:

(271)  Cook’s website Skeptical Science:

(273)  Why couldn’t the opponents of misinformaiton do the same?  Instead of answering disinformation with better information, try to discredit the misinformers!  It was in keeping with what [Diane] Benscoter had experienced when the efforts to replace her beliefs with truer belifes had failed, but then the warning that she had been deceived by unscrupulous people using unscrupulous methods had worked.

(285) He [Cesar Torres] was the guy who tried to tell himself what John Cook had argued:  that the crazies weren’t perpetrators so much as victims of a society awash in mis- and disinformation.

Deep Canvassing
(299)  “Over time,” [Steve] Deline continued, “it became cleat that, ‘Oh, all of these answers we’re trying to give aren’t helping.’  We can try to answer people’s concerns with facts and information.  And their fears about gay people, and about their church being forced to do something, and their righteous indignation about lefties pushing things on them - there’s no answer we can give that dispels these fears.  They’re actually in a place where they're wrestling with some deeply seated emotions.  The thing that actually made a different was inviting them to talk about their lives, and then things they've experienced and their stories, and sharing our stories.

(300)  [Steve] Deline and his fellow canvassers didn’t think of themselves as being divided against their targets on the other side of the doors so much as they thought of their targets as being divided against themselves.  They saw tham as being lost, grasping.  It was another way of saying that Shenker-Osorio had described about the swing voter being confused, not centrist.  (She would eventually advise deep canvassing effforts around the 2020 elections.)  The canvasser’s opportunity wasn't to implant something of their own, something foreign to the target, into them.  Rather, it was to pit some things going on inside them against other things going on inside them, to get them to re-rank these things.
NB:  Another possibility is to approach people as if we are all confused and trying to figure it out so let’s do it together.  As if we had a common positive vision.

(301)  First, the canvasser was to make contact

Second, the canvasser was to create a “nonjudgmental context.”

(302)  Vox:  “The new research shows that if you want to change someone’s mind, you need to have patience with them, ask them to reflect on their life, and listen.  It’s not about calling people out or labeling them fill-in-the-bland-phobic.  Which makes it feel like a big departure from a lot of the current political dialogue.”

… Third, the canvasser was to exchange personal narratives…

…  Fourth, the canvasser was to invite the analogic perspective taking.  Was there a time _you_ needed support.  Was there a time _you_ needed health care but struggled to access it?

…  Fifth, the canvasser was to make an explicit case.  Here, after doing much listening and eliciting, the canvasser spoke more openly of their own feeloings about the subject at hand.

…  Sixth, the canvasser, having sown some cognitive dissonance, was to seek to help the subject wrestle with it out loud.

(303)  Seventh, and only seventh, the canvasser was to respond to the subject’s concerns with talking points and facts.  As Deline had observed, this seventh step was step one for many amateurs.

…  “Only after rapport had been established and stories shared would canvassers address concerns.”  To be fact-checked, in other words, had prerequisites.  It helped first to feel heard, cared for, respected, seen in the fullness of one’s complexity and even, yes, confusion.

Eighth, and finally, the canvasser was to ask the subject to rate their support for the policy question again.  Has our conversation changed your opinion? the canvasser asks. The scholars who helped build up the method call this the “rehearsal of opinion change,” with the subject often lured into “active processing” of their own ideas and stories and background and the cognitive dissonance that might have surfaced.  The theory is that political opinions are often hastily formed from scanty information.  Following a substantive chat at the door, the subject is encouraged to think more slowly about whether their view comports with their deepest values, with what they know to be true, with their sense of themselves, with their experiences.

(308)  For every hundred voters the campaign spoke to about establishing universal health care, including for undocumented immigrants, it moved around eight of them, according to the resulting research published by the scholars Joshua Kallla of Yale and David Broockman of Berkeley.
NB: 8-10% moivement

(311)  He [Matthew, a person Cesar the deep canvasser is talking to] was a fount less of political opinnions than of political emotions.  He felt betrayed, lied to, ignored, condescended to.  Many of those feelings were grounded in the realities of American life.  But he then felt a need to assign ideas to these emotions.

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