Friday, May 20, 2011

Bottoms up

One thing that amuses me about old-school liberals is their focus on "community organizing". Community organizing can improve things in a local community, but has proven useless at winning elections in the modern era. The main problem is that, aside from small local elections, public opinion today is controlled from the top down -- by television and radio. People largely think and believe what they hear on the TV and radio. The old days of people gathering by the watercooler to discuss politics and other things are no longer operative, I have not heard politics discussed in the workplace in 15 years because ever since the "Reagan Revolution", politics became too volatile a subject for the workplace. And most people go home and park their fat spreading asses in front of a television set and that's where they get their world view.

The only way to change public discourse today in a way that affects elections is is top down. That's reality. Television and radio have simply proven too powerful at influencing opinions and consuming time that could be used to think for bottom-up strategies to change the overall public discourse in any meaningful way. If liberals are really serious about changing America, they need to figure out some way to handle that problem, because the traditional bottom-up liberal tactics might have worked prior to the invention of radio and television, but in today's era, they are as futile as going into business making buggy whips.

-- Badtux the Stumped Penguin


  1. Not that I cared for the result, but how do you explain Obama's 2008 win if it was not due to bottom-up politics?

    But I do not disagree with your basic conclusion. From driving along the highways of Ohio, I have seen the presumably last few vehicles that keep makers of buggy whips in business. The Amish always offer a friendly wave (well, maybe not so friendly to people who almost drive over them), but I expect even they eventually will be absorbed. So far, though, liberals' attempts to acquire media of their own have been dismayingly unsuccessful, even for liberals with money.

  2. Steve, the Obama campaign was the first ever application of modern branding techniques to a political campaign. The same people who created the Nike swoosh and other such famous brands also created the Obama brand. The best branding is branding which gets people excited about the brand, and the Obama brand did do so, enough that the branding exercise managed to change the public discourse for a while until ugly reality reared its head and it became clear (many months too late) that his "hope" and "change" slogans should have been "hope for change". But in the end, the Obama campaign actually *proves* my point -- it was a superb application of modern branding techniques to sell a product, a top down phenomenon that got people excited about the brand -- not something that started at the grassroots and bubbled up.

    - Badtux the Advertising Penguin

  3. So what you're saying is that to take control in America, you need to manipulate large groups of stupid, easily influenced people. Not that I disagree with you! That's a sad but true fact about the U.S.

    The "undecideds" or "swing voters" are what Thom Hartmann, one of my favourite left-wing radio talkers, labels "low information voters." He's gotta be polite, but I don't, so I just call 'em dumbasses. If you're paying so little attention to the state of your nation's affairs that you haven't formulated an opinion about whether you;d prefer a McCain to an Obama (back in the day when we thought there was a difference, aside from McPalin starting a civilization-ending nuclear war sooner) then you probably shouldn't be voting. Trouble is, a dumbass's vote counts just as much as mine. Such is the nature of democracy.

    I still like community organizing, because in the collapse that I believe is coming, people who have gotten together beforehand and formed alliances for post-crash living will do better than the unconnected. The Right does community organizing too -- it's called "church." (I think you have noted this facto before.) The leftist community groups I belong to here, and have linked with in other places, might be a bit muzzy-headed compared to slick ad-based efforts. (Goddam leftists spend so much time talking about "process" that they hardly ever get anything done.)

    But I'd still rather be amongst a left-leaning organized community when the economic short-circuit zaps the system than to be on my own, or tied in with a group whose existence is based on a superstitious belief in an invisible sky wizard that doesn't exist. So cheers to the bottom-uppers. They might not change the world, but they might save your life. Assuming that you'd even want to live with the way things are going to be after the implosion.

  4. Oh, I'm not saying don't organize locally, Bukko. What I'm saying is that it might make people's local life better, it may even affect the outcome of local elections if your organization is able to participate in a local branding exercise, but it won't win state or national elections or to significant degree improve people's situation, which to a large extent is dictated from the center today by politicians elected via branding in the mass media.

    So by all means do organize locally if only to not go insane. Just don't expect bottom-up change to happen, because it won't, because most people will respond to whatever branding is presented to them in the mass media, not anything that happens locally.

    Note that I'm talking about America here, where branding is everything. I don't know what the situation is in other cultures...

    - Badtux the Realist Penguin

  5. I don't know what the situation is in other cultures...

    I can only speak from an outsider's perspective about the slice of Australia I observed, and the smaller slice of Canada. In Oz, both because voting is mandatory and there's more class consciousness there, I observed more actual politics being pushed than branding. Granted, Labor and the Greens are trying to push their own brand images of "for the battlers" (working class) and "enviro" respectively (not so sure about the Liberals) but it's more issue-focused than the U.S.

    From what I've seen in Canada, people are so blase about politics that it's hard to figure out whether branding is going on. In the recent election, I hardly heard anyone in the real world speaking about issues or parties or anything. There are clutches of people who are seriously into politics, and in Vancouver, there's a lot of ethnically-based politicking. But aside from the NDP trying to brand itself as the real alternative to the system, and the Liberals trying (and failing spectacularly) to brand themselves as Canada's traditional governing party, the marketeers didn't penetrate much mindspace. It was almost like a private club's election than for a national government.


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