February 8, 2008
Reactive thinking vs. reflective thinking
By James Wilson
SPECIAL NOTE:  Jim Babka will be on Straight Talk with Jerry Hughes at 3 PM Eastern today. See below the signature for details on how you can listen.

Quote of the Day:

"I think the world is run by 'C' students."
-- Al McGuire

Subject: Reactive thinking vs. reflective thinking

Thousands of TV hours are devoted to elections, but issues are rarely discussed. We hear a few buzzwords like change, experience, or liberal and conservative, but these words mean so many different things to so many different people that they don't really communicate anything at all.

Elections aren't about issues. Elections are sporting events.

We gravitate to elections for the same reason we watch sports or movies. We like the competition. We like the drama. We like to keep score. We liked to see "good guys" pitted against "bad guys." It's all about the drama. It isn't about philosophy.

So the question must be asked: can elections change minds? Can elections change America's intellectual environment? We think the odds are so stacked against it as to make it almost metaphysically impossible.

Imagine a Yankees fan trying to convince a Red Sox fan that the Yankees aren't evil. The effort would be pointless, because success would remove the drama of the competition. We don't want to hear the other side's case. We want to crush them, dramatically, or if we are crushed instead, then we also want to suffer dramatically, just like we do at a horror movie or a tear jerker. 

We are hardwired to love dramatic emotions. Even negative ones. How else could human beings have survived for so long, when for most of our time on Earth life has been nasty, brutal, and short? We are built to endure, and even love, drama.

Sports and movies and electoral campaigns all push the same psychological buttons. They all work on the human mind in exactly the same way. Elections put us in a mode of reactive thinking and dramatic emotion, not sober, reflective consideration.

It doesn't matter that your candidate has compelling reasons for the things he believes, his compelling reasons won't be heard. Those who most need to listen will refuse to do so because your candidate is the "bad guy" in the drama, and plays for the wrong team in the sporting event.

But these psychological factors are hardly the only problem with using an "electoral strategy" to downsize the federal government. There is also the problem of perverse economic incentives. People like Milton Friedman taught us a long time ago that coercive government grows because . . .

  • Those who receive government favors have a huge incentive to fight for their preservation, while . . .
  • The cost of those favors is spread among all taxpayers, in small amounts, giving taxpayers little incentive to fight against them

These natural incentives create an environment that favors expansive, coercive government. These incentives permeate everything, influencing what people think, how politicians behave, what government schools teach, and even what the establishment media broadcasts.

The candidate who opposes expansive, coercive government must shout above this roar, but even if he can accomplish that feat, no one will listen, because he is prejudged to be the "bad guy" in the drama, playing for the wrong team in the sporting event.

But people still try. Then the votes come in, the results are low, and everyone, especially the media, cites them as evidence that the candidate's ideas must be wrong, or even crazy, because no one supports them.

But the truth is . . .

The result was predetermined by the nature of the vehicle used to communicate the ideas. Ideas communicated by a candidate provoke reactive emotion, not reflective thought.

It really doesn't matter if there are marginal exceptions to this. Of course there are exceptions. There are always exceptions. But marginal exceptions do not establish rules. Rules are established by the bulk of the evidence. And the verdict is clear . . .

The candidate you support will not convince others to accept your ideas. Rather, convincing people to accept your ideas will lead people to support the candidates you want. The ideas must be sold first, outside the context of an electoral contest, before candidates who favor those ideas will win elections.

Indeed, if you sell your ideas broadly, to everyone, everywhere, every day, in a less reactive setting, then the candidates you want will be everywhere too, eager to march in front of the parade you have created.

But this strategic vision is itself difficult to sell, because it too may provoke reactive emotion rather than reflective thought. No one wants to hear that the electoral contest/drama/sporting event, about which they care so much, has deep inherent flaws. You may even feel this way. So how do we counter this?

All we can do is make our strategic case, and ask that you not react emotionally. Instead . . .

Reflect upon what we are saying. And learn more, because many points relative to our case cannot be made in the space we have here.

You can do so by getting a copy of "The Downsize DC Vision," which we send to new donors and monthly pledgers. Many people who have read this document have written to tell us that it has changed the way they look at the world. It has changed their vision of what must be done.

We need your help to keep pursuing our vision of reaching the point where we can sell our ideas to everyone, everywhere, every day, in a non-reactive, non-electoral environment. Our goal for the moment is modest, because you start small or not at all -- we need to raise about $5,300 before the end of this month.

Your contribution is our budget, be it big or small. You can contribute here.

Thank you for being a part of the growing Downsize DC Army.

Jim Babka & Perry Willis
President & Communications Director, Inc.


I (Jim Babka) will be on Straight Talk with Jerry Hughes today (Friday) on the Accent Radio Network and more than 15 stations. This is a regular (weekly) appearance, and far from scripted. I never know what to expect and some incredible conversations occur here. My hour-long appearance begins at 3:05 PM Eastern time (2:05 PM Central, 1:05 PM Mountain, 12:05 PM Pacific). To listen, go here. The toll-free call-in number is: 1-866-222-2368 The email is: Jerry at AccentRadio dot com
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