Last week during a debate with Republican former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at George Washington University, Governor Howard Dean offered a compelling narrative about immigration in the United States:
I don’t believe we ought to demonize people who are trying to do the best they can… How many people in this hall have American Indian blood in you? Raise your hand… Everybody else is an immigrant! The reason this country is such an extraordinary success is because we got those people who dared to leave their homes, who dared to do something different … who took some risks. And their descendants are all here. Every American family has a narrative about somebody who worked hard, came up from the bottom, scrubbed floors on their knees – and their grandchildren and great grandchildren got to go to George Washington University [location of debate]. We gotta keep that alive!
…When the Irish got here, no Irish needed apply. When the Jews got here, they couldn’t go to the Ivy League. When the Italians got here, they had to labor on the tunnels underneath New York. Everybody had to face this. Isn’t it time we stopped and accepted people who want to make America great, and let them be citizens again?
Why does Howard Dean’s answer resonate? Why is it a potent narrative? What are the narrative components? What emotions and cognitive frames does he prime and connect with?
originally published on October 28, 2010
Stephen Colbert’s much-publicized March to Keep Fear Alive tomorrow-and his whole schtick really-may be making a far greater political impact than you consciously realize. I’m no neuroscientist, but I might even argue that the faux right-wing pundit is physically altering the very structure of your brain.
Such an outlandish allegation requires a little set-up. Ready for an adventure into the political brain?
Let’s start with rats.
In a brilliant Radiolab episode called Memory and Forgetting (I highly recommend listening to the first 21 minutes here), hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich discuss a memory experiment with rats. They play an audio tone for a rat, just before giving it a slight electrical shock. Predictably, the next time the tone is played, the rat reacts. Here’s Jad:
The moment it hears the tone and then feels the shock, inside its head a bunch of neurons start to build a connection… Memory is a structure that connects one brain cell to another. So the next time that the rat hears that damn tone, since inside its brain tone brain cells are physically connected to shock brain cells, it’s gonna know that after this [tone sound plays] comes this [shock sound effect plays]. Instead of just listening passively, it’s gonna freeze, bracing itself for what is about to happen.
originally published on September 11, 2010
Paul Rosenberg nailed it yesterday in his article on Taxes & Terrorism (Open Left):
…the basis of conservative politics is fear. The basis of liberal politics is reason. The conservative try to flood the zone with fear, so that people can’t think straight . . . If the GOP can turn anything into a flashpoint of fear, then they can keep on repeating it, and all thought shuts down–perhaps not for everyone, but for enough. But for them to be really secure, they need the Democrats to buy into their logic as well. Once the Democrats are gripped with fear, and unwilling to talk about a given issue, then that issue belongs to the GOP. Their position on it doesn’t have to make any sense. Making sense is beside the point. The point is scaring people. The point is, in a word, terrorism.
As today is September 11, it’s fitting to address the subject of fear – especially considering the chorus of stupid that’s been ringing from Gainsville to Manhattan.