“The Way In” To – Restoring Our American Republic
In a recent essay, (Climate Change and the Larger Cultural Picture Round IV: What it will Take to Win), I made the following statement:
Two irreconcilable views of the individual and his/her place in society for decades have been battling intensely beneath the surface of Western culture. The underground pro-individualist movement has finally broken free and brought the battle out in the open thereby exposing the nature of the destructive anti-individualist ideologies that have dominated cultural trends in our world for over 100 years.
Q: Given this new state of affairs—how can those who believe in the founding principles of the U.S. such as freedom, equality before the law, rights, etc. use this understanding to help restore our American Republic?
A: We need to, first, understand the historic nature that this opportunity represents and leave no stone unturned in using it in a judicious and life-sustaining manner to help restore the republic.
Q: How can we be “judicious and act in a “life-sustaining” manner to take advantage of this opportunity?
A: We need to not gloat and/or humiliate those who have been seduced by destructive ideas floating around in our culture as we reach out to people who we think are adhering to “bad values.”
Q: How do we effectively reach out without gloating over or humiliating those we are seeking to reach?
A: We find the way in through an approach that resonates with them emotionally.
Jennifer Grossman of the Atlas Society in a recent speech to a Libertarian Party convention discussed the state of our culture and proposed the possibility that the surging appeal of socialism, The Green New Deal, and other destructive policies was more a case of “bad values” than a misrepresented history of socialism and capitalism. She suggested using an emotional appeal that resonates with those who have been exposed to these and other destructive ideas as the way in toward reversing the appeal of socialism with certain demographics in the U.S., especially the young. She emphasized the idea of gratitude as a way to reach out to Americans who are being led astray. Gratitude is a positive emotion we should feel for the many things we enjoy in the U.S. such as the freedom to speak and act in our own interest, the right to own property, and the material wealth we enjoy due to the economic powerhouse created by application of these freedoms in the U.S. Also, in the realm of negative emotions, she noted it is important to bring the issues of envy, resentment, and victimhood out into the open where they can be examined as the threat to human flourishing that they are.
Ideas that resonate and reach hearts and minds represent the way in to changing a person’s value system. This when accompanied by effective activism based on those values can lead to significant cultural change. I believe the following two steps are the most effective approach to finding the way in and then following that with communication to help individuals understand how to remove “bad values” and replace them with a pro-individualist set of values:
(1) Use a positive emotional appeal such as gratitude to open discussions on cultural/political issues.
(2) Take the “high ground” by using a moral argument based on pro-individualist values in discussions/proposals.
Using Positive Emotional Appeals
In her talk, Grossman elaborated on why gratitude is so important. She likened our culture to a human body infected by a “socially transmitted disease.” A disease consisting of envy, victimhood, resentment, and greed. Gratitude she noted is: “kryptonite to envy,” an “antidote to victimhood” and “it neutralizes cynicism.”
The enormous and growing success of the Atlas Society with their storybook videos focusing on gratitude and other emotional appeals as the way in are proof of the effectiveness of this approach. (For the complete text of Grossman’s speech, please click here).
Taking the Moral High Ground
Positive appeals to gratitude are an excellent start, but to fully address a case of “bad values,” good life-serving values must be offered and accepted in their stead.
Progressive liberals and others on the left (e.g., full-blown socialists such as Bernie Sanders) have always understood the importance of framing issues and taking the high ground with values. Herbert Croly and his colleagues back in the late 19th and early 20th century knew Americans valued progress. This is why they coined the term “progressive” to identify their political perspective. However, instead of progress in the traditional sense of empowering individuals with liberty and individual rights, they redefined these and principles to mean the opposite of their original meaning. (For details on how those on the left frame issues see Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Value and Frame the Debate, George Lakoff, 2014.)
Values are the critical component in gaining the high ground that will enable us to begin promoting a pro-individual rights agenda to counter the progressive agenda. Why is this so?
Values are the vehicle for defining who we are and what we want, and help us to develop our life’s purpose, or mission. This gives them enormous motivational power. When we present a philosophic viewpoint consistent with our values, we can rouse people to action, and sustain that action with our values serving as both fuel and desired end result (i.e., cause and effect).
Values are the reason behind why grassroots movements are so effective as cultural change agents. Grassroots movements are always value-based, and what we have in today’s world is a crisis of values. Given the fact that progressive liberal ideas dominate the vast majority of our political/cultural institutions, we will need to rely heavily on grassroots movements to restore the republic in America.
Only a handful of our elected leaders have an understanding and/or belief in the ideas discussed in this essay. Progressive liberal leaders are adamantly opposed to the rights of the individual and having been pushing a victim-based ideology on the American people that has brought immense destruction to the republic in America. Conservative leaders by and large are dazed and confused philosophically thus making it highly unlikely they will be able to initiate reforms without significant grassroots support. Because of that, it is critical that the American people become engaged via grassroots mechanisms in the fight to stop the push toward socialism currently gathering momentum in America. Push back against gun control and other measures is already taking place in America as many realize it is time to get involved. By recognizing the way in—and the importance of taking the moral high ground— grassroots America can become an unstoppable force to restore our American republic. – Mike Gemmell
(For more on how and why grassroots approaches can effect positive cultural change see the section The Grassroots Solution in: “Climate Change and the Larger Cultural Picture – Round III.”
(Note: For an explanation as to why most of our Conservative leaders are unable to initiate significant positive reforms see the section What is Wrong With the Conservative Leadership? In The Year Ahead for the American Republic.”