How we perceive a thing depends upon our emotional state - our state of mind. When our state of mind is positive, we receive new information in a positive light. The same goes not just for negative emotional states, but for a wide range of mental and psychological conditions that mix to comprise our frame of mind.
We experience this simply when we snap at someone undeservedly while in a bad mood. Moods are short-term affairs, though, and our state of mind is susceptible to longer-term influence by a multitude of factors. Savvy marketers know that, if they want to sell jeans or MP3 players or kitchen appliances, they’re far better off selling a belief system than selling product features. Selling a belief system is a longterm proposition, which is why branding isn’t simply the result of a logo and tagline. But once a belief system has been successfully sold to consumers, the marketer has a durable framework inside of which correctly attached products can be sold with minimal residual effort - a consumer state of mind whereby self-image has become dependent upon reinforcing the goodness of the belief system.
This type of behavioral manipulation is big business, and marketing budgets in industries from consumer electronics to pharmaceutical products reflect as much. Cars, radios, insurance plans, credit cards, utilities - wherever consumer choice is touted, behavioral manipulation is at work. When you consider that over 70% the American economy is comprised of consumer spending, you can see why behavioral manipulation is presently a required condition for American economic growth. Arguments about the sustainability or health of this situation aside, the fact remains. It is here that politics and marketing merge.
No politician wants to see negative economic growth. As President Coolidge said, “the business of government is business.” The interests of government and business are inseparably aligned. It is, therefore, a concomitant truth that government has a vital interest in reinforcing, and indeed using, the same belief-creation methods used by marketers to sell products and drive the consumer economy. It is, quite simply, a matter of national stability for our collective state of mind to remain somewhat well tamed and managed. What we perceive as “freedom” is relative to what we perceive to fall within an acceptable range of possibilities. If a citizenry’s perception of that range can be effectively sculpted, the problem of how to control that citizenry (limit freedom) without provoking rebellion practically disappears.
In political terms, this is called “reframing the debate.” Most of us find it very difficult to detect when reframing is underway. One reason it is so hard to detect reframing at scale is that it is, by definition, a coordinated effort among many people. Another reason is that reframers are extraordinarily skilled marketers. Most challengingly, reframers often employ fear and misdirection to gain control of our perceptions. Today’s toxic, indecipherable American political climate is the result of many decades of relentless reframing. It is not surprising that our “political process” appears to many observers to consist of little more than rancorous accusations of dishonesty, betrayal, and even stupidity. The sad, albeit intended, effect of this has been to alienate citizens from almost every meaningful corner of civic life, with one limping exception: voting booths.
We started this site with a single mission: To shine the steady light of rational analysis - devoid of intellectual pollution like fear or outrage - on the substance of contemporary political debate. It’s a discipline we needed for ourselves, for our own sanity and integrity. But more importantly, it’s a discipline we as citizens simply can’t afford not to develop, practice, and continually renew.
So, with open hearts and clear eyes, let’s get started…