Sth Carolina Debate: The Lowdown On The Dust-Up genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Same Old Red Meat?

I've been stewing on last evening’s debate for the better part of the day. Generally speaking, I found it to be rather disquieting. It took me until this evening to discern the source of my anxiety...and my belief that it was little more than a quid pro quo demonstration of status quo politicking. My first instinct was to be angry with the candidates...and then I began to reconsider. That would have been the easy conclusion...but it would have also been an exercise in self-deception.

I'll now attempt a reasoned explanation of my newfound hypothesis; that being that despite reading and listening to the many protestations that Senators Clinton and Obama engaged in petty bickering...and the fact that they did...both candidates simply provided the stick that most voters are seeking with which to unleash their own particular bias...upon the candidate they oppose...regardless of the actual facts.

Think about it for a moment. Logic should tell us that candidates engage in such tactics because they have been proven to be effective. Therefore, logic should also tell us that they are effective because it is what we the voters accept, want, and expect. Here's the thing. As the election process unfolds and we each select the candidate we prefer, we then pivot in search of the means to discredit the candidates we reject.

So what does that mean with regards to my hypothesis? Two things. One, we select for the truth we prefer; not the truth we ascertain or uncover. Two, once a candidate speaks the truth we prefer, we're willing to accept untruths about the other candidates in order to bolster our own biased beliefs.

Hence, as with Pavlov's dogs, our actions train candidates to perform the deeds and actions that result in the positive rewards they seek...our votes. Here's how it works. Over time, voters make known to candidates their beliefs and expectations which is then transformed into a subtle but certain acquiescing to the assaults upon the enemy in order to obtain the power that we believe will allow us to reinforce (legislate) our shared beliefs. In the end, this process succeeds in conditioning politicians to launch the spurious attacks upon their opponents in order to receive the primary benefit they desire...an Election Day victory.

Here's the disconnect. Pavlov's dogs began to salivate at the sound of a bell once it was linked with being fed. Politicians also begin to link negative campaigns with Election Day votes. Once this happens, the quest for satiation on the part of the candidate and the voter (victory for the candidate and power for the voter) sets aside what ought to be the ongoing prioritization of truth. Thus the affirmation of our shared truth (the goal)...the truths (beliefs) we prefer...the truths (or lack thereof) that achieves the goal (reward) we seek...becomes the acceptable and/or preferred stimulus-response construct.

Once this model is cemented into the collective psyche, winning is the objective and the pursuit of truth...a truth that is just...not just the truth we like...is no longer the relevant priority. Our own particular bias becomes the driving force and all actions are viewed through this skewed prism...including a willingness to discount the truths of the opponent and to accept the attachment of untruths to the enemy if they have the potential to succeed in sullying and defeating that enemy. Simultaneously, we're outraged at the similar tactics of the opposition...though fully in denial as to the inevitable tit-for-tat reality.

Looking specifically at last evening’s debate, we begin to see the pull of this deeply ingrained construct. Let's assume Obama had intended to conduct the campaign he initially outlined...one that focused upon bringing unity...or at the very least a shared respect for the truth we can mutually agree upon as opposed to the truth we can impose. However, following his losses in New Hampshire and Nevada...coupled with indications the Clinton attacks may be resonating with voters...he is forced to reconsider.

I believe he feels forced to do this because the strategy he has employed seems to be failing to overcome the established expectations. In essence, the long-standing stimulus-reward conditioning prevents voters from properly attributing his actions. His hesitation, or refusal to participate in the process as it is designed, leads voters to conclude his truths mustn't be valid or, at the very least, his convictions about his beliefs aren't all that strong (see also Fred Thompson). The problem is that the prevailing mind set posits that all parties share the same goal and those unwilling to do what it takes to achieve those goals must lack the conviction (or the truth) to do what is necessary to win the reward (the power to impose that truth).

I suspect Obama's original strategy was premised upon the notion that the truth he would support when elected would first be as much of the truth as he had already espoused...but it wouldn't stop there. He believed he would also endeavor to get more or most voters to coalesce around a shared truth. Unfortunately, in the existing stimulus-reward system, that proposed outcome would often seem insufficient to the highly conditioned voter. It feels like the glass would be half-empty rather than half-full...and that is apt to fall short of satisfactory.

This results in what we saw last night...a skirmish fully adorned with the trappings that have become all too familiar...and by and large...demanded by the voters.

In the end, Obama has presumably realized the need to engage the negativity despite his dislike for such a system. The open question is whether he can muster the motivation to participate in the existing dynamic in order to win the opportunity to change it...assuming I've ascertained his actual goal. It's possible his objective is no different than that of his opponents and that he has, to this point, simply attempted a novel strategy.

Regardless, as long as the public's objective remains the attainment of the power necessary to implement our own coalitions (tribe) selective truths, the execution and the outcome of our political process will remain the same. We can continue to feign our disgust at what transpires while signaling our acceptance...or we can begin to abridge our bias and forego the fabrications and falsifications we have institutionalized in favor of a rational and reasoned reality.

Until such time as we make that choice, we'll continue our self-sustaining system of salivating each and every time someone succeeds in repackaging the same old rancid red meat. I'm of the opinion that we need to end our dogged dependence on this tired old trick.

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» South Carolina Debate: The Lowdown On The Dust-Up? from www.buzzflash.net
We voters frequently protest the pettiness exhibited at Monday’s debate, but I suspect candidates and voters have developed a symbiotic relationship reminiscent of the conditioning found with Pavlov’s dogs. Until we break the cycle of salivating every ... [Read More]

Tracked on January 23, 2008 12:54 AM


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