Grassrotts of Politics - Duty

By: EuroDale

In the past 6 years I have had the immense pleasure of working closely with a wide variety of youth organizations, like the European Youth in Europe and in Norway and Student's Unions in Bergen and Essex, and political parties, like the Norwegian Liberal Party in Bergen and the British Liberal Democrats in Colchester and London. Although being active is very enjoyable, it can also be frustrating to see the same mistakes and the same erroneous assumptions time and again, regardless of geography and organization size or age. This is not a claim that I have 'figured it out' how do run organizations, but there is certainly great scope for the reduction of the ubiquitous duplication of wrong among young new-comers like myself. Let us all start by recognizing the following.

You are not selling a product, you are selling a duty, an allegiance and an identity.

To understand these three concepts is to understand why people choose to get involved, even though doing so is strictly irrational, why they might get involved on the side of your cause, even though you are just one of several possible providers, and, perhaps most importantly, why they are willing to forgive you when your are proven wrong, or perhaps even continue under the voluntary illusion that you are still right, but without a sufficient majority.

Let us look at them separately. Today we look at duty.

For the sake of simplicity, I will sometimes refer to 'getting involved' as 'voting'. Not because this is the only way to get involved (a fact proven by the willingness and the instance of some to convince others of their opinion in between elections), but because it is the most tangible form of involvement and the one that is by far best documented and measured (for obvious reasons).

The concept of duty is key to overcome the mathematical irrationality of voting. In rational-choice theory, although best at explaining marginal votes, the formula that has proved the most difficult challenge to overcome is U=p*B-C. The utility (U) will simply never be high enough to explain why anyone would vote all the while the probability (p) of casting the decisive vote undermines the value of the potential benefit (B) from a particular outcome to the point where the cost of voting (C), such as getting information and actually voting, will always outweigh this benefit. As far as my mind can stretch, this is true as long as there are more than two voters (once there are only two voters, the probability of casting the decisive vote is finally substantial enough to justify voting).

Fortunately for democracy, studies on referendums and elections in Canada indicate that the single strongest explanatory variable for voting is not political interest, ease of information, sunny weather, higher education or rich parents (although all correlated to the likelihood of voting), but the voters' personal sense of duty towards his or her society, culture or political and economic system.

To stop beating around the bush, this means that a sense of duty is the most useful feeling to appeal to when trying to encourage anyone to participate actively in (unspecified) political projects. As a bonus, this feeling of duty can have little or no political content, allowing you to appeal to a feeling that is unlikely to arouse any strong negative sentiments. Note that this will not create an automated mechanism by which citizens are recruited to your political project, since your project could be less than appealing to many people, but it will make those who consider getting involved look at your project first.

This relies on your appeal to be generally unpolitical and based on the greater values of the existing society, so do not try to project your ideal values for society (yet). The problem is that this is counter-intuitive, as we are naturally inclined to think as marketers do - closing, closing, closing. When dealing with political objectives, you must think as a publisher instead, and imagine how to perform 'inception' (making people believe it was their own idea) using nothing more than good, old ethos, patos and logos. Not to sell a product, but to create a feeling of duty.

Let me finish this part with an example. For many years I have been actively working with organizations that promote the unification of Europe. This has been a challenging exercise at times, as the subject of Europe is intrinsically linked to both identity and allegiance, but it has been possible to deal with when breaking down the objectives. My first objective has always been to ensure that the maximum number of people, organizations, companies and governments see the need to get involved and participate in Europe. One problem has been that Eurosceptics, which are a considerable minority, sit around every coffee table and do not participate, while actively encouraging others not to do the same, generally because they are against the project as such, and those who do participate are often more radical than other voters.

Fortunately, people's hate can easily be used to your advantage in most cases, and in this case the easiest way to arouse a sense of duty has proven to be the simple and timeless mantra "Decisions are made by those who show up!". They may not like Europe, but the idea that the people who do like Europe would get to run Europe is repugnant to them, so they participate when reminded that the consequence of their lack of involvement is the exact opposite of their core beliefs. Although somewhat less effective on individuals with a more laissez-faire attitude to current events, the delivery of a message that produces a reflection which is then transformed into the desired opinion or feeling always achieves its objective.

Illustration depicting a victim of heuristic
learning eagerly defending the new core beliefs
you kindly provided his mind with.

To learn more about this, look up 'heuristic learning' to understand how to use and abuse it. Hint: imposing an opinion is never a heuristic, but pointing a mind in one direction can induce heuristic learning if done with skill and care. To do so means accepting the rules of heuristics and not trying to alter them to your advantage (the political mind is exceptionally observant towards exogenous change). Set up the game board, but let the target individual (or group, I suppose), play it out within his or her own perception of reality.

In the next post I will have a closer look at the concept of allegiance. This is the key not only to get people to passively support a cause, but to see the advance of your cause as crucial to their own well-being, whether it's emotional or material, and the advance of alternative causes in direct opposition to your own as being detrimental. In other words, this is how to create commissioned (through the benefit your cause offers) foot-soldiers.

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