Tag Archives: protest

How To Tell When A Protest Has Failed (Besides Violence)

These days, it seems as though America has a new favorite pastime. It’s not baseball. It’s not football. It’s not starting flame wars in the comments section of a Justin Bieber music video either. It’s protesting.

Ever since the migraine-inducing side-show that was the 2016 Presidential Election, there has been a lot of protesting going on. I’ve even commented on some of them. First, there was the women’s march. Then, there was the March For Life. These were more about ongoing issues, though. Other protests, in recent months, have been more vocal, to put it kindly.

It seems everybody’s tribal instincts, which are the same instincts I’ve said will destroy us all if we don’t confront them, are in overdrive. Everybody is picking a side. Everybody thinks their side is the side of truth, justice, and thong bikinis. They all see themselves as George Washington taking down an army of Hitler clones with nothing more than a pistol and the American spirit.

Obviously, they all can’t be right, but they all can be wrong. They can all be horribly misguided as well, some more than others. I understand why protesting is a big deal. People feel very passionate about certain issues. Some issues definitely warrant that passion.

Issues like civil rights, the right to marry the person you love, or the right to craft sexy erotica/romance novels without some government bureaucrat micromanaging every page are worth fighting for. People have fought for those rights in the past. While there have been setbacks, progress usually sides with those who aren’t assholes.

That’s what makes the recent surge in protests so frustrating. I can see the passion. I don’t deny it’s there. I also don’t deny that the people feel strongly about what they’re protesting. I do, however, question the merit behind it.

It’s as though people have just skipped the part where they look at the issue they’re protesting, think critically about the implications, and adjust their message accordingly. That’s kind of a big deal in any protest. From Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr., the ability to craft and convey the right message was critical to their success.

These days, every issue being protested feels like an extension of a petty flame war on a Harry Potter message board. The attitudes involved can best be summed up with this simple chorus.

“Your worldview doesn’t agree with mine so you must be a terrible person!”

It’s not about justice, although most will claim it is. It’s not about one group feeling marginalized, although most will claim it is. It’s not even about righting a wrong, although all will claim it is. It’s about the world not lining up with someone’s particular ideal, as though the world is somehow obligated to cater to your feelings.

It doesn’t matter which side of the political spectrum you’re on. It doesn’t even matter if you’re a card-carrying anarchist. If the crux of your argument is that the world isn’t doing enough for you beyond not putting you in chains and making you lick lead bricks, then your protests are empty.

This brings me to the most recent string of protests that have rocked the news. Unless you’ve been living in a windowless basement for three days, playing Call of Duty, eating only frozen pizza, and shitting in buckets, you’ll know there has been some pretty major protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.

I won’t get too deep into the substance of the protests. I won’t even break down the two opposing sides. I’ll just acknowledge that these protests, unlike the Women’s March or the March For Life, got pretty ugly. One person is dead and others have been injured. By most measures, it’s a protest that went wrong.

I’ll even go a step further. I’ll say that the protest has outright failed for both sides. I get that’s just my opinion. It’s probably not a very popular opinion, but this is how I feel about it after taking a few days to process the events. I get that the opinions of an erotica/romance writer barely amount to a wet fart in a shit factory, but I still feel compelled to share it.

As to why I think it failed, I’d like to explain by setting up a checklist of sorts. Think of it as a basic criteria for determining whether a protest actually has some substance behind it and warrants further debate. It doesn’t always have to result in a law or formal declaration of victory. It just has to be something that furthers the human condition in some meaningful way.

For the sake of not digging too deeply into inherently unsexy topics, like politics and social injustice, I won’t make the list too long or too specific. I’ll try to make sure it can fit on a notecard. That way, if you see a mob of protesters walking down your street, you’ll know whether they’re worth joining.

  • Can the protester cite a specific law or policy that they’re looking to overturn or pass?
  • Can the protesters cite a specific event or incident that warrants outrage among decent human beings?
  • Can the protesters refer to documented injustices by real people who harmed real victims?
  • Can the protesters claim a greater goal than just shaming certain groups?
  • Can the protesters’ agenda be accomplished in a manner that doesn’t subvert basic human nature?
  • Can the protesters’ claim to utilize methods that don’t personally attack opponents in lieu of arguing their point?

Read over these six questions. Think about them carefully and don’t just answer on a whim, which I know can be hard since that’s how our brains are wired make most decisions. Try to go beyond caveman logic for this because if you’re going to join any protest, you should make sure it’s the right kind.

If, after all that contemplation, the answer to all six questions is no, then there’s no getting around the truth. The protest and the agenda behind it is a failure. It’s either doomed to fail or has already failed. It doesn’t always means that it ends in violence, but it often does and, as we’re seeing in Charlottesville, that tends to override any meaningful debate.

In a sense, Charlottesville is a case study in a protest wherein both sides can’t claim much moral high ground. One side is yelling, “Look at our tribe and how great it is! Acknowledge its greatness and celebrate its glory!” The other is yelling, “Your tribe is awful! You people should be ashamed of who you are!” This is not a meaningful argument, nor is it one anyone can win.

The biggest flaw in both sides is that both sides are reducing the other to some kind of inherent wrongness. There’s no effort at all to understand or even talk about the substance behind their sentiment. Just being part of that particular group somehow makes you a horrible human being and that’s it.

Well, I’ve got news for both sides they would be wise to heed before their next failed protest. Human beings are extremely complicated. An individual is more than the sum of their tribal affiliation. While it’s in our nature to lump groups of people into certain tribes, that can often blind us to the real, genuine sentiments of our fellow human beings.

Granted, some of those human beings will be petty assholes who just want the world to carry it on its shoulders so it can sleep in every morning. You’ll find dishonest, disingenuous assholes in every tribe. It’s just part of the erratic nature of humanity. However, the vast majority of people are genuine. We couldn’t have survived as long as we have if we weren’t.

The world is chaotic and our caveman brains aren’t wired to make sense of it for now. We agonize over the chaos of the world, which often can be unjust, because we feel the need to do something about it. However, if that something involves just demonizing other people instead of actually dealing with them as human beings, then you’re not protesting anymore. You’re just whining.

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Appealing To The Masses: The Simpson Filter

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I was going to make this part of my last post where I gave some tips and advice to the people behind the Women’s March. I am serious about being on their side on most major issues. I want them to succeed in protesting the current regime in Washington DC. I think it’s good for freedom and democracy when there’s a healthy opposition to established power structures.

At the moment, though, I don’t think their message is getting through. I also think their approach needs refinement. The tips I offered in my last post were fairly basic. This tip requires a bit more explanation because it applies a mix of caveman logic, sales techniques, and good old fashioned cunning. It’s basically the same technique people use to sell time shares and get laid. If it works for that, then it works for politics as well.

I’ve even given this bit of advice a name, one that I hope is easy to remember. I call it “The Simpson Filter.” It’s not quite as original as “Caveman Logic” and not just because it deals with something that is heavily trademarked and protected by an army of Fox’s lawyers. I promise there is a legitimate reason behind this label and I hope to make that reason abundantly clear by the end of this post.

So what exactly is the Simpson Filter? Well first off, in order to understand it, you need to know who the Simpsons are. If you’ve been near a TV it all in the past 30 years, that should be the easy part.

Most everybody on each side of the political spectrum knows who the Simpsons are. For the purposes of this tip, I’m going to focus on what they represent. By and large, the Simpsons are not the Waltons. They’re not happy, wholesome, and functional. They’re not the Bundy’s either. There is a sense love, sincerity, and family. On the spectrum of cartoon families, the Simpsons are somewhere in the middle.

Why is this important? Well, despite being fictional and full of exaggerated dysfunction, the Simpsons perfectly embody the sentiment of the average American. In fact, the show itself even acknowledged this in Season 2, Episode 16, “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” where Homer’s brother, Herb, wants him to design a car for the average American.

Yes, Homer Simpson fails miserably in that effort, but that only further highlights what makes him the perfect archetype for the average guy. He’s not an expert in a given field. He’s not smart enough to understand the complexities of big issues, be they social, political, or economic. Unless it involves beer and donuts, it’s not going to be a priority for Homer Simpson.

The same applies to Marge Simpson, the more thoughtful and less obnoxious part of the family. Marge also embodies an important component of the average American in that she’s focused primarily on keeping her family intact and semi-functional.

Given the various antics of her family, this is a herculean task, even on a good day. Her uncanny ability to manage her family often shows when she’s not around. This is best shown in Season 3, Episode 14, “Homer Alone,” in which Marge decides to go on a vacation and her family struggles mightily in her absence.

In that sense, Marge embodies the side of American society who struggle daily to keep their family intact and functioning for another day. It’s not that big issues involving the economy, politics, or social issues don’t interest her. It’s that she doesn’t have the time or resources to prioritize them. She can only focus on her more immediate concerns, namely preventing Homer from freaking out about the boogeyman.

Given this context, we can create the particulars of the “Simpson Filter.” If we’re going to use this fictional, animated, overtly dysfunctional family as a model, then any message we craft has to resonate with them. If it’s too much for Homer and Marge Simpson to handle, then it’s too much for most Americans.

For the Women’s March, this is vital. They don’t need to appeal to affluent, college-educated people living in cities and earning more than the median wage. They need to appeal to the vast swaths of less-affluent, less-educated people that occupy the non-urban parts of the country. In short, they need to cater their message to many Springfields of this Country and the Simpson families who live in them.

To appeal to them, it’s not enough to just shout anger and outrage at major protests. It’s not enough to hold large public lectures to inform these people either. Homer Simpson doesn’t do lectures and Marge is too worried about her family to even show up at one.

For any message to work on Homer or Marge Simpson, it can’t just have hard facts about the harsh realities of the world. It’s not enough to list, detail by detail, why the principles and policies they favor are worth supporting.

Homer Simpson doesn’t care for details. Marge can only care so much, given her many other concerns. So for every message about every issue, the contents need to go through a filter to make sure they’ll resonate. That filter includes the following provisions:

  • Get the attention of the Homer and Marge Simpsons of the world, but do it in a way that doesn’t shame or denigrate them for not supporting the message in the first place

  • Don’t assume that the Homer and Marge Simpsons of the world are racist, ignorant, or misogynistic and presume, by default, that they are decent people who just want to get by

  • Keep the message incredibly simple in that if it can’t fit into a commercial between a football game, then Homer and Marge aren’t going to care enough about it

  • Craft the message in a way that appeals to the feelings of Homer and Marge as appealing to emotions is the primary method of generating interest

  • Keep the facts secondary, but never let them be tertiary because in the long run, substance will help strengthen the emotions

  • Make sure the simple, emotional message inspires hope because Homer and Marge are more likely to support something that makes them feel hopeful

  • Link the more complex issues in your message with the simpler issues that affect Homer and Marge directly, ensuring they can associate these issues with their own lives

  • Avoid using language and rhetoric that Homer and Marge don’t understand or makes them feel alienated from those you want them to support

  • The message shouldn’t require that Homer and Marge change who they are, but it should make them want to be better

There are probably many more components to this filter that I haven’t articulated yet. Like Caveman Logic, I hope to refine it in future posts. In following the events of the Women’s March and the issues that will likely be more prominent over the next four years, the Simpson Filter will be a good way of revealing how successful or how flawed a message is.

At the end of the day, how right or valid your message is can only ever be secondary. If it fails to resonate or convince anyone, then it has as much impact as a history lecture by Ben Stein.

It’s an unfortunate, but unavoidable aspect of the human species. It’s not enough to be right or moral. You still have to communicate that message in a way that gets flawed, uninformed, and sometimes misguided humans on your side. If you can’t get Homer and Marge Simpson on your side, then your message has no chance.

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My Thoughts On The Women’s March

As a general rule, I try not react too quickly or too callously to major political events. My years of experiencing in arguing about Wolverine’s love life on comic book message boards have taught me that some subjects just can’t be discussed rationally. Add politics into the mix and you might as well swim naked in a pond full of hungry snakes.

However, I realize that some events are too big to just ignore. Make no mistake. I’m aware of all the upheaval, outrage, and shit storms that have erupted since the apocalypse that was Election Day transpired last year. I’ve chosen to minimize my discussions of it on this blog. I want this blog to make people horny, not hopeless.

That said, I also understand that there’s a difference between avoiding a subject and purposefully sticking your own head up your ass so that the most you’ll ever hear about a topic has to compete with the echoes of your own farts. I don’t want my head in such a dark place.

This brings me to the big event that transpired on January 21, 2017 in Washington, DC, a city that’s less than a two-hour drive from my house. It was called the Women’s March on Washington. On the heels of Inauguration Day, it flooded the streets of DC with thousands of men, women, and children protesting the new regime in Washington. Given the kind of people who support this regime, they definitely had plenty to protest.

It was a powerful display, unlike anything we’ve seen that didn’t involve a Super Bowl parade. It’s certainly the largest, most organized protest I’ve seen in the past couple decades. This isn’t some fringe protest of hippies claiming there are shape-shifting lizard people running banks and covering up the truth about UFOs. These are people who are genuinely afraid that their lives are going to be at risk because of this new regime.

I can understand that fear. I certainly sympathize with it. There are people in my immediate family who discussed joining this protest. I certainly support their effort to do so. I think this is worth protesting, much more so than pet issues marijuana or fur coats. Our society works best when we only seek to screw each other in ways we enjoy.

I say all this as a preface of sorts because my overall reaction to it probably won’t win me any awards from hippies, vegans, priests, mullahs, or anyone who voted for Rick Santorum. In my youth, I usually came down fairly hard on one particular side of the political spectrum. Then again, in my youth I thought UFO insurance was a good investment. That should reveal the extent of my political expertise.

With all that in mind, I thought I’d take a moment to just write about my reaction to this protest. It is a big deal. It is something that’s worth paying attention to. Even if I’m just a struggling erotica/romance writer, this is something that can and will affect me, both directly and indirectly. It already has in some respects. So how, in the grand scheme of things, am I supposed to react.

Well, my reaction can best be summed up in one way and I think my friend, Spongebob, says it best.

Please put the pitchforks down and stop for a moment before you start busting my balls. Give me a chance to explain myself because I’m trying to be both honest and helpful here, two concepts that might as well be alien to political discourse these days.

A part of me really was moved by these protests. I even support pretty much all their stated mission, as well as their stated principles. In terms of their values and policies, we are both on the same page. We’re on the same team. That’s beyond dispute. It’s the methods that leave me feeling somewhat underwhelmed.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a house where whining was about as productive as licking a toilet seat to clean it. Whatever the reason, I just look at these protests and see too much style and not enough substance. Seeing people wearing vagina costumes didn’t help.

Don’t get me wrong. I think those costumes are funny and topical. If someone wore those to a Halloween party, they’d definitely liven things up. In a serious protest though, it just makes me roll my eyes. It gives the impression that the issues at hand aren’t as serious as they should be.

As I’ve already said, these are serious issues. They’re issues worth fighting for and they’re worth protesting. However, there’s a right way to protest something and then there’s a shocking way to protest. More often than not, those methods are mutually exclusive.

If the goal of the Women’s March was to get attention, then they definitely succeeded. In terms of provoking change, that’s a good first step. Remember the technique pitched by this guy, albeit in the most vulgar way possible?

The first step of that process is to get attention. Some argue that’s the most important step and the Women’s March did just that. It’s the other three steps, namely interest, decision, and action where they come up short.

You see, my experience on comic book message boards has wired my brain to process a situation in a backwards sort of way. By that, I mean that when I see a situation like this, the first thing I do is ask, “Okay, how is the other side going to twist this in their favor?”

When you deal with a lot of dogmatic comic book fans, that’s an important question to consider because 99 times out of 100, that’s how discussions go. Someone makes a point and those who don’t agree with it will twist it in a way that makes them feel smart, superior, or whatever other emotion Lex Luthor feels when he wakes up every morning.

What manifests in message boards often manifests in political discourse as well. Some see the Women’s March and they see a huge group of concerned citizens, making their voices heard on issues that matter to them. Others, namely those who are inclined to lump protesters with hippies, see this protest as one giant act of whining. Neither side can be right, but both sides can be wrong.

This is why I can’t help but feel indifferent to these protests. They seek attention. They seek meaningful goals. They have so much style, but not nearly enough substance. For someone like me, who needs both in order to become a successful erotica/romance writer, lacking either really undermines the message.

Now I want the Women’s March to make for meaningful discourse. I want it to provoke real, meaningful change. However, based on what I saw, I don’t think that’s going to happen. Our collective attention span is too short and the powers that be are too callous. I’m not saying the Women’s March was a waste of time, but I don’t think it’s going to change much in the long run.

 

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