Thursday, February 19, 2009

Playing in Zero Gravity

I’m tired of everyone acting as if the Big O pulled off a miraculous feat of marketing genius in 18 months by building the electronic campaign and social networking machine that we saw in the 2008 campaign. The truth is, while the effectiveness of the Big O’s new media campaign was awe-inspiring, the signs of the electronic transformation have been around for us to see for awhile. If conservatives want to even begin to think about becoming competitive again, we need to understand what has happened to American culture in the last 20 years, and how it is being expressed through the technology of the last 5 years.

First, for the culture change.
It all goes back to education. For more than 20 years in some states, conservatives have been fighting the culture wars in the education establishment. We have focused on standard public education, arguing about curriculum content, teaching methods, test results, tax rates and spending patterns. In many cases, we made substantial progress in improving graduation standards. We passed No Child Left Behind, which, despite its flaws, finally gave school boards a big enough stick to use against the power of the teachers’ unions to improve teaching methods and testing results. Nonetheless, we missed a couple of crucial elements that we cannot control through regulations or standards.

The first thing we missed is that no matter what the standard curriculum content is, teachers have the ability to supplement the curriculum with additional materials. That means that if they feel there is something lacking in the regular textbooks they’re using, they can add other materials, activities, projects and assignments to “flesh out” what they think should be taught. If a teacher is motivated by a particular social, religious or political concern, it is not unusual for them to bring this into the classroom in that way, whether it's conservative or liberal. The coverage of the presidential inauguration provided a classic example of how easy it is for a civics lesson to turn into an opportunity for political indoctrination. Even if teachers focus on seemingly non-controversial aspects of the inaugural, there is no way for the student to escape the politicization of the office by the current holder. Students are learning in subtle and not-so-subtle ways the finer aspects of liberal thought just by the ancillary teaching that occurs in the classroom.

The second thing we missed is the nature of “character development” that is occurring in the classroom. While we were busy lamenting the lack of discipline in the classroom and the fact that Judeo-Christian values cannot be taught for fear of running afoul of the First Amendment, schools were busy filling that void with less controversial values. Now we have a whole generation of voters aged 18 to 30 who literally grew up with these ideas of American values:

Cooperation instead of competition
Consensus instead of majority rule
Community instead of individuality
Celebration of racial and cultural diversity instead of American unity
Fairness of outcome instead of equality of opportunity
Non-judgementalism instead of discernment and strength of conviction

Thus, these younger voters truly believe that fairness is patriotic, that cooperation and consensus are more American than the cruelty of competition and majority rule. How exactly do we re-educate them?

Now for the technology.
So we have these younger voters who have been educated for some 20 years in these systems with these values, and they begin to connect with others in Europe, Asia, South America, Africa and elsewhere who think like they do via outlets like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, MySpace, YouTube and other social networking sites. If you don’t know what those are, you’re not alone. That also means you’re officially part of the problem. These plugged in young Americans may just as easily have a best friend in Zurich whom they've never met in person as one down the block from their childhood home. They meet their spouses online, they find jobs online, they look for and buy homes, clothes, cars, electronics, gifts and illicit substances online. While people over 40 use the internet, for people under 40, the internet is so integrated into their lives that they live partially in the physical world and partly in cyberspace – and both places are equally real and valuable in their lives. They literally don't know how to live without the web, nor do they find any value in the idea that they should live without it.

Most importantly, they are getting their news and information on the web and forming their opinions on the web based on information they seek out from multitudes of sources (reliable and not so reliable) and from the people with whom they connect online. While we were busy shaking our heads at the “crazy things kids do online”, those kids were busy building entirely new cultures that transcend national boundaries, ethnic divisions, religious differences, and political labels. If you ask them what it means to be an American, you might be very surprised at their responses. You might even find that "being American" isn't all that important to some of them.

This isn’t just a new playing field or a different playbook. We have to learn how to play an entirely different game in a zero gravity atmosphere.

We can start by reading this excellent article:

and by reading every book on the list - even Al Gore's book. Some of us need more schooling than others, but we all need to understand the new world we live in if we’re going to make conservative values relevant again.

1 comment:

  1. Bridget, I am also reading Millenial Makeover (Amazon: I haven't finished it, but I recommend it so far.

    Matt Abe