From Susan Dobra:
David's analysis in his previous post (Civil Diablog, 6/12/17 "Marginal Commentary") is a great addendum to our discussion at the Civil Dialogue Guild meeting this past Sunday, June 18, in which we compared traditional formal debate in the Ciceronian tradition with current public discourse in the talk radio tradition as a way in to understanding George Lakoff's insights about framing discourse, from his book, Don't Think of an Elephant.
His "moral": "The truth alone will not set you free. It has to be framed correctly."
The five of us present (two of whom have had experience running for town councils) had a great discussion about how to use these insights not to "win" an argument but rather to seek out differing and possibly shared perspectives--or at least to understand how different frames will yield different views of the same facts.
We brainstormed some possible frames for current issues like health care and regulations, and agreed to bring to our next meeting a few more examples of how different frames yield different insights.
We agreed to meet next on Sunday, July 23rd from 4 to 6, with more thoughts on the "ends" of civil dialogue, be they persuasion, mutual understanding, or identification with each other or with a particular "group." More to come.
Our recent dialogues have centered on mind frames and the skills of reframing arguments by shared values. (Susan Dobra will take us for a deep dive into the work of George Lakoff on this subject at our next meeting.)
So I had frames in mind when I read an article in the June 8 online edition of The Washington Post, "How cable news networks reacted to Comey's hearing." The article explains how MSNBC, CNN and FOX camera coverage looked the same, but were quite different in their use of chyrons -- those ticker tapes that roll info past the bottom third of the TV screen, sometimes as a commentary to the main action. It's fascinating to read how news can be framed to lead audiences to draw conclusions intended by the specific news channel, simply by what is introduced into evidence, or left out, via chyron.
I was reminded of my childhood love for Mad Magazine. I was fascinated by those irreverent cartoons, and especially by what took place in the margins of them -- funny sequences drawn by Sergio Aragonés, a Cuban cartoonist living in exile in New York. My young mind would make connections from these tiny cartoons to the main action, revealing another meaning to the main goings on -- no doubt as Aragonés intended I would. In college I learned a term to describe this phenomena: marginal commentary.
As we've discussed, how we perceive factual data can be influenced by how that data is presented to us. Bias can show up in the sequence of presentation, in the weight one fact is given over against another, in neglecting a fact, in the company that information keeps, etc.
There's a marvelous book that explains about as well as possible what's going on here, and it is not a work of psychology, sociology, or politics. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, by Scott McCloud is a masterpiece of the philosophy of what we see and how we interpret it. We are built to find the meaning in everything -- sometimes even where there is none. It's a talent that can be manipulated.
McCloud demonstrated how scant information could be universalized more easily than hyper-specific information. Think of the difference between the everyman Charlie Brown, and Prince Valiant, who can never be anyone but himself. The more detail you leave out, the more we tend to supply the missing information.
But go a step further. Lets say all we have is two dots, a circle, and a half circle. What meaning do we make with those? Why should they represent anything to us at all? But we can't help ourselves, can we. We're compelled to project our feelings onto even the simplest arrangement of geometric forms.
And what if we ran a chyron under that? Oh, the stories we can tell...
Susan Dobra will moderate our meeting on Sunday, June 18, 4-6PM. She wants us to chew on this "killer question" in the meantime:
As citizens of a democracy, is it our duty to try to persuade each other as to what we think the best policies are?
Or is it more important to simply understand and respect our differences (leaving whoever is currently in power the right to set policy)?
Put on your genius caps and come prepared to share your opinion!
Our fourth meeting for the Guild for Civil Dialogue took place on Sunday, May 17 with five participants -- three regulars and two newcomers.
(Plenty of folks got in touch in advance to say they'd be out of town or otherwise engaged for this one -- we look forward to seeing them next time!)
Doors opened at 3:30PM. We shared some good food and modest beverages, and took some time to get caught up on doings of our culture over the past month.
David introduced the topic, "Mind Frames / Re-Framing Conversations" with a Pearls Before Swine cartoon that was sent to him anonymously last month, and then shared a modest bit of activism he took on to alert the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to it's abusive use of "disgust" language to drive donations.
We discussed how challenging it is to experience the feeling of disgust over positions we disagree on -- the latest House bill on healthcare came to mind -- and at the same time how unleashing the emotional charge of disgust can further polarize us. "You don't punch the kid on the playground just because he looked at you funny."
Some of us shared stories of interactions with people who were doing something that summoned our contempt, and how we re-framed the circumstance with an act of understanding and compassion. These were important reminders that we all have that useful capacity for empathy to draw from.
In this vein we watched the "Worlds Apart" video from Heineken which, dear Reader, you are highly encouraged to experience.
Next we briefly reviewed slides provided by Susan Dobra (who couldn't be with us) that outline George Lakoff's theory of framing to evoke civil dialogue. We all agreed it was rich stuff that really could use more unpacking by Susan -- hence our topic for next month's meeting will be "Mind Frames / Re-Framing Conversations, Part II," led by Susan. (David will be absent.)
We watched a short video on Ann Arbor's A2Ethics "Big Ethical Question Slam" as a refresher. David relayed that he's reached out to Mobilize Chico's Anti-Polarization subcommittee to gauge their interest in partnering with us on the Slam, date TBD. We'll contact A2Ethics to start the planning process.
Our next meeting is Sunday, June 18 at the usual time. Come prepared to share from your experiences with civil dialogue!