Political Long Knives; ‘Word Gap’; Orwell Comes Home

Even more scatterbrained and distracted than usual, so here’s a drive by of topics off-leash in my brain:

I. To understand politics, you must understand sales and marketing. Machiavelli and Sun Tsu help, but in a democracy, especially one winding down before our eyes, sales and marketing almost IS politics. Thus, when outside money hires a notorious PR hit firm to go after Archbishop Cordelione of San Francisco, this is merely the kimono slipping open a bit – this is simply how it is done. We don’t often notice it – who’s going to tell us? The press? – but this is what politics is about these days.

To a political animal, it’s all about market share and stickiness. Get the idea that the Archbishop is some sort of hate-filled ogre to stick in enough minds, and it ceases to matter – politically – what he actually does or says. The end game, as envisioned by his enemies, is to render him so hamstrung that the Pope is forced to appoint an Episcopalian to replace him. As insane and delusional as this sounds to a Catholic, it makes utter and perfect sense to a Bay Area political animal. My only fear is that His Excellency is so obviously competent and holy that he may get promoted out, which will cause a declaration of victory and dancing (probably naked) in the streets. This is San Francisco we’re talking about, and I used to live there. Then, if there’s any justice in the world (I slay me) we’d get a John Vianney clone as a successor – he got upset with folk dancing, he’s have called fire down on the Pride parade.

Never planned on doing sales & marketing type stuff, only wandered into it 18 years ago when I started my current job at a tiny company (I was employee #8) and it turned out to be what was needed. I could do it because, first, I had that MBA, but, far more important, I’d spent about 8 years of my career prior working with or for sales people. I’d worked for a couple high-end sales people, and got to observe how they worked. That’s why, when it came time to negotiate price with gigantic companies, I hired one of them – that’s sticking your head in the lion’s mouth, not a trick for somebody who doesn’t know lions real well.

Here we’re talking about high-end sales people, who make million dollar sales to big corporations, as well as mass-marketing sales managers, who sell millions of people on an idea. Politics is an odd blend of both, as the Pitch must be made to both big donors and millions of potential voters.

Anyway, a couple points:

A. Good sales people are always thinking of the big picture. A used car salesman is generally trying to sell you one car once – a big ticket salesman is thinking how he can get a relationship going that will continue to generate sales for years to come;

B. Good sales people are obsessed with the competition: Your car insurance guy hates it if your house is with another company, because he know that other company will be pitching you car insurance. He knows this because that’s exactly what he would do.

C. Brand loyalty is the Holy Grail. When brand loyalty has been achieved, the victim has been sold an idea – that Apple products are way cool, or that Republicans are the epitome of eeeevil – so that he has been rendered impervious to pitches from the other side and can be counted on to buy whatever your selling (1)

D. Good sales people are always selling. They become the Pitch. Everything they do or say is evaluated against the Pitch.

E. A cold, cruel natural selection will weed out all those who fail at A – D above. After a very short while, only the big, ruthless sharks are left.

BTW – this is why having senators appointed by their state legislature was a brilliant design feature of the Constitution, as well as having the President elected by an electoral college selected by the states – it would have put two and a half out of three branches at at least some remove from the constant campaigning which is the defining characteristic of modern politicians. But see B above – a salesman sees a somewhat independent Senate and President as a threat and an opportunity, and will therefore not rest until they are brought to heel. One becoming a Senator is dependent upon pleasing the marketing machine that is the Party, then getting appointed to the Supreme Court by that Senate is likewise brought under Party control.

1. Thus, LBJ, an absolute stone master politician, will say to a couple of southern governors in regards to the Civil Rights Act: “I’ll have them n****rs voting Democratic for two hundred years.” He understands his audience and their shared goal. The n****rs are just marks. Brand loyalty is the goal.

II. Leah Libresco is talking about the “word gap” – the difference in vocabulary between well-off and poor kids. After a cursory reading (the comments are good, too) I respectfully disagree – Leah starts in right away with suggesting systemic cures to what is, really, a minor symptom of bigger problems.

For example:

The parents in the study don’t have any period where they work fewer hours, and so the researchers don’t see what their child would sound like if their parents had more moments to concentrate entirely on their child, or were less tired when they came home, or simply were home earlier in the day.

For the most part, more well off parents are more well off because they’re working. During the time when we had 4 small children in our house, I was working 50+ hours a week, and was frequently out of town on business; my wife worked at least that much, at the schools our children attended. Sure, there are some less well off parents who work more than we did, but, really, saying that work is causing the word gap? Unlikely.

Parents are meant to take on the role of Adam, but most homes aren’t Edenically diverse. Alone in a house, there are only so many things to name and elicit the color, shape, and number that describe them. If parents hit a breaking point when asked to read Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablooiead nauseum, how much more exhausting can it be to endlessly iterate the objects in the house, without so much as a plot or a rhyme scheme to hold them together?

Huh? Does Leah really think that parents of articulate kids with large vocabularies got them by taking them to the park, pointing and naming things, and then drilling the kids on it?(2)  And that the problem is that a typical home lacks for items to name? If only they could get out more, their vocabularies would grow? As a parent of 5 kids, that sounds a bit psychotic. Sure, when the kids were babes in arms learning their first words, you may point stuff out and name it. But once they start talking at all, you talk with them, read them stories, involve them in your lives.

I do remember, once or twice, doing vocabulary stuff for fun. A couple of the kids were taking an English class, in which the teacher liked to playfully use $10 words in her examples, and the kids asked me for some ammo with which to fire back. We came up with a flashy sentence that they all still remember, but I forget, something like: Desist, jackanapes, or I shall defenestrate you with utmost alacrity. Sounds pretty good coming from an 8 year old.

The point of all this: Christ demands – and it’s a tough demand for me – that we get involved in other people’s lives. Love one another, and all that. And, frankly, that’s what’s missing, not vocabulary or education. The

2. Counter-example: I have a massively larger vocabulary than either of my parents – because I read books for pleasure. Dad grew up on a farm; mom’s family was the only non-farming family among her Czech immigrant relatives. Neither did college. Over the key 0 – 11 age range, I almost never saw my dad – he was starting a business, and either working, eating or sleeping 23.5+ hours a day. And was grouchy the other half hour. Mom was raising 9 kids, and so didn’t really spend time asking us what color our socks were.

So, shouldn’t we have poor vocabularies? 6 out of 9 kids went on to get college degrees, including 5 master’s and one JD.

Something else is at work.

III. Do people just not get what Orwell was saying? That totalitarian dictatorship is the end game, once language is bled of all meaning and we are all turned into liars? Winston Smith KNOWS that we have not always been at war with Eastasia – that’s the point. You reduce a man to a coward and a pliable fool by making him say things that he knows are not true. He begins to hate the truth, as it shows him to be a coward. 2-minute hates become a ritual expression of self-loathing.

We cannot even look to see what individual people are like. We merely need to know: do they speak our language? No amount of evil done to the enemies that tell the truth is too much – not that we’d call it evil, it’s just prudent actions against dangerous foes who will not get in line. Traitors. Terrorists, even.

Today, we are all required to use words in ways that are contrary to their meanings. One theory, which when stated contradicts itself, is that words don’t really have meaning, therefore we are free to make them mean whatever we want. Triumph of the will, and all that.

Once this process is complete – and it is nearly complete here in lovely California – a kinder, gentler totalitarianism is already here.

IV. This is the guy hired with outside money to run the smear campaign on Archbishop Cordelione. Notice his lack of, uh, commitment to the truth. After all, truth? What is that?

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Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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