The Framing of Solidarity

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This report explores the framing of solidarity, and specifically the misleading ways that terms like "Middle Class" and "Global South" conceal more than they reveal about the structure of power in …

This report explores the framing of solidarity, and specifically the misleading ways that terms like "Middle Class" and "Global South" conceal more than they reveal about the structure of power in social movements around the world.

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  • 1. The Framing of Solidarity Analyzing the Semantic Structure of an Important Idea This report was prepared by Joe Brewer, Director of Cognitive Policy Works Cognitive Policy Works 1607 NE 70th Street Seattle, WA 98115 http://www.cognitivepolicyworks.com
  • 2. Cognitive Policy Works, LLC. All rights reserved. Scope of This Report In this report we explore the conceptual structure of the Solidarity Frame to elevate several strategic issues for discussion by the campaign team. The analysis that follows will give priority emphasis to the various “prototype effects” and conceptual structures that currently shape Western discourse on economics, politics, and social movements. As we will see, the Solidarity Frame is structured in a manner that carries entailments from mainstream economic discourse. We will then go on to explore a few problematic notions of solidarity that have been used to create faulty divisions amongst the populace and paint a static picture that conceals an unfolding dynamic tension that can be exploited in campaign settings. Let’s begin, shall we? Analyzing the Solidarity Frame Together we explored the basic elements of the Solidarity Frame in the report Revealing the Strategy Landscape: Clarity of Language and Concepts for /The Rules Campaigns. In this follow-up discussion we will see how the concept of solidarity is dynamically entangled with other frames including the Middle Class Frame, the 99% Frame, and Global South Frame. We already noted that solidarity has a schematic structure with the following properties: ✦ The central concept of containment where one is either “in” solidarity or “out” of solidarity; ✦ Some defining attribute (or attributes) that comprises the boundary condition for determining whether an individual is contained by the solidarity category or not; ✦ A radial-prototype structure with “better examples” and “worse examples” of category fitness; ✦ Psychological and cognitive processing biases that give preference to “good” prototype members of the solidarity category. In addition to these cognitive features of the Solidarity Frame are the various forms of associated knowledge that tend to arise in the minds of people when they think about Revealing the Strategy Landscape - Clarity of Language and Concepts for /The Rules Campaigns
  • 3. Cognitive Policy Works, LLC. All rights reserved. solidarity in a particular context. It is here that the dynamic nuances of frame semantics become more obvious and actionable. Let’s start with the notion of a middle class issue. It is commonplace for media spokespeople to talk about the economy as it pertains to the “middle class”. What this does cognitively is introduce a category structure for society based on income that is presumed to look something like this: The left side of the image depicts low-income earners with the majority of people in the middle and a comparably small number of people in the high-income range to the right. This conceptual arrangement becomes the prototype for making comparisons between people earning different amounts of money -- even though it is completely false! First off, it gives primacy to wage earnings and completely ignores financial holdings and other assets. These other forms of wealth are excluded by the semantic structure of the bell curve above and so they simply don’t arise in the minds of people as they think about the middle class. Secondly, this spatial image evokes a sense that most people are average when in reality the distribution is strongly skewed. This “anchoring effect” of drawing comparisons relative to an imaged hump-in-the-middle is what causes people to believe they are higher in the distribution of income than they actually are (such as those survey results finding that 30% of Americans believe they are in the top 10%). The true distribution of wealth looks more like this: 3 Mapping the Conceptual Landscape - Strategic Recommendations for The Rules Campaign
  • 4. Cognitive Policy Works, LLC. All rights reserved. This distribution is heavily skewed and is what mathematicians would call a “power law” -- meaning that the amount of money held by each bracket grows exponentially (e.g. raised to the power of a number larger than one) as one moves from low-income to high-income levels. The Middle Class Frame conceals this reality be evoking the prototype of a bell curve that biases our reasoning toward a category structure with most people at or near the average amount of wealth. This is an example of a prototype effect that evokes a specific meaning for solidarity -- that we are all in this economic boat together and share common ground. It conceals the massive gap between the haves and have-nots by blurring the economic divisions between us. In other words, the framing of solidarity makes us all look similar when in truth we are not. Now let’s consider a way of framing solidarity that divides people whom we may want to bring together. The 99% Frame of the Occupy Movement was quite powerful at evoking a strong sense of injustice when it first appeared in the discourse. This was due to the fact Revealing the Strategy Landscape - Clarity of Language and Concepts for /The Rules Campaigns
  • 5. Cognitive Policy Works, LLC. All rights reserved. that a grouping of 100 elements that moves 99 into one cluster and leaves out only 1 in the other cluster is the maximal inequality that can be had. This structural division into a state of maximal inequality activated the sympathetic emotions amongst millions of people that led to a global shared sentiment of solidarity around this experience of social injustice. What it also did inadvertently was to lump all individuals in the top 1% of earnings into a state of moral rebuke. And so, as time went on, members of the 1% who sympathized with Occupy became increasingly marginalized and defensive toward the growing “mainstream” community of activists. In other words, the discourse evolved from a condition of strong solidarity to a condition of weakened solidarity that was not intended by those who designed the 99% Frame. A similar unintended division arises for the similar frames of Global Rich and Global Poor that lump large and diverse groups of people according to income, when they may actually share values and worldview which are much more important qualifiers from a campaign perspective (due to the fact that social values and identity shape behavior in powerful and subtle ways). These examples of frames about solidarity provide teachable moments for thinking about the dynamics of semantic categories. What was at first a strong solidarity movement became weak in particularly important ways (such as by cutting off activist groups from potential large-sum individual donors) because of the way the solidarity in-group/out-group boundary had been drawn. When we speak of memes or cultural evolution, it is dynamic processes like this that we are referring to -- as cultural meanings blend and change with time. Based on this analysis the implications for the Global South Frame follow naturally: 1. It lumps together morally diverse categories of people -- both those we want to side with and those we don’t -- by asserting that the North/South geographic divide is the defining feature of moral difference. 2. This frame reinforces colonial notions of northern European powers and their control over southern colonies -- a narrative that casts our allies in non-Western countries in the position of usurpation and disempowerment. 5 Mapping the Conceptual Landscape - Strategic Recommendations for The Rules Campaign
  • 6. Cognitive Policy Works, LLC. All rights reserved. 3. It says nothing about the defining features of the burgeoning 21st Century global tribe that expressed solidarity throughout the Occupy Movement, Arab Spring, African Awakening, or any other new non-geographic movement that may explode on the scene at any time. Brief Comment on Human Group Formation A massive body of research shows that humans have very strong tendencies to form social groups. This is perhaps the single most important finding in all of anthropology. As the analysis above clearly shows, once a conceptual category is introduced into a specific discourse people will begin to align with one side of the distinction or another. There are classic social psychology experiments where people who are divided into different groups begin to alter their behaviors in profound ways. In one study, a classroom filled with elementary students was told by their teacher that children with blue eyes have higher IQ than those with brown or green eyes. As the day progressed, these blue eyed children began to oppress and bully the “lessor” children. A more dramatic example can be seen in the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment where college students were asked to role play either as guards or prisoners. In a very short time, the students performing as guards began to torture their fellow classmates and the experiment was canceled before anyone was seriously hurt. These examples are a reminder that the construction of social group identity is among the most fundamental factors shaping human behavior. As you consider the elements of the Solidarity Frame presented here, take special care to be sensitive about the power of category design in shaping how you build movements around the world. Discussion Questions 1. What are some other ways that solidarity and division have been used to advance or hinder a social cause? 2. How does this analysis cause you to think differently about solidarity in / The Rules campaigns? 3. What issues or concerns arise for you that warrant further consideration? Revealing the Strategy Landscape - Clarity of Language and Concepts for /The Rules Campaigns
  • 7. Cognitive Policy Works, LLC. All rights reserved. About Cognitive Policy Works Cognitive Policy Works is both an educational center that provides professional training to people in politics and a research/consulting firm that analyzes the workings of the political mind for non-profits and social businesses. We're a team of experts in political behavior and social change with a powerful combination of skills ranging from psychology and linguistics to media studies and strategic planning. We seek to empower non-profit leaders and grassroots activists alike, through innovative marketing models inspired by the open source software movement. Our goal is to develop new "best practices" and make them widely available to advocates of progressive social change as they face the major challenges of the 21st Century. Find us online at http://www.cognitivepolicyworks.com. 7 Mapping the Conceptual Landscape - Strategic Recommendations for The Rules Campaign