Least and most emo­tion­al coun­tries as dis­played by the Wash­ing­ton Post.

Over the past week, an info­graph­ic has been mak­ing its way around the inter­net called “40 maps that explain the world”, based off anoth­er web page which used the “40 maps” theme.

Col­lect­ed by Max Fish­er of the Wash­ing­ton Post, it shows car­to­graph­i­cal depic­tions of any­thing from the four dif­fer­ent coun­tries a Russ­ian pro­fes­sor believes the Unit­ed States will become to the sta­tus of gay rights around the world.

One map in par­tic­u­lar stood out, which showed sur­vey data about the least and most expressive/emotional coun­tries. What is sur­pris­ing about it is how high the Unit­ed States is ranked on whether respon­dents expe­ri­enced sig­nif­i­cant pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive emo­tions the day pri­or to the survey.

As Amer­i­cans, we pride our­selves on our tra­di­tion of ratio­nal free­think­ing, sec­u­lar­ism, and data-dri­ven deci­sion mak­ing. But time and time again, it is shown that (espe­cial­ly when mak­ing pol­i­cy) we rely more on our gut than our head.

In fact, it’s when we use these val­ue-dri­ven emo­tion­al nar­ra­tives (which high­light the sto­ries of those who have expe­ri­enced these poli­cies) that we see the most suc­cess. This is impor­tant not just for con­vinc­ing elect­ed offi­cials, but for show­ing the pub­lic the impor­tance of what­ev­er solu­tion we advo­cate for.

On the flip-side, emo­tion­al nar­ra­tives can be used to rein­force racial prej­u­dices and weak­en our shared com­mon wealth.

These emo­tion­al under­pin­nings acti­vate when we talk about the “deserv­ing” vs. “unde­serv­ing poor”, GMO label­ing, or com­ments made by Paula Deen.

Based on how strong a frame has devel­oped in the think­ing of a per­son, they will react a dif­fer­ent way to the same sort of infor­ma­tion, and the way the infor­ma­tion itself is pre­sent­ed will evoke dif­fer­ent reac­tions depend­ing on the nar­ra­tives involved. (George Lakoff has writ­ten exten­sive­ly about this in his many books).

Nicholas J.G. Win­ter, a pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­gina, wrote in his book titled Dan­ger­ous Frames: How Ideas About Race and Gen­der Shape Pub­lic Opin­ion how these emo­tion­al under­pin­nings affect our pol­i­cy deci­sions, and how cer­tain rhetor­i­cal con­cepts, when com­mu­ni­cat­ed, help or hurt the lives of those from mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties. He writes:

Just as wel­fare is asso­ci­at­ed with neg­a­tive stereo­types of African Americans–in par­tic­u­lar laziness–Social Secu­ri­ty is asso­ci­at­ed with pos­i­tive white stereo­types such as hard work. More­over, the fram­ing of both pro­grams has implied that the fun­da­men­tal design of each actu­al­ly fos­ters those attrib­ut­es in recip­i­ents. In a sym­bol­ic sense, at least, those frames sug­gest that wel­fare cre­ates black­ness and that Social Secu­ri­ty cre­ates whiteness.

Even though wel­fare helps white work­ing class peo­ple the most, the con­nec­tion with race has put it on the chop­ping block for decades, quite dif­fer­ent from Social Secu­ri­ty, where pro­posed changes (thank­ful­ly) evoke out­rage by the pub­lic no mat­ter who intro­duces the idea.

These frames, and the emo­tions they evoke, explain how peo­ple think what they do about “Stand Your Ground Laws”, human ser­vices, and pub­lic transit.

When pub­lic trans­porta­tion is seen as just help­ing poor peo­ple (and by asso­ci­a­tion peo­ple of col­or) it becomes hard­er to receive fund­ing, such has hap­pened here in our state in Spokane, where the bus sys­tem has under­gone sev­er­al rounds of severe cuts over the past few years, in part because of the neg­a­tive asso­ci­a­tions with the rid­er­ship and the polit­i­cal effi­ca­cy of those who use the service.

If you want to to find an easy exam­ple of prej­u­diced, dam­ag­ing, and hurt­ful frames to exam­ine, Fox “News” is a 24-hour-a-day psychodrama.

Just today, on a Fox pan­el, a con­trib­u­tor sug­gest­ed that the TV chan­nel and news ser­vice Al Jazeera was pop­u­lar because “most Arabs sym­pa­thize with Osama bin Laden’s efforts to kill Amer­i­cans”.

Deep­en­ing the frame that “for­eign­ness equals dan­ger­ous”, with the increas­ing­ly-less-implic­it appeals to racism the Fox News has decid­ed to air, com­plete­ly ignores the cal­iber of the jour­nal­ists that are employed by the almost-launched Al Jazeera Amer­i­ca, among them for­mer CNN anchor Joie Chen, and the leg­endary John Seigen­thaler. The chan­nel promis­es more than info­tain­ment, but a return to crit­i­cal jour­nal­ism that has been sore­ly lack­ing on tele­vi­sion these days.

For Fox to dis­re­gard the qual­i­ty of this pro­gram­ming, not just as a busi­ness deci­sion, but label­ing it as an exten­sion of for­eign pol­i­cy, shows strong­ly held beliefs which con­sti­tute a frame of not just nation­al­ism, but nativism and xenophobia.

As pro­gres­sives, we have trou­ble with fram­ing and talk­ing about our val­ues. While fram­ing can be neg­a­tive, we must con­tin­ue to work to not just talk about data, but to make sure that we high­light those sto­ries that are backed up by data and the truth. Oth­er­wise, our nat­ur­al ten­den­cies to use emo­tion in our deci­sion mak­ing process­es will be used to hurt those who live in our soci­ety, instead of pro­vid­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty for every­one, no mat­ter their background.

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