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.