NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Max Fisher’s “40 Maps” and the impact of framing on American politics and public policy

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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