Archive for July, 2016

The End of Experience

July 25, 2016

Experience1

 Prior to our entry into WWI, the sentiments of the general citizenry were quite isolationist.  Here’s what Mark Crispin Miller says regarding the work of Edward Bernays (among many others) to change that:

“… it was not until 1915 that governments first systematically deployed the entire range of modern media to rouse their populations to fanatical assent.  Here was an extraordinary state accomplishment: mass enthusiasm at the prospect of a global brawl that otherwise would mystify those very masses, and that shattered most of those who actually took part in it.”

As Bernays was to say later, “We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”

One of the strategies employed by the Federal Government to deflect opposition to the draft in WWI  was to enforce its implementation at the local level.  This insulated the Federal Government from criticism of its policies.   Supporting the draft took on personal approbation.  Patriotic citizenry could question and bedevil the holdouts, the slackers, even root out the traitorous.  The Federal Government, in essence, released the mob.  (My grandmother’s defense of my grandfather’s German roots nearly got him jailed.)   This same strategy continues today.

In political circles there is a concept called the Overton Window, which “also known as the window of discourse, is the range of ideas the public will accept.” (Wikipedia).   What enlarges or shrinks this window are the intellectual and/or political players at the national level.  But what enforces this window of debate are the citizenry all around us.

In sales, when the prospect you have chosen to speak with is not moved by an argument whose advantages are overwhelming , it’s fairly certain that either you are not talking to the ‘decision-maker’, or that, for some reason, they do not find what you are saying credible.  Either way, you have fallen outside of that person’s Overton Window, and are left peering at the Overton Wall (my phrase).

You may have experienced this same level of mystification when discussing political issues either in person or as it more commonly happens today on social media.  Only experts need apply.  The powers that be have ruled personal experience inadmissible and most probably suspect.  Personal experience or anecdote will place you right outside the Overton Window alongside the rustics.  Common sense need not apply either.  It is outside the Overton Window too.  We’re all experts nowadays, or nothing.  And this applies to both sides of the issues.

Web links – those things which grant us immediate expertise – are the puppet strings.  More and more we move by them.  We think by them.  We exercise our freedom of expression through them.   Or, perhaps, for a less paranoid view, try this which is taken from an article by Nathan Heller in a recent issue of The New Yorker:

“The stories you encounter through your smart phone are stories, basically, asking to be found.

Getting outside of the museum is hard.”

“Encounter thinking” (real experience), “our response to the exceptional, saves us from the errors of consensus and the expectations of smooth process that, like the myths of consolation, leave us ill-equipped to deal with changes when they come.”

Unfortunately, personal experience, more and more, is useful only as a private curio or baubles to be traded in psychoanalysis.  It may rule our stars, but it has little impact socially.  Or worse, it could have a hazardous impact socially and even legally.  You can pass on a link with much less worry of being branded by the content.  You are merely passing on ‘what is out there’.  Whereas, you are personally liable for your personal views.

But what if there is nothing out there that you want to say – which can be copied and pasted?  And a lot that isn’t?

Well, here in our new America, you’re stuck with your own very private experience and your own common sense.  Whether or not you grin and bear what little traction your personal experience gets, looking at the world through your own eyes nowadays has gotten more and more isolating.

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