Controlling the Agenda

The mere presence of a contingent of progressives countering right-wing propaganda taking a stand for progressive causes is valuable in and of itself. Indeed, any broad based effort of this kind is going to depend on the efforts of many “freelance” volunteers. Furthermore, the process of dominating a message board begins with establishing presence, controlling the space by starting and bumping threads, and generally making the resident righties understand you aren’t going to be intimidated, and you aren’t going away.

That is just the beginning. Ultimately, the goal is to do more than simply take up space. The goal is control the discussion. It is to set the agenda, and define the terms of the debate. To the extent that you can define those terms, you will find it easier to shape opinion in ways that advance your goals, instead of advancing those of the other side.

First of all, there are the physical or mechanical aspects of this. We are already familiar with the concept of “controlling the space”. But once you control the space, you have to fill it up with something. Filling that space with a hodge-podge of different ideas and information is certainly preferable to having it filled with the opposition’s ideas and information. Nevertheless, it is useful to start to develop some distinct themes.

Like what, you ask. Here is where we must take a moment and talk about the importance of fundamental concepts. If you’re task is to put up a house, you can go out and nail together an eclectic collection of of boards. I can tell you that as a boy, I built many a “fort” using this very method.

If you want to build something a little more durable, and more suitable to actually live in, you may want to pay attention to your foundation, to your load bearing walls, etc. In other words, you are going to pay attention to structural matters. The larger the building, the more engineering goes into the structure. Similarly, if your task is to demolish a structure, you are gong to pay attention to placing your charges at critical spots in the support structure. Demolition experts don’t just pack tons of dynamite helter skelter around their project. They carefully select their spots to cause the building to “implode”. In this way, they can bring down a large structure with a minimum of force.

Ideologies and world-views are similar in that they have a structure. It is not a physical structure, but a conceptual structure. This is especially true of right-wing ideology. Liberal – or more properly Social Democratic – philosophy likewise has a conceptual structure. Few liberals are conscious of that structure, mostly because liberals aren’t real big on indoctrination. Right-wingers are different. They are indoctrinated into their philosophy of government, society and economics, and are acutely aware of that ideology.

As to that content of that ideology, I will be preparing some “quick and dirty” summaries of both conservative and liberal ideology, so that you will understand the differences.

For purposes of this discussion, the important thing to understand is that establishing the foundations of your own philosophy and undermining the foundation of theirs is the source of the themes you will take up as you “control the space.” Particular issues must be selected based on their importance to the overall task of working on fundamental concepts. Once people understand fundamentals, it is a lot easier for them to understand particular issues. Obviously, this suggests selectivity in which issues, which facts, which stories, which statistics, and generally which information you select to include as the basis for discussion. There is an ocean of information out there. Your conceptual framework is what makes sense of it – and is what will make sense of it to your audience.

All of this suggests some general methods in working a message board. First of all, you want to have in mind a set of fundamental ideas you are trying to advance. In my discussions, I work on the role of government. I do this for two complimentary reasons. First of all, if you wind up advocating “activist government” – which most liberals advocate in the realm of economics and social policy – you have to be able to justify it. In fact, you ought to justify it, anyway, since any good liberal understands to potential abuses of governmental power. But the conservatives have a “minimalist government” philosophy, that postulates government as a hindrance to the “free market”. Obviously, establishing a clear understanding of the role of government in the “free market” itself, as well as other aspects of society is immensely important to shaping fundamental conceptions about policy. In fact, I believe this rather simple conceptual dispute with the conservatives is central to the entire process of refuting their world-view.

With this simple theme in mind, it is now a simple matter for me to pick and choose the discussions I join. It ii also a fairly straightforward matter to come up with thread starters. The idea is to hammer away at the fundamentals and to work on conservative assumptions more so than conservative conclusions. It also helps to stay out of discussions where the terms of the discussion are not to my liking, and can’t be easily redirected. And of course, it keeps me out of arguments about trivialities. You may notice that I rarely argue with KenWesTexas, because I really don’t care about the scurrilous comments of some Democratic city councilman in San Francisco.

You can occasionally, if you are presented an easy target, take conservatives on with respect to some tactic or particularly ridiculous statement. But in general, you should be inviting conservatives to argue about your themes. Leave their themes and their threads to sink off of page one, into message board oblivion.

A side benefit of being thematic, and dealing with fundamentals, is that such threads are durable. Everybody likes to talk about the basics. Furthermore, when the discussion is on the basics, there are a lot of variations in people’s individual views. Thus, such threads tend to generate lots of responses. The discussions take on a life of their own, and you’ve got a self-sustaining thread taking up page one space, that you don’t have to tend to. And that’s the point.

So control the physical space, and while you are at it, learn to control the conceptual space – the space between people’s ears. That is the key to advancing a defined position.

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