Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Political Styles in Riesmann's Lonely Crowd, Acorn and the Obama Campaign

In the Lonely Crowed Riesmann (1950) discusses how his famous typology of tradition-, inner- and other-directedness interacts with political styles. Riesmann claims that political mood shifts from inner-directed moralizing to other-directed "inside-dopesterism" that emphasizes inside information and relationships rather than moral issues in political dialogue. He also claims that this shift is related to "power dispersal among many marginally competing pressure groups" in modern society rather than dominance by a ruling class as was the case in the 19th century. He asserts that there are three political types: indifferents, moralizers and inside-dopesters.

Indifferents can be tradition-directed and from marginal or oppressed groups. In 1950, when he wrote the book, Riesmann asserted that "the number of such tradition-directed indifferents remains small." Indifferents may have external locus of control and believe that (p. 167) "politics is someone else's job". In addition to tradition-directed indifferents there is also a larger number of people who are inner-directed or possibly other-directed who are also indifferent. He writes (p. 168):

"It is to a large degree the indifference of people who know enough about politics to reject it, enough about political information to refuse it, enough about their political responsibilities as citizens to evade them. Some of these new-style indifferents we may classify as inner-directed or other-directed people who happen not to have adopted a political style more characteristic for their type."

Old and new style indifferents may account for the majority of Americans (p. 170). Some of the new style indifferents reside in rural or slum communities. Riesmann speculates that some indifferent people may be in transition from tradition to inner directedness and that "Indifferents do not believe that, by virtue of anything they do, know or believe, they can buy a political package that will substantially improve their lives." But:

"Since these new-style indifferents have some education and organizational competence and since they are neither morally committed to political principles nor emotionally related to political events, they are rather easily welded into cadres for political action--much as they are capable of being welded into a modern mechanized and specialized army...The new-style indifferents are attached neither to their privacy, which would make politics intrusive, nor to their class groupings, which would make politics limited: rather...they are socialized, passive and cooperative--not only in politics, of course. Their loyalty is at large, ready to be captured by any movement that can undercut their frequent cynicism or exploit it..."

To what degree does ACORN exploit this hypothesis in its organizing efforts?

Riesmann also does a good job of capturing the inner-directed, moralizing pattern and the inside-dopester pattern of other-directedness. My questions there are as follows:

1. To what degree did the differences between the Red States and the Blue States in 2000, 50 years after the Lonely Crowd was published, reflect persistent differences in inner and other directedness?

2. To what degree has other-directedness been supplanted by a pattern that Riesmann notes in the book, namely indignation or moralizing by radical other-directeds? In other words, other-directedness suggests a concern for the feelings of others. Today, in political discourse, the special interest groups that Riesmann observed in 1950 seem to have transformed that pattern. Other-directedness now applies within the group whereas indignation and morlizing applies to those outside the group. Thus, social democracy has replaced inner-directedness with group-directedness, a fixation on a group's moral compass that has elements of a reformulated tradition direction but also elements of other-directedness.

For example, in universities much emphasis has been placed on "collegiality". This would be the equivalent of "interpersonal skills" emphasized in corporations. But collegiality is limited to those who share the political views of the privileged class of academics. Those who deviate are excluded and shunned. So while academics are primarily other-directed (arguably, the entire transition from inner to other directedness reflects the influence of universities, imbued with peer review and conformity pressure) their fixation on political ideology leads them to group directedness. Anyone who questions the goals of "social change", "social justice" and the like is viewed as "lacking collegiality" because they threaten the group-directedness.

In contrast to the indifferents, "because the inner-directed man is work driven and work oriented his profoundest feelings wrapped up in work and the competence with which work is done, when he turns to politics he sees it as a field of work." But because the inner directed person is wound tight, he has trouble adjusting to the fluidity of political realities. "He does not see it as a game to be watched for its human interest" (p. 173). Inner-directeds participate in politics because of because of a sense of responsibility (p. 175).

Riesmann does not believe that the inner-directed personality suits modern politics. Mass media invades privacy, and blurs individual interests. Inner directeds get involved in politics to further a specific goal, so they do not feel comfortable if politics invades their privacy. Politics in the modern world does not, in Riesmann's opinion, lend itself to clear analysis.

Riesmann adds:

"The incomprehensibility of politics gains momentum not only from the increase in its objective complexity but from what is, in some respects a drop in the general level of skills relevant to understanding what goes on in politics. While formal education has increased, the education provided by the effort to run a farm, an independent business, or a shop, has decreased along with the increase in the number of employees; and while there may be little or no decline in the number of independent entrepreneurs, a larger proportion of the factors leading to success or failure is no longer in the hands of those remaining as entrepreneurs. No longer can one judge the work and competence of the political or government administrator from the confident, often overconfident, base line of one's own work and competence."

Moreover, "the inner-directed indignants can easily feel helpless and invaded when things do not go well with them. As we saw in Chapter V, the inner-directed man becomes vulnerable to himself when he fails to achieve his internalized goals...the gap between other-directed city dwellers and inner-directed rural folk has increased and that the well-meant efforts to bridge the gap have frequently served only to make the latter feel still more envious and unsure...Envy and feeling of displacement--sources of a political style of curdled indignation--are of course also to be found among those rural immigrants to town who are city dwellers in name only. As long as such peole, urban or rural, have political power, their malaise vis-a-vis the other-directed elements in American life may be muted; they can shape their world and force it to make sense to them. But when even this avenue toward understanding is cut off, the curdled indignant lashes out in helpless rage or subsidies into...passive, frustrated resistance..." (Sounds to me like talk radio.)

In contrast to the indignant inner-directed and tradition-directed, the minority of Americans who have all the power but are other-directed are inside-dopesters who view politics as consumption (Riesmann doesn't seem to notice an incongruity there, that he is saying that a majority are indifferents who are largely in transition between tradition and inner or other directedness, and all the rural people are inner directed, so it is only the university-educated city dwellers who are other-directed. What puzzles me is why the majority continues to put up with it.)

This emphasis on politics as consumption fascinates me because I teach business. If politics is consumption, why hasn't the focus been on better meeting consumer needs rather than regulation? Why isn't there a politics of consumption? I believe that there is a huge opportunity for conservatives here. The underlying impulse is consumption. Progressives package a government based on moral obligation (social justice, for instance) which suggests a conscience-based obligation rather than a relationship-based focus on consumption.

What Reagan understood is that politics is consumption, and therefore needs to be packaged. This has ramifications that have never been explored. For instance, political units can be re-divided in terms of market segmentation rather than primitive geographic units. There is much to do here as this has not been discussed. All political paradigms are rooted in power relationships rather than consumption, but the trend in the world has been toward consumption, not power. A new politics based on choice could transcend the conflict between other-directed progressivism and inner-directed moralism.

In Riesmann's view, the archetypal other directed is an inside dopester. This reflects a limited view of politics. Why not a consumer of political services, or of the self-image of moralizing. Might not the contributions of George Soros or the activism of Michael Bloomberg be viewed in consumption terms? These super-consumers of American politics may provide a model--that there are different kinds of consumption that different Americans prefer, and different political approaches via the states or groups of states might be preferable to the groups, resulting in more optimal arrangements.

Politics in the age of inner-direction focused on individual rights and liberty. Corporate power was viewed as a threat to individual rights. Politics in the age of other-direction focused on group rights and corporate power. Corporate power was viewed as a source of consumption and a powerful actor that dominates the lives of workers and consumers. Corporate power in the age of choice is itself a consumption variable. Consumers can choose created environments in which corporations have one or another degree of power. Progressives can choose a highly centralized, corporatist society. Conservatives an individualist one. The mode of production need not be restrained by scale or relationship to the state. Quality management can make small firms more efficient and large ones equally so.

Inner dopesters, in Riesmann's definition are people who enjoy politics for being able to show off what they know to their peer-group. It is important to the inside-dopester to look like an informed insider. Other-directeds often aspire to (but are not really) this type of person. "Politics indeed serves the inside-dopester chiefly as a means for group conformity. He must have acceptable opinions, and where he engages in politics he must do so in acceptable ways. In the upper class, as among radical groups, the influence of the moralizing style is still strong, and many people who set the cultural patterns carry on with an ideology of political responsibility; they act as if politics were a meaningful sphere for them...These inside-dopesters of the upper middle class should be contrasted with those found in small towns and rural areas who are in easy contact with their local and even state officials...there are striking similarities between the tradition-directed and the other-directed. Both groups feel helpless vis-a-vis politics, and both have resorted to varieties of fatalism which the inner-directed moralizer would sternly reject. However, there are important differences. The inside-dopester, unlike the indifferent, is subordinate to a peer group in which politics is an important consumable and in which the correct--that is, the unemotional--attitude toward one's consumption is equally important."

Thus, (p. 188) "The inner-directed moralizer brings to policies an attitude derived from the sphere of production. The other-directed inside-dopester brings to politics an attitude derived from the sphere of consumption. Politics is to be appraised in terms of consumer preferences. Politicians are people--and the more galmorous the better.

This leads into a discussion of glamour and politics, which relates directly to Barack Obama.

No comments: