Framing on the Eve of Lughnasadah

Literata is asking some good questions. Discussing some of the nefarious myths that circulate about Pagans, Literata says:

On a broader level, it means things like pushing back against the “demonic possession narrative” as Jason points out. It may mean pushing back against misperceptions about divination, about symbols, about wearing black and going to the woods at night.

But I don’t know very much about how to do that well. This is a place where I would really like to get more advice from people who have experience countering this kind of defamation.

What I do know is that if you pay attention to Hecate’s rules on framing, this is the one time you should talk about what Pagans are not. But it still means you shouldn’t pile on other examples in an attempt to debunk as much as possible at one time; Pagans get so little media exposure that we need to counter the specific problem at hand and make a positive statement. In speaking to the public, the point is to challenge the frame and try to reframe, rather than accepting the frame and debating around it.

This is where I think the Bad Jackie [aka, the person who won’t believe evidence when it conflicts with their prejudices] idea comes in. When you work to counter the frame, you should put it in terms that highlight exactly how ridiculous and contrived the libel or defamation is. “You believe what?” Make it dismissible: how can you believe that in the face of an official FBI debunking? In the face of common sense? In the face of reality?

If you can’t change the minds of the Bad Jackies, at least make it obvious that they’re the ones who are out of touch with reality and who, at some level, choose to stay there.

What do you think? Is that a helpful way to think about this? Is it a good place to start? And how else should we do anti-defamation work well?

Framing isn’t easy, but Pagans still need to learn it. Framing to win depends heavily upon the context of each situation and varies depending upon the tactics employed by the opposition.

One hard and fast rule for successful framing is that you need to understand your own objectives and you need to frame your message in a way that is congruent with your own objectives. Pagans too often, IMHO, fail to do this. We accept our opponents’ framing and try to work from there.

However, you generally want to avoid framing your message in a manner that adopts your opponent’s framing. Because, as George Lakoff has explained, when you attempt to refute your opponents’ framing, you reinforce their message.

Consequently, when Pagans are framing their messages for Pagan Pride Day, I get down on my knees, grovel, and beg, beg, beg them not to say, for example, “We’re sponsoring Pagan Pride Day so that people will understand that we don’t eat babies.” Because that adopts our opponents’ framing. Instead, I plead with Pagans to say, for example, “We’re sponsoring Pagan Pride Day because we want our community to know how proud we are of Pagans who invented democracy, theatre, poetry, music, architecture, and farming. We want our community to know that local Pagans are business owners, parents, fire-fighters, lawyers, teachers, computer programmers, consultants, and farmers.”

But Literata isn’t asking about how you frame your notice of Pagan Pride Day. She’s asking how you frame your message when some nutjob says, for example, that the shooting in Aurora is due not to a lack of gun regulation, but to the fact that our society suffers a Witch to live.

There’s, not surprisingly, a field of law devoted to that sort of “containment,” the people who get paid a lot of money to consult with companies and personalities who have to refute disparaging rumors. These lawyers break their job down into two broad categories: (1) the rumors are true or have, at least, a large element of truth, and (2) the rumors are completely untrue.

So, for example, let’s imagine that you represent Mitt Romney and it’s true (and this is simple speculation on my part, heh) that he not only didn’t pay any taxes in some years but actually got tax returns. The best practice in that case (i.e, the rumor is true) is generally full disclosure. Release the tax returns. Get it over with; move on to a point where you can frame the message. Admit the truth, explain why it was adopted, and then, for the love of the Goddess, begin to redirect attention. “While Mr. Romney may not have paid taxes in prior years, our campaign focuses on job creation in this century. And Mr. Romeny has a four-point plan to create jobs by . . . .”

But what if the rumor isn’t true? You can deny it, prove the truth, and hope to move on. Ridicule can be effective in some cases, as Literata suggests. But what do you do about the “bad Jackies,” the people who will persist in their belief no matter what you say. So you invite them into your rituals, show them your Book of Shadows, give them interview with members of your group who completely disavow eating babies (show them all of your tax returns if you’re Mitt Romney), prove to them that even their own scientists believe that humans cause global climate change, etc. And that has no effect. They just find other reasons to disbelieve you.

Here’s the hard thing that lawyers who do this kind of damage control understand and that lots of Pagans don’t want to acknowledge: you’re not going to reach some people. Their own shadows, their own fears, their own need to “other” you will allow them to deny all of your evidence. Sure, your members deny eating babies, sure your Book of Shadows has nothing in it about eating babies, sure you say that you’re just about worshipping the trees and the brooks. And they say:

That’s what Satan would TEACH you to say, and it’s all lies.

OK, listen carefully to me. No matter what you do, you’re unlikely to reach those people. Even when you clean up the mess in New Orleans, do reiki on injured children, raise money for local veterans, and feed abandoned kittens, they are going to say that you’re evil.

Here’s what Pagans need to get and it’s what the lawyers who do damage control on these issues get: That’s life. Shrug. Move on. At some point, and any lawyer who’s ever written a brief knows this, refutation stops working. And then it’s time to being pounding your own drum. Start to, once again, get out YOUR message. Eventually, your positive message will more or less drown out their negative one. You know:

We are the intellectual heirs of the ancient Greek philosophers who invented democracy, poetry, philosophy, the Olympics, etc. We’re going to be holding a Pagan Pride event on Sept. 23rd to emphasize how local Pagans contribute to our local economy by farming, creating jobs in local businesses, supporting our local schools by donating books to school libraries and . . . .

Stop letting your opponents define your message.

Picture found here.

3 responses to “Framing on the Eve of Lughnasadah

  1. Peter of Lone Tree

    Perhaps a familiarity with Jacques Lacarriere’s The Gnostics would help also.

  2. Greg McKenziee

    Very true. The key to framing is that it is how your brain actually works. Getting the framing “right” is more than analyzing your messages. It’s about building the more accurate and useful frames in your own brain.

    Religious groups and Republicans spend a lot of time at conferences and gatherings to get their “messaging” right. This is how they build their most effective frames in their own brains. We need to do the same. We need to re-train ourselves and correct one another when we see our own folks using the frames of the regressive ones. We need to build our own frames and get comfortable using them.

    Good read!

    Greg Roy

  3. Pingback: Link roundup: inspiration - We're Made of Mud and Magic

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