ITL #338 - An alternative to hate filled tribalism: lessons from the swinging 60’s for today1 year, 6 months ago
Istanbul’s Mayor was elected to office on a platform of “radical love”, calling to mind the flower-power optimism of a bygone era. Dare we hope for more connection, less confrontation? By Richard Linning.
Look beyond the cliché of the counterculture of drugs, psychedelic music and art, the sexual permissiveness of the swinging 60’s and you will find a communication strategy worthy of any 21st century strategist to reduce the fear, anger and threat inherent in public expression of personal opinion. The shared online experience of many today.
The leadership of civil rights, feminist an anti-Vietnam war movements of the 1960’s and 70’s were optimists trying to bring people together.
The seeds of flower power were sown by Allen Ginsberg in his essay Demonstration of Spectacle as Example, As Communication, or How to Make a March/Spectacle. Ginsberg advocated handing out "masses of flowers" to the National Guard, police, press, politicians and spectators to turn anti-war rallies into peaceful affirmative spectacles. Connection not confrontation. In those pre social media days photographs of flower-wielding protesters became the iconic images of anti-war rallies.
The echoes today of those protest movements are about hate rather than the power of love.
Mood of the times
If the World War I poetry of Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves and others opens a window into that era, the protest songs of the 60’s caught the mood of those times. A mood summed up by these words from Bob Dylan’s famous Blowin’ in the Wind, “…how many ears must one man have/before he hears people cry?”
Algorithms are our ears today in this post truth era of pop-up populists. And often what they hear is a cry for blood, sometimes literally.
A new study from the Singapore Management University of the counterintuitive media survival strategies of the American and Philippines heads of state, Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte, concludes that their tactics of deny, lie and terrorise are “…effective as evidenced by their success, proving that the public’s search for truth was overridden by emotive rhetoric that appealed to their supporters’ prejudices.”
Donald Trump’s approval rating among Republicans rose by 5 points to 72% in the week after his racially charged Twitter attack on “The Squad”, the four Democratic congress women he told to go back to where they came from.
But there is another way of responding to the negative algorithm outputs summed up by the recent electioneering slogan of Istanbul’s Mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu. He exhorted his supporters to “find a neighbour who doesn’t think like you and give them a hug.” The connection not confrontation approach of 60’s flower power.
As Martin Luther King Jnr, assassinated in 1968, advocated, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”.
Imamoglu won a narrow victory in the March Istanbul mayoral election but was forced to fight a successful rerun in June after the initial result was invalided by the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The core message of Imamoglu’s election playbook The Book of Radical Love was the need to let go of "the language of rage” and speak the "language of love".
Instead of the animus implicit in the popular English socialist t-shirt slogan “Never kissed a Tory”, Imamoglu supporters refused to play the bitter game of identity politics of the modern Turkish secularist versus the Islamic conservative. His win has been hailed as the first for a radical love campaign which transcends the politics of hate, divisiveness and fear.
Is radical love a political force?
Clearly, radical love is beyond reproach as a personal philosophy of life. But can it really be a powerful political force? Radical love in this context according to the Berkeley sociology professor Arlie Hochschild is “about mastering a temporary suspension of self – not a suspension of moral commitment, but of self…”
So how do we get from “me” to “we”? Radical love goes beyond acceptance and beyond tolerance. It embraces those who intentionally or unintentionally have been seen as "other".
“Other” is anyone of a different opinion, race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability, or gender and more.
“Why shouldn’t I be able to form my own opinion and try to change people’s minds?” – the question posed by an “other”, Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg.
The leap from “me” to “we”
The Swedish climate activist’s solo skolstrejk för klimatet (school strike for climate) in front of the Riksdag in Stockholm only began in August 2018 but by May 2019 had encouraged millions of students from 125 countries to participate in Fridays for Future protests. The leap from “me” to “we” was dramatic. Thunberg said she first got the idea of a climate strike from the March for Our Lives campaign in the United in support of greater gun control which achieved a similar trajectory.
Neither would have been possible without social media which inevitably attracted the dog whistles of click bait.
What one newspaper called the boneless banquet of manufactured opinion online variously described “the Joan of Arc of climate change” as a “cult member”, criticised her “monotone voice”, accused her of “apocalyptic dread”, and labelled her message “pre-modern”. A British politician said that since Greta Thunberg had “very publicly entered the adult realm of political controversy” so “public criticism of her should be fair game."
In July 2019, on behalf of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), its secretary-general Mohammed Barkindo declared Thunberg, and other young climate activists the "greatest threat" to the fossil fuel industry.
Thunberg tweeted them her thanks. “Our biggest compliment yet.” The flower wielding optimists of the 1960’s would be proud of her.
Past IPRA President Richard Linning continues to draw on his years of global experience for conference presentations, lectures, mentoring and articles on ethical and other public relations practice issues.
Richard Linning, IPRA Board Member, Fellow Chartered Institute of Public Relationsmail the author
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