Did you watch the video online of the baby who laughs hysterically while her father rips up a rejection notice he received? How about the video of the toddler twins who are having an animated conversation in gibberish? The Wall Street Journal’s weekend paper of July 23-24th has an article entitled, ‘Why You Just Shared that Baby Video’.
Jonah Berger from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School studied the popularity of videos like these. He posits that our bodies undergo physiological change when we are emotionally aroused, and that makes us more likely to share information. So, when I see a video which makes me laugh or cry, get angry or swoon, I am more likely to send it on to others. The WSJ article’s author concludes that, “Although the Internet is often described as an infinite library of information, the most popular things online typically aren’t very informative.
Quite frankly, this isn’t news. When the Bible, which predates the Internet by quite a bit, says, “Do not turn after your hearts and after your eyes,” God is warning us how easy it is for us to be swayed by our emotions. Despite the shocking lack of Youtube at the time, we are even warned that our eyes are more apt to mislead us than our ears. Since this is a Book which never goes out of date, it isn’t surprising that some of the messages are even more applicable for our time than they might have been centuries earlier.
But, of course, knowing something and internalizing its message are two different things. Countless studies may show that raising the minimum wage reduces the chances of those most needing a first job getting one, but an interview on the news with a woman struggling to feed her family on her minimum wage salary will trump unadorned statistics. This, I believe, is the challenge that political conservatives face. The president likes to paint word pictures with which to sway emotion. The millionaire boarding his private jet may be completely irrelevant to the country’s economic malaise – or he may actually be the potential job and industry creating solution – but if enough people get jealous and angry at the thought of someone having so much more than they do, that emotion will spread and determine how they vote. Conservatives like dealing with facts and reality way more than liberals do. When they try to play the, “facts are irrelevant; let’s get people’s emotions involved,” they do it less successfully than their opponents. Often, they end up looking silly. Instead, conservatives need to learn to express facts in ways that invoke feeling. Emotions without facts are demagoguery. Facts without emotion are a losing hand.