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Emotion. The enemy of reason
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 by Bill Barth
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C
       About a hundred years ago, when I was a skinny 19-year-old college student with empty pockets, I took a summer job pounding the sidewalks around St. Louis peddling encyclopedias door-to-door.
       For the young’uns among the readership, an encyclopedia is the dead-tree equivalent of Google. Whole shelves in a book case would be filled by these great big books, which held the accumulated knowledge of the human race in alphabetical order. You could look up just about anything in these books.
       By the way, a book is something people once held in their hands, with a hard cardboard-like cover wrapped around many pages of paper filled with small black type. People read them. Sometimes just for fun.
       Anyway, as sales jobs go, my gig as a door-to-door encyclopedia peddler was pretty miserable. A supervisor would pile the sales crew into a  vehicle, then drive to the town or neighborhood we were assigned to work. One by one, we would be dropped off on a street corner, expected to hit every residential door to make our pitch to sell sets of encyclopedias. We worked mid-afternoon until dark, the best hours to find people at home.
       Folks were mostly friendly back in those days, even in the so-called “bad” neighborhoods. Not a lot of doors were slammed in our faces, though there always were a few. Lots of people would listen politely at the door before saying, “no thanks,” leaving us to pad on to the next house. Occasionally, some lady would take pity on me — summers around St. Louis are hot — and invite me in for some iced tea or lemonade.
       Now and then, you’d find somebody who really was interested. Usually, these were young parents with kids either pre-school or in the primary grades. We were taught to look for swingsets and bicycles in the yard to identify top prospects.
       Even so, it was tough to make the sale. The company knew that. So after a few days of pounding sidewalks, the unsuccessful sales recruits were ushered off for a class taught by the best salesman in the firm. He met recruits at his home — sprawling with a circular driveway, set among lots of leafy trees, a swimming pool out back — to send a message … sell hard and you, too, can have this.
       One part of that lesson really stuck with me. He said a salesman can smile and smile, show the benefits of the product over and over, present all the facts in a convincing way, and still get shut down. When that happens, he said, go for the heart.
Leaning in, his face an earnest mask, a sad-sack look in his eyes, he said, “Do you love your children?”
       Long pause.
       “ Of course you do,” he said. “You want them to have a better life than you have. I’m here to tell you, better lives come from education and knowledge. From learning to work with their minds, not with their hands and their backs. You want them to have that opportunity, don’t you?”
       Long pause.
       “Well, don’t you?”
       I’m reminded of that lesson in the hard-sell often, as I observe the maneuverings of politicians from my chair in the media. They have learned well. It’s not about winning the factual argument. It’s about stirring up emotions.
       That’s why presidents bring civilians as props when they give “State of the Union” addresses.
       It’s why John McCain hauled Joe the Plumber around with him during the 2008 campaign.
       It’s why whenever Republicans yammered about costs and taxes and takeovers in health care reform, Democrats trotted out another sob story about some sick kid.
       In politics today, never mind winning heads. Win hearts. Make the sale.
       I recoiled from the strategy when I heard it from Mr. Encyclopedia Supersalesman. I recoil from it today when it’s deployed by politicians.
       When emotion takes over, reason quickly departs. Human beings caught up in emotion are less capable of rational analysis and deliberate decision-making.
       Easy prey for manipulative politicians.
       That’s why I’m not a tea partier. I could be, but I don’t trust anger.
       It’s why I’m not a Democrat. I could be, but I don’t trust drama and angst.
       It’s why I’m not a Republican. I could be, but I don’t trust the love of money and superiority.
       Call me a tepid libertarian. Not anti-government, but anti-big government. Like the Founders, I see nobility in the individual and strength in self-reliance. The early American banner — “Don’t Tread on Me” — enshrines the concept. In that phrase there is armor against the emotional manipulations of the partisan wars.
       I always thought the answer to Mr. Supersalesman’s query should be, “Yes, I love my children (just in my imagination way back then). And I’ll raise them as I see fit, thank you very much.”
       A similar answer is right for the endless emotional manipulations in politics: “Knock off the sob stories and get your hand out of my pocket. Yes, I love my fellow man. No, I do not feel obligated to pay his bills. Or yours.”