What do we want in our political representatives? Could it be as simple as finding someone who looks a lot like us?
That’s the central question in this month’s Cato Unbound, Cato’s monthly debate magazine specializing in the exchange of big ideas.
Each month, Cato Unbound presents an essay on a big-picture topic by an important thinker. The ideas in that essay are then be tested by the comments and criticism of equally eminent thinkers, each of whom will respond to the month’s lead essay and then to one another. The idea is to create a hub for wide-ranging, open-ended conversation, where ideas will be advanced, challenged, and refined in public view.
This month, the debate surrounds the role of visuals and images in the political process. What do they affect, what should they affect, and what does this mean for the future of public policy?
In the lead essay, Virginia Postrel argues that it’s a mistake to excise visual appeals from politics. According to Postrel, persuasion takes more than facts and figures. To fight the undeniable glamour of bad public policies, she says, good public policies must respond with a glamour of their own.
Then, in the first response essay, Grant McCracken compares the roles of luxury and glamour in the realm of visual persuasion. Luxury, according to McCracken, is obedient to, and intimately connected with, the state. Glamour, however, can either come from opposition groups or the central government. Quite often, the state’s attempts at glamour backfire, particularly when it misjudges the public mood, or when its messages reach the wrong audience.
In Smile, You Are on CNN!, Autumn Whitefield-Madrano looks at the attractiveness of political officeholders through the lens of scientific research. Just as the data predicts, politicians tend to be just kind of nice-looking — neither unattractive nor stunningly beautiful. What does this say about the way we choose our nation’s leaders?
Finally, Martin Gurri suggests that the world’s elites have lost control over the visual, largely because of the democratizing power of the Internet. Anyone can publish images today, and that play a powerful role in changing the world. According to Gurri, images legitimize, because they help to tell stories, and no social order can sustain itself without stories that justify its existence to the people. But when the people themselves can circulate competing images, they can also circulate some very effective competing stories. It’s not a coincidence, then, that trust in government is at a global low.
But the discussion only begins at Cato Unbound. Readers are encouraged to enter into the conversation on their own websites, blogs, social media, and even in good old-fashioned bound publications. Cato Unbound will scour the web for the best commentary, and, with permission, may publish it alongside our invited contributors. Follow Cato Unbound on Facebook and Twitter, or even email Cato Unbound editor Jason Kuznicki at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welcome to the discussion. All you have to lose are your preconceptions!