Friday, February 24, 2017

Thought Exercise: Red Bus, Blue Bus

Suppose you want to leave town. You're deciding whether to hop on the Blue Bus or the Red Bus.

You go to the driver of the Blue Bus and ask where it will take you. Says the driver: "Well, we'll pull out and head south on Chandler Road. That'll take us to U.S. 20 west, which should be OK at this time of day, but if the traffic's bad we can take a detour onto Simms Street. Five miles down we'll get onto the interstate, only we'll have to be careful to stay in the left lane, because there's a lot of construction going on down around Snowville.

"Now, one of our passengers would like to swing by Wal-Mart, so we'll get off for a while at exit 12. And there's a lady who really wants a Borscht Burger, so we'll make a ten-mile detour to the Burger Czar out by Hamptonfield. Then there's a rest stop after exit 21, where we can . . ."

So you go to the driver of the Red Bus and ask the same question. This driver says: "We're going to Vegas. Eighty miles per hour the whole way, no stops. It'll be great. Hop on."

Meanwhile, somewhere in the background, the driver of the Blue Bus is still droning on about the New Jersey Turnpike.

Now, maybe Vegas isn't your top destination choice. You might be skeptical that you can do the whole trip at eighty with no stops. You might even think that the Red Bus driver is kind of full of it.

But here's the thing. When you came to the bus station, you needed to make a choice. You now know that the Red Bus driver has a destination in mind. He has expressed clearly where he is going and why he wants to go there. That's a positive reason to hop on the Red Bus. By contrast, the Blue Bus driver has not given you any reason to choose the Blue Bus--unless you happen to like Borscht Burgers.

The application to recent politics is left as an exercise for the reader.


  1. The emotional appeal is attractive, of course, to go straight to Vegas, no stops. Then you get a little more detail, like no stops means not even to fill the gas tank. Oh, and some people may only sit in the back. And some people can't even get on the bus. And if you get sick they kick you off, at 80 miles per hour.

    The question becomes, how can you get people to think rather than feel their way to the right bus. It could very well be that you can't. It just might be that we all-- even liberal, rational-thinking, "intellectuals"-- feel our way to the bus more than we think our way.

    It shocks me to realize that the was I feel now about our current bus driver is how some other people felt for the past eight years. That is not a reasoned reaction, but one that has been reinforced by radio and tv, and by "fake news."

    1. I experience the exact same feeling of shock that you do.

      I don't think you can necessarily get people to think their way onto the bus. Moreover, I don't think we should try. The difference here is a real and substantive one. In a democratic system, it's genuinely important that the bus driver (a) have an idea of where the bus is going; (b) be able to communicate it; and (c) use that to give everyone–not just the one guy who wants to visit Wal-Mart–an affirmative reason to say "Hey! I should chose the Blue Bus!"

      Detail is good. Detail is important. But detail without an identifiable or articulate policy doesn't change any minds.

      Obviously there are a lot of things going on now. This analogy doesn't pretend to capture more than one small facet of the situation. I do think it's important, though.

    2. Nothing can really change minds except feelings. You need to be able to answer questions when asked, I think. Just don't start with that.

      Clinton was like Gore, boring and lacking in personality, or even associated with someone that people hate, which is why people in turn hate her.

      People vote for personality first, because that is where the emotion comes from.

      I suspect (though I cannot prove) that Bernie might have done better. He said what he felt, and people believed him. He was saying, we need to go to Florida, and everyone is welcome. If you're sick, you can get off at the regular stop and take the ambulance. If you want a Borscht Burger, sure, there is always a stop at the mall. But he was saying, FLORIDA evybody, FLORIDA.

    3. Yah. Policy without details is demagoguery. But details without policy are vacuous.