Paradigm Lost: Why the rEVOLution Has Not Been Televised

To those who care about such things, the silence of the media about the extraordinary events around Ron Paul’s campaign is deafening.

Some see conspiracy. I don’t. I see the expected reaction to a paradigm shift — a complete change in the concepts we use to make sense of our politics and culture.

An excellent illustration of the power of a “paradigm” is the Perceptions of Incongruity experiment that was conducted at Harvard in 1949.

In this experiment, subjects were shown playing cards and asked to call out what they saw. They would consistently identify the cards correctly. After a while, however, the experimenters would slip in “incongruous cards” in which the colors red and black were switched, such as black hearts or diamonds and red clubs or spades.

What did the subjects see when shown those incongruous cards? They did not see the incongruous cards, but normal playing cards — the cards they were expecting to see, without noticing the incongruity. For example, when shown a black six of hearts, they might call out simply “six of hearts” or “six of spades” — neither of which was correct. The subjects didn’t misunderstand or misinterpret anything — they actually misperceived something according to the paradigm in which they were operating — in this case, “the playing card paradigm,” comprising everything they already knew (wrongly) about the cards they were looking at.

Subjects continued to fail to notice the incongruous cards. Eventually, they would exhibit a physiological reaction of discomfort, knowing that something was wrong, but not being conscious of what. Only when they had been forced to look at many incongruous cards for very long times did they “get” what was going on and see what they were looking at. Suddenly, they realized that “the playing card paradigm” did not apply. They finally knew that reality included non-traditional cards. They thus adopted a new paradigm (that included black hearts etc.), and thereafter saw what was in front of their eyes.

As Goethe said, “We see only what we know.”

So what do we know about American politics? We “know” that there are two opposing ideologies, Left and Right. We know they are largely staked out by two established parties, Democrats and Republicans. We know that all political positions that are “reasonable” or “mainstream” are represented by them. The trends in American politics can be identified by listening just to them: other views are held by so few that they can be ignored because they can have no significant impact.

All this “knowledge” is false, but it comprises the prevailing paradigm, so we know it nonetheless.

Any paradigm worthy of the name — such as this American political paradigm — lasts for a long time and is hard to unlearn.

But when it is about to collapse, a few things happen.

A) Most people ignore or try to “explain away” the data that threaten the old paradigm. B) The old paradigm becomes stretched in increasingly artificial ways to fit all the threatening data. This is called, “saving the phenomenon.” C) More parochially, people with a career interest in the old paradigm fight for it with increasing dogmatism.

“Saving the phenomenon” is particularly interesting, and history (as well as everyday life) provides many clear examples. Consider the cosmological paradigm that prevailed for centuries. To a first approximation, heaven is perfect; circles (actually spheres) are perfect; planets are bodies in heaven, and so being perfect, they move around circular paths.

Thus, for centuries the motions of the planets were explained… until enough people made enough observations of planetary orbits that were not, in fact, circular: the circles were actually squashed. But since an entire theology — and an entire political establishment — were based on the idea of heavenly bodies’ following the particular divine design that was endorsed by society’s paradigm makers, the data could not be allowed to make the paradigm false. The “phenomenon had to be saved.” Clever men worked out that if the center of a small circle was imagined to travel around a large circle, and a heavenly body traveled around that small circle, then the body would appear not to be traveling around a circle, but the motions would really all still be circular: circles on circles are still circles, and the old paradigm is still correct!

More data had to come in, and people with especially open minds apply themselves to the problem, before observers could actually perceive what they were observing: that heavenly bodies travel in ellipses. When they did, the paradigm shifted: Kepler was then able to formulate his law of planetary motion, political power throughout Europe was redistributed, and soon Newton would formulate gravity.

Admittedly, changes in a prevailing political paradigm are, unlike planets, hard to observe directly if they occur in people’s heads, but many important political and cultural changes of our time are much more visible.

For example, the average adult under 30 is expected to feel that there’s not much point in engaging in politics because she can’t make much of a difference. Politicians are not rock stars and their ideas don’t inspire young people to congregate in their thousands in stadiums to get high on old-fashioned ideas like liberty or abstruse concerns like monetary policy, chanting their favorite lines from their candidate’s “greatest hits” (unless of course, that candidate has already been nominated as his party’s presidential candidate). People certainly don’t make computer games out their favorite candidate’s favorite positions. Hundreds of them don’t spend hours writing songs and recording high-quality videos about political issues that turn them on. And, usually, people who read books about the history of central banking for fun don’t number in the hundreds of thousands. In short, it’s been several decades since so many people became more inspired by politics than by anything else in their lives, and felt so able to make a difference. It also used to be that most politically active, educated and non-religious under-30s voted Democratic, while the number of Americans who were politically active but felt completely unrepresented by either main party was too small to matter.

But the media are people too… and so, like everyone else, they do not see what their current paradigm does not allow.

That is why cable TV has not even considered the extraordinary rise of Independent political registration, the decline of party-political thinking, the upsurge of interest in America’s political and historical identity, kids’ climbing trees to hear an old white politician tell a story that no mass political movement, let alone party, has told for generations, or the remarkable scenes that are playing out in GOP caucuses around the country as the party breaks its own rules to ensure that those who don’t like its anointed candidate cannot choose their own.

It is why the rEVOLution has not been televised.

But it will be.

The very fact that the prevailing paradigm cannot accommodate the cultural and political changes in the USA, or even the GOP, is evidence that those changes are radical enough to establish a new one.

Eventually, when the gap between what is so and what everyone “knows” becomes too large, it becomes impossible to carry on everyday life without seeing it, admitting it, and dealing with it. That point may finally be in sight.

This week, some people who both operate in, and shape, the prevailing paradigm came up against that impossibility for the first time. Two cable networks — Fox and MSNBC — discretely acknowledged that Ron Paul was now winning states (IA, MN, etc.) and that it was likely (Fox actually ventured “inevitable”) that he would win enough states to be on the ballot with Romney at the GOP convention for the presidential nomination.

Whether that happens is much less important than the paradigm shift that has led to it, for when paradigms shift, history is made.

We may not yet have a new narrative. But the old one just cracked.

Robin Koerner writes for Huffington Post and he is the founder and publisher of


11 comments to Paradigm Lost: Why the rEVOLution Has Not Been Televised

  • Squire

    Ron Paul will lose against Obama. Romney has a chance. If you libs, I mean libertarians, think that electing him again like you did last time is a good idea, you are the biggest fools on earth. A GOP convention will not nominate Ron Paul. If you write Paul in when you vote you are voting for Obama.

    The strong following of Ron Paul is best used to influence the GOP, not relegate all the reforms needed to the dust bin. Your ideals will get nowhere with Obama as president. In fact, your ideals may never see the light of day again. This is your chance to show your strength when you as a movement and organization throw in with Romney with the condition that you be included in the government he forms.

    • BCanuck

      ‘If you write Paul in when you vote you are voting for Obama’.
      This is not necessarily true. Some Ron Paul supporters formerly voted Republican, some voted Democrat but I suspect many couldn’t vote (too young) or didn’t vote at all (R or D).

      But I dont think write-in is very effective. If Ron Paul does not win then I think the rEVOLution is better served getting behind governor Gary Johnson running as the Libertarian Party candidate. Gary Johnson is not the same inspiring figure as Ron Paul is but he is a very accomplished and qualified person. If Gary Johnson polled 15% and was in the debates it would be a huge leap forward. The genie couldn’t be put back in the bottle after that.

    • Matt

      I love this brand of “time to get on board” b.s.

      I’ve seen a lot of polls showing Ron Paul as the only one who has a real chance in beating Obama, he’s a polarizing figure. Everything else shows Romney losing by about 4-6 points.

      I dislike Romney, but despise Obama. So, part of the gamble is, “do I take 4 more years of one jerk, or risk 8 more years with an unknown jerk?”

      The smartest thing Romney could do (supposing he does get all the delegates) is beg Ron Paul to be his VP. This would be especially good considering the man has no principles of his own, and believes he’s going to be space captain of his own planet some time after he dies.

    • Doctor Awesome

      Be a coward. Don’t expect me to be one with you.

    • Matt

      This is to Squire, who thinks it’s over:

      It could be that the delegate race is just beginning.

  • Ron

    Beautifully written, and thanks for giving clarity to what was already buzzing around in my head in a more nebulous form.
    Stepping outside what has become accepted as normalcy is not the American way. Most of my friends have firmly labeled themselves ‘Democrat’ or ‘Republican’, and most of them could not clearly define what those labels represent. Critical thinking or objective attitudes on issues simply does not occur to them.
    A new paradigm is increasingly important if we are to address problems without the attendant political baggage. Those who refuse will find themselves part of yesterday’s news.

  • Really nice article, Robin. One quibble. “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”, by Thomas Kuhn, which introduced the term and thought “paradigm” to the scientific community, points out that a successor paradigm must incorporate all the facts learned while the current paradigm holds sway and incorporate this new knowledge to present a simpler and more comprehensive theory which then becomes the new orthodoxy. While thinkers such as those affiliated with the Mises Institute are working on that, I’m not sure that RP himself has presented such a new paradigm, at least in the field of finance and economics. This can be seen by his failure, at this late stage of his career, to do a better job debating Paul Krugman this week. RP needed to not just assert but to show people how a sudden change to a small government will lead not to depression but prosperity, and till he or, say, his son do that, Keynesianism will not be abandoned IMHO.

  • JR

    I’m glad you brought up Isaac Newton in an article about human perception. Sometime in the 1600′s he made a famous, though seemingly largely forgotten, statement in relation to the fiasco that was the South Seas Bubble.

    It went along the lines of “I can calculate the motions of planets but I cannot calculate the madness of men”. Therein lies the answer to the government credit bubble & why “the data could not be allowed to make the paradigm false”. The answer was given 300+ years ago yet most are still groping through the fog.

    Shows you the power of human perception. From a strictly biological point of view, quite remarkable.

  • As the Bush/Clinton Power Brokers took control in the nineties with an agreement to buy off or burnout all new comers to the biannual demopublican games a.k.a.elections. Conditions included GATT and financial hegemony for the 18 great banking houses. Elections in America serve the same purpose as televised wrestling. Power has remained with the oligarchs and is now permanently fixed. The clinton/bush policy advisors who actually run the government run the New world Order have been the same people from the same schools and the same families for more than 30 years.

  • John Howard

    Ron Paul does not exist
    So he is not upon our list
    We’re the ones who write the news
    We’re the ones with proper views
    Ron Paul has dared resist
    So Ron Paul will not be missed
    We have seen that he will lose
    We have gathered all the clues
    Ron Paul has dared insist
    That Liberty should raise its fist
    He said our wars are all unjust
    He even said we’d all go bust
    So Ron Paul can not exist
    And he can not be on our list
    We’re the ones who write the news
    We’re the ones with proper views

  • Steve W from Ford

    Like Churchill after Munich, Ron Paul will look much more interesting after the collapse.