Editor’s note: Stephen Cataldo is one of many CWC members who writes about politics. This Saturday, we’re celebrating CWC political writers at An Evening of Political Readings at Laurel Bookstore in Oakland.

Stephen Cataldo is a social entrepreneur with a strong passion in politics. He recently published his first book, Cognitive Politics: a Communications Workbook for Progressives [CognitivePolitics.org]. Before writing this book, Cataldo took on many environmental and social projects, such as founding SpaceShare and the carpool system for the American Holistic Nursing program.

What Is Cognitive Politics?

Stephen Cataldo: “What we really have are certain value sets that we don’t have words for, and when those values intersect with politics, they become ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative.’”

Stephen’s new book entertains the theory of Cognitive Politics, which is the cognitive theory that explains why we divide into the polarized belief systems we call “liberal” and “conservative.” The main objectives of this book are to teach readers the effective ways to communicate when discussing politics, help readers figure out what their real goals are and not merely try to score points in debates. Watching political debates made Cataldo cognizant that nowadays, “we’re not engaging in each other’s points” when it comes to political debates. “People talk at one another, instead of to each other.”

Organization of the Cognitive Politics book

An illustration from Cognitive Politics

Cataldo was originally inspired by George Lakoff, the author of Don’t Think of an Elephant, and Jonathan Haidt, the author of The Righteous Mind. “These two authors have many ideas that inspire readers,” said Cataldo. “and a workbook was needed to make those ideas ready for conversations at the dinner table.” Cognitive Politics integrates these authors’ sometimes contradictory advice along with historical examples, and shows how to use techniques like non-violent communication and active listening so that readers can use those academic ideas in real conversations.

Politics Move Fast. How Do you Stay Relevant?

Writers in politics all have a common struggle: news travels fast, and publishing is slow. Cataldo said that staying relevant is definitely a struggle, but “dated issues can become great lessons.” For example, although gay marriage is now somewhat of a fading issue, we can still learn a lot from exploring why progressives succeeded so quickly.

An example from Cataldo’s personal experience: before Donald Trump was elected president, Cataldo had already written a chapter on fascism in his book, which turned out to be surprisingly relevant to the 2016 Election. In fact, Cataldo says reading it now, it’s almost as if that chapter was written in reference to Trump.

Cataldo isn’t too worried about relevancy with his book, because it revolves around cognitive political theories. His main object is to teach the readers skills. Rather than to give his readers points to use in an argument,  he gives them skills that they could apply to many political situations. This doesn’t depend on the current events too much to stay relevant.

Common American Values

SC: “Almost all people believe in fairness and compassion.”

CaptureAlthough Americans have this common goal, the rift comes in when we encounter certain ideas, such as following the leader, taboos, and taking care of our neighbors. Cataldo says that conservatives tend to believe that existing leaders should be good leaders—so follow them, taboos shouldn’t be changed without questioning them too much, and that we should take care of our immediate neighbors instead of people far away. These three ideas trigger the fissure of the two parties, leading to debates.

SC: “We live in an era friendly to trolls, so we got used to talking like trolls, because they make the most noise. Jerks are the loudest.”

With social media and forums ubiquitous now, they’re platforms that empower “trolls,” or people who post messages online to provoke more conversation. “The jerks are the loudest, and they are who you’re going to hear from — and this is true for every side, every ideology, when listening outside their bubble of friends.” said Cataldo.

Since trolls are the loudest, we end up hearing them the most, and often mistaken what they say as what America says. However, the “reasonably quiet people, in other words, non-politicians and the less vocal people on social media, still want the best for everyone,” said Cataldo.

CaptureCataldo said that he sees a big shift from economics-based politics to cognitive politics in the last few decades. However, now people vote based on their own psychological preferences on issues like gun control or same sex marriage instead of straightforward economic or local issues.

There are issues that made great strides in the past few decades, such as same-sex marriage. “Twenty years ago, it wasn’t even a hot political topic in San Francisco; now it’s an issue throughout the entire US.” Same-sex marriage, Cataldo said, was normalized by people coming out of the closet in Hollywood, which normalized gay and lesbian rights, and the progress is still going on today. However, there are some other issues that aren’t progressing as rapidly, such as the Occupy movements, or “Black Lives Matter” movements. “These movements maybe built roots, but it hasn’t come to the fruit stage yet.”

Recommendations for Political Writers

Something that helped motivate Cataldo to write and publish his book was before he wrote the manuscript, he went on Lulu and printed a physical book. “That made me feel like an author, even when it was all notes inside. It kept me motivated.” He suggested other writers do the same. Because this is still Cataldo’s first published book, he is still in the middle of figuring out the market and business side of publishing.

Meet Stephen and many other savvy political writers at our event this Saturday evening! Book sale to follow.

politics event flyer cwc with names


This article was written by Jason Yiu. He is the author of Utmost Savagery. Connect with him on Facebook or LinkedIn.

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