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View Diary: Book Review: George Lakoff's "Whose Freedom?" (185 comments)

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  •  On Lakoff, Language and Framing (6+ / 0-)

    While Lakoff's approach to framing is useful, his suggested "frames" and proposed path forward produce problems of their own.

    From "Framed: Lakoff's Dubious Speech Therapy for Democrats."

    "While a helpful diagnosis of the Democrats' maladies, Dr. Lakoff's prescription may well make the patient worse. Lakoff casually dismisses fundamental differences among liberal constituencies that cannot - and should not - be so easily bridged. He does not address the 21st century media environment, which by blurring politics, entertainment, news and opinion, naturally offers the conservatives' "strict father" morality play a built-in advantage. Worst, Lakoff's model for a progressive public philosophy and values messages leads to a misdirected liberalism and electoral defeat."

    From "Team America: Making Lakoff Work for Democrats."

    I'm largely in agreement with Kevin Drum's assessment of Lakoff over at the Washington Monthly. In a nutshell, Lakoff's analysis of the GOP's success is valuable and his branding tools helpful, but his prescriptions for Democrats are a recipe for continued electoral defeat. Among the shortcomings of Lakoff's approach is his concept of the "nurturant parent" model for progressives, which leaves a fragmented Democratic Party divided and weakened against the conservatives' "strict father" morality play in the 21st century media messaging wars.

    Lakoff's framing exercise has value for progressives, but not with an "empathetic family" at it core. Since 2003, Perrspectives has labelled the GOP agenda "The Opt Out Society", offered approaches for branding it as such, and developed an alternative progressive public philosophy, the "New American Bargain." What's needed to articulate that is a different frame. One that projects confidence, unity, aspiration - all the while working with, not running counter, to the trajectory of 21st century media. Forward looking, rewarding success, respecting personal autonomy, requiring shared responsibility, empowering each citizen to achieve their utmost and setting and achieving common national goals (a concept of "winning," if you will), those are the values needed in a new Democratic "frame." And the model for that is not a family, but a team.

    •  What Lakoff is and is not (16+ / 0-)

      Lakoff is not a campaign consultant or advertising man. Like many of us he is happy to offer advice; whether we take it or not is up to the individual judgment of each campaign.

      Lakoff is a deep thinker whose insights are frankly brilliant. IMHO he can help progressives organize their thinking, bringing clarity and confidence to their ideas and message.

      And the model for that is not a family, but a team.

      I like the team metaphor a lot. People understand a team working together to achieve something that could not be done by lone individuals. And teamwork is a masculine virtue, with heroic cultural references ranging from the military to sports to the origninal bands of hunters from our stone age past. By all means, let's put the team front and center in our rhetoric and imagery when we think it will help.

      Behind that, though, there must be some reason that the team is going after whatever its goal is. And that is a family reason-- achieving the designated goal will be good for the family in some way. That is the solid moral ground that justifies and motivates whatever effort the team is presently undertaking. It behooves us to understand that moral footing in our own hearts and minds, whether or not we choose to express it directly in our political speech at any given time.

      Lakoff is brilliant, but he is not the only person with ideas and understanding. We are not in an either/or situation here, where granting his points requires negating important contributions from all other sources.

      •  Social trend towards singles and non-traditional (5+ / 0-)

        families predict the model for the future is team.

        I think the visual line up of white male Republican Prez candidates was a subliminal turn off to most Americans.  I think this is why GOP is looking to HOLLYWOOD (Thompson) for help.  Thompson (who works with minorities and females on TV) is as close as they can get to contemporary America.

        I believe the patriarchal archetype as a leadership model is fading... fast.

        •  The patriarchal archetype (0+ / 0-)

          Can't get rid of it fast enough IMHO.

          Have you read Lakoff? His archetypal progressive family is headed by two adults, a man and a woman.

          Note: THIS IS ONLY AN ARCHETYPE. It does not mean that every real world domestic arrangement has to have "mom and dad" in order to be valid.

          What it does mean is that both masculine and feminine priorities, ideas, and methods are important and powerful.

          The progressive family is inevitably stronger because it draws from twice the experience, twice the knowledge, and includes the all responsible, capable adults.

          •  Interpreting that a bit (0+ / 0-)
            I saw Lakoff's liberal archetypal family as gender neutral. That to me means inclusive, and non-specific about gender.

            On the contrary, Lakoff's description of the conservative archetypal family was clearly masculine. The conservative value of strength wasn't the strength of a (gender neutral) mother or father as they worked day after day to save for their children's education, or the strength that it takes to help your kids with their math until midnight when you have to get up at 5 to make sure they are properly off to school where they can learn. No, the conservative value of strength is the definitely masculine strength which excludes men who are thoughtful or different - it's the masculine agressive strength that is ready to fight in a back alley to protect the weaker women and children, because you're all alone in a big bad world where second place means you are dead.

            In fact, he even named his archetypal families "strong father"(gender macho-manly male) and "nurturing parent" (gender inclusively neutral).

    •  These values flow from Lakoff's model (10+ / 0-)

      The disconnect is due to a misunderstanding of Lakoff. Each of the values mentioned above -- "forward looking, rewarding success, respecting personal autonomy, requiring shared responsibility, empowering each citizen" -- flow from Lakoff's analysis.

      The fact of the matter is that these moral concepts derive from a nurturant family model, a model that is actually wired into our embodied minds. That doesn't mean and never has meant that the expressed values must be framed in specific family-related metaphors.

      One reason progressive frames seem more difficult to express is because of our different notion of causation. Strict father morality expresses only direct causation. The poor are to blame for their poverty, for instance. At Rockridge we are investigating how direct causality is ubiquitous in press narratives and popular culture, which use simple melodrama to structure their storytelling. And melodrama relies on direct causation and one-dimensional heroes, villains, victims.

      Progressive, nurturant or egalitarian values, however, recognize systemic causation -- a much more realistic understanding of life. Indirect causation (poverty's effects on criminal behavior, for instance), doesn't mean we don't advocate personal responsibility. In fact, that is our value while the authoritarian strict father preaches obedience and discipline. It means we add a notion of social responsibility. We are responsible for ourselves AND others.

      •  Let me ask you something ... (8+ / 0-)

        about the causation aspect he discusses. (I would have discussed this in the review, but it already was too long and that's why I urged people to buy it and explore different points in diaries ... there's simply a lot of meat here).

        It occurred to me as I was reading this that, yes, conservatives tend to think in direct causation and progressives tend to think in systemic causation models.

        BUT when things get tough for conservatives, they tend to throw themselves into a systemic causation mode ... Clinton did it, so it's embedded in the system and we can't change that yada yada yada. It seems to be used by the right as a convenient excuse when an individual or individuals gets called to account for themselves (think Gonzales and Wolfowitz of late). The excuse seems to be that their behavior is okay because it's part of some system, and that's the cause of their behavior. And the system -- if you buy their thinking -- is responsible and simply cannot be changed (much like the market model Lakoff  points to, which they slavishly idealize).

        •  Sooooo.... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Corrupt politicians are a result of the political system, which can't be effectively reformed...
          The unemployed on the dole are the result of a flawed welfare system that absolutely must be reformed because it serves to create dependence.

          Perhaps corrupt politicians are dependent on a flawed political welfare system that needs to be reformed to prevent more corruption?

          We must never lose it, or sell it, or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.

          by Fabian on Sun May 20, 2007 at 10:00:26 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Yes, that's what I'm getting at ... (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Alumbrados, Fabian, Allogenes

            flipping between the two different explanations of causation when it's convenient in order to avoid responsibility. (And I would argue that systems are not impossible to change, despite the hagiography of the free market. If they were too complex to change, we would still have slavery, for one thing.)

            There's also an explanation in the book about how the Christian right points to the complexity of the design of the human eye to argue for the existence of a Creator. Because their definition of the Creator is that He is infallible and not to be questioned, I'm wondering if this leads to the notion that any complex system, once admitted as complex, should not be interfered with or adjusted because of "divine origin" or something.

            See ... I told you there are a lot of really intriguing issues to explore in this book that I couldn't get to. I really think people should buy it and we should have ongoing diaries and discussions about some of the individual aspects included.

            •  Bushies find justification by viewing New Deal (0+ / 0-)

              and welfare state laws, institutions, and policies as the Democrat Party's strategy to have single party rule - government as patronage.

              So, they form mirror image counter measures and justify their corrupt practices as the Republican counter.

              This explains a lot of their strategic politics.

              There are loads of examples - from the church/state fundamentalists citing the role of the black church in the civil rights struggle, to affirmative action for white men.

        •  different concepts of accountability (6+ / 0-)

          Great, important question. The answer has to do with different concepts of accountability and responsibility. For conservatives, accountability applies to those below the "strict father" in a hierarchy. Progressives believe in bottom-up accountability. We see it all the time.

          George and I wrote about it in Making Accountability Accountable.

          In Great Britain in the 50s there was a very specific shift to top-down, blame-the-bureaucracy accountability standard adopted after a ministerial scandal. Ministers -- here we'd say Gonzalez or Bush ad nauseum -- can't be held accountable for the actions of their inferiors.

          Anyway, this is not systemic causation. It's simply blanket immunity from responsibility and accountability, rationalized because the strict father is always right, and authority the most important value of that system of moral thought. It seems like they are blaming a "system" but they are just blaming others.

        •  I Don't Think This Is Systemic Causation (8+ / 0-)
          This is really just their standard double-standard.  If they really understood things in a systematic way, then they would at least feel an obligation to explain their contradictions.  But obviously, they don't.

          I think that maybe the most helpful way to start thinking about this is in terms of psychopathy--which is not to say that everyone who does this is a psychopath, it's just the illustrative extreme.  The defining work on psychopathy is called The Mask of Sanity--and that's just it.  The psycopath appears normal, even more than normal--they are often sociable and charming. But they lack a moral core.  This, in fact, makes it easier for them to mimic whatever sort of behavior is needed in any situation--they have no moral qualms to inhibit them.

          And so it is when conservatives get caught with their pants down--though not necessary because they have no moral core (though some surely do).  Rather, because they believe they are inherently good, their failings can be forgiven as lapses, their strength restored, and their moral superiority reclaimed.

          The belief in their own goodness comes from their Strict Father foundations.  They are the ones fighting evil in the world.  And it's only natural that evil should have it out for them.  So, when they fall, it's understandable, with Satan and welfare state out to crush them (not to mention George Soros and the liberal media).  But as long as they pick themselves up to fight again, evil will not triumph.  Therefore, they have a moral duty to make excuses for themselves--excuses they would never tolerate on behalf of anyone else.  Those excuses might sound to us like systematic thinking.  But they are really just their own self-excuse put into socially acceptable terms--the same sort of way that a psychopath would say anything to get out of a jam.

    •  Cutting And Pasting Misconceptions Doesn't Make (10+ / 0-)
      Them Right

      First off, a little reality check. Kevin Drum's piece was written back in December 2004.  I met Drum at a bloggers party last year and tried to engage him in a discussion about Lakoff, thinking that maybe a more private, one-on-one offline setting might be more conducive to dialogue.  I've been reading Lakoff since 1989, and have reviewed maybe half a dozen of his books (including this one, which was not out then), so I felt that I could maybe have a more illuminating discussion with him than he had had the benefit of elsewhere.

      What I discovered was that (1) Drum had not read Moral Politics (much less Metaphors We Live By [a short, bite-sized-chunk book] or Philosophy in the Flesh [a massive, but deeply illuminating tome]), and thus had no idea where Lakoff's ideas come from, or what sort of intellectual foundations they have. (2) Drum was not the least bit interested in learning about where Lakoff's ideas come from. (3) I was not interested in talking with Drum.

      He is, in a word, intellectually shallow.  Well, a lot of policy wonks are.  Heavy on the engineering details, tragically light on the underlying science and philosophy.  And that's where virtually all of the "intellectual" resistence to Lakoff comes from.

      Not surprisingly, the whole "Team America" piece totally misunderstands Lakoff.  The "Nurturant Parent" model is descriptive not perscriptive, and it's about how we think, not about how we (should) communicate.  It describes the underlying logic of what makes progressives progressive--regardless of what sort of progressive you are.   After it gets through with its ignorant Lakoff-bashing, the piece starts to talk about a prescriptive approach.  But what it offers is not terribly well thought-out, and certainly isn't inclusive:

      Race, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and other identities are accidental and morally irrelevant just as in John Rawls' "original position." Members of those groups deserve no punishment - or benefit - by virtue of their group identity.
      So, bye-bye affirmative action, right?  That's really inclusive of you, since every sort of empirical study you could wish for shows that blacks and other minorities don't start out in the same "original position," and thus require benefits based on group identity in order to even approach having a "level playing field."

      In contrast to your narrow perscriptive approach, Lakoff helps us understand why there are differences as well as similarities among different sorts of progressives.  Learning about these helps us find more productive ways of bridging our differences and working together.

      If you really were interested in teamwork, you'd try reaching out to other progressives, rather tham embracing a position that bashes them from the get-go.

      •  Misunderstanding the Critique (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        MontanaMaven, Allogenes

        Thanks for the lengthy feedback and some of the clarication on Lakoff.  Some further thoughts:

        1.  Descriptive vs Prescriptive

        While I have no issue with your argument that my approach is prescriptive, I would strongly disagree that:

        The "Nurturant Parent" model is descriptive not perscriptive, and it's about how we think, not about how we (should) communicate.  It describes the underlying logic of what makes progressives progressive--regardless of what sort of progressive you are.

        This point is precisely where Lakoff fails.  His is not a "logic" shared by all progressives, which leads to...

        1.  Reaching Out to All Progressives

        Disagreeing with elements of Lakoff doesn't prevent me from admiring his work or from reaching out to progressives with whom I disagree.  Disagreement within liberalism is natural, even at the level of first principles.

        1.  Affirmative Action

        I absolutely concur with your assessment that African-Americans and other minorities do not start at the same starting line. However, that doesn't mean that progressives shouldn't be thinking about a post-affirmative action politics that can achieve both the desired social outcomes an broader political support.

        For more background, see here and here.

        •  'Post-affirmative action' is just a code word (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          for the kind of "abstract rights"-defined world that benefits white, propertied men---the same people who came up with the idea. It's no surprise that you use John Rawls widely criticized position on abstract justice in support of this.

          It's a basic tenent of progressive thought that the reality of the individual be understood so that real freedom can thus be attained. There is no real freedom that comes from Rawl's "veil of ignorance," only an abstraction.

          Try to keep Roe v. Wade alive under the construct of "abstract freedom" and you get exactly what we've got now; an attack from other constructed "abstract freedoms" that don't include women's reproductive rights.

          What is lost in your proposition is basic human rights in a contemporary world.  

        •  Assertion Is Not Argument (2+ / 0-)
          I appreciate your response.  But I still find your understanding of Lakoff to be woefully deficient:
          This point is precisely where Lakoff fails.  His is not a "logic" shared by all progressives,
          This isn't an argument.  It's just an assertion.  Worse still, it's an assertion whose content is utterly opaque.  I have no idea whatsoever what you mean by Lakoff's "logic."  I see no evidence whatsoever that you've read Moral Politics and understand what the logic of his model is.

          Disagreeing with elements of Lakoff doesn't prevent me from admiring his work or from reaching out to progressives with whom I disagree. Disagreement within liberalism is natural, even at the level of first principles.
          But you aren't disagreeing with "elements of Lakoff" in any rational, rigorous, reality-based sense.  You are disagreeing with common mis-interpretations that circulate among people who haven't bothered to actually read his work where he lays out his argument in full.  That sort of disagreement is not productive, and not conducive to anything positive.  It's barely more than intellectual gossip.

          In the 2 1/2 years since Don't Think of An Elephant was published, and awareness of Lakoff skyrocketed in the blogosphere, I have yet to encounter one criticism of the Nurturant Parent model that was based on taking issue with the argument for it as presented in Moral Politics.

          I absolutely concur with your assessment that African-Americans and other minorities do not start at the same starting line. However, that doesn't mean that progressives shouldn't be thinking about a post-affirmative action politics that can achieve both the desired social outcomes an broader political support.
          Why?  Why should we "be thinking about a post-affirmative action politics"?  Because we've allowed crypto-racist movement conservatives to define the terms of the debate.

          What we ought to be discussing is reparations for slavery, and a century-plus afterwards of extreme racial opppression, which continues in somewhat muted form down to this very day.

          If conservatives can build a crusade around passing down all the accumulated wealth from one generation of the super-rich to another, then surely we can do something about the accumulated debt that is owed to those who've been systematically impoverished for four centuries.

          •  Quick Follow Up (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:


            Just to clarify.  I haven't read Moral Politics, so you're absolutely right to point out my Lakoff deficiency. So, thanks for your patience in our discussion here.

            As for "logic," that wasn't my term, but yours.  I did a copy and paste from your earlier comment.

            And as for "post-affirmative action politics," my critique is a liberal argument, not a conservative one.  It's not just that changing American demographics make the current affirmative action regime more and more difficult politically, but that it cuts to the core of liberal American values about individual rights and privileges.

            For example, consider the following quandary from minority-majority California.  In the case below, were Asian-American parents wrong to act as they did?

            The first battles of competing group preferences are already being fought. In San Francisco, to enable access to the city's best high schools, Asian American parents successfully sued to end a court-ordered desegregation plan that had limited any group (black, white, Asian, Hispanic, etc.) to no more than 40% of each school's students.

            Just to clarify, I don't advocate dropping affirmative action any time soon, but to phase it out over time while phasing in new class-based approaches that address continuing disadvantage in American society.

            For some ideas as to how this might work:

            In the New American Bargain, affirmative action would be phased out over time, with preferences in government contracting ending in five years, hiring in 10, and higher education in 15. Ending the affirmative action regime immediately, however, would have socially unacceptable consequences for minority representation, as many institutions, as shown by the California Berkeley law school, would experience a return to de facto segregation. This is all about life chances; as affirmative action is phased out, the hard work of creating opportunity for all Americans would commence with the transition to "Open Opportunity."

            An Open Opportunity program begins with expanded outreach to minority and economically distressed communities. From the promotion of educational opportunities, mortgage assistance, small business loans and "Grameen-style" banks (modeled on small, revolving self-employment loan programs in developing nations), the federal and state governments should substantially increase efforts to recruit and evangelize individuals who could potentially benefit. The difficult and expensive work of public education reform described above is also central. Expanded scholarship programs based on need (family income and wealth) would be essential.  In every case, Open Opportunity benefits would be class-based, and not contingent on race or ethnicity, helping to ensure their universality and broader public support. As Richard Kahlenberg noted in his book The Remedy, while class is not a true proxy for race and could not assure the same numeric outcomes as today's affirmative action regime, it offers the prospect to bridge the cleavages of group preferences over time. Open Opportunity, would, however, mean the end of the divisive affirmative action calculus Michael Kinsley highlighted in choosing between a black doctor's child and the kid of a white Appalachian coal miner.

    •  Don't think Lakoff's speech theory is dubious (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Paul Rosenberg

      On the first box, I think the author inadvertantly admits one of the problems -- fundamental differences among liberal constitutencies. These are the bane of progressives' existence and I believe ARE the reason why we haven't up to now been very successful at getting our points across. Too much ego, too many different agendas. The beauty of symbolic speech is that it inherently IS a bridge. Why? because people can rally around the same symbols even though they might interpret each one a little differently. (think about the American Flag for example) We HAVE to come up with bridging symbolic discourse if we want to win big nationally, and not just by default because Repug corrupution has driven them into the ground. I'd also have to have an example of how Lakoff leads to "misdirected liberalism" as well as a definition of that term to buy into the last sentences even a little bit.

      In the second box, what exactly does "The Opt Out Society" mean? And, "The New American Bargain" -- "bargain?" For Pete's sake, those are just pathetic!!! This is an improvement? If critics can't come up with better frames (and you don't have to use Lakoff's to agree with his main points) to counter Lakoff's basic argument, you've still got a losing proposition. The frames have to resonate with people immediately. If you have to explain them at all, you've done yourself in.

      Basically, I see these two quotes as way, way too vague and their remedies a little lame. If this is what the criticism looks like, I'll take Lakoff any day. And don't discount how people who are using advice from his Rockridge Institute are doing either. There's more to come.

      •  FWIW: The Opt Out Society (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dus7, Allogenes

        For what it's worth, the term "Opt Out Society" comes from this essay:

        "The Opt Out Society: The GOP Threat to National Unity and the American Social Contract."

        The American people are being divided and splintered by a Republican public philosophy of market worship, the privatization or abandonment of traditional government roles and services, and a radical individualism. The Bush philosophy represents an all-out assault on common national purpose in the United States. Government not only can't solve problems, it has no moral claim on its citizens' participation in a shared national effort to try. At the end of the day, you're on your own in a Hobbesian struggle of each against all; the government's role is to stand aside and let you fight it out.

        This Republican program seeks to undermine the traditional American social contract and create what can be called an "Opt Out Society." That is, the GOP will abrogate the unwritten agreements that have defined the national bargain for three generations, such as hard work in exchange for social mobility, commitment to public institutions in exchange for growing personal freedoms, and those disproportionately benefiting from the American system disproportionately contributing to its maintenance. Instead, conservatives push to privatize social services like education, health care, and retirement, while rewarding Americans for withdrawing their support from their country, their government, their communities, their schools - and each other.

        The idea of a "New American Bargain" is detailed in that essay, with of the policy implications here.

    •  Cart before the horse (0+ / 0-)
      You can't pick the model that you use to base your frames on. Human beings reason about government's relationship to the people in terms of various types of families that they can imagine.

      It's not an analogy, it's an actual fact discovered from cognitive research. So, suggesting that we frame our arguments in terms of teams rather than families won't work at all because people don't use that metaphor when they think.

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