I've seen many articles and diaries on framing. I felt I had to write mine on it because the versions I've seen make it look and sound very simple. Believe me, it isn't. So I thought I'd bring my word to come back tot the basics, show what framing is about, and why it is more complicated than it seems.
One of the first questions I'd like to address is: what is framing? And then, the question that follows: how is it different from `memes', `slogans', `catch phrases', or `I'll get some words out there marketing style'?
That's the aim of this diary. So what is framing about?
Framing is about talking about `tax relief' and finding your self thinking that taxes are a bad thing. It's about using a language that will have you reason within a box. And reframing is `thinking out of the box'.
George Lakoff, with other senior fellows, started the Rockridge Institute about a year ago. Its aim is to analyze frames in current issues and reframe them to reflect progressive thoughts. So that progressives stop talking about `tax relief', which leads them into a dead-end street. You can find George Lakoff's article on framing on the Institute's website:
by George Lakoff
A tutorial on framing by George Lakoff.
Carry out the following directive:
Don't think of an elephant!
It is, of course, a directive that cannot be carried out -- and that is the point. In order to purposefully not think of an elephant, you have to think of an elephant. There are four morals.
Moral 1. Every word evokes a frame.
A frame is a conceptual structure used in thinking. The word elephant evokes a frame with an image of an elephant and certain knowledge: an elephant is a large animal (a mammal) with large floppy ears, a trunk that functions like both a nose and a hand, large stump-like legs, and so on.
Moral 2: Words defined within a frame evoke the frame.
The word trunk, as in the sentence "Sam picked up the peanut with his trunk," evokes the Elephant frame and suggests that "Sam" is the name of an elephant.
Moral 3: Negating a frame evokes the frame.
Moral 4: Evoking a frame reinforces that frame.
Every frame is realized in the brain by neural circuitry. Every time a neural circuit is activated, it is strengthened.
A couple of words to further explain what he means. negating a frame means using the formula "don't" or "not" as in "don't think of an elephant", or "not blue" etc.
But there is another factor that George Lakoff talks about and deserves to be highlighted: it's repetition. What is really incredible, is that if you repeat a set of phrases that pertain to the same frame, then the frame gets into your unconscious thinking. So if people talk about `tax relief' enough, then you will definitely start thinking that taxes are an affliction, whether it's true or not.
Consequence - we all have a little bit of Karl in our unconscious thinking (I know this is scary.
That is why reframing is needed, and why we need to get the new language ou there..
But framing is about more than just a couple of words. You have to see what farmes really imply. Here's an example of that:
Conservatives Know about Framing
On the day that George W. Bush took office, the words tax relief started appearing in White House communiqués to the press and in official speeches and reports by conservatives. Let us look in detail at the framing evoked by this term.
The word relief evokes a frame in which there is a blameless Afflicted Person who we identify with and who has some Affliction, some pain or harm that is imposed by some external Cause-of-pain. Relief is the taking away of the pain or harm, and it is brought about by some Reliever-of-pain.
The Relief frame is an instance of a more general Rescue scenario, in which there a Hero (The Reliever-of-pain), a Victim (the Afflicted), a Crime (the Affliction), A Villain (the Cause-of-affliction), and a Rescue (the Pain Relief). The Hero is inherently good, the Villain is evil, and the Victim after the Rescue owes gratitude to the Hero.
The term tax relief evokes all of this and more. Taxes, in this phrase, are the Affliction (the Crime), proponents of taxes are the Causes-of Affliction (the Villains), the taxpayer is the Afflicted Victim, and the proponents of "tax relief" are the Heroes who deserve the taxpayers' gratitude.
Every time the phrase tax relief is used and heard or read by millions of people, the more this view of taxation as an affliction and conservatives as heroes gets reinforced.
Now we're hearing the slogan "Tax relief creates jobs." Looking at the Relief frame, we see that afflictions and pain can be quantified, and there can be more or less relief. By the logic of framing (NOT the logic of economics!), if tax relief creates jobs, then more tax relief creates more jobs. That is just how the president has been arguing for increasing tax cuts from $350 billion to $550 billion. The new frame incorporates the old Tax Relief frame into a new "Tax Relief Creates Jobs" frame
Now suppose that a Senator goes on a Fox News show in which a conservative argues with a liberal. The way these shows work is that the conservative host states an issue using a conservative framing of that issue. The conservative host says: "Some say that more tax relief creates more jobs. You have voted against increased tax relief. Why?"
The Senator is caught. Any attempt to answer the question as asked simply reinforces both the Tax Relief frame and the "Tax Relief Creates Jobs" frame. The question builds in a conservative worldview and false "facts". Even to deny that "tax relief" creates jobs accepts the Tax Relief frame and reinforces the "Tax Relief Creates Jobs" frame.
The only response is to reframe. But you can't do it in a soundbite unless an appropriate progressive language has been built up in advance. With more time, one can bridge to another frame. But that frame has to be comprehensible in advance.
Framing versus spinning:
Conservatives have worked for decades to establish the metaphors of taxation as a burden, an affliction, and an unfair punishment - all of which require "relief." They have also, over decades, built up the frame in which the wealthy create jobs, and giving them more wealth creates more jobs.
The power of these frames cannot be overcome immediately. Frame development takes time and work. Progressives have to start reframing now and keep at it. This reframing must express fundamental progressive values : empathy, responsibility, fairness, community, cooperation, doing our fair share.
Progressives have to articulate over and over the moral basis for progressive taxation. They have to overcome the outrageous conservative myth that wealthy people have amassed their wealth all by themselves.
The truth is that the wealthy have received more from America than most Americans -- not just wealth but the infrastructure that has allowed them to amass their wealth: banks, the Federal Reserve, the stock market, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the legal system, federally-sponsored research, patents, tax supports, the military protection of foreign investments, and much much more. American taxpayers support the infrastructure of wealth accumulation. It is only fair that those who benefit most should pay their fair share.
Reframing is telling the truth as we see it - telling it forcefully, straightforwardly, articulately, with moral conviction and without hesitation. The language must fit the conceptual reframing -- a reframing from the perspective of progressive morality. It is not just a matter of words, though the right words do help evoke a progressive frame: paying their fair share, those who have received more, the infrastructure of wealth, and so on.
Reframing requires a rewiring of the brain. That may take an investment of time, effort, and money. The conservatives have realized that. They made the investment and it is paying off. Moral: The truth alone will not set you free. It has to be framed correctly.
Taxation is not an affliction. Tax cuts will not create jobs. These are facts, but stating them as we just did just reinforces conservative frames. The right framing for the truth must be available and used for the truth be heard.
If the truth doesn't fit the existing frame, the frame will stay in place and the truth will dissipate.
It takes time and a lot of repetition for frames to become entrenched in the very synapses of people's brains. Moreover, they have to fit together in an overall coherent way for them to make sense.
Effective framing on a single issue must be both right and sensible. That is, it must fit into a system of frames (to be sensible) and must fit one's moral worldview (to be right).
Framing vs. Spin
Every word comes with one or more frames. Most frames are unconscious and have just developed naturally and haphazardly and have come into the public's mind through common use. But, over the past 40 years, conservative Republicans -- using the intellectuals in their think tanks -- have consciously and strategically crafted an overall conservative worldview, with a conservative moral framework. They have also invested heavily in language -- in two ways:
Language that fits their worldview, and hence evokes it whenever used. "Tax relief" is a good example.
Deceptive language, that evokes frames they don't really believe but that public approves of. Saying "Tax relief creates jobs" is an example -- or referring to their environmental positions as being "clean," "healthy" and "safe."
The Rockridge Institute advises against the use of deceptive language and we will not engage in it. We belief that honest framing both accords with Democratic values and is the most effective strategy overall.