Tag Archives: Lakoff

Lakoff’s analysis of Wisconsin

Here is the post-mortem for Wisconsin from George Lakoff (one of the inspirations for this blog) and his colleague, Elisabeth Wehling. As always, values trump issues or policies. The post can be found here.

The Wisconsin recall vote should be put in a larger context. What happened in Wisconsin started well before Scott Walker became governor and will continue as long as progressives let it continue. The general issues transcend unions, teachers, pensions, deficits, and even wealthy conservatives and Citizens United.

Where progressives argued policy — the right to collective bargaining and the importance of public education — conservatives argued morality from their perspective, and many working people who shared their moral views voted with them and against their own interests. Why? Because morality is central to identity, and hence trumps policy.

Progressive morality fits a nurturant family: parents are equal, the values are empathy, responsibility for oneself and others, and cooperation. That is taught to children. Parents protect and empower their children, and listen to them. Authority comes through an ethic of excellence and living by what you say, rather than by enforcing rules.

Correspondingly in politics, democracy begins with citizens caring about one another and acting responsibly both for oneself and others. The mechanism by which this is achieved is The Public, through which the government provides resources that make private life and private enterprise possible: roads, bridges and sewers, public education, a justice system, clean water and air, pure food, systems for information, energy and transportation, and protection both for and from the corporate world. No one makes it on his or her own. Private life and private enterprise are not possible without The Public. Freedom does not exist without The Public.

Conservative morality fits the family of the strict father, who is the ultimate authority, defines right and wrong, and rules through punishment. Self-discipline to follow rules and avoid punishment makes one moral, which makes it a matter of individual responsibility alone. You are responsible for yourself and not anyone else, and no one else is responsible for you.

In conservative politics, democracy is seen as providing the maximal liberty to seek one’s self-interest without being responsible for the interests of others. The best people are those who are disciplined enough to be successful. Lack of success implies lack of discipline and character, which means you deserve your poverty. From this perspective, The Public is immoral, taking away incentives for greater discipline and personal success, and even standing in the way of maximizing private success. The truth that The Private depends upon The Public is hidden from this perspective. The Public is to be minimized or eliminated. To conservatives, it’s a moral issue. Continue reading

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The Republican Brain – the podcast

Chris Mooney has written a book The Republican Brain, that is getting a lot of attention. I have not gotten a chance to read it yet, but it is on my short list. Mooney is a journalist who takes a special interest in psychology and ideology. He has studied the studies and comes up with some interesting findings – they support the principles from which this blog is founded, mostly picked up from the work of George Lakoff. He supports the values based approach of communication. Mooney does a pretty good job of being respectful, conversational, and realistic when talking about academics – I’ve included a podcast from him below.

“Arguing facts when the divide is about values doesn’t work” Mooney says (start listening around 29min – 31 for a good explanation of this). Think about news sources you actually trust; the news is relevantbecause of that trust, it would be irrelevant without it. When you hear an unbelievable news story cited, the first thing you want to know is “who says so?”, so that you can determine whether or not it is information to believe.

The recording is rather long so I will give you the very shortened version of the Cliff’s notes. Conservatives and Liberals tend to self select stories that support ideas they already believe in, however, liberals are much more willing to accept new information and be open to change. Liberals relish nuance, conservatives crave decisiveness. Liberals are messier, conservatives want order. Mooney talks about belonging to a club of sorts, and how the language we use philosophically indicates what club we’re in. If we can avoid that language, we are more likely to keep minds and doors open to change destructive ways.

The podcast is about fifty minutes, so if you have some drive time or similar – it’s an interesting discussion for armchair political scientists. If you want to hear some of the meat, hit it at about 29 minutes, then try again around 41 minutes for a bit of advice on how to connect from the perspective of a secular group. Here is the piece –  Chris Mooney Center for Inquiry The Republican Brain.

The bottom line is emotion. Everyone first thinks with their emotions. Those politicians that connect on that level will do better than those that don’t. These could be fear based or positive, but nuance and facts are still not winning elections. It is not against liberal values to show emotion, to show passion for what you believe in, even in the case of atheists. We can all find our moral code and work on a language to talk about it honestly and connect with folks no matter their political stripe.

We live in dynamic political times, you never know what meme will catch on – maybe it will be one that you created. Make it one of values, make it count.

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Moral Order Frames (or How Conservatives Think)

We may identify with conservatives or liberals due to our identities – sometimes being labeled one or the other is more popular or convenient at any given moment – but we are not always aware of how we process information. Any self identified liberal (or conservative) might use a cognitive process that uses the conservative hierarchy or liberal principles of equal opportunity at any time – we all can be prompted to understand the other moral order, there is a logic to both ways. No self identified progressive or liberal uses the “liberal” moral order 100%. As mentioned yesterday, even Ayn Rand, a demi-god in the conservative movement, was an immigrant (some say illegal) that ended up using our  Medicare and Social Security that she so hated. Go figure.

Just because we hold an ideology in high regard does not mean our brains actually use that ideology to process information.

Adam Strange down at The Young Turks has created a video that illustrates the moral order cognitive processes of the two – very different – ideologies. The video promotes The Young Turks in a funny/sensational way toward the end, but most of it does try to explain the difference.  I understand that this video is made from the progressive/liberal perspective and so expect that those that identify as conservative might not be big fans. I want to know why though? What part of the moral order is incorrect because the news is the record of history and I see the moral orders lining up as is illustrated in the picture above.

With top down moral order, any corruption at a level above you and your order falls apart and likely turns into dysfunction and abuse. With an equality of opportunity model, more folks are empowered to be productive and support other folks in their tough times. Take a look (warning: a couple of mild curse words are used – but not directed at individuals, they are more describing actions).

How Conservatives Think by Adam Strange

Also, it has been asked in comments, “Why emphasize the two sides? Why not just stick to the issues?” I wish our American culture and media model did encourage independent thinking but it does not. Because it does not, we need to be prepared for the messages – overt and covert – that are sent to us thousands of times a day.

Would love to hear comments. Values are always the most important part of any argument. Do you agree with the way the moral orders are explained? Does this moral order make sense? Does this offend? If so, why?

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United We Stand Up to Democracy’s Bullies

George Lakoff once offered this metaphor for understanding conservatives and progressives: Conservatives think like Strict Fathers (SF), Progressives think like Nurturant Parents (NP). A Strict Father is (obviously) male and the authority figure who can tell right from wrong. A Strict Father governs by himself, as he sees fit, if something goes wrong, he exacts a harsh punishment. A Nurturant Parent is gender neutral that understands the world in shades of grey. Nurturant Parents work together, even with those that they govern, to find a solution that seems best for all. If something goes wrong, a Nurturant Parent tries to find out what happened, come up with a just consequence, but the punitive measures are checked in favor of positive motivation. These metaphors and ideologies can apply to an actual family, but the intention is to apply the metaphor to nations and look at them as a family.

Sara Robinson of Alternet has written a great piece on how our nation/family is doing lately using these metaphors. Here’s her take on the real contract Americans have made with each other:

Seen this way, “America” is the family name for the 310 million of us bonded together in a covenant that’s very much like the commitment that forms a family. We have come together to build our common wealth, create opportunities for each other that will secure our shared future, raise our children, care for our elderly, protect our assets, look after each other in sickness and in health, and wisely tend our national house and manage our gathered resources so we can hand the increase proudly off to the next generation.

And, like a family, this is a commitment that is entirely grounded in mutual trust — a bone-deep knowledge that we will keep faith and be there for each other; that we will look out for each others’ rights, property, and kids; that we will generously give the family our best whenever possible; and that we also rely on it to be there for us when we need help. For better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness or health, we promise to be there for each other. The true strength and wealth of the country begins with the strength of that commitment.

Our founding documents – the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution – are the structures that bind our commitment into law. Our unofficial motto is “United We Stand, Divided We Fall”. Like sibling/citizens, we may bicker, but for the most part, we wish prosperity and happiness to our fellow Americans and support the systems that make that possible.

What happens though when a small part of the population no longer recognizes the covenant agreed upon by their predecessors – it is the covenant, the contract by which all Americans are either born into or embrace before becoming a citizen. Robinson describes this in terms of the family metaphor:

…there’s another group that has entirely checked out on us, and turned ugly and abusive. The conservative minority is acting like Lakoff’s canonical Strict Father scorned: When the family rejects his leadership and his attempts at authoritarian control, he sinks into a punitive, bullying rage, lashing out at the rest of us for what he’s come to believe is irredeemable broken faith because we won’t let him be the boss. By his behavior, he is telling us in no uncertain terms that he wants a scorched-earth divorce — the kind that leaves the rest of us broke, ruined, miserable, and utterly at his mercy.  He has gone so far as to hire batteries of lawyers and lobbyists to accomplish this, and is taking a bully’s evident glee in his success.

I asked a Republican operative recently how far he would take the “States-ism” idea, and did he even want to be in the same country with the rest of us. I wondered if he thought 50 separate countries was a better idea. He responded that he needed the other states taxes to have a superior military in the world. I summed it up by saying that he only wanted to use the other states for their money, and was shocked when he didn’t really disagree.

Robinson talks about a marriage in her piece. When a couple goes into marriage counseling, it can be apparent from the start whether they are heading to a reconciliation or divorce. The determining factor hinges on how much the couple still has their original dream, the spark, and the trust that even if things get convoluted along the way, there is still hope to work things out in a viable way. If the trust is totally gone, the dream is totally dead, too much pain has been inflicted, and there is no chance of a rekindling of love, then the contract is already broken and the divorce is a formality.

As a Nation, we must take a hard look at that idea, is our contract too broken? Are we so much at odds with each other that we are ready to scrap this experiment in democracy and throw our hands up in the air? I don’t think so, at least not on my watch.

Most Americans want to keep our union intact. We are willing to agree to disagree about many details, while keeping our foundational documents intact. We like California and Alaska, Iowa and Vermont. We like our diversity, our quirkiness, our vast and varied geography. We like driving from state to state without much ado and being able to visit Alberquerque to see an old friend – without a passport. We like that being American is a hard stereotype to pin down – sure we have loud mouthed blow hards (our image in many other countries), but have just as many quiet, vegan, yoga teachers.

Robinson does a great job of using the family metaphor to illustrate what is happening to us. She draws parallels to an abusive father that no longer protects his family, but hurts and manipulates them regularly to reinforce his own power. (you really should read her piece)

Like in a domestic violence situation, we have to break this cycle of authoritarian bullying. We can’t just walk away, we have to become aware and take action; we have to confront our bullies. Even small conversations that seem to go nowhere might start a thought process that eventually bears fruit. I’ll let Robinson close here with a few suggestions on how we can get our family back on track.

We can decide that we’re going to stay sane in the face of the craziness — and stand with anybody, regardless of their politics, who is also acting in good faith to stand against the bullies.

We can work to create a consensus vision of the next America we want to become, and form trusting relationships with others to make that happen.

We can refuse to reward bullying behavior with success. (Or, for that matter, with any more attention than it takes to get the bullies out of the room.)

We can stand up before each other and the world and say: “Those people do not speak for us, and their squalid, angry vision is not our vision. We are a better nation than that.”

And we can, simply, continue to come together and govern. Because the specter of citizens civilly and peacefully exercising power is, above everything else, the one thing they fear the most, the biggest threat to the radical anti-democracy agenda.

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Conservatives of Late, Liberals Underestimate

For those of you who missed it, George Lakoff wrote a new article about Republican strategy – not just Republican strategy but the extreme social conservatives. This strategy is personified in Rick Santorum but is mimicked by the other candidates in trying to out-do each other with more and more socially regressive rhetoric. I am re-posting because it is a great point made by a guy who studies brains and language, and who is passionately progressive.

He really does knock it out of the park so I won’t go into his article fully here, but the ideas are worth repeating (and repeating and repeating). Progressives must stop being self congratulatory and stop lampooning the social conservatives; they are serious contenders to rule this country. To a progressive, many of the phrases, ideas, and supporters for the Republican primary are laughable. The ideas seem backwards and unpopular, the gaffes are unforgiveable, the facts are often non-existent. Progressive love using facts to make their arguments and tend to act as if everyone has the same level of interest and respect for their version of the facts. This attitude is fatal to connecting with an electorate. Continue reading

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