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George Lakoff - Enlightenments, Old and New
Posted: 25 April 2011 12:22 PM   [ Ignore ]
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George Lakoff is a cognitive linguist at the University of California at Berkeley. But unlike many of his scientific peers, he’s known as much for his work on politics as for his research.

Lakoff the famed author of many books on why the left and right disagree about politics, including Moral Politics, Don’t Think of an Elephant, Thinking Points, and most recently, The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 21st Century Politics with an 18th Century Brain.

Throughout these works Lakoff has applied cognitive and linguistic analysis to our political rifts, and his ideas about “framing,” “metaphor,” and the different moral systems of liberals and conservatives have become very widely known and influential.

http://www.pointofinquiry.org/george_lakoff_enlightenments_old_and_new/

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Posted: 27 April 2011 11:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Is Lakoff arguing that the two different moral systems are rational because they’re internally consistent within their own frameworks? Does this suggest that one point of view is no better than the other? If so, would that argument fail when a particular moral view conflicts with reality, e.g. conservative rejection of evolution and climate change for supposed political and/or moral reasons?

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Posted: 28 April 2011 10:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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duaner - 27 April 2011 11:28 AM

Is Lakoff arguing that the two different moral systems are rational because they’re internally consistent within their own frameworks? Does this suggest that one point of view is no better than the other? If so, would that argument fail when a particular moral view conflicts with reality, e.g. conservative rejection of evolution and climate change for supposed political and/or moral reasons?

I don’t think that’s what he’s saying.  He’s saying that liberals and conservatives construct their worldviews by similar means, and that conservative and liberal moral systems have biological and innate components that are shared.  Moreover, he argues that liberals often fail to recognize that the conservative approach is more focused on frames that will arouse conservative moral systems by using tags such as ‘pro-life’, etc.

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Posted: 29 April 2011 10:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Hello all Im new here. I asked this on George Lakoff FB page but I wonder if any of you have an opinion on it.

Professor Lakoff I just heard your interview on Point of Inquiry and I was wondering if the same “conservative/liberal” type of dual worldviews exist in us when it comes to theist/atheist?

If it is in us; does using theist language like spirituality, Humanist Chaplaincy or accommodation of religions (which I see as a trying to be in the center) hurts the atheist moment, more then help?

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Posted: 30 April 2011 05:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Fascinating! I’m certainly going to read some of Lakoff’s books. A few points for starters from a conservative. Lakoff seems to fail to realize conservatives don’t necessarily have anything against nurturing, even collective nurturing. Coercive nurturing, that’s a different story. Central to conservative thought is the awareness that government is uniquely monopolistic and coercive. That rationally requires completely different approaches across the board. Conservatives notice that The United States of America, capitalism, Western Civilization, and Christianity have produced better results on average materially and in virtually every other identifiable and quantifiable sense, than any alternatives. Hence if we are going to tamper with them, we better have a damned good reason. Liberal conceits and pathologies and deviant sexual impulses do not qualify as damned good reasons. Note we see liberalism (What kind of fantastic megalomaniacal conceit, or overmighty and shameless manipulativeness could prompt a man to call himself a “PROGRESSIVE” ?) not as some scientific, rational set of conclusions, but rather as a set of aggrandized opinions, preferences, and impulses, the products of excessively conceited, often neurotic minds.
    I personally see liberals, particularly baby boomer liberals, as morally squalid, intellectually flaccid bullies and mobs who redefined morality exclusively as anti-racism, the one virtue they could possess or feign. This they immediately corrupted it back into racism, just with different targets. They condemned earlier generations as hypocrites because they did wrong and claimed they didn’t. So the baby boomers do wrong and claim IT isn’t.
    I suspect a lot of Lakoff’s territory, at least the part of it within philosophy not neuroscience, has been covered by Thomas Sowell in his “Conflict of Visions.”

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Posted: 30 April 2011 07:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Lakoff seems to resist the idea that the Strict Father model works better with human nature than his Nurturant Parent construct. We see this, interestingly enough, in people’s enthusiasm for commercial sports even in the most degraded underclass communities, despite the fact that Lakoff and his colleagues try to cultivate the underclass as their constituency. What do we see in commercial sports? Competition; a meritocracy based on ability; and much greater financial rewards to the better athletes than to the less capable ones. These reflect conservative values, not progressive ones, and they’ve arisen organically without human design or regard to ideology. Sports show how the human brain understands the functioning of organic societies.

I’d also like to know what Lakoff has to say about the asymmetric relationship between conservatives and progressives. Progressives apparently envy conservatives and want to take away what the more successful ones have through regulations and taxation. What could conservatives possibly want from progressives, except for the progressives to go away and leave them alone?

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Posted: 30 April 2011 02:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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AdvancedAtheist - 30 April 2011 07:58 AM

Lakoff seems to resist the idea that the Strict Father model works better with human nature than his Nurturant Parent construct. We see this, interestingly enough, in people’s enthusiasm for commercial sports even in the most degraded underclass communities, despite the fact that Lakoff and his colleagues try to cultivate the underclass as their constituency. What do we see in commercial sports? Competition; a meritocracy based on ability; and much greater financial rewards to the better athletes than to the less capable ones. These reflect conservative values, not progressive ones, and they’ve arisen organically without human design or regard to ideology. Sports show how the human brain understands the functioning of organic societies.

I think it’s interesting that you would pick sports as your example when sports teams are among the biggest beneficiaries of public funds in their home towns. To address your actual point, player salaries have very little to do with the enthusiasm of sports fans. This much is evident when one considers the enduring popularity of college sports and I can tell you from personal experience that the poorest towns in Texas care 100 times as much about their local high school football team than they do about the NFL.

Also, when you consider that owners are billionaires and teams make more money from a good post-season run than they make for the rest of the year, it is almost nothing for them to pay players almost whatever they demand if it helps the chances of attaining that. Since all these teams pay such heavy salaries to players and only a fraction make it to the post-season, that means that the vast majority of NFL/NBA/MLB/NHL million-dollar contracts are founded on almost certain failure. We could actually compare THAT arrangement with the issue of sheer glut in executive remuneration when the abysmal failures on Wall Street that dragged our nation (and the world) into near-complete financial collapse was rewarded by billions of dollars in annual bonuses.

I also find it’s worth mentioning that the current NFL champion Packers are publicly owned by the city of Green Bay and their players are paid, on average, substantially less than those on privately-own teams. Perhaps this simply demonstrates that there is a point beyond which more money holds no incentive for a person who genuinely loves the game, loves his/her fans and loves his/her city/team. You seem to have made the case that nothing is above the market (the hallmark of Strict Father identities, as Lakoff explained) with regards to sports but, as the example above would suggest, players and fans alike continually reiterate that what matters for a team is heart, not money.

I’d also like to know what Lakoff has to say about the asymmetric relationship between conservatives and progressives. Progressives apparently envy conservatives and want to take away what the more successful ones have through regulations and taxation. What could conservatives possibly want from progressives, except for the progressives to go away and leave them alone?

I can only guess what Lakoff would say, but if I must guess I think he’d first mention that you are conflating wealth and success with holding a conservative ideology, which ignores the whole point he was making with the SF/NP dichotomy: that people are voting their identities rather than their interests. He would probably also say that liberals, regardless of social strata, recognize that unregulated free market capitalism that considers the wealthy to be above the tax burden (the top 5% of US earners pay an average in total taxes of 16.2% on total income, less than half as much as middle class people pay) is not a meritocracy in that it does not encourage competition but rather favors entrenched wealth at the expense of a increasingly disenfranchised underclass and a shrinking middle class being fed empty promises of eventually crossing that threshold into true prosperity. Finally, and again I must guess here, but I think Lakoff would suggest that the asymmetry that his work concerns is the one between the way the right-wing uses framing to sell a message with emotionalism and the way the left puts all their hopes on truth-telling and that the envy held by liberals is for the electoral success Republicans are reaping from the strategy.

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Posted: 01 May 2011 07:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Framing? Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Democrats, liberals, and radicals live by framing and newspeak. It is a weapon. Federal old age pension is “social security.” What kind of mind can make up things like that? Racial quotas are “affirmative action.” Good God! How can anyone utter that semantic monstrosity, that monument of opacity and obfuscation with a straight face? Subsidies are “jobs programs.” The title of every major bill in Congress is a mockery of self parody by people with an unholy love of over-the-top framing.
  Liberals loving to tell the truth? Has this person ever read Marx? Has he or she even heard of Saul Alinsky? In all my life, I have never heard or read anything on the right remotely comparable to the left’s cynicism and contempt for truth. Truth is despised as a “bourgeois” weakness to be exploited.

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Posted: 04 May 2011 07:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I find Lakoff reminiscent of a Christian fundamentalist.
Just as fundamentalists insist their (often quite reasonable)  moral values are “biblical”, so Lakoff insists his (often quite insightful) ideas are based in brain science.
He talks about frames as being neural circuits, but that is a statement of pure faith. Has any circuit corresponding to “strict father” ever been isolated?
He has good insights in to the role of metaphors, and the concepts that underlie our moral and political thinking. What makes his ideas good is the degree to which they explain the way people treat their own beliefs, the way they justify, persuade, rationalize, etc.
So why must he pretend that his ideas are based in neuroscience or cognitive science? If corrent cogsci turns out to be totally wrong, his ideas will still be as useful as they ever were.
As for his claim to have replaced enlightenment thought with an improved version…  Frames and metaphors are a nice contribution, but like a fundamentalist he can’t help overselling his worldview as the big answer to everything.

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Posted: 05 May 2011 02:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I have to interject that I have completely stopped listening to the POI podcast. I have taken what used to be one of my favorite podcasts completely off my dock. I tried to give the new hosts a chance to find their feet, but I have been disappointed by the subject matter and quality of the productions. Perhaps I will revisit it in another year or so. I hope there is an improvement by then…

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Posted: 05 May 2011 07:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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rg21 - 01 May 2011 07:07 AM

Framing? Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Democrats, liberals, and radicals live by framing and newspeak. It is a weapon. Federal old age pension is “social security.” What kind of mind can make up things like that? Racial quotas are “affirmative action.” Good God! How can anyone utter that semantic monstrosity, that monument of opacity and obfuscation with a straight face? Subsidies are “jobs programs.” The title of every major bill in Congress is a mockery of self parody by people with an unholy love of over-the-top framing.
  Liberals loving to tell the truth? Has this person ever read Marx? Has he or she even heard of Saul Alinsky? In all my life, I have never heard or read anything on the right remotely comparable to the left’s cynicism and contempt for truth. Truth is despised as a “bourgeois” weakness to be exploited.

Deep breath, buddy. Seems to me you’re doing the very thing that is typical of conservative framing efforts by suggesting that liberal = Marxist. This has been the central effort of Republican spin for the past three years. I also find it funny that the best examples of liberal framing you can find are where the only other definitions are either blunt conservative spin like “racial quotas” or bizarre contortions of language like “federal old age pension.” Meanwhile they pale in comparison to things like The Patriot Act, No Child Left Behind, Defence of Marriage Act, just to name a few in addition to the several Lakoff mentions.

Now, nobody is claiming that liberals were always horrible at framing. Also, as Lakoff states, the identities he speaks/writes about were deliberately cultivated in the 1960s/70s, before which there were different identities at play. I’ve noticed another feature of the “Strict Father” identity: the utter inability/unwillingness to consider a situation or issue from another person’s perspective. With this in mind, I can at least see how you can believe what you wrote: without seeing one’s opponent’s perspective, anything that does not reinforce one’s preconceived notions must seem like some sort of assault.

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Posted: 05 May 2011 09:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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asanta - 05 May 2011 02:09 AM

I have to interject that I have completely stopped listening to the POI podcast. I have taken what used to be one of my favorite podcasts completely off my dock. I tried to give the new hosts a chance to find their feet, but I have been disappointed by the subject matter and quality of the productions. Perhaps I will revisit it in another year or so. I hope there is an improvement by then…

What do you think has gone wrong? Lakoff’s political views seem, well, laughably primitive and even obvious - who thinks political parties are *not* bound up with automatic ways of thinking, wherever their origins (biology or culture)? we already have a word for ‘framing’: it’s called using weasel words, being slippery, being a huckster, ‘advertising’ your product - it’s been called *rhetoric* for some millenia.

I note the original posts carefully talk about how ‘famous’ and ‘influential’ he is. Well, exactly the same can be said of Donald Trump. Famous and influential is *not* a real compliment, nor a real achievement.

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Posted: 05 May 2011 09:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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inthegobi - 05 May 2011 09:15 AM
asanta - 05 May 2011 02:09 AM

I have to interject that I have completely stopped listening to the POI podcast. I have taken what used to be one of my favorite podcasts completely off my dock. I tried to give the new hosts a chance to find their feet, but I have been disappointed by the subject matter and quality of the productions. Perhaps I will revisit it in another year or so. I hope there is an improvement by then…

What do you think has gone wrong? Lakoff’s political views seem, well, laughably primitive and even obvious - who thinks political parties are *not* bound up with automatic ways of thinking, wherever their origins (biology or culture)? we already have a word for ‘framing’: it’s called using weasel words, being slippery, being a huckster, ‘advertising’ your product - it’s been called *rhetoric* for some millenia.

I note the original posts carefully talk about how ‘famous’ and ‘influential’ he is. Well, exactly the same can be said of Donald Trump. Famous and influential is *not* a real compliment, nor a real achievement.

I disagree with your dismissal of Lakoff’s ideas. He’s not positing that framing is a new and insidious means of politicking. In fact the idea of framing itself is not new or even limited to politics. Lakoff’s work is less about the facts of framing or motive than it is about explaining why certain ways of framing/selling/whatever appeal to different people within the political spectrum. Personally, I found his constructs to be the best explanation I’ve heard in ages for the otherwise inexplicable alignment of issues on the “Liberal”-“Conservative” spectrum. Old ideas about what defines conservative and liberal (small v. big government, old v. new society, etc.) don’t make sense anymore.

To Asanta: If you find yourself offended by the skew of this particular episode and its host, have you considered going through and listening specifically to episodes hosted by Robert Price? He’s a social/economic/foreign-policy conservative and although I don’t agree with him politically I find him fascinating to listen to. I find the show is generally pretty centrist and has something for almost everyone, considering that the secularist community is on average left-of-center thanks to the American conservatives’ alliance with religious fundamentalism.

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Posted: 05 May 2011 10:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Sarcen - 05 May 2011 09:38 AM

I disagree with your dismissal of Lakoff’s ideas.

*Some of* his ideas. Specifically his primitive, Procrustean insistence that politics ‘naturally’ comes in two forms only (inapplicable to multi-party governments); and his obvious bias in favor of his preferred party politics. Who doesn’t doubt that if Lakoff were a conservative he’d subtly make the liberal mind the less atrractive? It *doesn’t matter* that he’s liberal - he’s just a party hack in his ‘framing’ flapdoodle.

His positions also fail to engage the real issues. ‘Frame abortion the right way’ sings Lakoff. That’s *advertising*, not science, not philosophy, and not good politics either.

And his theory lacks any real consequences. We already knew that people with strong motivations are difficult to shift; we already knew how to ‘frame’, and we already knew people have natural inclincations. Martin Gardner has a trenchant article about useless mathematicizations of truisms in his critique of the then-trendy catastrophe theory. The same goes for coming up with a neologism like ‘framing’.

Worse, his theory goes against our goals. We want to forbid or permit abortion for *real* reasons, not because we can manipulate the sheeple. It has a nasty managerial thrust to what’s supposed to be government by mature adults. It’s not liberal, it’s downright *soviet*.

Even *worse*, his flap about framing is positively immoral. Philosophers specifically teach courses *guarding against* being influenced by framing; we have several tools to *blunt the unhealthy influence* of framing. For who but Carl Rove and Dick Cheney think that framing is a positive good????? Apparently Dr. Lakoff.

Look, Lakoff doubtless is a competent neuroscientist, but he’s *ridiculous* on his political theory. the democtratic party at the time was unhappy about the successes of social conservatives, and so they eagerly lapped up what lakoff had to offer. But it had nothing to say that they didn’t already know: politics is not a subset of neurology. to say otherwise is a bit wingnutty.

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Posted: 05 May 2011 10:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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inthegobi - 05 May 2011 10:17 AM
Sarcen - 05 May 2011 09:38 AM

I disagree with your dismissal of Lakoff’s ideas.

*Some of* his ideas. Specifically his primitive, Procrustean insistence that politics ‘naturally’ comes in two forms only (inapplicable to multi-party governments); and his obvious bias in favor of his preferred party politics. Who doesn’t doubt that if Lakoff were a conservative he’d subtly make the liberal mind the less atrractive? It *doesn’t matter* that he’s liberal - he’s just a party hack in his ‘framing’ flapdoodle.

His positions also fail to engage the real issues. ‘Frame abortion the right way’ sings Lakoff. That’s *advertising*, not science, not philosophy, and not good politics either.

And his theory lacks any real consequences. We already knew that people with strong motivations are difficult to shift; we already knew how to ‘frame’, and we already knew people have natural inclincations. Martin Gardner has a trenchant article about useless mathematicizations of truisms in his critique of the then-trendy catastrophe theory. The same goes for coming up with a neologism like ‘framing’.

Worse, his theory goes against our goals. We want to forbid or permit abortion for *real* reasons, not because we can manipulate the sheeple. It has a nasty managerial thrust to what’s supposed to be government by mature adults. It’s not liberal, it’s downright *soviet*.

Even *worse*, his flap about framing is positively immoral. Philosophers specifically teach courses *guarding against* being influenced by framing; we have several tools to *blunt the unhealthy influence* of framing. For who but Carl Rove and Dick Cheney think that framing is a positive good????? Apparently Dr. Lakoff.

Look, Lakoff doubtless is a competent neuroscientist, but he’s *ridiculous* on his political theory. the democtratic party at the time was unhappy about the successes of social conservatives, and so they eagerly lapped up what lakoff had to offer. But it had nothing to say that they didn’t already know: politics is not a subset of neurology. to say otherwise is a bit wingnutty.

FWIW I haven’t listened to the podcast because of my previous readings of some of Lakoff’s stuff. Though I do respect the notion that much of politics is necessarily rhetorical, I don’t think that that point is particularly original nor that trumpeting it as such is liable to make any difference to anyone. Least of all practicing politicians.

But as a sometime philosopher I have to agree also with inthegobi’s distaste for the whole notion of ‘framing’, at least as Lakoff puts it forward. IIRC Lakoff seems to talk of framing—and metaphor—as being all there is when you get right down to it; as though there’s no such thing as truth, and all is rhetoric and power. Perhaps I misread him.

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Posted: 05 May 2011 11:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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inthegobi - 05 May 2011 10:17 AM

*Some of* his ideas. Specifically his primitive, Procrustean insistence that politics ‘naturally’ comes in two forms only (inapplicable to multi-party governments); and his obvious bias in favor of his preferred party politics. Who doesn’t doubt that if Lakoff were a conservative he’d subtly make the liberal mind the less atrractive? It *doesn’t matter* that he’s liberal - he’s just a party hack in his ‘framing’ flapdoodle.

In most cases Lakoff has been quite clear that this dichotomy is unique to the United States in the late-20th/early-21st century. Unless he wrote somewhere otherwise. In multi-party democracies there is no need for everyone to line up on one side of the fence or the other, but the American electoral system ensures a two-party system which means platforms have to be all-encompassing.

His positions also fail to engage the real issues. ‘Frame abortion the right way’ sings Lakoff. That’s *advertising*, not science, not philosophy, and not good politics either.

In a strange turn of irony, you have just made Lakoff’s point. Cognitive linguistics doesn’t attempt to address the moral rectitude of abortion, but it does attempt to explain why people feel the way they do about it and why presenting it using particular language is more or less effective. One of Cognitive linguistics’ major commercial applications is in the field of marketing, but that doesn’t diminish it as a science. Yet when Lakoff makes a point related to his field you call it advertising and NOT science when it is clearly both.

And his theory lacks any real consequences. We already knew that people with strong motivations are difficult to shift; we already knew how to ‘frame’, and we already knew people have natural inclincations. Martin Gardner has a trenchant article about useless mathematicizations of truisms in his critique of the then-trendy catastrophe theory. The same goes for coming up with a neologism like ‘framing’.

Somehow I missed that one by Gardner, but you seem to be confusing two things altogether. If you don’t like the word ‘frame,’ fine. But it concerns not the question: ‘Can language change the way people think about a political topic?’ but rather HOW. Truisms are in essence tautologies and mathematical “proof” for a tautology is twice redundant. However, asking how a phenomenon works and building a vocabulary around that seems a far cry from what you’ve suggested it is.

Worse, his theory goes against our goals. We want to forbid or permit abortion for *real* reasons, not because we can manipulate the sheeple. It has a nasty managerial thrust to what’s supposed to be government by mature adults. It’s not liberal, it’s downright *soviet*.

Even *worse*, his flap about framing is positively immoral. Philosophers specifically teach courses *guarding against* being influenced by framing; we have several tools to *blunt the unhealthy influence* of framing. For who but Carl Rove and Dick Cheney think that framing is a positive good????? Apparently Dr. Lakoff.

You’re confusing premise and purpose, here. If a person wants to achieve a political goal, his motives are of course real. Does that mean though that he must make his perspective universal before he can hope for movement on the issue? Also, you’re assuming that everyone is disciplined enough to even try to guard against framing especially when that framing reinforces an existing preconception. Even trained journalists are unable to mitigate the effects of framing.

Let’s be realpolitik for a moment: framing is a tool. If one side is using it and the other is not, then that second side is at a disadvantage. Example: Proposition 8 in California. The LDS church (Mormons) spent millions of dollars in California—the most liberal state in the nation—suggesting that gay marriage was not simply an innocuous civil liberty, but an actual violation of the civil liberties of heterosexual couples. It is an absurd proposition and the campaign against it thought they could just tell the truth and people would be rational. They were wrong. Liberally-minded people were tricked by careful framing into passing a draconian law against their friends and neighbors.

The truth is wonderful, and the truth MUST be told, but it’s not enough on its own to win in the political arena. You ask who thinks framing is a good idea? Well, yeah, you’re right about Cheney and Rove. But also Rodger Ailes, FreedomWorks, the Tea Party, American Crossroads, The Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity and every other right-wing think-tank in America. And in 2010 they took what ought to have been a decade of political exile and, with framing, turned it into electoral victory.

Incidentally, you again use the technique of framing in your argument: “It’s not liberal, it’s downright *soviet*.” I’ve read this paragraph several times and for the life of me can not find a genuine connection between it and what came before except to insert a theoretical “liberal” analogue that is cognitively repugnant. It seems to undermine the argument that you were making about everyone being mature, thoughtful adults to throw that in, but in a circumspect way it does give it more punch, doesn’t it?

Look, Lakoff doubtless is a competent neuroscientist, but he’s *ridiculous* on his political theory. the democtratic party at the time was unhappy about the successes of social conservatives, and so they eagerly lapped up what lakoff had to offer. But it had nothing to say that they didn’t already know: politics is not a subset of neurology. to say otherwise is a bit wingnutty.

I don’t think he suggested at any point that politics is a subset of neurology. But to suggest that cognitive linguistics—the study of how language influences thought—does not have implications for politics is naive and simplistic.

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