The NY Times Uncovers Conservative Attacks and Then Prints One; Both Are On The Front Page

By George Lakoff, http://georgelakoff.com, November 24, 2013

Excerpt

…For decades, Republican conservatives have constructed and carried out extensive, well-planned, long-term communication campaigns to change public discourse and the way the public thinks. It has been done very effectively and, for the most part, not secretly…deeper and systematic efforts by conservatives extending back four decades and the nature of the underlying general ideologypart of an attempt to change the idea of what America is about. The Times missed the think tanks, the framing professionals, the training institutes, the booking agencies, the Wednesday morning meetings on both national and state levels, and the role of ALEC in the states — all set out in the Lewis Powell memo more than four decades ago and carried out since then as part of seamless system directed at changing the brains of Americans.

I do mean changing brains. Because all thought is physical, carried out by neural circuitry, every change in how we understand anything is a brain change, and conservatives are effectively using the techniques that marketers have developed for changing brains, and they’ve been using them for decades…

we should begin by discussing some basic cognitive linguistics… all words are cognitively defined relative to conceptual “frames” — structures we all use to think all the time. Frames don’t float in the air; they are neural circuits in our brains. Frames in politics are not neutral; they reflect an underlying value system. That means that language in politics is not neutral. Political words do not just pick out something in the world. They reflect value-based frames. If you successfully frame public discourse, you win the debate.

A common neuroscience estimate is that about 98 percent of thought is unconscious and automatic, carried out by the neural system….Since frames carry value-based inferences with them, successfully framing public discourse means getting the public to adopt your values, and hence winning over the public by unconscious brain change, not by open discussion of the values inherent in the frames and the values that undergird the frames.

I have always suggested to progressives to know their values and state their real values clearly, using frames they really believe. Values trump mere facts presented without the values that make them meaningful. Honest values-based framing is the opposite of spin — the deceptive use of language to avoid embarrassment.

The reason that those of us in the cognitive and brain sciences write so passionately about framing issues is that unconscious thought and framing are not generally understood — especially in progressive circles. Most progressives who went to college studied what is called Enlightenment reason, a theory of reason coming from Descartes around 1650 — and which was historically important in 1650. The Cartesian theory of how reason works has since been largely disproved in the cognitive and brain sciences…

conservatives have successfully reframed economic terms to fit their values, and that the economic terms in public discourse no longer mean what they do in economics classes…By framing language to fit conservative values and by getting their framing of the language to dominate public debate, conservatives change the public’s brains by the following mechanism.

Liberals…will not be aware of their own unconscious values, will take then for granted, and will think that all they have to do is state the facts and the public will be convinced rationally. The facts are crucial, but they need to framed in moral terms to make moral sense and a moral impact…

The word at issue is “redistribution.” The subject matter is the flow of wealth in the society and what it should be. This is a fundamentally moral issue, and the major political framings reflect two different moral views of democracy itself.

The liberal view of democracy…was based on the idea that citizens care about other citizens and work responsibly (with both personal and social responsibility) through their government to provide public resources for all.Conservatives have a very different view of democracy. They believe that democracy gives them the “liberty” to pursue their own interests without the government standing in their way or helping them. Their moral principle is individual responsibility, not social responsibility. If you haven’t developed the discipline to make it on your own, then you should fail…This is the conservative frame for redistribution: it is taking away money that you hard-working Americans have earned and deserve, and “redistributing” it to those who haven’t earned it and don’t deserve it…most liberals…do not comprehend that the word “redistribution” has been redefined in terms of a conservative frame, and to use the word is to help conservatives in their moral crusade to undermine progressive values and the traditional view of liberal democracy…For liberals, democracy is defined by equality, and by the “self-evident” “inalienable rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness,” where health is inherent to those values…The Republican brain change mechanism is not only worth a front-page discussion of its own, but deserves itself to brought into public discourse and reported on regularly.

Full text

The NY Times has many virtues and some important flaws. Both were evident on the paper’s front page this week and there is a lot to be learned by what did and did not appear there.

For decades, Republican conservatives have constructed and carried out extensive, well-planned, long-term communication campaigns to change public discourse and the way the public thinks. It has been done very effectively and, for the most part, not secretly. The NY Times finally began reporting on this effort on Thursday, November 21, 2013 in a fine piece by Jonathan Weisman and Sheryl Gay Stolberg.

The Times reported on the House Republicans’ memo on how to attack the Affordable Care Act through a “multilayered sequence assault,” gathering stories “through social media letters from constituents, or meeting back home” and a new GOP website. The Times also reported on the “closed door” strategy sessions, going back to last year.

It’s a start, and it’s about time. What the Times missed was the far deeper and systematic efforts by conservatives extending back four decades and the nature of the underlying general ideology covering dozens of issues that have been served by these efforts. The Times also missed the reason why the attack on the ACA is more than just anti-Obama politics, but rather part of an attempt to change the idea of what America is about. The Times missed the think tanks, the framing professionals, the training institutes, the booking agencies, the Wednesday morning meetings on both national and state levels, and the role of ALEC in the states — all set out in the Lewis Powell memo more than four decades ago and carried out since then as part of seamless system directed at changing the brains of Americans.

I do mean changing brains. Because all thought is physical, carried out by neural circuitry, every change in how we understand anything is a brain change, and conservatives are effectively using the techniques that marketers have developed for changing brains, and they’ve been using them for decades, at least since the notorious Lewis Powell Memo in 1971.

Full disclosure: I began writing about conservative framing in my 1996 book Moral Politics, and about the conservative brain changing machine in my 2004 book Don’t Think of an Elephant!, p. 15 (click to see the discussion at: http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/dont_think_of_an_elephant:paperback/chapter_1). For the Powell memo, just google “Lewis Powell memo.”

At least, the Times did get an important part of it right on Thursday, and we should be grateful.

Then, on Sunday, November 24, 2013, the Times published on its front page what looked like a news story, but was a conservative column called “White House Memo” by John Harwood, who is CNBC’s Chief Washington Correspondent, and who previously worked as the Wall Street Journal’s political editor and chief political correspondent. It’s one thing to publish a blatant conservative attack on President Obama in a column on the op-ed page or in the Sunday Review, and another to publish it on the front page, as if it were a news story.

The Harwood column is illuminating in its attack mode, which is quite artful and an excellent example of conservative attacks. To appreciate it, we should begin by discussing some basic cognitive linguistics. As the great linguist Charles Fillmore discovered in 1975, all words are cognitively defined relative to conceptual “frames” — structures we all use to think all the time. Frames don’t float in the air; they are neural circuits in our brains. Frames in politics are not neutral; they reflect an underlying value system. That means that language in politics is not neutral. Political words do not just pick out something in the world. They reflect value-based frames. If you successfully frame public discourse, you win the debate.

A common neuroscience estimate is that about 98 percent of thought is unconscious and automatic, carried out by the neural system. Daniel Kahneman has since brought frame-based unconscious thought into the public arena in what he has called “System 1 thinking.” Since frames carry value-based inferences with them, successfully framing public discourse means getting the public to adopt your values, and hence winning over the public by unconscious brain change, not by open discussion of the values inherent in the frames and the values that undergird the frames.

I have always suggested to progressives to know their values and state their real values clearly, using frames they really believe. Values trump mere facts presented without the values that make them meaningful. Honest values-based framing is the opposite of spin — the deceptive use of language to avoid embarrassment.

The reason that those of us in the cognitive and brain sciences write so passionately about framing issues is that unconscious thought and framing are not generally understood — especially in progressive circles. Most progressives who went to college studied what is called Enlightenment reason, a theory of reason coming from Descartes around 1650 — and which was historically important in 1650. The Cartesian theory of how reason works has since been largely disproved in the cognitive and brain sciences.

The Cartesian theory assumes that all thought is conscious, that it is literal (that is, it fits the world directly and uses no frame-based or metaphorical thought), that reason uses a form of mathematical logic (not frame-based logic or metaphorical logic), and that words are neutral and fit the world directly. Many liberal economists have been trained in this mode of thought and assume that the language used in economic theory is neutral and just fits the world as it is. They are usually not trained in frame semantics, cognitive linguistics, and related fields. The same is often true of liberal journalists as well. Both often miss the fact that conservatives have successfully reframed economic terms to fit their values, and that the economic terms in public discourse no longer mean what they do in economics classes.

Part of what the Cartesian theory of reason misses is the real brain mechanism that allows the conservative communication theory to be effective. By framing language to fit conservative values and by getting their framing of the language to dominate public debate, conservatives change the public’s brains by the following mechanism. When a frame circuit is activated in the brain, its synapses are strengthened. This means that the probability of future activation is raised and probability of the frame becoming permanent in the brain is raised. Whenever a word defined by that frame is used, the frame is activated and strengthened. When conservatives successfully reframe a word in public discourse, that word activates conservative frames and with those frames, the conservative value system on which the frames are based. When progressives naively use conservatively reframed words, they help the conservative cause by strengthening the conservative value system in the brains of the public.

Liberals, in adhering to the old Cartesian theory of reason, will not be aware of their own unconscious values, will take then for granted, and will think that all they have to do is state the facts and the public will be convinced rationally. The facts are crucial, but they need to framed in moral terms to make moral sense and a moral impact.

To those who have a liberal Cartesian theory of reason, the attempt to warn the public and other liberals about the way language really works and to warn liberals not to use conservative framing will be seen as hiding the facts and misleading the public. That is what the Times columnist and CNBC Chief Washington correspondent, John Harwood used in his manipulative NY Times column.

The word at issue is “redistribution.” The subject matter is the flow of wealth in the society and what it should be. This is a fundamentally moral issue, and the major political framings reflect two different moral views of democracy itself.

The liberal view of democracy goes back to the founding of the nation, as historian Lynn Hunt of UCLA has shown in her book Inventing Human Rights. American democracy was based on the idea that citizens care about other citizens and work responsibly (with both personal and social responsibility) through their government to provide public resources for all. From the beginning, that meant roads and bridges, public education, hospitals, a patent office, a national bank, a justice system, controlling the flow of interstate commerce, and so on. Nowadays it includes much more — the development of the internet, satellite communications, the power grid, food safety monitoring, government research, and so on. Without those public resources, citizens cannot live reasonable lives, businesses cannot run, and a market economy would be impossible. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness require all this and health care. Unless you can get health care, your life is in jeopardy, as well as your freedom: if you have cancer and no health care, you are not free; if you break you leg and have no access to health care, you are not free, and so on. And if you are injured or sick and cannot maintain health, your life, liberty and happiness are all in jeopardy.

Under this view of democracy, the flow of wealth should guarantee the affordability of health care as a basic moral principle of democracy. If wealth has flowed in violation of this principle, that flow of wealth has been immoral, unpatriotic, and needs reform. So when liberals point out that productivity has risen greatly while salaries have not, they are talking about fairness in the flow of wealth: If you work for a living, you should earn a fair salary, that is, you should earn a living wage, which should be enough to guarantee adequate health care. Pensions are delayed payments of wages for work already done, and taking away pensions is theft. Employment is the purchase of labor by an employer with a negotiated price for the labor. Since corporations have more power in those negotiations than employees, unions are necessary to help make negotiations fair for the price of labor. When it is observed that most of the wealth in the past decade has flowed to the one percent, that means that fairness and the most fundamental of American principles have been violated and salaries and public resources have been inadequate and unfairly low.

The Affordable Care Act, from this perspective, is a move toward reform — toward a moral flow of wealth in line with the founding principles of the nation. I believe that President Obama, and most liberals, understand the intentions of Affordable Care Act in that way.

Conservatives have a very different view of democracy. They believe that democracy gives them the “liberty” to pursue their own interests without the government standing in their way or helping them. Their moral principle is individual responsibility, not social responsibility. If you haven’t developed the discipline to make it on your own, then you should fail — and if you can’t afford health care, so be it. Health care is seen as a “product” and citizens should not be paying for other citizens’ products. Rudy Giuliani, as a good conservative, likened health care to flat- screen TVs. Conservatives say that no one should be paying for anyone else (except their children and family members). Using public resources is seen as making you weak, taking away incentives for you to work for yourself. And they see it as making hard-working moral citizens pay for immoral slackers. This is the conservative frame for redistribution: it is taking away money that you hard-working Americans have earned and deserve, and “redistributing” it to those who haven’t earned it and don’t deserve it. For conservatives, this happens whenever there are public resources paid for by taxpayers. Therefore they believe that all public resources should be banned — and the affordable Care Act is a major special case and just the start.

That’s why John Boehner said, in explaining why the House has scheduled only 113 days to meet out of 365, said “We need to repeal old laws. Not pass new ones.” That is why the House conservatives saw it as moral to shut down the government and to let the sequester happen. They are ways to cut public resources.

Under this view of democracy, money previously made was made properly and using tax money for public resources is “redistribution.” “Using my money to pay for someone else” is inherently unfair in the conservative tradition. Conservatives over the past four decades have framed the word “redistribution” that way. Use of the word activates the conservative framing in general, not just the framing of the Affordable Care Act, but of the nature of democracy itself.

Because most liberals, including liberal economists, still believe in and use the inadequate Cartesian theory of reason, they do not comprehend that the word “redistribution” has been redefined in terms of a conservative frame, and to use the word is to help conservatives in their moral crusade to undermine progressive values and the traditional view of liberal democracy.

At this point we turn to the NY Times story, “Don’t Dare Call The Health Law ‘Redistribution’”on the front page, and inside “The economic policy that dare not speak its name.” John Harwood writes the following:

“These days the word is particularly toxic at the White House, where it has been hidden away to make the Affordable Care Act more palatable to the public and less a target for Republicans, who have long accused the Democrats of seeking “socialized medicine.” But the redistribution of wealth has always been a central feature of the law and lies at the heart of the insurance market disruptions driving political attacks this fall.”

Note that he uses the word “redistribution” without quotation marks, as if it were simply a fact and as if the Republican attacks were just true and the White house was trying to hide the truth. He later calls the Affordable Care Act a “semantic sidestep” on this issue.

Harwood goes on to cite the president’s misstatement that if you like your insurance you can keep it. I suspect that the president assumed that no one would like inadequate insurance if they could get much better, and adequate, insurance for the same price, which they might have been able to if the website had not failed. The president knew that no company was forced to cancel inadequate insurance, and incorrectly assumed that they wouldn’t. Yes, the president made those incorrect assumptions. But here is how Harwood comments:

Hiding in plain sight behind that pledge — visible to health policy experts but not the general public — was the redistribution required to extend health coverage to those who had been either locked out or priced out of the market.

Now some of that redistribution has come clearly into view.

The law, for example, banned rate discrimination against women, which insurance companies called “gender rating” to account for their higher health costs. But that raised the relative burden borne by men. The law also limited how much insurers can charge older Americans, who use more health care over all. But that raised the relative burden on younger people.

And the law required insurers to offer coverage to Americans with pre-existing conditions, which eased costs for less healthy people but raised prices for others who had been charged lower rates because of their good health.

“The A.C.A. is very much about redistribution, whether or not its advocates acknowledge that this is the case,” wrote Reihan Salam on the website of the conservative National Review.

Here again, the “redistribution” word is used in a conservative frame without quotation marks as if the frame were simply true, and the citation is from a major conservative publication, where the word is used with a conservative frame.

The issue is what democracy is about and what health care in a democracy is about. For liberals, democracy is defined by equality, and by the “self-evident” “inalienable rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness,” where health is inherent to those values. Under such a conception of democracy, health should never be denied because one belongs to a demographic group that fate had given more ailments and injuries.

Conservatives are helped when “redistribution”, which they have successfully reframed their way, is used by certain liberal economists, who naïvely believe that the word is neutral because economists use it as a technical term.

Harwood begins framing his piece by discussing the case of Rebecca M. Blank.

Ms. Blank is a noted academic economist, having been one of three members of President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers. From 2009 to 2013 she served as Deputy Secretary of Commerce in the Obama Administration, and has since left for the grand opportunity to become chancellor of the University of Wisconsin.

In 2011, she was considered for Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers while serving in the Commerce Department. Harwood reports that she was passed over for the post because of something she had written in 1992:

“A commitment to economic justice necessarily implies a commitment to a redistribution of economic resources, so that the poor and the dispossessed are more fully included in the economic system.”

Harwood quotes William Daley, Obama’s chief of staff at the time, as saying, “Redistribution is a loaded word that conjures up all sorts of unfairness in people’s minds.” The Republicans wield it “as a hammer” against Democrats, he said, adding, “It’s a word that in the political world, you just don’t use.” Daley is right that it is a loaded word, in just the sense noted above, namely, that it has been framed by conservatives to fit their ideology and using it activates their frame and their ideology in people’s brains, thus helping conservatives. In 2011, Obama was up for re-election and Daley judged that having Republicans dig up that quote would help them launch an unfair attack against the president.

Harwood reports the affair as if Obama had something to hide, rather than not wanting a conservatively framed concept to be falsely attributed to him. Harwood is clever. First, he quotes another liberal economist, Jonathan Gruber, who uses the word naively as a neutral technical economic term. Then at the end of the article, he reports an Obama slip at a talk in Elyria, Ohio 18 months earlier. The slip involved Obama’s use of a negative. In Don’t Think of an Elephant!, I pointed out that negating a word, activates the meaning of the word. If I tell you not to think of an elephant, you will think of an elephant. Here is the Obama slip that Harwood cites, “Understand this is not a redistribution argument … This is not about taking from rich people to give to poor people.” That was the slip, and Harwood searched back 18 months to Elyria, Ohio to find it. But then the president caught himself and said positively what he meant. “This is about us together making investments in our country so everybody’s got a fair shot.”

Here’s the take-away from these two pieces in the Times this week. First, there was a tiny glimpse of the huge conservative Republican communication system, with no account of its history, it’s extent, or how it works to change people’s brains. I hope the Times will go on to do more and better in the future. Second, the Times printed on its front page a classic example of how the conservative system works, naively presenting it at face value without any serious framing analysis. The Times missed the conservative reframing of the word “redistribution,” missed the difference in the views of morality and democracy that lie behind the framing difference, missed the use of the conservatively reframed word as neutral by liberal economists, missed what it means for a word to be “loaded,” and succumbed like other journalists trained on Cartesian reason in helping conservatism keep its hold on public discourse.

Harwood is a smart political operative. His technique is a classic example of the Republican message machine reported on in Thursday’s Times, and is well worth serious study. The Republican brain change mechanism is not only worth a front-page discussion of its own, but deserves itself to brought into public discourse and reported on regularly.

http://georgelakoff.com/2013/11/24/the-ny-times-uncovers-conservative-attacks-and-then-prints-one-both-are-on-the-front-page/#more-2662

Why Ultra-Conservatives Like the Sequester

by George Lakoff, February 26, 2013 by Common Dreams

Excerpt

Paul Krugman, Joe Stiglitz, Robert Reich and other major economists have pointed out that the deficit is not an urgent economic problem and that, to the contrary, the economy would be helped by an increase in public investment and harmed by drastic cuts. The Sequester would hurt the economy, millions of people, and the country as a whole.

President Obama has detailed the vast range of harms that the sequester would bring. They are well-known. And they are not necessary. The president sees the sequester, if it happens, as an enormous self-inflicted wound, inflicted on America by a Republican-dominated House elected by Americans.

But pointing out Republican-caused harms to millions of people — many of them Republicans — does not sway the ultra-right. Why? Democratic pundits say that Republicans want to hurt the president, to show government doesn’t work by making it not work, and to protect “special interests” from higher taxes. All true. But there is an additional and deeper reason. Ultra-conservatives believe that the sequester is moral, that it is the right thing to do.

Progressives tend to believe that democracy is based on citizens caring for their fellow citizens through what the government provides for all citizens…progressives believe that the private depends on the public…They believe that those who make more from public provisions should pay more to maintain them.

Ultra-conservatives don’t believe this. They believe that Democracy gives them the liberty to seek their own self-interests by exercising personal responsibility, without having responsibility for anyone else or anyone else having responsibility for them. They take this as a matter of morality. They see the social responsibility to provide for the common good as an immoral imposition on their liberty.

Their moral sense requires that they do all they can to make the government fail in providing for the common good. Their idea of liberty is maximal personal responsibility, which they see as maximal privatization — and profitization — of all that we do for each other together, jointly as a unified nation… In the long run, they believe, the country will be better off if everyone has to depend on personal responsibility alone.

Moreover, ultra-conservatives do not see all the ways in which they, and other ultra-conservatives, rely all day every day on what other Americans have supplied for them. They actually believe that they built it all by themselves…

It is mostly about what they see as the right direction for the country: maximal elimination of the public sphere.

In short, they have an ideology that partially, but only partially, fits what half of our population believes. Overall, it actually fits what about 20 to 30 percent of the population totally believes. Both total progressives and partial progressives don’t want to see millions of folks hurt and the economy hurt as well. But thanks to Republican gerrymandering at the state level, progressives and partial progressives do not control Congress.

This is the real picture and few people in public life dare to tell it…Democratic messaging hasn’t gotten to the heart of the problem: the real moral divide in America. Democratic messaging, in blaming Republicans in Congress for the harm to come, just offends Republicans and fails to speak to moral divide at the heart of our public life.Would addressing it help? I think so, if it is done with the appropriate sensitivity.

Full text

Paul Krugman, Joe Stiglitz, Robert Reich and other major economists have pointed out that the deficit is not an urgent economic problem and that, to the contrary, the economy would be helped by an increase in public investment and harmed by drastic cuts. The Sequester would hurt the economy, millions of people, and the country as a whole.

President Obama has detailed the vast range of harms that the sequester would bring. They are well-known. And they are not necessary. The president sees the sequester, if it happens, as an enormous self-inflicted wound, inflicted on America by a Republican-dominated House elected by Americans.

But pointing out Republican-caused harms to millions of people — many of them Republicans — does not sway the ultra-right. Why? Democratic pundits say that Republicans want to hurt the president, to show government doesn’t work by making it not work, and to protect “special interests” from higher taxes. All true. But there is an additional and deeper reason. Ultra-conservatives believe that the sequester is moral, that it is the right thing to do.

Progressives tend to believe that democracy is based on citizens caring for their fellow citizens through what the government provides for all citizens — public infrastructure, public safety, public education, public health, publicly-sponsored research, public forms of recreation and culture, publicly-guaranteed safety nets for those who need them, and so on. In short, progressives believe that the private depends on the public, that without those public provisions Americans cannot be free to live reasonable lives and to thrive in private business. They believe that those who make more from public provisions should pay more to maintain them.

Ultra-conservatives don’t believe this. They believe that Democracy gives them the liberty to seek their own self-interests by exercising personal responsibility, without having responsibility for anyone else or anyone else having responsibility for them. They take this as a matter of morality. They see the social responsibility to provide for the common good as an immoral imposition on their liberty.

Their moral sense requires that they do all they can to make the government fail in providing for the common good. Their idea of liberty is maximal personal responsibility, which they see as maximal privatization — and profitization — of all that we do for each other together, jointly as a unified nation.

They also believe that if people are hurt by government failure, it is their own fault for being “on the take” instead of providing for themselves. People who depend on public provisions should suffer. They should have rely on themselves alone — learn personal responsibility, just as Romney said in his 47 percent speech. In the long run, they believe, the country will be better off if everyone has to depend on personal responsibility alone.

Moreover, ultra-conservatives do not see all the ways in which they, and other ultra-conservatives, rely all day every day on what other Americans have supplied for them. They actually believe that they built it all by themselves.

So for them the sequester is not a “self-inflicted wound.” It is justice. The sequester is not merely about protecting “special interests.” It is about the good people who pursued their self-interest successfully, got rich, and have acted “morally” in avoiding taxes that pay for public provisions by the government.

They are not merely trying to harm their own constituents just to hurt the president politically. Yes, they think hurting the president politically is moral, and they believe that any constituents they are hurting need to become more personally responsible. They see the sequester as serving that purpose.

In short, the sequester is not just about money and political power for the republicans in the House. It is mostly about what they see as the right direction for the country: maximal elimination of the public sphere.

In short, they have an ideology that partially, but only partially, fits what half of our population believes. Overall, it actually fits what about 20 to 30 percent of the population totally believes. Both total progressives and partial progressives don’t want to see millions of folks hurt and the economy hurt as well. But thanks to Republican gerrymandering at the state level, progressives and partial progressives do not control Congress.

This is the real picture and few people in public life dare to tell it. It is more convenient, and less scary, to think that all that is involved is money and politics as usual. That’s what current Democratic messaging says. Democratic messaging hasn’t gotten to the heart of the problem: the real moral divide in America. Democratic messaging, in blaming Republicans in Congress for the harm to come, just offends Republicans and fails to speak to moral divide at the heart of our public life.

Would addressing it help? I think so, if it is done with the appropriate sensitivity.

George Lakoff is the author of The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic (co-authored with Elizabeth Wehling). His previous books include Moral Politics, Don’t Think of an Elephant!, Whose Freedom? and Thinking Points (with the Rockridge Institute staff). He is Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, and a founding senior fellow at the Rockridge Institute.

 

The Price of Our Freedom

by George Lakoff – Author, ‘The Political Mind,’ ‘Moral Politics’ and ‘Don’t Think of an Elephant!’ – Huffington Post. December 27, 2012

“Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?” — Barack Obama, Newtown Address, December 16, 2012

That sentence, uttered by President Obama in his Newtown Address, may turn out to be a turning point in American history. The president, in one sentence, turned the beautiful faces of the 20 first-grade children murdered brutally by assault weapons into the moral measure of our nation. Conservatives have argued that guns = freedom, and that there should be no limit on such freedom. The president trumped their argument: The price of not protecting the nations’ children is too high. Permitting the mass murder of our children is not freedom.

It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself. That this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community, and the help of a nation.

And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours; that we’re all parents; that they are all our children.

This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

Democracy, as the president has said, begins with the people taking care of one another responsibly, importantly through government as an instrument of freedom. That how we get our public schools, our roads, our sewers, our patent office, our scientific research, our energy, communication and transportation systems, our food safety, our protectors, and all the rest that we need to be free in our private lives. It is a truth: the private depends on the public. We, all together, constitute the public. Unless we take care of one another and one another’s children, we can’t get democracy — and freedom — right.

The gun lobby rests on conservative ideology: Democracy supposedly gives each of us individually the “liberty” to seek our own self-interests with no responsibility for the interests or well-being of anyone else. After and Obama’s Newtown Address, the whole idea of such “liberty” makes no sense.

The time is ripe to end the conservative grip over nearly half of America. That starts with an all-out effort to put in place responsible gun safety laws. Total registration, just like with cars. An end to automatic and semi-automatic weapons. And an end to blaming massacres on crazies. Gun massacres require guns that can massacre. Eliminate them.

The president set just the right tone. We’re in this together. We bear joint responsibility for one another and all our children. If you accept this, really accept it, you can’t keep conservative ideology, not just on guns, but on anything.
George Lakoff is Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is co-author, with Elisabeth Wehling, of The Little Blue Book.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/george-lakoff/the-price-of-our-freedom_b_2314658.html?utm_hp_ref=daily-brief?utm_source=DailyBrief&utm_campaign=121712&utm_medium=email&utm_content=BlogEntry&utm_term=Daily%20Brief

Global Warming Systemically Caused Hurricane Sandy

AlterNet [1] / By George Lakoff [2]  October 30, 2012

Yes, global warming systemically caused Hurricane Sandy — and the Midwest droughts and the fires in Colorado and Texas, as well as other extreme weather disasters around the world. Let’s say it out loud, it was causation, systemic causation.

Systemic causation is familiar. Smoking is a systemic cause of lung cancer. HIV is a systemic cause of AIDS. Working in coal mines is a systemic cause of black lung disease. Driving while drunk is a systemic cause of auto accidents. Sex without contraception is a systemic cause of unwanted pregnancies.

There is a difference between systemic and direct causation. Punching someone in the nose is direct causation. Throwing a rock through a window is direct causation. Picking up a glass of water and taking a drink is direct causation. Slicing bread is direct causation. Stealing your wallet is direct causation. Any application of force to something or someone that always produces an immediate change to that thing or person is direct causation. When causation is direct, the word cause is unproblematic.

Systemic causation, because it is less obvious, is more important to understand. A systemic cause may be one of a number of multiple causes. It may require some special conditions. It may be indirect, working through a network of more direct causes. It may be probabilistic, occurring with a significantly high probability. It may require a feedback mechanism. In general, causation in ecosystems, biological systems, economic systems, and social systems tends not to be direct, but is no less causal. And because it is not direct causation, it requires all the greater attention if it is to be understood and its negative effects controlled.

Above all, it requires a name: systemic causation.

Global warming systemically caused the huge and ferocious Hurricane Sandy. And consequently, it systemically caused all the loss of life, material damage, and economic loss of Hurricane Sandy. Global warming heated the water of the Gulf andMexicoand theAtlantic Ocean, resulting in greatly increased energy and water vapor in the air above the water. When that happens, extremely energetic and wet storms occur more frequently and ferociously. These systemic effects of global warming came together to produce the ferocity and magnitude of Hurricane Sandy.

The precise details of Hurricane Sandy cannot be predicted in advance, any more than when, or whether, a smoker develops lung cancer, or sex without contraception yields an unwanted pregnancy, or a drunk driver has an accident. But systemic causation is nonetheless causal.

Semantics matters. Because the word cause is commonly taken to mean direct cause, climate scientists, trying to be precise, have too often shied away from attributing causation of a particular hurricane, drought, or fire to global warming. Lacking a concept and language for systemic causation, climate scientists have made the dreadful communicative mistake of retreating to weasel words. Consider this quote from “Perception of climate change,” by James Hansen, Makiko Sato, and Reto Ruedy, Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

…we can state, with a high degree of confidence, that extreme anomalies such as those inTexas and Oklahomain 2011 and Moscow in 2010 were a consequence of global warming because their likelihood in the absence of global warming was exceedingly small.

The crucial words here are high degree of confidence, anomalies, consequence, likelihood, absence, and exceedingly small. Scientific weasel words! The power of the bald truth, namely causation, is lost.

This no small matter because the fate of the earth is at stake. The science is excellent. The scientists’ ability to communicate is lacking. Without the words, the idea cannot even be expressed. And without an understanding of systemic causation, we cannot understand what is hitting us.

Global warming is real, and it is here. It is causing — yes, causing — death, destruction, and vast economic loss. And the causal effects are getting greater with time. We cannot merely adapt to it. The costs are incalculable. What we are facing is huge. Each day, the amount of extra energy accumulating via the heating of the earth is the equivalent of 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs [3]. Each day!

Because the earth itself is so huge, this energy is distributed over the earth in a way that is not immediately perceptible by our bodies — only a fraction of a degree each day. But the accumulation of total heat energy over the earth is increasing at an astronomical rate, even though the temperature numbers look small locally — 0.8 degrees Celsius so far. If we hit 2.0 degrees Celsius, as we may before long, the earth — and the living things on it — will not recover. Because of ice melt, the level of the oceans will rise 45 feet, while huge storms, fires, and droughts get worse each year.

The international consensus is that by 2.0 degrees Celsius, all civilization would be threatened if not destroyed.

What would it take to reach a 2.0 degrees Celsius increase over the whole earth? Much less than you might think. Consider the amount of oil already drilled and stored by Exxon Mobil alone. If that oil were burned, the temperature of the earth would pass 2.0 degree Celsius, and those horrific disasters would come to pass.

The value of Exxon Mobil — its stock price — resides in its major asset, its stored oil. Because the weather disasters arising from burning that oil would be so great that we would have to stop burning. That’s just Exxon Mobil’s oil. The oil stored by all the oil companies everywhere would, if burned, destroy civilization many times over.

Another way to comprehend this, as Bill McKibben [4] has observed, is that most of the oil stored all over the earth is worthless. The value of oil company stock, ifWall   St. were rational, would drop precipitously. Moreover, there is no point in drilling for more oil. Most of what we have already stored cannot be burned. More drilling is pointless.

Are Bill McKibben’s and James Hansen’s numbers right [5]? We had better have the science community double-check the numbers, and fast.

Where do we start? With language. Add systemic causation to your vocabulary. Communicate the concept. Explain to others why global warming systemically caused the enormous energy and size of Hurricane Sandy, as well as the major droughts and fires. Email your media whenever you see reporting on extreme weather that doesn’t ask scientists if it was systemically caused by global warming.

Next, enact fee and dividend, originally proposed by Peter Barnes at Sky Trust and introduced as Senate legislation as the KLEAR Act by Maria Cantwell and Susan Collins. More recently, legislation called fee and dividend has been proposed by James Hansen and introduced in the House by representatives John B, Larson and Bob Inglis.

Next. Do all we can to move to alternative energy worldwide as soon as possible.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/environment/global-warming-systemically-caused-hurricane-sandy

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/george-lakoff
[3] http://www.ted.com/talks/james_hansen_why_i_must_speak_out_about_climate_change.html
[4] http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719
[5] http://math.350.org/
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/hurricane
[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/sandy
[8] http://www.alternet.org/tags/climate-change
[9] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Crib Notes for Lakoff’s Latest by Anna Fahey

http://daily.sightline.org, August 9, 2012 

An even littler guide to The Little Blue Book. This post is part of the research project: Flashcards 

Love him or leave him, agree or disagree (…with his science or his conclusions or his politics…), George Lakoff has been enormously successful in getting lots of us thinking about how the brain processes words and language—about framing. 

And while many of his specific frame recommendations over the years may have been too complicated or too lofty to put to work, his insistence more generally that language is never neutral and his pleas to proactively frame the debate and to link our values and moral convictions to policy solutions undoubtedly took us in the right direction. 

Lakoff’s latest framing handbook is hot off the presses: The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic (co-authored by Elisabeth Wehling). The book is most successful 1) as a reminder to never check your values and morals at the door when talking policy; and 2) as a thoughtful treatise on how we define our vision for the nation and how we talk about government in moral terms. 

But despite promising sounding chapter titles like “A Phrasebook” and talking points under headings declaring “Here’s what to say,” the book left me hungry for clearer takeaways. 

So, I’ve taken the liberty to distill the Little Blue Book into something even littler—a Flashcard (with longer explanations below.) My aim is to give busy people the “Cliff Notes” version—a pocket guide to Lakoff’s messaging lessons that actually fits in your pocket. 

And in a subsequent post, I’ll distill Lakoff’s talking points for defining the role of government in moral terms. 

First the basics: 

Crib Notes for Lakoff’s Little Blue Book

  • Never check your morals at the door—talk about them! (Always sandwich facts and figures in values.)
  • Don’t repeat the opposition’s language, even when arguing against it.
  • Words don’t mean the same thing to everybody. Explain big ideas—freedom, fairness, democracy—in terms of your moral vision.
  • Say it simply and bring it home—use plain language and tell stories about real people.
  • Start with solid ideas! Words are tools for connecting ideas to our moral values.
  • Practice, practice, practice—and repeat, repeat, repeat. 

Lakoff 101 in a bit more depth—but still quite little 

Oddly, a list of the “Most Important Things” from The Little Blue Book is available on the book’s blog (The Little Blue Blog) and in the publisher’s publicity materials, but not in the book itself, where you have to hunt for them (or guess at them). So, for the Flashcard and for the summary below, I mashed up the “official” top 10 list from the publisher with my own notes from the book—so this is my version of a Lakoff 101. 

  • Never check your moral values at the door—talk about them! Lakoff likes to remind us that “All politics is moral, and morality trumps policy.” All of us have values and morals—the problem is not deciding what they are. The problem is that many of us fail to express the moral dimensions of our policy positions. We make the grave mistake of assuming our values and morals are simply implied or understood. Lakoff urges us to talk about the moral bases of our policy positions openly and regularly.
  • Always sandwich your facts and figures in values and morals. Facts have little meaning outside of frames, metaphors, and moral narratives. Always discuss facts (and policy) within moral frames, because people do not reason outside of those moral frames.
  • “Don’t repeat the opposition’s language or ideas, even when arguing against them.” Instead, use your own language, say what you believe, and express the moral underpinnings for your position. It is particularly important to start with your beliefs (and frames). What comes first provides the lens through which the rest will be viewed. (Remember: Evoking the negative frame reinforces it. Think: “I am not a crook.”)
  • Words don’t mean the same thing to everybody. Explain big ideas—freedom, fairness, democracy—in terms of your moral vision. Don’t take the meaning of big ideas or values for granted. Each comes in at least two versions depending on one’s political worldview. So when you talk about those ideas, make sure you are talking about YOUR version—and taking the time to explain what you mean.
  • Everybody is morally complex—by expressing our morals we find common ground. (See: biconceptual). All of us, but especially “Moderates,” “independents,” and “swing voters” will use conservative moral frames on some issues and progressive moral frames on others. Reinforce the morality you share with others by using YOUR moral language.
  • Say it simply—in plain terms. Stick to basic level words. In cognitive science that means words that tend to be short and concrete (e.g. chair rather than furniture; water or air vs. environment.) Basic level words are more easily remembered. They also tend to more readily bring clear, familiar imagery to mind. They also tend to evoke body reactions (in brain science “motor programs”). Think of the physical reaction we have to the word cat vs. the more abstract concept of animal. Simple words are more potent. (Think: Can I see it, touch it, smell or hear it? Could I draw a picture or pantomime it?)
  • Bring it home—tell stories about real people. People want to know how policies affect their own lives. Share stories about real people and don’t be afraid to talk about yourself and your own motivations. “Share the stories that inspire you to work for this country,” or for your community.
  • Start with solid ideas! Words are good tools connecting ideas to our moral values. Lakoff reminds us that it’s not just words that matter. “If you think you have a language problem, you really have an idea problem,” he insists. Ideas are primary—and the language carries those ideas, evokes those ideas. Words, messages, and language are tools to use to better connect your ideas to your values and morals. To get language right, you have to understand the thoughts and ideas it conjures up.
  • Practice, practice, practice—and repeat, repeat, repeat. It’s often difficult for policy wonks to express values and morals. But if we don’t define central political frames in terms of our own morals and values, they’ll be defined for us. Practice helps us feel comfortable saying it out loud. “Repetition strengthens frames. Repeat your own moral frames over and over, every hour of every day of every year.” 

There are the key lessons in a nutshell. Stay tuned for a distilled take on Lakoff on talking about government. 

And for the record, Sightline’s work is not directed at Democrats in particular as Lakoff and Wehling’s book clearly is (don’t forget, I’ve issued talking points based on the work of Republican pollster Frank Luntz, Ronald Reagan, Michael Bloomberg, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.) But there are some general messaging lessons and useful language from The Little Blue Book that I think are worth sharing with our audiences working toward sustainability policy solutions. 

Sightline Flashcards are messaging memos designed as short, scannable tools for sharing effective communications strategies. Our strategic communications team digests piles of public opinion research, transcripts from speeches, expert advice, and academic studies—from cognitive linguistics and neuroscience to political science, sociology, and psychology—distilling best practices in messaging. Flashcards often focus on values-based communication: strategies for talking about important policies or issue solutions in terms of shared values. 

Want to receive Flashcards by email? Sign up. 

http://daily.sightline.org/2012/08/09/crib-notes-for-lakoffs-latest/

Framing the issues

Framing the issues: UC Berkeley professor George Lakoff tells how conservatives use language to dominate politics

By Bonnie Azab Powell, NewsCenter | 27 October 2003

BERKELEY – With Republicans controlling the Senate, the House, and the White House and enjoying a large margin of victory for California Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger, it’s clear that the Democratic Party is in crisis. George Lakoff, a UC Berkeley professor of linguistics and cognitive science, thinks he knows why. Conservatives have spent decades defining their ideas, carefully choosing the language with which to present them, and building an infrastructure to communicate them, says Lakoff.

The work has paid off: by dictating the terms of national debate, conservatives have put progressives firmly on the defensive.

In 2000 Lakoff and seven other faculty members from Berkeley and UC Davis joined together to found the Rockridge Institute, one of the few progressive think tanks in existence in the U.S. The institute offers its expertise and research on a nonpartisan basis to help progressives understand how best to get their messages across. The Richard & Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor in the College of Letters & Science, Lakoff is the author of “Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think,” first published in 1997 and reissued in 2002, as well as several other books on how language affects our lives. He is taking a sabbatical this year to write three books – none about politics – and to work on several Rockridge Institute research projects.

In a long conversation over coffee at the Free Speech Movement Café, he told the NewsCenter’s Bonnie Azab Powell why the Democrats “just don’t get it,” why Schwarzenegger won the recall election, and why conservatives will continue to define the issues up for debate for the foreseeable future.

Why was the Rockridge Institute created, and how do you define its purpose?

I got tired of cursing the newspaper every morning. I got tired of seeing what was going wrong and not being able to do anything about it.

The background for Rockridge is that conservatives, especially conservative think tanks, have framed virtually every issue from their perspective. They have put a huge amount of money into creating the language for their worldview and getting it out there. Progressives have done virtually nothing. Even the new Center for American Progress, the think tank that John Podesta [former chief of staff for the Clinton administration] is setting up, is not dedicated to this at all. I asked Podesta who was going to do the Center’s framing. He got a blank look, thought for a second and then said, “You!” Which meant they haven’t thought about it at all. And that’s the problem. Liberals don’t get it. They don’t understand what it is they have to be doing.

Rockridge’s job is to reframe public debate, to create balance from a progressive perspective. It’s one thing to analyze language and thought, it’s another thing to create it. That’s what we’re about. It’s a matter of asking ‘What are the central ideas of progressive thought from a moral perspective?’

How does language influence the terms of political debate?

Language always comes with what is called “framing.” Every word is defined relative to a conceptual framework. If you have something like “revolt,” that implies a population that is being ruled unfairly, or assumes it is being ruled unfairly, and that they are throwing off their rulers, which would be considered a good thing. That’s a frame.

If you then add the word “voter” in front of “revolt,” you get a metaphorical meaning saying that the voters are the oppressed people, the governor is the oppressive ruler, that they have ousted him and this is a good thing and all things are good now. All of that comes up when you see a headline like “voter revolt” – something that most people read and never notice. But these things can be affected by reporters and very often, by the campaign people themselves.

Here’s another example of how powerful framing is. In Arnold Schwarzenegger’s acceptance speech, he said, “When the people win, politics as usual loses.” What’s that about? Well, he knows that he’s going to face a Democratic legislature, so what he has done is frame himself and also Republican politicians as the people, while framing Democratic politicians as politics as usual – in advance. The Democratic legislators won’t know what hit them. They’re automatically framed as enemies of the people.

Why do conservatives appear to be so much better at framing?

Because they’ve put billions of dollars into it. Over the last 30 years their think tanks have made a heavy investment in ideas and in language. In 1970, [Supreme Court Justice] Lewis Powell wrote a fateful memo to the National Chamber of Commerce saying that all of our best students are becoming anti-business because of the Vietnam War, and that we needed to do something about it. Powell’s agenda included getting wealthy conservatives to set up professorships, setting up institutes on and off campus where intellectuals would write books from a conservative business perspective, and setting up think tanks. He outlined the whole thing in 1970. They set up the Heritage Foundation in 1973, and the Manhattan Institute after that. [There are many others, including the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institute at Stanford, which date from the 1940s.]

And now, as the New York Times Magazine quoted Paul Weyrich, who started the Heritage Foundation, they have 1,500 conservative radio talk show hosts. They have a huge, very good operation, and they understand their own moral system. They understand what unites conservatives, and they understand how to talk about it, and they are constantly updating their research on how best to express their ideas.

Why haven’t progressives done the same thing?

There’s a systematic reason for that. You can see it in the way that conservative foundations and progressive foundations work. Conservative foundations give large block grants year after year to their think tanks. They say, ‘Here’s several million dollars, do what you need to do.’ And basically, they build infrastructure, they build TV studios, hire intellectuals, set aside money to buy a lot of books to get them on the best-seller lists, hire research assistants for their intellectuals so they do well on TV, and hire agents to put them on TV. They do all of that. Why? Because the conservative moral system, which I analyzed in “Moral Politics,” has as its highest value preserving and defending the “strict father” system itself. And that means building infrastructure. As businessmen, they know how to do this very well.

Meanwhile, liberals’ conceptual system of the “nurturant parent” has as its highest value helping individuals who need help. The progressive foundations and donors give their money to a variety of grassroots organizations. They say, ‘We’re giving you $25,000, but don’t waste a penny of it. Make sure it all goes to the cause, don’t use it for administration, communication, infrastructure, or career development.’ So there’s actually a structural reason built into the worldviews that explains why conservatives have done better.

Back up for a second and explain what you mean by the strict father and nurturant parent frameworks.

Well, the progressive worldview is modeled on a nurturant parent family. Briefly, it assumes that the world is basically good and can be made better and that one must work toward that. Children are born good; parents can make them better. Nurturing involves empathy, and the responsibility to take care of oneself and others for whom we are responsible. On a larger scale, specific policies follow, such as governmental protection in form of a social safety net and government regulation, universal education (to ensure competence, fairness), civil liberties and equal treatment (fairness and freedom), accountability (derived from trust), public service (from responsibility), open government (from open communication), and the promotion of an economy that benefits all and functions to promote these values, which are traditional progressive values in American politics.

The conservative worldview, the strict father model, assumes that the world is dangerous and difficult and that children are born bad and must be made good. The strict father is the moral authority who supports and defends the family, tells his wife what to do, and teaches his kids right from wrong. The only way to do that is through painful discipline – physical punishment that by adulthood will become internal discipline. The good people are the disciplined people. Once grown, the self-reliant, disciplined children are on their own. Those children who remain dependent (who were spoiled, overly willful, or recalcitrant) should be forced to undergo further discipline or be cut free with no support to face the discipline of the outside world.

So, project this onto the nation and you see that to the right wing, the good citizens are the disciplined ones – those who have already become wealthy or at least self-reliant – and those who are on the way. Social programs, meanwhile, “spoil” people by giving them things they haven’t earned and keeping them dependent. The government is there only to protect the nation, maintain order, administer justice (punishment), and to provide for the promotion and orderly conduct of business. In this way, disciplined people become self-reliant. Wealth is a measure of discipline. Taxes beyond the minimum needed for such government take away from the good, disciplined people rewards that they have earned and spend it on those who have not earned it.

 

From that framework, I can see why Schwarzenegger appealed to conservatives.

 

Exactly. In the strict father model, the big thing is discipline and moral authority, and punishment for those who do something wrong. That comes out very clearly in the Bush administration’s foreign and domestic policy. With Schwarzenegger, it’s in his movies: most of the characters that he plays exemplify that moral system. He didn’t have to say a word! He just had to stand up there, and he represents Mr. Discipline. He knows what’s right and wrong, and he’s going to take it to the people. He’s not going to ask permission, or have a discussion, he’s going to do what needs to be done, using force and authority. His very persona represents what conservatives are about.

 

You’ve written a lot about “tax relief” as a frame. How does it work?

 

The phrase “Tax relief” began coming out of the White House starting on the very day of Bush’s inauguration. It got picked up by the newspapers as if it were a neutral term, which it is not. First, you have the frame for “relief.” For there to be relief, there has to be an affliction, an afflicted party, somebody who administers the relief, and an act in which you are relieved of the affliction. The reliever is the hero, and anybody who tries to stop them is the bad guy intent on keeping the affliction going. So, add “tax” to “relief” and you get a metaphor that taxation is an affliction, and anybody against relieving this affliction is a villain.

“Tax relief” has even been picked up by the Democrats. I was asked by the Democratic Caucus in their tax meetings to talk to them, and I told them about the problems of using tax relief. The candidates were on the road. Soon after, Joe Lieberman still used the phrase tax relief in a press conference. You see the Democrats shooting themselves in the foot.

So what should they be calling it?

It’s not just about what you call it, if it’s the same “it.” There’s actually a whole other way to think about it. Taxes are what you pay to be an American, to live in a civilized society that is democratic and offers opportunity, and where there’s an infrastructure that has been paid for by previous taxpayers. This is a huge infrastructure. The highway system, the Internet, the TV system, the public education system, the power grid, the system for training scientists – vast amounts of infrastructure that we all use, which has to be maintained and paid for. Taxes are your dues – you pay your dues to be an American. In addition, the wealthiest Americans use that infrastructure more than anyone else, and they use parts of it that other people don’t. The federal justice system, for example, is nine-tenths devoted to corporate law. The Securities and Exchange Commission and all the apparatus of the Commerce Department are mainly used by the wealthy. And we’re all paying for it.

So taxes could be framed as an issue of patriotism.

It is an issue of patriotism! Are you paying your dues, or are you trying to get something for free at the expense of your country? It’s about being a member. People pay a membership fee to join a country club, for which they get to use the swimming pool and the golf course. But they didn’t pay for them in their membership. They were built and paid for by other people and by this collectivity. It’s the same thing with our country – the country as country club, being a member of a remarkable nation. But what would it take to make the discussion about that? Every Democratic senator and all of their aides and every candidate would have to learn how to talk about it that way. There would have to be a manual. Republicans have one. They have a guy named Frank Luntz, who puts out a 500-page manual every year that goes issue by issue on what the logic of the position is from the Republican side, what the other guys’ logic is, how to attack it, and what language to use.

What are some other examples of issues that progressives should try to reframe?

There are too many examples, that’s the problem. The so-called energy crisis in California should have been called Grand Theft. It was theft, it was the result of deregulation by Pete Wilson, and Davis should have said so from the beginning.

Or take gay marriage, which the right has made a rallying topic. Surveys have been done that say Americans are overwhelmingly against gay marriage. Well, the same surveys show that they also overwhelmingly object to discrimination against gays. These seem to be opposite facts, but they’re not. “Marriage” is about sex. When you say “gay marriage,” it becomes about gay sex, and approving of gay marriage becomes implicitly about approving of gay sex. And while a lot of Americans don’t approve of gay sex, that doesn’t mean they want to discriminate against gay people. Perfectly rational position. Framed in that way, the issue of gay marriage will get a lot of negative reaction. But what if you make the issue “freedom to marry,” or even better, “the right to marry”? That’s a whole different story. Very few people would say they did not support the right to marry who you choose. But the polls don’t ask that question, because the right wing has framed that issue.

Do any of the Democratic Presidential candidates grasp the importance of framing?

None. They don’t get it at all. But they’re in a funny position. The framing changes that have to be made are long-term changes. The conservatives understood this in 1973. By 1980 they had a candidate, Ronald Reagan, who could take all this stuff and run with it. The progressives don’t have a candidate now who understands these things and can talk about them. And in order for a candidate to be able to talk about them, the ideas have to be out there. You have to be able to reference them in a sound bite. Other people have to put these ideas into the public domain, not politicians. The question is, How do you get these ideas out there? There are all kinds of ways, and one of the things the Rockridge Institute is looking at is talking to advocacy groups, which could do this very well. They have more of a budget, they’re spread all over the place, and they have access to the media.

Right now the Democratic Party is into marketing. They pick a number of issues like prescription drugs and Social Security and ask which ones sell best across the spectrum, and they run on those issues. They have no moral perspective, no general values, no identity. People vote their identity, they don’t just vote on the issues, and Democrats don’t understand that. Look at Schwarzenegger, who says nothing about the issues. The Democrats ask, How could anyone vote for this guy? They did because he put forth an identity. Voters knew who he is.

Next: “The ‘free market’ doesn’t exist”  http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2003/10/27_lakoff_p2.shtml

George Lakoff dissects “war on terror” and other conservative catchphrases

Read the August 26, 2004, follow-up interview  http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2004/08/25_lakoff.shtml

‘Taxes are what you pay to be an American, to live in a civilized society that is democratic and offers opportunity, and where there’s an infrastructure that has been paid for by previous taxpayers.’  -George Lakoff

‘Conservatives understand what unites them, and they understand how to talk about it, and they are constantly updating their research on how best to express their ideas.’-George Lakoff

Worldview

…A person’s way of thinking and being is influenced by their worldview – the unique combination of attitudes, perceptions, and assumptions that inform how they personally understand and make sense of their place in the worldToward a “Common Spirituality”: Scaffolding for Evolving Consciousness by Richard Harmer

…your moral beliefs make all the difference. Fifty years ago…There was so much diversity within each party…that stereotyping was harder, and cross-party alliances were much easier. But since the 1980s, the two parties have become ever more perfectly sorted…Nowadays you can make predictions about people’s values and votes from just a few seemingly unrelated things….Unfortunately, as the parties developed more divergent values and lifestyles, they also developed divergent facts. Republicans and Democrats believe different things—about history, the Constitution, science, and above all economics….Your Personality Makes Your Politics By Jonathan Haidt @JonHaidt, Jan. 09, 2014

How Unconscious Thought and Perception Affect Our Every Waking Moment By John A. Bargh, scientificamerican.com/

Cracked Worldview by David Klinghoffer, StarTribune, August 4, 2010 – Conservatism once had a meaningful and noble purpose. Those days, it seems, have waned…With its descent to baiting blacks, Mexicans and Muslims, its accommodation of conspiracy theories and an increasing nastiness and vulgarity, the conservative movement has undergone a shift toward demagoguery and hucksterism…..

Obama, Tea Parties and the Battle for Our Brains, Cognitive Policy Works, February 23, 2010 February 23, 2010 …[right wing conservatives] are trying to chew their way into the worst parts of our psyches in order to manipulate our beliefs and values and make us worse people than we really are…After the Goldwater defeat of 1964…[conservatives] had a problem: How to get a significant number of working people to become conservative enough to vote for Nixon…They found a way to both strengthen conservative views and weaken liberal views, creating a conservative populism… They created language for all these [conservative] ideas and have been repeating it ever since…the repetition of conservative populist frames over more than 40 years has had an effect…The highest value in the conservative moral system…is the perpetuation and strengthening of the conservative moral system itself…All politics is moral…there are two opposing moral systems at work in America. What moral system you are using governs how you will see the world and reason about politics

Why You Need to Understand Political Psychology by Joe Brewer, Truthout.org, April 1, 2010 April 1, 2010

Why You Should Care About the Psychology of Disgust by Joe Brewer, Truthout, May 21, 2010 May 21, 2010

Persons, People, and Public Policy by Ron Cebik, Psychotherapist and Teacher, HuffingtonPost.com, 10/20/2013 – Contemplating the confusion of contemporary events happening on both national and international stages, it is easy to pass judgment on whatever actor is portraying the role opposite of our own preference. The truth is that we are all responsible for the confusion and dysfunction. The breakdown of government is not due to the failure of public policy or the conflicting policies of partisan factions in the body politic. It is due, to a great extent, to factors under the radar of both popular media and sophisticated or academic thinking…What I am about to suggest is not often discussed in political discourse in this country. It might be heard on right-wing talk radio or Fox News when reference is made to latte drinking, electric car-driving left-wing elitists. Interestingly enough, this points to what is really happening. There is a flaring up of what has always lain below the consciousness of the American body politic; the presence of a hierarchical psycho-social structure which is denied and suppressed by the myth of the inherent equality of all citizens. This structure is about the development of an individual’s capacity to deal with the self in relation to the culture. The capacity to see beyond black and white responses to threats to one’s personal or group frames of reference requires the addition of internal abilities to tolerate ambivalence and toleration of differences in viewing the world. Too much developmental difference between people interferes in their ability to understand each other’s world views. This is not about intelligence. It is about the ability to manage culturally induced anxiety, the mechanism by which culture balances the need for societal control of the person and the need for personal freedom. The constituents of culture, i.e., economics, religion, technical complexity, etc. determine the level that the average member attains. Regression in psycho-social development occurs when the anxiety within the culture increases. Less tolerance for difference, the organization of self against threat without recourse to contemplation and evaluation, and rigidity of rules lead to conflict with dissent.

The United States is made up of differing cultures and has always been so. There is no common culture and there has never been. Public policy has always been worked out between conflicting cultures. When established cultural patterns are too threatened, anxiety increases, average levels of psycho-social development regress, and more rigidity is introduced into the inter-personal processes of deciding public policies. If our present governmental dysfunction is a product of anxiety diffused through the body politic, what is the antidote?

First, we have to define anxiety. Anxiety is actually preconscious memory of trauma caused by exceeding the boundaries that ensure the safety of the organism. In the beginning this involves dissolving the symbiosis of infant and “mother.” As self and self reliance emerge the boundaries of safety expand as culture teaches the limits beyond which the singular self is at risk. Remaining memories located in the amygdala (that part of the brain where trauma is stored and which triggers quick response to danger, real or imagined) are constantly sending signals to the organism to be vigilant to danger. When danger is attached to an object the body and mind go into the fight/flight mode. Later development opens the availability of options for responding to threats to well being. Acts of compassion and self sacrifice may emerge as the self incorporates increasing complexity in morality and interpersonal concerns. However, culture can also restrict and arrest development at a level that serves the needs of the culture. When this occurs, the discomfort resulting from anxiety can be brought into conscious control by attaching it to an object that can be feared thus giving a semblance of control over the object. I believe this is what is happening to many in our present national culture as they objectify their discomfort at changes taking place as a result of economic and technological changes, the threat of dilution of Caucasian domination of the culture, and seeming loss of control over their future. This arrested development and often regression lead to public policy that speaks to the limitation and restriction of boundaries aimed at self-security over compassion and cultural hegemony over a human community…The objectification of communal angst onto people who are different, be they of color, sexual orientation, religion, values, or willingness to challenge cultural boundaries for their own growth, results in public policy directed at diminishing the effect such people have…Today, the trend in education is to equip students to compete for fewer and fewer jobs requiring greater and greater specialized skills. Economic fears, meanwhile, diminish the values of an education leading to a broader concern for the welfare of the greatest numbers. Meanwhile, politicians through threats to their incumbency or for a desire for greater influence, inflame the forces of regression to levels of primitive rage and fear of anyone or any idea that threatens pre-conceived notions of cultural superiority.

The tragic truth is that an angst-driven minority can dominate a well-meaning progressive majority through threats of disrupting the structures designed to maintain a stable social system. The answer to this threat is enough people to maintain a posture of non-anxious reaction to the chaos engendered by the frightened angry minority. The future of American and global well-being is dependent on raising the level of self-aware conscientious independent citizenry who ultimately consider their highest allegiance to be humanity itself.

Moral values and the fiscal cliff

How to Live Without Irony Nov 2012