The good part is that all these topics are related, but the difficult part is tying these three ides together without rambling and losing track of my points. In the spirit of getting started let’s begin with Lakoff:
The political divide in America is not just a material divide. Nor is it just a religious divide. Nor is it just a matter if who controls what power. The divide is located in our brains- in the ways Americans understand the world. There we find two competing modes of thought that lead to contradictory ways of governing our country, one fundamentally democratic and one fundamentally anti-democratic.I find the simplicity of this paragraph comforting and a great place to start, because for years I have been struggling with what I perceived to be conservative ignorance and cruelty. I often found myself thinking that all human beings must have an intrinsic need for peace and community. I felt that deep down beyond politics we are all empathetic creatures who have the interests of others at heart, but what this paragraph and Lakoff’s thesis have clarified for me, is that this shared view of reality is not the case.
However simplistic it may be, Lakoff’s description of the two opposing modes of thought shed light on one simple fact:
The brain is not neutral; it is not a general-purpose device. It comes with a structure, and our understanding of the world is limited to what our brain can make sense of. Some of our thought is literal-framing experiences directly. But much of it is metaphoric and symbolic, structuring our experiences indirectly but no less powerfully. Some of our mechanisms of understanding are the same around the world. But many our not, not even in our own county and culture.I have always had a hard time understanding conservative thought because I was viewing their way of thinking strictly through my own lens of reality. Because conservative thought, is for the most part, the mirror opposite of my beliefs I have always found it difficult engaging conservatives. In short, I guess I never understood how anyone could think like that.
Our brains and minds work to impose specific understanding on reality, and coming to grips with that can be scary, that not everyone understands reality the same way.
What Lakoff has done, in essence, is shown that the differences between the modes of thought are not simply variations or different degrees of the basic understandings of concepts like freedom, democracy, morality, America, but that they differ in fundamental ways. Simply put Progressives and Conservatives experience reality in fundamentally different ways, and this divide is what we are dealing with in the US today. These rudimentary differences are why parents will panic and keep their kids home from school, when the democratically elected president of the country they claim to love wants to speak to their children to share what basically ended up being a conservative message.
Before I continue let’s take a look at some of the basic claims Lakoff makes about the two ideologies:
Behind every progressive policy lies the single moral value: empathy, together with the responsibility and strength to act on that empathy.The conservative thought, however, as we shall see, differs greatly:
The ethics of care shapes government. Care requires that government have two intertwined roles: protection and empowerment. Protection is more than just army, police, and fire department. It mean social security, disease control, and public health, safe food, disaster relief, health care, consume and worker protection and environmental protection.
The role of progressive government is to maximize our freedom-and protection and empowerment does just that. Protection is there to guarantee freedom from harm, from want, and from fear. Empowerment is there to maximize freedom to achieve your goals.
…it has a very different moral basis than progressive thought. It begins with the notion that morality is obedience to authority-assumed to be a legitimate authority who is inherently good, know right from wrong functions to protect us from evil, and has both the right and duty to use force to command obedience and fight evil. He is the “decider” Obedience to legitimate authority requires both personal responsibility and discipline, which are prime conservatives virtues. Obedience is enforced through punishment. As long as you follow the rules laid down for you, you are free to act within that order.As the president of the Mormon church says: Obedience leads to true freedom. The more we obey revealed truth, the more we become liberated. Not to be outdone here is Rudy Giuliani: Freedom is about authority.
In conservative thought, people are born bad-greedy and unscrupulous. To maximize their self-interest, they need to learn discipline, to follow rules and obey laws, and to seek wealth rationally. The market imposes discipline. It works rationally by rules and laws, and requires disciplined rational thinking. It rewards those who acquire such discipline and punishes those who do not. The market, from this perceptive, is fair and moral.After reading these two descriptions I began to understand why I have had such a hard time relating to or even understanding conservative ideology. I do not see morality as tied to discipline or authority, but I believe the exact opposite to be true; I see morality as our ability to feel and act on our natural empathetic tendencies. I want my government to empower and protect all of its citizens. I do not want it to disappear and allow people to follow their self-interests at any costs.
This vastly differing view of morality is why the Bush years were so difficult for me to understand. The 9-11 era and subsequent conservative hijacking of American political thought was built on the foundations of, what may appear Orwellian double speak to progressives, conservative thoughts like this: Freedom is about authority.
But how have conservatives been so successful at shaping how Americans think? How are they able to force people to act in ways that are detrimental to their own good?
Lakoff claims that our brains are actually hard wired to think bi-conceptually, understand and use both progressive and conservative thinking modes, but that when we use one more than the other our synapses tighten and build stronger connections with one view overpowering the other.
Everyone thinks in both ways, but we tend to gravitate toward one or the other after our brains build bonds to one more than the other. He goes on to say that our bonds begin and grow from frames and metaphors, and one of the main metaphors that we project on our political though is the frame of family.
He outlines two models: The Strict Father Model and the Nurturing Parent. I will let him explain what he means here:
Lakoff reminds us:
The point is simple. Metaphorical though is natural. We have a Nation as Family metaphor. We have two very different idealized models of the family, which are mapped by the metaphor onto two very different views of the nation. Our modes of moral and political thought are taken from these models.I would recommend that you read this section of the book for a more comprehensive look at these ideas.
Our democracy is presently being threatened by the politics of obedience to authority the very things that democracy was invented to counteract.
In short, the Strict Father model believes that:
Competition is crucial. It builds discipline. Without competition, without the desire to win, no one would have the incentive to be disciplined, and morality would suffer, as well as prosperity. Not everyone can win in a competition, only the most disciplined people, who are also the most morally worthy. Winning is thus a sign of being deserving, of being a good person.And the Nurturant Parent Model believes that:
Nurturance is empathy, responsibility for oneself and others, and the strength to carry out those responsibilities….The job of parents is protection and empowerment of their children, and a dedication to community life, where people care bout and take care of each other.I am finally starting to understand why I find conservatives thinking so cruel. The way they view reality is completely different from me. Perhaps, because I grew up in a Nurturing Parent model, or maybe because I never want my own family to follow the Strict Father model, I expect my government to empower and protect me. I want my government to allow its citizens the ability to cooperate not compete. I do not see morality as tied to authority and discipline, but rather tied to freedom and community!
Every time I try to engage conservatives in political discourse, I end up throwing my hands in the air in frustration. After reading this book I starting to understand why:
You can’t get away from contested concepts. There will always be disagreement about the meanings of our most important moral and political ideas.So what do we do? Are we doomed to accept that half our country will always think in diametrically opposed ways as us?
We cannot negate frames. We cannot continue to argue with conservatives using their frames. We must restructure our arguments to fit our world view.
Use progressive language, ideas, images, and symbols repeatedly to activate the progressive worldview in people who have both worldviews so that the progressive modeIf you think this is somehow sinister or back handed, just remember that this is what conservatives have done in every aspect of American life since the Reagan era. It is time we reframe the debate!
of thought is strengthened and the conservative mode weakened.
A New Enlightenment comes with a new consciousness, a basic stance toward each other and the world. It requires the realization that empathy and responsibility are at the heart of the moral vision on which our democracy is based, and understanding of real reason, and a comprehension of systematic causation: of our connection to the natural world and to each other. It also demands that we cultivate empathy, responsibility, self-reflection, and a sense of connection, together with a full life based on them. As a consequence, it is an ecological consciousness in the broadest sense: empathy and systematic causation focus in our connections to each other, to all living things to the communities and institutions in which we find fulfillment and to the natural world that permits and sustains life.We must begin to project progressive values based on empathy and interdependence rather than defend them against conservatives values based on discipline and punishment. We have entered the age of community over individual. Now all we have to do is remind the members of our communities of this fact.
This will become more and more important since:
Our lives are being governed more and more by private corporations.This is okay if you think conservatively and believe that citizens must be able to take care of themselves because they are afraid and disciplined, but as progressives we believe that our government should be there to protect us from institutions that:
The primary mission of corporations is to maximize profits of their stockholders and executives not to carry out the moral mission of protecting and empowering citizens.
Are accountable to their stockholders and not the public. It is inevitable that when conflicts between public good and corporate profits arise, the public good suffers.Well I didn’t get to Obama or Glenn Beck, but if you have made it this far, I hope you will come back and read more soon. Before you do, however, please leave some thoughts in the comment section.
Privateering is a means of transferring wealth from ordinary taxpayers to wealthy investors, making the wealthy much wealthier, while robbing ordinary people of security and opportunity that government should provide.