George Lakoff: How Right-Wingers Scam People Into Buying Their Toxic Philosophy

By Joshua Holland, AlterNet

“Progressives often find themselves explaining the details of their preferred policies, and arguing that they would maximize the common good if enacted. Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to eschew the fine print to embrace sweeping, moral narratives to back their positions. For the Right, debates over concrete public policies are often framed as contests between good and evil, freedom and tyranny; that’s how, for example, conservatives can transform a modest 3 percent tax hike on the wealthiest Americans into pernicious “class warfare” and an intolerable example of “socialism.”

Call it a “rationality trap.” For years, George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist at the University of California Berkeley, has argued that these tendencies put progressives at a huge disadvantage in our political discourse because the human brain simply doesn’t process information in coolly analytical terms. Rather, people judge ideas against a larger moral framework, and by offering policy analysis rather than morality tales, liberals go to bat for their policies two strikes down in the count.

Lakoff and co-author Elisabeth Wehling discuss how these dynamics play out every day in American political debates in his new book, The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking DemocraticHe appeared on this week’s AlterNet Radio Hour; below is a lightly edited transcript of the discussion (you can listen to the whole show here).

Joshua Holland: George, in the book you talk about what you call “moral frames.” Can you give us a quick definition of what that is and how it plays out in our discourse?

George Lakoff: Yes. All politics is moral at the base. Any political leader who gives you some sort of prescription of what to do does it because he says it’s right, not because he says it’s wrong or doesn’t matter. Everybody thinks it’s right.

But there are two different ideas of what right is. This is very important. Let me give you a short version of this that applies mostly to economics. The basic idea behind democracy in America is the idea that citizens care about each other; that they act socially as well as individually to cash out that care, and they try to do as well as they can in doing that both for themselves and for others. They do this by having the government create what we call “the public.” The public provision of things; things for everybody – roads, bridges, sewers, public education and public health, like the Centers for Disease Control. Clean air, clean water, the provision of energy, communications and so on. These are all the sorts of things that you can’t live a life without. A private life or a private enterprise. Every business depends on all of these things. The private depends on the public. That is a moral issue. That is how we care about each other.

Conservatives have a very different view of democracy, which follows their moral system. Their moral system is more complex than ours is. The basic idea in terms of economics is that democracy gives people the liberty to seek their self interest and their own well-being without worrying or being responsible for the well-being or interest of anybody else. Therefore they say everybody has individual responsibility, not social responsibility, therefore you’re on your own. If you make it that’s wonderful. That’s what the market is about. If you don’t make it, that’s your problem.

Those are two opposite views of a moral system applied to economics. Those are straightforward, everyday examples. They apply very interestingly in the case of privatization. The right says, ‘privatize as much as possible. Get rid of as much of the public as you possibly can. Make everything private if possible.’ The other side says no. The public requires hiring private contractors all the time — to build roads or public buildings — but there’s a limit. And the limit has to do with morality. When it comes to moral issues like education, health or the environment — which has everything to do with morality and people caring about each other — there you don’t put that in private hands for private profit. That is the line that needs to be drawn.

Those are truths that are deeply embedded in the point of view of a progressive morality. There are other truths that are from conservative morality. They’re opposites, and because they’re opposites you’re going to get conflict. One thing that’s important to understand is that most people have a little of both. Most people are conservative about some things and progressive about others. Some people are almost all progressive and some are almost all conservative.

But there are a lot of people who are mixed and they’re called moderates or centrists, though there is no explicit ideology of the moderation. There’s no ideology of the independent or the swing voter. What you have are two different moral systems in the same brain which inhibit each other. One is active and the other is inactive. Activity in one turns off the other. The more one is active the stronger it gets and the weaker the other one gets.

What’s happened in this country is that language activates that moral system. The moral system is realized in frames. Frames are conceptual structures that we use to think in context. Language is defined in terms of those frames. When you use language that is conservative it’ll activate conservative frames which in turn activates conservative moral systems and strengthens those systems in people’s brains. That’s been happening for the past three decades. Conservatives have a remarkable communication system and a language system that they’ve constructed. They get out there and use their language and frames and repeat them over and over. The more they repeat it the greater their effect on people’s brains. Democrats don’t do that and as a result the conservatives have framed almost every issue.

What The Little Blue Book does is show how to deal with that. How to understand your own moral frames and how to see deep truths that conservative frames hide. For example: that the private depends on the public.

JH: I think this is a really important point that you get at in the book – that people don’t evaluate issues in isolation. Sometimes you’ll see the polling on something —  one example is that overwhelming majorities of people, even those who identify as conservative, say the government should do more to alleviate poverty. But when you get into specific policies that would achieve that end, you find very different results.

You write, “when you mention a specific issue all of the frames and values higher up in the hierarchy are also activated. They define the moral context of the issue.”

So, are we all just fooling ourselves when we cite public opinion on some issue or another, and assuming that people will rationally support politicians who agree with us on those issues?

GL: Yes, you’re fooling yourself. Let me give you some striking examples of that. A lot of it depends on how the questions in the poll will be framed. When Obama was elected, before he took office, he had his pollster go out and check to see what possible provisions of a healthcare plan people would like. It turned out the provisions like capping expenses, or covering people with preconditions, or allowing your children to be on your healthcare plan when you go to college — everybody liked those, like 60 to 80 percent of people, and they still do.

What was interesting is that conservatives never attacked them. Conservatives never came out and said we shouldn’t cover preconditions or you shouldn’t have your children on your healthcare plan. They didn’t attack any of those provisions. What they did is they went to morality, as it is from their perspective. They said we’re going to have two moral principles here, freedom and life. From their perspective this was a government takeover and there were death panels. And they repeated government takeover and death panels over and over until a lot of the public – people who liked all of the provisions of the plan — were now against the plan. The plan got minority support.

So here you have the president come out week after week, and David Axelrod coming out, saying this is a wonderful plan and here are the provisions. David Axelrod at one point sent out a memo to all the people on the Obama list — 13 million — saying go to your neighbors and here are 24 points of the plan to remember, but just to make it easier there are three groups of eight. Nobody remembers those three groups of eight. Meanwhile the other guys are saying government takeover and death panels.

JH: A while back, I interviewed Richard Viguerie, who is a longtime conservative activist. He said something very interesting to me. He said that his fellow travelers were descendants of monarchists, and as a result, they were very receptive to top-down messaging strategy in a way that liberals are not.

We do see this again and again where you get very similar talking points from the lowest level of the conservative blogosphere to members of the Senate Republican Caucus. Is there a tendency for liberals or progressive people to not be as easily swayed by messages that are coming from above?

GL: No. They’re just as easily swayed. Turn on MSNBC and you’ll hear the same messages every night. You get talking points from the DNC and they’re all about policies. You’re going to talk about this policy and that policy and so on, but you’re not going to talk about morality.

There was a period when I was involved with a think tank called the Rockridge Institute, and MoveOn, when it was a young organization, asked its members for the 2004 election what they wanted to see in the future of the country. They thought they would get hundreds and hundreds of new proposals. They had people pair up and have a discourse about the kinds of things they wanted to see. We got a big stack of all these things and started going through them. After about the first half inch, they were all the same. Everybody said the same thing.

If you go and look at progressive foundations and look at their mission statements there are between a dozen and two dozens things they all say, and then they’re all the same. Progressive are just the same as conservatives on it, but they don’t know how to communicate their messages. What they wind up doing is talking about policies, rather than the moral basis of those policies.

JH: I think one of the most important trends in our politics these days is the mainstreaming of extremism on the Right. I certainly remember when Bill Clinton was in office you had these militia guys running around. There were these crazy conspiracy theories – Clinton was accused of drug trafficking and murdering a bunch of his political opponents. Those views were kind of consigned to the fringe — your crazy right-wing uncle would forward chain emails with this stuff.

Now you see politicians like Michele Bachmann who believe that energy efficient lightbulbs are some sort of UN plot to undermine the free enterprise system. You have elected politicians going on Fox and saying that Obama wasn’t born in this country. In the book, you talk about this trend. How does this new extremism fit into your analogy about families? You’ve long said that conservatives look toward a strict father figure in governance, and liberals tend to embrace a more nurturing parent model.

GL: This goes back to 1996 to a book I wrote called Moral Politics, which talks about that at great length. The idea is this: we understand that we have two very different family models in this country. They rise from two different understandings of morality. Morality as nurturing and morality as obedience to legitimate authority. Those give rise to different types of families. A strict father family has a father who is the ultimate authority which cannot be challenged. His job is to teach kids right from wrong, assuming he knows that, and his wife’s job is to uphold his views. The children are taught right from wrong by punishment, and painful enough punishment so that they’ll try to discipline themselves to do right and not wrong. And then if they have that discipline they can go out into the world and be prosperous. If they’re not prosperous that means they’re not disciplined and so they deserve their poverty.

This idea projects onto every aspect of social life, not just to our national life but also onto the market, onto religion, onto foreign policy, the military and so on. What that does is create a very different view than progressives have about all of these things. When you have a lot of people with both of these views — we all grow up with both of them there — each one is in a neural circuit. That neural circuit is in mutual opposition to another neural circuit. Each of those two inhibit each other. When one of those circuits is activated over and over, more than the other, the stronger it gets and the weaker the inactive one gets. The stronger one of these circuits gets, the more influence it’s going to have over various issues.

What has happened over the years since the “Gingrich revolution” is that he worked to get rid of candidates in the Republican Party who were partly progressive. He made them as conservative as possible and he got conservative messaging. That messaging went unchallenged by Democrats. They just responded with policies. So the conservative messages have been getting stronger over the years and conservative populism has been growing because there are a lot of working people in this country, especially men, who are strict fathers at home. Those ideas of “family values” can then be extended into political, economic and religious ideas. That’s what’s happened.

There has been more and more of an audience for conservatism because those ideas become stronger in the brain because of the media control of the Right. It’s not illegitimate media control. The Left could do just as well but they don’t because they don’t know how to speak in moral terms. What happens is that as the parts of those people’s brains gets stronger you get more and more extreme conservatism. That’s not surprising. It just follows from the fact that they have a very strong and communicative system that Democrats don’t and don’t want to put into effect. That has been a very effective system. The way that people’s brains work will just give this result.”

Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy: And Everything else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America. Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.

Emphasis Mine
see:http://www.alternet.org/story/156057/george_lakoff%3A_how_right-wingers_scam_people_into_buying_their_toxic_philosophy

Lakoff: Why the Conservative Worldview Exalts Selfishness

By George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling, AlterNet

Authors of THE LITTLE BLUE BOOK: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic, where morally-based framing is discussed in great detail.

In his June 11, 2012 op-ed in the NY Times, Paul Krugman goes beyond economic analysis to bring up the morality and the conceptual framing that determines economic policy. He speaks of “the people the economy is supposed to serve” — “the unemployed,” and “workers”— and “the mentality that sees economic pain as somehow redeeming.”

Krugman is right to bring these matters up. Markets are not provided by nature. They are constructed — by laws, rules, and institutions. All of these have moral bases of one sort or another. Hence, all markets are moral, according to someone’s sense of morality. The only question is, Whose morality? In contemporary America, it is conservative versus progressive morality that governs forms of economic policy. The systems of morality behind economic policies need to be discussed.

Most Democrats, consciously or mostly unconsciously, use a moral view deriving from an idealized notion of nurturant parenting, a morality based on caring about their fellow citizens, and acting responsibly both for themselves and others with what President Obama has called “an ethic of excellence” — doing one’s best not just for oneself, but for one’s family, community, and country, and for the world. Government on this view has two moral missions: to protect and empower everyone equally.

The means is The Public, which provides infrastructure, public education, and regulations to maximize health, protection and justice, a sustainable environment, systems for information and transportation, and so forth. The Public is necessary for The Private, especially private enterprise, which relies on all of the above. The liberal market economy maximizes overall freedom by serving public needs: providing needed products at reasonable prices for reasonable profits, paying workers fairly and treating them well, and serving the communities to which they belong. In short, “the people the economy is supposed to serve” are ordinary citizens. This has been the basis of American democracy from the beginning.

Conservatives hold a different moral perspective, based on an idealized notion of a strict father family. In this model, the father is The Decider, who is in charge, knows right from wrong, and teaches children morality by punishing them painfully when they do wrong, so that they can become disciplined enough to do right and thrive in the market.  If they are not well-off, they are not sufficiently disciplined and so cannot be moral: they deserve their poverty. Applied to conservative politics, this yields a moral hierarchy with the wealthy, morally disciplined citizens deservedly on the top.

Democracy is seen as providing liberty, the freedom to seek one’s self interest with minimal responsibility for the interests or well-being of others. It is laissez-faire liberty. Responsibility is personal, not social. People should be able to be their own strict fathers, Deciders on their own — the ideal of conservative populists, who are voting their morality not their economic interests.  Those who are needy are assumed to be weak and undisciplined and therefore morally lacking. The most moral people are the rich. The slogan, “Let the market decide,” sees the market itself as The Decider, the ultimate authority, where there should be no government power over it to regulate, tax, protect workers, and to impose fines in tort cases. Those with no money are undisciplined, not moral, and so should be punished. The poor can earn redemption only by suffering and thus, supposedly, getting an incentive to do better.

If you believe all of this, and if you see the world only from this perspective, then you cannot possibly perceive the deep economic truth that The Public is necessary for The Private, for a decent private life and private enterprise. The denial of this truth, and the desire to eliminate The Public altogether, can unfortunately come naturally and honestly via this moral perspective.

When Krugman speaks of those who have “the mentality that sees economic pain as somehow redeeming,” he is speaking of those who have ordinary conservative morality, the more than forty percent who voted for John McCain and who now support Mitt Romney — and Angela Merkel’s call for “austerity” in Germany. It is conservative moral thought that gives the word “austerity” a positive moral connotation.

Just as the authority of a strict father must always be maintained, so the highest value in this conservative moral system is the preservation, extension, and ultimate victory of the conservative moral system itself.  Preaching about the deficit is only a means to an end — eliminating funding for The Public and bringing us closer to permanent conservative domination.  From this perspective, the Paul Ryan budget makes sense — cut funding for The Public (the antithesis of conservative morality) and reward the rich (who are the best people from a conservative moral perspective).  Economic truth is irrelevant here.

Historically, American democracy is premised on the moral principle that citizens care about each other and that a robust Public is the way to act on that care.  Who is the market economy for? All of us. Equally. But with the sway of conservative morality, we are moving toward a 1 percent economy — for the bankers, the wealthy investors, and the super rich like the six members of the family that owns Walmart and has accumulated more wealth than the bottom 30 percent of Americans. Six people!

What is wrong with a 1 percent economy? As Joseph Stiglitz has pointed out in The Price of Inequality, the 1 percent economy eliminates opportunity for over a hundred million Americans. From the Land of Opportunity, we are in danger of becoming the Land of Opportunism.

If there is hope in our present situation, it lies with people who are morally complex, who are progressive on some issues and conservative on others — often called “moderates,” “independents,” and “swing voters.” They have both moral systems in their brains: when one is turned on, the other is turned off.  The one that is turned on more often gets strongest. Quoting conservative language, even to argue against it, just strengthens conservatism in the brain of people who are morally complex. It is vital that they hear the progressive values of the traditional American moral system, the truth that The Public is necessary for The Private, the truth that our freedom depends on a robust Public, and that the economy is for all of us.

We must talk about those truths — over and over, every day. To help, we have written  The Little Blue Book. It can be ordered from barnesandnobleamazon, and itunes, and after June 26 at your local bookstore.

George Lakoff is the author of Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate‘ (Chelsea Green). He is Professor of Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley and a Senior Fellow of the Rockridge Institute.


Emphasis Mine
See: http://www.alternet.org/story/155875/lakoff%3A_why_the_conservative_worldview_exalts_selfishness

The Wisconsin Blues

From: RSN

By: George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling, Common Dreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

These conservative ideas at the moral level have been pushed since Ronald Reagan via an extensive communication system of think tanks, framing specialists, training institutes, booking agencies and media, funded by wealthy conservatives. Wealthy progressives have not funded progressive communication in the same way to bring progressive moral values into everyday public discourse. The result is that conservatives have managed to get their moral frames to dominate public discourse on virtually every issue.

In Wisconsin, much if not most progressive messaging fed conservative morality centered around individual, not social, responsibility. Unions were presented as serving self-interest – the self-interests of working people. Pensions were not presented as delayed earnings for work already done, but as “benefits” given for free as a result of union bargaining power. “Bargaining” means trying to get the best deal for your own self-interest. “Collective” denies individual responsibility. The right wing use of “union thugs” suggests gangs and the underworld – an immoral use of force. Strikes, to conservatives, are a form of blackmail. Strikebreaking, like the strict father’s requirement to punish rebellious children, is seen as a moral necessity. The successful corporate managers, being successful, are seen as moral. And since many working men have a strict father morality both at home an in their working life, they can be led to support conservative moral positions, even against their own financial interests.

What about K-12 teachers? They are mostly women, and nurturers. They accepted delayed earnings as pensions, taking less pay as salary – provided their positions were secure, that is, they had tenure. In both their nurturance and their centrality to The Public, they constitute a threat to the dominance of conservative morality. Conservatives don’t want nurturers teaching their children to be loyal to the “nanny state.”

The truth that The Public is necessary for the Private was not repeated over and over, but it needed to be at the center of the Wisconsin debate. Unions needed to be seen as serving The Public, because they promote better wages, working conditions, and pensions generally, not just for their members. The central role of teachers as working hard to maintain The Public, and hence The Private, also needed to be at the center of the debate. These can only be possible if the general basis of the need for The Public is focused on every day.

Scott Walker was just carrying out general conservative moral policies, taking the next step along a well-worn path.

What progressives need to do is clear. To people who have mixed values – partly progressive, partly conservative – talk progressive values in progressive language, thus strengthening progressive moral views in their brains. Never move to the right thinking you’ll get more cooperation that way.

Start telling deep truths out loud all day every day: Democracy is about citizens caring about each other. The Public is necessary for The Private. Pensions are delayed earnings for work already done; eliminating them is theft. Unions protect workers from corporate exploitation – low salaries, no job security, managerial threats, and inhumane working conditions. Public schools are essential to opportunity, and not just financially: they provide the opportunity to make the most of students’ skills and interests. They are also essential to democracy, since democracy requires an educated citizenry at large, as well as trained professionals in every community. Without education of the public, there can be no freedom.

At issue is the future of progressive morality, democracy, freedom, and every aspect of the Public – and hence the viability of private life and private enterprise in America on a mass scale. The conservative goal is to impose rule by conservative morality on the entire country, and beyond. Eliminating unions and public education are just steps along the way. Only progressive moral force can stop them.

The Little Blue Book is a guide to how to express your moral views and how to reveal hidden truths that undermine conservative claims. And it explains why this has to be done constantly, not just during election campaigns. It is the cumulative effect that matters, as conservatives well know.”

Emphasis Mine

see:http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/11880-focus-the-wisconsin-blues