Sunday, November 23, 2014

George Lakoff

Cognitive linguist George Lakoff's books include Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, now in a new edition.

From the author's Q & A with Paul Rosenberg at Salon:

I wanted to start off with an obvious question: Why a new edition of a book that is 10 years old? Are there some ideas you wanted to repeat, or some that people—particularly a new generation—haven’t really even been exposed to before? There are also some ideas that are new, either because you newly discovered them or they become newly important, or for some other reason.

That’s exactly right. Let’s start with the mistakes. In 2004, hardly anybody knew what framing was. When I first spoke to a Senate retreat, they asked me—they’d heard this word “frame. What is it? What does it mean? What is Frank Luntz doing to them? What do they do about it?” And they said, “Oh, tell us in 20 minutes.”


I actually managed to do that. In 20 minutes. I worked my butt off and found a way to do it. And a few people kind of got it. Hillary Clinton kind of got it, Tom Daschle kind of got it. Teddy Kennedy did–but not too many. And it was sort of sad. I talked to a lot of people in Washington during those years, and the people who didn’t get it, including a lot of the communications people, and staff, and people in any administration and so on, didn’t get it for a couple of reasons. It’s important to know what those reasons were.

The biggest reason is reason. As I point out, if you’re a conservative, you go to college, it’s very likely that you’re going to study business and economics at some point. If you do that, in your curriculum you look at marketing–and marketing professors study cognitive science, brain science. They study how people think. So it is common for conservative communications people to use marketing techniques. And that’s all the stuff that is been shown in cognitive science and the brain sciences.

But, if you’re a Democrat and you go to college and are interested in politics, you’re going to study political science and some law, public policy, economics. And in those fields, there is no cognitive science study by the faculty or anybody else. They learn what is called “Enlightenment reason”–that is, Descartes 1650: all thought is supposed to be conscious,when it’s 98 percent unconscious; it’s literal, so there’s no metaphor, therefore, in rational thought, which is ludicrous; that there is no such thing as framing; that statements fit the world or they don’t; that language is neutral, it fits the world, and so on. They learn that you want to use the most popular language. That what makes us people is we’re all rational animals, and therefore we have the same reason, because we’re all human beings. So it follows from that: If you tell people the facts, that will lead them to the right conclusion. And, it doesn’t work.

The facts mean nothing until you put them in a moral context. And that’s...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue