Notes on “don’t think of an elephant” a book by George Lakoff

An important lesson: “don’t think of an elephant”: attacking our opponents frame reinforces their message. Our job is to frame our own values, vision, and mission, and avoid attacking theirs, because if we do, it only keeps their ideas in the fore front.

Progressives have been under the illusion that if only people understood the facts, we’d be fine. Wrong. The facts alone will not set us free. People make decisions about politics and candidates based on their value system, and the language and frames that invoke those values. Their values – strict authoritarian values in the conservatives’ case- are what motivate them to enter the voting booth.

Given the existence of the metaphor of nation to the family, Lakoff asked: If there are two different understandings of the nation, are there also two different understandings of the family? Yes: strict father family and nurturing parent family.

Strict father morality: protect the family in a dangerous world, support the family in a difficult world, teach his children right from wrong. What is required of the child is obedience, because the strict father is a moral authority who knows right from wrong. (gag)

Nurturing parent morality: Nurturance means two things: empathy and responsibility. Concern with environmental protection, worker protection, consumer protection, and protection from disease. Did not have much to say on 9-11.

6 types or progressives: socioeconomic, identity politics, environmental, civil liberties, spiritual progressives, anti-authoritarians. Often think theirs is the only way to be a true progressive; often fail to work together.

Conservatives, thru their think tanks, figured out the importance of framing, and they figured out how to frame every issue.

Progressives believe set of myths: 1) The truth will set us free. If we tell people the facts, they will all reach the right conclusions. But to be accepted, the truth must fit people’s frames. If the facts do not fit a frame, the frame stays and the facts bounce off. 2) It is irrational to go against your self interest. Poor conservatives go against their self interest to support bush, because they support the conservative idea that the people with the most money are the “good people” and deserve tax breaks. People do not necessarily vote in their self interest. They vote their identity; they vote their values; they vote who they identify with. 3) The belief that a candidate should please the majority of people (follow issues polling) The real reason for conservative success is that conservative candidates say what they idealistically believe, not what the polls, or the majority want.

35-40 % of people have strict father model; 35-40 % have nurturing model. The conservatives activate the “middle.” That should be the progressive goal.

Use of language to mollify people who have nurturing values, while the real policies are strict father policies (or rather deceptions): The Clear Skies Initiative; Healthy Forests; No Child Left Behind. This is the use of Orwellian Language – language that means the opposite of what it says.

Orwellian Language points to weakness. It is a guide to where they are vulnerable. It is very important to use their weakness to our advantage.

Progressives also need to know about integration of issues. They know about what are called “Strategic Initiatives” A strategic initiative is a plan in which a change in one carefully chosen issue area has automatic effects over many many many other issue areas. Example: tax cuts: Not enough money for environment, schools, homelessness; not enough money for any of the government’s social programs.

Examples of Strategic Initiatives from the Left: Environmental Impact Statement and Endangered Species Act. More recently New Apollo Initiative: Jobs issue, health issue clean water/air issue species issue, foreign policy issue, etc.

Conservatives have learned that they must activate the Strict Father mentality in more than half the electorate – either by fear or other means. The 9-11 attacks gave the bush administration a perfect mechanism for wining elections. They declared an unending “War on Terror”. The frame of the “War on Terror” presupposes the populace should be terrified. Orange alerts , etc, practive scenarios, etc keep the terror Frame active. Fear and uncertainty naturally activate the strict father frame.

Metaphors of terror: Psychological Effects of the September 11 attacks: ”The devastation that hit those towers that morning hit me.” “The people who hit those towers got into my brain, even though three thousand miles away.”

The bush administration framed and reframed the event. First, it was a crime with victims, with perpetrators who needed to be brought to justice and punished. In a few hours the frame changed to war, with casualties, enemies, military action, war powers, etc.

Use of the word evil in the administrations discourse has a specific goal. Evil is a force in the world. Evil people do evil things. No further explanation is necessary. There can be no social causes of evil, no religious rationale for evil (how about Radical Islamic Fundamentalism?), no reasons or arguments for evil. The enemy of evil is good. If our enemy is evil, we are inherently good. Only superior strength can defeat evil, and only a show of strength can keep it at bay. Not to show overwhelming strength is immoral. Performing “lesser evils”, like curtailing civil liberties, sanctioning political assassinations, overthrowing governments, torturing, hiring criminals are necessary to fight the greater evil.

Basic security metaphor: Security as containment. This lies behind the missile shield proposal. Rationality might say the missile shield is pointless in an attack such as Sept 11

Betrayal of Trust: Beyond Lying; Lying in itself is not and should not be the issue. The real issue is betrayal of trust. It looks like the war was for long-term US control of the Middle East and for the self interest of corporations. If the real rationale for the Iraq War has been self-interested control, then the president betrayed the trust of our soldiers, the congress, and the American people. Mere lying is a minor matter when betrayal is the issue.