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Changing the rhetoric

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  • Changing the rhetoric

    I've been arguing for some time that if progressives want power they have to take over the rhetoric -- i.e. begin defining the world in their terms, rather than using the language of conservatives (which became very powerful during the Reagan years). I think this is a very important step if, for instance, we want to revive the momentum of the FDR years, which established the rhetoric for years to come.

    UC Berkeley >








    If I'd known then what I know now: Lessons from the Class of 2004


    Linguistics prof dissects the 'war on terror' and other conservative catchphrases


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    UC Berkeley Web Feature
    George Lakoff, UC Berkeley linguistics professor and Rockridge Institute Fellow. (BAP photos)

    Linguistics professor George Lakoff dissects the "war on terror" and other conservative catchphrases

    By Bonnie Azab Powell, NewsCenter | 26 August 2004

    BERKELEY – With the Democratic National Convention over and the Republican one beginning next week, it seemed a good time to check in with George Lakoff, the UC Berkeley professor of cognitive linguistics whose scrutiny of the language of politics has begun to bring him national recognition. The author of the seminal book "Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think," Lakoff's specialty is dissecting "framing," or the ways in which conservatives and liberals position issues to fit their respective moral worldviews. (For more on framing, read this excerpt from the NewsCenter's October 2003 interview with Lakoff.) He grasps how Republicans use language more effectively than Democrats, and what Democrats can do about it.

    When we last talked to Lakoff, he had just embarked on a one-year sabbatical from UC Berkeley to work on three books, none of them about politics. He got sidetracked. Presidential candidate Howard Dean made "Moral Politics" required reading for his campaign staff, more than 200 advocacy groups called for Lakoff's advice, the Democratic senators invited him twice to their policy retreats, and he began getting calls from progressive groups around the country. The Rockridge Institute, the progressive think tank he cofounded with seven other UC professors to reframe public debate, began buzzing with activity. In response to demand, Lakoff set aside his linguistic research for intense — and in many ways more challenging — study of the application of linguistics and cognitive science to politics.

    In the last couple of months he has written a short book, "Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate," which will be marketed at first over the Internet with the help of a host of advocacy groups. Available on Amazon.com around September 8, the $10 paperback is billed as the "essential guide for progressives" and is praised by such members of the liberal pantheon as Dean, former labor secretary Robert Reich, the founders of MoveOn.org, the Sierra Club's Carl Pope, and billionaire political activist George Soros.

    Next week Lakoff returns to teaching at UC Berkeley with Linguistics 290L, a seminar that will train students to recognize frames and follow their usage in the presidential election. (Note to students: the 50-person course still has openings, see the departmental description for details.) And starting August 30, he will comment for the NewsCenter on how issues are being framed by Republican Convention speakers.

    What's in this new "essential guide for progressives"? Even the Democratic Party seems to have trouble defining what makes a liberal.

    Well, for that reason I wrote a chapter on what unites progressives — a moral system, certain political principles, and what I call policy directions as opposed to policies. A policy direction is something like "Let's have a sustainable environment" and "Working people shouldn't be living in poverty" and "Everybody should have health care." The problem is that the Democrats have wanted to talk about programs rather than policy directions, and programs call up distinctions, which tend to separate people. For example, Kerry should be talking about health care for everyone, and just put a white paper with the details of the program on his website. The values, principles, and general directions are what people care about and what brings them together. It's pointless to argue about the policy-wonk details, because they're going to change anyway.

    In another chapter I tell progressives how to talk to conservatives. This is not rocket science: you should show respect, know your values, always reframe, and say what you believe. The important thing is not to accept their framing of the issues, nor just negate their framing — that just reinforces it. Simply confronting them with facts won't help. Frames trump facts. The facts alone will not set you free. You have to reframe the issues before the facts can become meaningful and powerful.

    Some conservatives are ideologues and you're not going to sway them. But most conservatives are nice people. What you want to do is activate their nurturing model, engage their empathy. Ask them who they care about, what they care about, and why. Find out where their empathy lies. Connect with the part of them that shares your values, and get that to spread to other issues.

    Last October you said that "liberals don't get it" — they don't even realize that conservatives are controlling the terms of debate. Have they gotten any better at framing?

    There's been a lot of improvement. In nine months we've managed to reach a lot of people. You saw it in action at the Democratic Convention, in the speeches by Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Barack Obama, and John Kerry. They talked about values. That's a big change, and it's not an accident. They talked about unity, not the culture war. They began to explain why Democratic values are traditional American values — an important step. The idea is very simple: Look at the things we are most proud of in this country, from the Declaration of Independence to the present. We had slavery then. We abolished it. Only male property owners could vote. Now both non-property owners and women can vote.

    The New Deal, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act — these too are all products of progressive, liberal values. They represent advances of the nurturant parent model versus the conservative "strict father" model [articulated in Lakoff's "Moral Politics," see here for a brief discussion]. These movements are also seen as stemming from traditional American values, part of our shared heritage. So, when you start looking at what this country is rightfully proud of, it's the extension of progressive values. And it's time to say that loud and clear.

    One of the values that Democrats seemed to drop into every sentence of the Convention was "strength." How is that part of the progressive canon?

    You have to fight strength with strength. That's straight out of "Moral Politics": the strict father has to be strong, but the nurturant parent must also be strong. However, I don't think the Democrats did a good job of defining what the difference is in Kerry's kind of strength, because they refused to use the word "weak" in reference to Bush. They wanted to have a completely positive campaign — which it isn't anyway — but they didn't want to say that Bush has made the country weaker. The issue of weakness awakens the stereotype of liberals, so instead they said, "Look, we just want America to be stronger."

    But "stronger" doesn't necessarily imply weak. They could have talked more directly about all the ways Bush has weakened the country. When they have a case to be made on the basis of a pattern of behavior, they don't tend to use a grammar that really nails the message, like "We're weaker in education, and here's why. We're weaker in security, and here's why." You could write this argument in half a page. The Democrats aren't there yet, by any means.


    'A "war president" has extraordinary powers. And the "war on terror," of course, never ends. There's no peace treaty with terror. It's a prescription for keeping conservatives in power indefinitely.'

    -George Lakoff
    Why do conservatives like to use the phrase "liberal elite" as an epithet?

    Conservatives have branded liberals, and the liberals let them get away with it: the "liberal elite," the "latte liberals," the "limousine liberals." The funny thing is that conservatives are the elite. The whole idea of conservative doctrine is that some people are better than others, that some people deserve more. To conservatives, if you're poor it's because you deserve it, you're not disciplined enough to get ahead. Conservative doctrine requires that there be an elite: the people who thrive in the free market have more money, and they should. Progressives say, "No, that's not fair. Maybe some should have more money, but no one should live in poverty. Everybody who works deserves to have a reasonable standard of living for their work." These are ideas that are progressive or liberal ideas, and progressives aren't getting them out there enough.

    What progressives are promoting is not elite at all. Progressives ought to be talking about the conservative elite. They shouldn't be complaining about "tax cuts for the rich," they should be complaining about "tax cuts for the conservative elite," because that's who's getting them.

    Speaking of taxes, Democrats seem to have at last stopped falling into the trap of using the phrase "tax relief" — thereby adopting conservative framing that taxes are an affliction from which citizens need to be rescued. But they haven't yet presented an alternate frame for taxes.

    Every now and then they slip and say "tax relief for the middle class," but yes, they're learning. The Republicans, meanwhile, have increased their usage.

    Recently I've been talking about taxes as investments for the common good. In the past the government made certain wise investments in things like the interstate highway system. You just get in your car and drive; you don't think about how every time you use the highways you're getting a dividend on that previous investment — and so is every business that sends a truck over the interstate highway system. The Internet is another example. It started out as a network funded by the Defense Department, by the government investing taxpayers' money. Now, every time you surf the Web, you're getting a dividend. Drugs and medical advances that come out of National Institutes of Health grants are financed by taxpayers. Computer chips in our computers and cars exist because of the government's early investment of taxpayers' money in semiconductor research.

    But wouldn't conservatives argue, as they have with Social Security, that individuals can invest their money better than the government?

    That's simple. Would you prefer to have the government build and maintain the highway system, or do it yourself? Would you rather have a private company owning the highway system and the Internet, and charging you God knows how much to use them? You like the army, but do you want to build your own? How about your own police and fire departments? No. You want a government that can do the things you need, in the areas where private companies can't or won't do them or simply can't be trusted to do them right. One of progressives' main goals is a better future for all. A wise and efficient government is needed for that in hundreds of ways.

    When it comes to government investment of your tax money, businesses benefit even more than ordinary people. To start a business, you don't have to invent computer science or the telephone network, you don't have to build a highway system. They're just there for businesses to use, as is the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department, the SEC, the Commerce Department, and the courts. A company doesn't have to make up a way to adjudicate its disputes with other companies; we paid for it already. Nine-tenths of the courts are there for corporate law. Corporations get enormous benefits paid for by other taxpayers, but they've stopped paying their way. Corporate income tax used to make up about 38 percent of all U.S. taxes. Now it's less than 10 percent. Ordinary taxpayers are making the investments in infrastructure, and corporate stockholders are getting the dividends. And that's just not fair.

    You've said that progressives should never use the phrase "war on terror" — why?

    There are two reasons for that. Let's start with "terror." Terror is a general state, and it's internal to a person. Terror is not the person we're fighting, the "terrorist." The word terror activates your fear, and fear activates the strict father model, which is what conservatives want. The "war on terror" is not about stopping you from being afraid, it's about making you afraid.

    Next, "war." How many terrorists are there — hundreds? Sure. Thousands? Maybe. Tens of thousands? Probably not. The point is, terrorists are actual people, and relatively small numbers of individuals, considering the size of our country and other countries. It's not a nation-state problem. War is a nation-state problem.

    What about the "war on drugs" or the "war on poverty"?

    Those are metaphorical. Real wars are wars against countries, and in the "war on terror," we are attacking countries. But those countries are not the same as the terrorists. We're acting at the wrong level. Meanwhile, by using this frame, we get a commander in chief, as the Republicans keep referring to Bush — a "war president" with "war powers," which imply that ordinary protections don't have to be observed. A "war president" has extraordinary powers. And the "war on terror," of course, never ends. There's no peace treaty with terror. It's a prescription for keeping conservatives in power indefinitely. In three words — "war on terror" — they've enacted vast political changes.

    Bush has positioned war with Iraq as part of the "war on terror." How can progressives frame opposition to the Iraq war without being tarred as unpatriotic or as in league with the terrorists?

    By criticizing Bush for weakening us. By saying out loud, while waving the flag, that the Iraq war has made us more vulnerable to terrorists in many ways. Iraq had nothing to do with 911 or al Qaeda. By moving troops from Afghanistan to Iraq, Bush may have let Osama bin Laden escape, and he certainly allowed al Qaeda and the Taliban to regroup. Moreover, the Iraq war has recruited more terrorists. The $200 billion we've spent there could have been used to enhance homeland security, which has mostly been ignored. It could also have been used to address the root causes of terrorism, which the Bush administration is ignoring. Moreover, Bush has allowed North Korea and Iran to move toward becoming nuclear powers, while he concentrated our efforts on Iraq, which had no nuclear weapons program. Allowing nuclear proliferation aids terrorism.

    The Bush reply is always avoidance: that we're better off without Saddam Hussein. Clinton gave the clearest rebuttal of that argument: There other bad guys like Saddam Hussein in the world, in North Korea, Iran, and Sudan. There are bad guys all over the place. Are we going to invade all these countries? As Clinton said, we can't possibly attack, imprison or kill everyone who's against us. We have to make friends.

    You can also take a patriotic stand and criticize Bush for being ineffectual. You have to be on the offensive. Why did we go into Iraq without a peace plan? Without properly equipping our troops? Without our allies?

    How do you frame this issue of Iraq? You say, "We go to war when we have to, when it's really necessary, when we're being attacked. We don't go to war as an instrument of economic policy. We don't go to war as an instrument of geopolitical positioning. We go to war when we have no other choice. We go with a plan for winning the peace, and we go with enough troops to be effective. Those are the minimal conditions." In short, you don't have to go on the defensive at all.

    The old definition of a conservative was someone in favor of maintaining the status quo, that is, upholding tradition and opposing major changes in laws and institutions. Are Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Ashcroft et al. mainstream conservatives?

    As I say in the new book, they're radicals. They're not trying to conserve anything. They're trying to impose a strict father model taken from a terrible, disastrous parenting method — one ruled by the use of abusive power and force — on America and the world. If you're disciplined enough to make enough money to buy good health care, you deserve it, and to buy a good education for your children, you deserve it. Otherwise you don't deserve it and you won't get it.

    This goes against American egalitarianism and the idea of economic equity — that is, if people work hard and play by the rules, they should have a decent standard of living, assuming there's enough money in the economy as a whole. There is enough money in this economy. To deny people who work good health care and education goes against the best in American policy. It's radical and it's un-American.



    More information

    • The website for the Rockridge Institute has many articles describing framing and progressive policies in more detail

    • Lakoff was interviewed July 23, 2004 by David Brancaccio for PBS's "NOW with Bill Moyers." Read the transcript or watch a RealPlayer video

    • "Framing the Dems: How conservatives control political debate and how progressives can take it back," by George Lakoff, The American Prospect, Sept. 1, 2003

    • "Wiring the vast left-wing conspiracy," by Matt Bai, New York Times Magazine, July 25, 2004

    • "Framing the issues: UC Berkeley professor George Lakoff tells how conservatives use language to dominate politics," by Bonnie Azab Powell, UC Berkeley NewsCenter, October 27, 2003




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  • #2
    Hmm interesting article. I think these things go back and forth- I remember the early 90's when PC talk was all the rage and you had to say "vertically challenged" instead of short. It seemed like the left had total control of the language then. Being against certain programs could get you labled a "racist" or "sexist" for example. As long as there is ebb and flow and it balances out, I think we'll be okay in the end.

    Comment


    • #3
      I take your point but I don't think they had control of the rhetoric then -- PC not necessarily being 'left' but more to do with conventional ideas of what and what isn't 'correct'. You get the same impulses from the right, though for different reasons, to rename and thus control. I think all that PC talk was rubbish and part of the take over of the debate by the right, given that few people in politics or anywhere else took it seriously. The right SAID that was what the left was up to, when, of course, it wasnt.
      But I think it's fair to say we have to get rid of euphemism, which doesn't just affect vertically challenged people but also ----Americans. Distinguishing between African Americans and Native Americans is to me a subtle way of saying they are a different class of American (since nobody refers to Anglo-Americans and so on -- i.e. there are Americans, who are white and generally of European origin, and then there are sub-categories of Americans. To me that's one of the most insidious references to endemic US racism that I've come across. Euphemism (PC, if you like) is a great way of renaming so that you don't have to take action.

      Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
      The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
      Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


      Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
      The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
      Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

      Comment


      • #4
        I agree with that 100%. I hate the "hyphenated" Americans thing. Why can't Americans just be Americans (or "United Stateisans" I guess ha ha)? I also hate when people say "I was talking to a BLACK friend of mine the other day...". I always want to say something like "What, he was in a black mood?"

        I do remember PC being a very real thing on college campuses, at least the one I was on, so at least in that regard the left seemed to be controlling the debate (from my limited perspective at any rate). I felt like I couldn't say anything, without someone putting up their hand and saying "that's not PC". Of course, it all lapsed into parody rather quickly- I remember that it got to be so silly that even Gary Tredeau did a Doonesbury cartoon poking fun at it.

        edit- I also want to take issue with some of the framing this guy has done with regards to taxes and SS:

        But wouldn't conservatives argue, as they have with Social Security, that individuals can invest their money better than the government?

        That's simple. Would you prefer to have the government build and maintain the highway system, or do it yourself? Would you rather have a private company owning the highway system and the Internet, and charging you God knows how much to use them? You like the army, but do you want to build your own? How about your own police and fire departments? No. You want a government that can do the things you need, in the areas where private companies can't or won't do them or simply can't be trusted to do them right. One of progressives' main goals is a better future for all. A wise and efficient government is needed for that in hundreds of ways.
        Defense and infrastructure are legitimate functions of government, and therefore, even conservatives would agree (except the really extreme ones), legitimate reasons to tax the populace. However, to even begin to suggest that the government has been efficient in the way it goes about handling these duties is laughable. Would a privately owned army pay $500 for a hammer? Or build bombers they didn't need just to buy votes in a certain state? Would a private highway company pay 4 guys to watch one guy work? Inefficiency is exactly the reason why many conservatives argue against taxation. Our federal, and even state and local governments, have proven incapable of spending our tax funds efficiently. How many more millions in pork do we need to give Alaska and West Virginia? How many billions do we need to spend on bureacracy? Take the Dept of Education- about .06 on the dollar actually gets spent on education. And don't even get me started on social security- is the author really trying to suggest that the government is an efficient provider of retirement services? Is that why private pension funds ourperform SS in terms of return on investment by a significant margin? Now I'm not suggesting we go to privatized roads and military, but I am suggesting that we should always ask ourselves questions like "what is an acceptable and fair level of taxation", "what are legitimate uses of our tax dollars" and "how are these tax dollars being spent". The framing of issues shouldn't be in terms of lib or con or Dem or Rep, but what is the right thing to do.

        Comment


        • #5
          Fair enough re. campuses -- but I'm not sure that is 'the left' as I define it. I think 'liberals' are by and large sentimentalists who find social approval in their often ineffectual attitudes. I think of progressives (Jim Hightower, for instance, calls himself that) as people with active social involvement who are genuinely trying to deal with real social ills, such as bad education, poverty, childcare, health and so on. I would never call Linda (my wife) a liberal, for instance, but she is progressive, in that she
          works to put her money where her mouth is in practical ways (the great
          women's shelter in Bastrop is the result of her and another woman working always against the odds, against the wishes of more cautious
          liberals on their board and so on. I never call myself a liberal. I don't mind the term progressive, because I'm probably not the radical I was, and which is the good old-fashioned term I prefer. Radical itself, of course, has taken on a nastier meaning to a degree. So I'm saying that cautious liberal school administrator's are one thing -- genuine political progressives are another. I no more want to be identified with milk-and-water liberalism than I do with bread-and-water reactionaries...
          I do think public institutions are best run by public institutions, as it were. Hospitals, schools, roads and armies really do work better if publicly controlled. But public control isn't necessarily the same as government control. The BBC for instance is publicly controlled but not government controlled. A publicly owned company, being directly responsible to the public, can work. In the US there seems to be confusion about 'government-run' and 'publicly-run'. The old public
          hospitals, for instance, weren't government run, but generally were set up by metropolitan bodies. Schools can be run in the same way -- almost in opposition to government-run institutions. One of the problems specific to the US is the vast amount of money flowing into Washington, which is then creamed off by dozens of bodies, before it goes back to the public.
          Which is why, as a progressive, I'm still very much behind a system which allows States to exert their rights in matters of public morality (gay marriage, for instance, and abortion) and to control more of their own finances.
          I see the European model, a union of sovereign states, all subscribing to certain agreed laws regarding human rights and so on, with distinct legal systems of their own.
          If States like what they see another State doing -- they can incorporate it or try it out -- they shouldn't have it imposed from above.
          Very confused country this -- strong authoritariansism running through everything which seems distinctly at odds with the liberatarianism built into the founding rhetoric. Far too much authority and respect granted to politicians and others. An overly respectful journalistic style which allows politicians to say anything they like largely unchallenged. In Texas you see it in the liberatarians who are rigidly authoritarian in their own families and much of their social rhetoric.
          PS Anyone who saw the naked lady picture which spelled out VOTE
          erlier this year, Linda's near the top of the O.... :D

          Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
          The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
          Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


          Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
          The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
          Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

          Comment


          • #6
            Fair enough re. campuses -- but I'm not sure that is 'the left' as I define it. I think 'liberals' are by and large sentimentalists who find social approval in their often ineffectual attitudes. I think of progressives (Jim Hightower, for instance, calls himself that) as people with active social involvement who are genuinely trying to deal with real social ills, such as bad education, poverty, childcare, health and so on. I would never call Linda (my wife) a liberal, for instance, but she is progressive, in that she
            works to put her money where her mouth is in practical ways (the great
            women's shelter in Bastrop is the result of her and another woman working always against the odds, against the wishes of more cautious
            liberals on their board and so on. I never call myself a liberal. I don't mind the term progressive, because I'm probably not the radical I was, and which is the good old-fashioned term I prefer. Radical itself, of course, has taken on a nastier meaning to a degree. So I'm saying that cautious liberal school administrator's are one thing -- genuine political progressives are another. I no more want to be identified with milk-and-water liberalism than I do with bread-and-water reactionaries...
            I do think public institutions are best run by public institutions, as it were. Hospitals, schools, roads and armies really do work better if publicly controlled. But public control isn't necessarily the same as government control. The BBC for instance is publicly controlled but not government controlled. A publicly owned company, being directly responsible to the public, can work. In the US there seems to be confusion about 'government-run' and 'publicly-run'. The old public
            hospitals, for instance, weren't government run, but generally were set up by metropolitan bodies. Schools can be run in the same way -- almost in opposition to government-run institutions. One of the problems specific to the US is the vast amount of money flowing into Washington, which is then creamed off by dozens of bodies, before it goes back to the public.
            Which is why, as a progressive, I'm still very much behind a system which allows States to exert their rights in matters of public morality (gay marriage, for instance, and abortion) and to control more of their own finances.
            I see the European model, a union of sovereign states, all subscribing to certain agreed laws regarding human rights and so on, with distinct legal systems of their own.
            If States like what they see another State doing -- they can incorporate it or try it out -- they shouldn't have it imposed from above.
            Very confused country this -- strong authoritariansism running through everything which seems distinctly at odds with the liberatarianism built into the founding rhetoric. Far too much authority and respect granted to politicians and others. An overly respectful journalistic style which allows politicians to say anything they like largely unchallenged. In Texas you see it in the liberatarians who are rigidly authoritarian in their own families and much of their social rhetoric.
            PS Anyone who saw the naked lady picture which spelled out VOTE
            erlier this year, Linda's near the top of the O.... :D

            Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
            The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
            Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


            Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
            The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
            Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

            Comment


            • #7
              And what about those progressives who can't put an apostrophe in the right place ? Disgusting. And they talk about education.... :)

              Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
              The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
              Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


              Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
              The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
              Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

              Comment


              • #8
                Interesting stuff!

                The whole liberal and conservative problem reminds me of the battle between Chaos and Law in your novels. Each stance will ultimately lead to stagnation. In my opinion, both sides are frightening and smack of an empty-headed focus.

                It seems that both sides want two different aspects of ancient Roman society. The liberal seem to have an anything goes approach, while the conservatives have the merciless iron-fisted approach. The empty-headedness is that the overtones of both party’s philosophies scare people on some fundamental level. Both are too extreme. I think that this is one of the reasons why more people do not involve themselves in politics.

                I have worked as a psychotherapist for 15 years, mainly with poor people and criminals in the Pennsylvania area. So, I believe that I know a lot about what causes people to do what they do and much of what human suffering is all about.

                In this regard, I mostly agree with democratic and even socialist political policy. It makes the most sense as human suffering does not and will not stop. Most demoralized people cannot think of some great business idea to pull themselves out of a problematic life. Perhaps the best that they can do is stoically change their views about life and enjoy what it brings them even if it is misery. This is not a pleasant thought, but I have seen few other solutions or success stories.

                What little success I have had with helping people has come from working with government agencies. For instance, one of my clients was a delusional criminal whose wife was dying from liver disease. She did not have insurance and was lying on her couch swelling from her own unprocessed bodily fluids (don’t use IV drugs), as her three children watched. So, she had no support and medical treatment to speak of. She was doomed to die there in front of her children.

                That made me so angry that, although technically I should have stayed out of it, I had to do something. I began calling every agency that I could to get the woman help. All of the social services that I called expected her to come in and fill out forms! I reminded them that her bodily fluids were starting to poison her brain and she could think straight! Still they didn’t want to do anything.

                Finally, I started to appeal to the finer side of the people that I was communicating with. I started to talk about ethics, doing good deeds, and the ultimate meaninglessness of money. This is what I call the superhero approach. In other words, what Superman might say to some beurocratic in a comic book. Weirdly enough, this approach worked and the welfare office supervisor seemed invigorated enough to help. In the end she got her liver and survived.

                Her husband still thought that I was viewing his life through cameras in his eye, but you can’t win them all!

                Anyway, my point is that there are people out there that need others to directly help them. Agencies need to exist that directly interrupt the normal capitalist flow. This is what Democrats are talking about, but don’t know how to say it.

                They don’t know how to say it because they believe in the social constructs that are important to a capitalist Romanesque society. As I have seen throughout my life, money is not real on a larger scale. To one person it is very real! However, it is a concept on a larger scale. It is based on almost nothing.

                However, if one sees money as having value then one becomes concerned with how and on whom it is spent. Thus, I don’t believe that the life of a former drug addict mom is seen as a very good investment by anyone. I couldn’t sell that idea. However, when I reminded people of their value as a hero they flew into action!

                I believe that the influence of western (really middle-eastern) religion has shaped attitudes toward the poor and less rich. The attitude is that if I, or they, were more virtuous, then there would not be as much suffering. Poor people deserve to be poor because they are bad people. Anyway, if you have a bad life you can pray or maybe die and go to heaven. In the end everyone gets what they have coming to them!

                I believe that this mind-set affects many people across the whole world. The idea that the world has some cause and effect design is a kind of madness created by religious belief.

                This concept has been a major selling point promoted by conservative thinkers. In psychology it is called the Just World Heuristic. The idea is that everything happens for a reason. People tend to see or invent patterns regarding other people’s lives. However, when it comes to personal misfortune they blame an unjust world full of happenstance.

                The conservatives constantly appeal to the personal responsibility angle and the idea of freewill in making choices about how to live. This is how they win the argument. Most people believe in free will and most people believe in the ability to be responsible.

                If these ideas are the Truth then they are an unshakeable basis for an argument. However, I know from personal experience that most people in trouble do not plan to be and did not have the understanding to see trouble coming. There is no such thing as free will!

                Liberal have to start challenging these concepts in order to get their point across!

                However, the conservatives are right about the fact that if you can live a moderate life, stoic even, you will attract less unpredictability. However, few people are supermen especially younger people, who tend to get in trouble more than other age groups.

                The use of language is directly tied to one’s thought process. However, the reverse is also true. Deeply held beliefs generate seemingly new words and phrases that just mean the some old thing. We have to look at how our core values are affecting our interaction with others. It seems that both sides really are on the same page and believe the same thing.
                I would like to know where all the atheists and free thinkers have gone. It seems like they spend most of their time talking about one’s right to place one’s sex organ where it seems to fit best. While this is a fun topic there’s more stuff to talk about!

                It made me sad a few years ago when I read Shopenhaur and Nietzsche and form them to be more progressive than modern thinkers. Voltaire is another of my heroes if he lived today he would still be radical!

                Oh well, life is kind of cyclical, so I would assume that a new trend is coming soon.

                Thanks for all the good stuff over the years Michael! Your work makes things a little less gloomy for people like me.

                Dave

                Comment


                • #9
                  fun

                  I feel like this is going on in real time. I can picture you at home now perhaps in a cossack hat and a bathrobe puzzling the whole thig out!

                  By the way, I wish you would retire from retiring!

                  I'm on my way now but can't wait to check back.

                  Have fun all!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Mike, I agree that the rhetoric has to change. I began my rightward lean, merely because the same stuff people said in the 60's, they were saying 40 years later. It became a joke, and you could nearly finish the sentences of your favorite left leaning political pundit every time. I became disillusioned in that everyone labeled a an original thinker seemed like a plagurist, and I began to agree with hermetic people that our seemingly original thoughts are all lifted from some mass unconscious mind. So I grew resentful of the left. I never heard right wing rhetoric until the early 90's, so it had the appeal of freshness. I will say that the pendalum will swing back when people tire of the screaming. I think the US needs a 'monty python'. Humour, absudity and satire are where we learn the best lessons, because we aren't beaten over the head in an obvious way. Did I mention how much I am enjoying "Breakfast in the Ruins". I think fiction like this can have an effect. It has on me.

                    I use to argue quite successfully that america wasn't an empire because we didn't occupy countries. I would concede that like the romans we held the sentiment, "to stand against the empire is to stand against humanity". Well, we can thank Bush for putting egg on my face. I'm one of those who sees little difference between america's version of left and right. With the exception of Pat Buchanan, neither side would balance the nuclear might of China and North Korea, by giving nuclear weapons to Taiwan and South Korea or Japan. No, both sides would keep our status quo as empire in what "protectorate" implies. Just an observation.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      A couple of quick thoughts-

                      First, the liberal or progressive nature of college campuses is no longer a given. There are many reasons for this, chief among them being the vocational emphasis that many have fostered and ever expanding enrollments. More people from more backgrounds are now on college campuses, and the diversity of opinions and ideas reflects this. Faculty are still likely to be progressive or liberal in many disciplines, but certainly not all disciplines.

                      Why is that important? Well, because someone mentioned it! :) Also because as colleges and universities become less important as the shapers of rhetoric and discourse, especially relative to talk radio and "news" channels on television, those that relied on the ivory tower for a voice need to look elsewhere. That's not to say academe has abandoned the public, but rather that the public has largely abandoned it.

                      I digress-

                      Part of controlling ideology (but not necessarily ideas) is controlling rhetoric. If you don't believe this, read the editorial page of your local paper for a week, and see how many letters to the editor simply parrot what other people have said. Rhetoric not only shapes ideology, it also reinforces it. This seems especially true of social conservatives, but people across the political spectrum are complicit. I would argue that the left hasn't simply relied on old, tired rhetoric. I would instead argue that the left has allowed the right to shape discourse. In doing so, the right has defined the terms of all debates, which conveniently use 60's style liberalism as straw men.

                      Clinton was a master at overcoming this. However, he sold out the left by moving to the center. As I've argued before, this left political discourse in the US defined by moderates and conservatives. The left was (pardon the pun) left out of public and political discourse and debates. Since people who have views like Jim Hightower, who are advocates for effective social change, are removed from most debates, they become fringe elements, instead of the heart of what used to be liberalism. The joke is on a lot of people, myself included, because the Democratic party claims to represent those interests, but no longer do (see Dennis Kucinich's valiant campaign, etc...)

                      Without a voice of dissent, or at least change, the issues that inspire passion on the left become buried, while the right gets its passionate zeal from their Christian base. Seems that the left should take a leson.

                      Finally, in an unrelated response (sorry if it's a rant) to Captain Quelch (dlackey)-
                      As someone who grew up in West Virginia, the state needs all the pork Byrd and Rockefeller can give it. The infrastructure of the state was set up by people from the northeast, who took the state's resources and didn't leave the money, which has left the state very poor. Senators have a responsiblity to their states. If a poor state can nevertheless field a powerful Senate delegation and raise the standard of living, kudos to them. It's not like richer states like Colorado or California continually getting more than their fair share.

                      Oops. This was supposed to be a few quick thoughts. :oops: :)

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        This will be a few quick (and not very deep thoughts)

                        Firstly, think "PC" was seized on and probably sustained by the right as they saw it as a way of generating hate and ridicule for the shit-brained wooly liberals who thought it up (see what Michael Howard's (apparently intelligent but totally loathesome UK would-be demagogue) is doing with it just now ... using allegedly PC initiatives to stir up feelings of resentment in the "native" population, most of whom will have a bit of immigrant blood two or three generations back). There have been very positive moves in society in the last 20-30 years [i]because[b] people think a bit more carefull about what they say about those who differ from the "norm" in some way. If the right choose to call it PC, well that's up to them, most of us just think of it as polite.

                        Second, if the US intelligentsia / literati has been left-dominated all these years, how the
                        hell have your universities turned out so many right-wing politicians / economists / diplomats, and so few willing or able to put a message across which goes beyond the daring concept of using limited amounts of tax revenue to partially assist disadvantaged elements of society? :?
                        \"Killing me won\'t bring back your apples!\"

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Focused thinking

                          One of the problems with using the word "rhetoric" is that it implies a kind of underlying falsehood. I think that this is a semi-adolescent view. The notion is that somewhere people are creating crafted points of view in order to brainwash the public. These ideas are so well crafted that they create paradigm shifts that influence the population.

                          While I believe that there is some truth to this notion, such as with advertising and whatnot, the majority of ideas ride a tidal kind of wave that started somewhere else. If you read political, social, and psychological commentators of a hundred or two hundred years ago you will find many complaining about issues that mirror those of today.

                          In one of Voltaire’s essays he complained that an Arab method of vaccination that worked, was not being allowed because religious people were blocking the application of it. This involved taking an infected piece of skin from one person and shoving it into an inflicted wound of another. This is in a sense what is done in the modern vaccination method. He thought that preventing the miserable death of thousands of people was worth a little sacrilege.

                          Anyway, the religious people of the day saw it as going against god’s will and magic and all the usual. The same feelings of exasperation that Voltaire expressed were very similar to those expressed by Bush’s opponents regarding stem cell research. From the 1700’s to today little has changed.

                          That’s because some people are almost like biological automatons. They are indoctrinated by a belief system and they fulfill its program. A rich religious guy, or any other type of person, is only going to have so many tricks in their bag.

                          So, when we discuss rhetoric we have to ask ourselves if the people we oppose actually believe what they are saying or have they cynically cooked it up. If they have, why did they do that? What belief was driving their decisions?

                          If you feel like some difficult reading check out Martin Heidegger and his existentialist ideas about living in the world. Sartre wrote some good, very readable, stuff about this too.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            PC

                            I believe that the PC stuff really took hold in my generation (I’m 37) because my parents and their parents had a tendency to speak very hatefully about various ethnic and racial groups.

                            This was the kind of stuff was talked about around the dinner table, while watching the news, and around holidays. The N-words were fucking up society and the Jews were the master minds of breaking down society out of their own self promotion.

                            This kind of stuff got to be disgusting. When I was a teenager we were tired of hearing it. Not even the worst kid I knew said the N-word. Most of us would climb all over anyone that said any kind of overgeneralization about any group. I even found it to be a sexual turn-off if a woman said anything negative about these sacred group.

                            However, as I got older and more experienced and my world view changed I began to realize that criticism can be a good thing. People that don’t count don’t get criticized. It’s healthy and no group should be above it. Once again stagnation becomes the topic.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              In changing the rhetoric we have to begin by ridding ourselves of confused and credulous concepts like "rhetoric" and "cognitive linguistics".

                              "Cognitive linguistics." Not the sort of thing a person should say in polite company. Good heavens.

                              Still, Professor Lakoff sounds like he's conducting a good and much needed project. I've spilled a bit of ink on this sort of thing myself--the analysis of the ways language leads to conceptual confusion; the farce and the fraud of the "Liberal vs. Conservative" dichotomy, and so on.

                              Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" comes to mind.

                              "War against drugs"

                              "War against poverty"

                              "War against terror"

                              Bullocks.

                              As I remember it, in the early 90s there were a lot of young turks in the humanities and social sciences who thought they had talken over the world or something, and PC and the control of speech were the tools they were going to use to usher in their version of the New World Order. Stanley Fish, Fredric Jamison and Duke University Press firgured significantly as leaders of the "movement." I found it a bit scary. Many people thought the PC stuff signified a cynical nihlism. I remember the New Left types as being amoral and ruthless, though in retrospect they were only armchair nihlists; that is, they were only a threat to PhD students. At the time I related my difficulties to the local NPR station manager who told me that at some universities straight white males were being persecuted by zealous ture believers. Acording to his account, there were some schools where the "true believers" were successfully preventing white males from getting their PhDs. And, indeed, in my own case a feminazi tried to flunk me out of my program. One day we were chatting in her office and I naively shared with her my impression that the so-called "new-Americanists" (post-modern, neo-Marxist, New Historisist scholars of American Literature) were "reactionary" and "perhaps immature" She lost it--creeped back into the corner of office and breathed heavily for a minute--she just stood there glaring at me--and then she collected her thoughts and told me to, "Go back to New York and write, if that's what you want to do." I noticed then noticed that she had a sort of built-in nipple on her lip that had been caused by her sucking on the side of her mouth, perhaps for years. God! I realized then that she was a lunatic, and here I had asked her several weeks earlier to chair my 19th Cnetury Amerian Lit Comprehensive Exam committee. She chaired it all right--and flunked me on the exam. Fortunately, some of the other professors leaned on her and I eventually passsed--I had to re-sit for the exam (I wrote 30 dog-gone pages on a legal-size tablet that afternoon, and she gave me a "C", and then only after my allies leaned on her again). Anyway, similar accounts led me to believe it was a problem all over the country. And it did come to a head: In th emid-90s NYU physics professor Alan Sokal (do a Google for "Sokal Hoax" if you havn't looked it up yet) put them in their place and the new left "takeover" was mitigated. I have written on this message board before that several year ago I actually visited Professor Sokal in his office at NYU, shook his hand and thanked him.

                              If you've read this far you might find this interesting:


                              http://www.columbia.edu/cu/21stC/issue-2.3/cole.html

                              Is the Enlightenment out of fashion?

                              Jonathan R. Cole

                              One of the scholarly community's less prestigious ceremonies, the announcement of the Ig Nobel Prizes, sometimes offers as much illumination as comic relief. These mock-awards are bestowed annually by the Annals of Improbable Research (successor to the notorious Journal of Irreproducible Results) for research that "cannot or should not be reproduced." Some researchers, on finding that their work merits an Ig, take it in stride or even bask in the cockeyed publicity; other parties -- such as President Jacques Chirac of France, who received an Ig Nobel Peace Prize for testing nuclear explosives in the Pacific on the 50th anniversary of Hiroshima -- are presumably less amused. When the editors of Social Text received the 1996 Ig in Literature for "eagerly publishing research that they could not understand, that the author said was meaningless, and which claimed that reality does not exist," the hoax perpetrated by physicist Alan Sokal, author of that notorious paper,1 may be said to have reached its absurdist apogee. But what exactly did Sokal satirize?

                              Strong winds are blowing through many universities, bringing with them attacks on the values that lie at the foundation of modern science and technology. In some quarters, facts have fallen out of fashion. As I have noted elsewhere,2 research universities are facing a set of choices about their prevailing organizational axioms, or presuppositions: the fundamental principles on which these institutions have been built. In one form, the attack is leveled against the presuppositions of rationality, of objectivity, of truth, of "there being a there out there," among other epistemological and metaphysical values that have guided discourse through most of Western history, and certainly since the 17th century. I have called this a struggle over who owns the null hypothesis: who, through language, power, and reason, controls the basic definitions of merit and evidence against which new ideas are measured. The challenge to the correspondence theory of truth too often involves a leap from the well-traveled idea that all knowledge is contextualized to the belief that all knowledge is merely a text, entirely socially constructed, that what passes for fact translates simply into a set of power relationships. The stakes are actually quite high, at least in the academy, since this is a conflict over the fundamental bases on which we develop and evaluate knowledge. What happens at the universities will also affect the links to their partners in government and industry.

                              Sokal's parody of the pure social-constructivist perspective has brought this attack on objectivity to wider public attention, much of which takes the form of derision. But the passing of the null away from the correspondence theory of truth -- presumably, to some criterion of identity or ideology -- is no laughing matter. These non-trivial and widely divergent epistemological perspectives on science and technology are being debated by some heavy hitters, including distinguished scientists like Max Perutz, Steven Weinberg, and Gerald Holton and their opponents, intellectuals such as Stanley Fish, Bruno Latour, Stanley Aronowitz, and Richard Rorty. These debates are tied to deeper anti-scientific and anti-technologic strains present in American society. Dissent and challenges to received wisdom are of course part of the growth of knowledge, but when dissent is combined with an extraordinary level of ignorance, if not illiteracy, among the public, the diffusion effects can lead to public distrust of, and reduced support for, science and technology.

                              There are those who would find such an outcome desirable on social, ecological, or political grounds, believing that the benefits derived from science and technology do not justify the costs technological power has imposed on the environment or the disenfranchised. Luddism has a long and complex political history, but wherever one may stand in relation to power, the renunciation of rational discourse itself is hardly likely to bring about positive change. No less committed a political dissenter than Noam Chomsky has said that we ultimately learn the most about human nature from literature, not science, yet he steadfastly resists equating a respect for the truth-value of texts with a disrespect for facts: "It strikes me as remarkable that [antirationalists] should seek to deprive oppressed people not only of the joys of understanding and insight, but also of tools of emancipation, informing us that the 'project of the Enlightenment' is dead, that we must abandon the 'illusions' of science and rationality -- a message that will gladden the hearts of the powerful, delighted to monopolize these instruments for their own use."3

                              It is time for educators to begin informing the American public (not just the segment of it that has a professional need to know, but the populace as a whole) about the achievements of science and engineering, the fruit of the creative process of organized skepticism that we call the scientific method. The shockingly low level of scientific literacy in the United States worsens the tension between the Two Cultures and leads to fear, if not outright hostility, toward science -- and perhaps toward any publicly available standards of merit or rationality at all. Those who have misused the tools of the Enlightenment have much to answer for, but those who would reverse the Enlightenment altogether, in the name of a false sense of liberation, risk ushering in a future marked by primitive gullibility, unchecked power, and little that could be called progress: an era most of us would consider ignoble indeed.



                              --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                              Related links...

                              Skeptics Society

                              Nancy Maull, "Science under Scrutiny," The Browser, Harvard


                              --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

                              1 "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity." Social Text 1996;46/47: 217-252.
                              2 "Balancing Acts: Dilemmas of Choice Facing Research Universities." Daedalus 1993;122:1-36, esp. pp. 11-23.

                              3 "Rationality/Science." Z: A Political Monthly


                              --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

                              JONATHAN R. COLE, Ph.D., is Quetelet Professor of Social Science, Provost and Dean of Faculties at Columbia University, and Publisher of 21stC. Parts of this editorial are adapted from "'Science: The Endless Frontier' Revisited," an address presented to the National Academy of Engineering, October 3, 1996.

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