Friday, December 10, 2010

George Lakoff's Untellable Truths for Obama and Canadian Liberals

George Lakoff telling some Untellable Truths
In an article named Untellable Truths in the Huffington Post, George Lakoff deals with a few topics which Liberals could benefit from reading. He uses the current fight amongst Democrats over President Obama's tax deal with the Republicans to explain why the Republicans are kicking ass down south. Many of the points he makes apply equally to Canada, and the conservative-progressive duel:
The differences between Democratic progressives and the president over the tax deal the president has made with Republicans is being argued from a materialist perspective.
That perspective is real. It matters who gets how much money and how our money is spent.
But what is being ignored is that the answer to material policy questions depends on how Americans understand the issues, that is, on how the issues are realized in the brains of our citizens. Such understanding is what determines political support or lack of it in all its forms, from voting to donations to political pressure to what is said in the media.
What policies are proposed and adopted depend on how Americans understand policy and politics. That understanding depends on communication. And it is in that the Democrats -- both the president and his progressive critics -- have surrendered.
The Democrats have left effective communication to the conservatives, who have taken advantage of their superior communications all too well.
In the paragraph headed It's Complicated, Lakoff talks about how things could be better said tomorrow, but that this needs consistent action over the long haul on several fronts, including these:
  • Communication is a long-term effort (The Cat's question: if, like the Liberal Party right now, you only try to communicate a set of policies during a six week election campaign, are you not working against this point?)
  • All politics is moral; the moral values behind a policy always should be made clear.
  • Conservatives and progressives have two different conceptions of morality.
  • Democrats need to unite behind a simple set of moral principles and to create an effective language to express them.
  • Leaders need a movement to get out in front of.
  • Many people are "bi-conceptual," this is, they have both conservative and progressive moral systems and apply them in different issue areas. "These are sometimes called "independents," "swing voters," moderates," "the center," etc. They are the crucial segment of the electorate to address. Each moral system is represented by a circuit in their brains. The more one circuit is activated and strengthened the more the other is weakened. Conservatives have moved them to the right by repeating conservative moral messages 24/7. The Democrats need to activate and strengthen the progressive moral circuitry in their brains."
  • Don't use conservative language, "since it will activate their moral system in the brains of listeners. Don't try to negate their arguments. That will only make their arguments more prominent. Use your own language and your own arguments. Truth squads and wonk rooms are insufficient."
Lakoff asks us to "try to imagine how public understanding would have to be enhanced for expressions like the following to come into normal public discourse":
  •  greed crisis in place of economic crisis
  • blessed immigrants in place of illegal immigrants
  • government for profit in place of privatization
  • public theft in place of tax breaks
  • failing citizens in place of failing schools
  • corporate cruelty in place of profit maximization
  • deadly coal in place of clean coal.
Presidents can have a discourse-changing power if they know how to use it and care to use it. But they cannot do it alone.
Food for thought, eh?

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