Thursday, October 20, 2011

Look to Framing Guru Lakoff for the differences between Harper's new Tories & the Liberal Party

George Lakoff, who's Nobel Prize is far overdue, is the master of framing for the progressive segement of America. He has the knack of putting his finger on the fault lines between the two competing ideologies that are in a titanic battle south of our border.

Hat tip to Impolitical for Lakoff's Huffington Post piece on trying to help the Occupy Wall Street movement frame its movement.

What I found interesting was Lakoff's analysis of the difference between the conservative and progressive movements in the US. These differences apply equally in Canada.

If you want to figure out why so many Canadians deep down distrust Stephen Harper and his new Conservative Party and government, then consider Lakoff's summary of the two moral framing systems now found in the USA (my paragraph numbering):

"Conservatives have figured out their moral basis and you see it on Wall Street: It includes:

  1. The primacy of self-interest.
  2. Individual responsibility, but not social responsibility.
  3. Hierarchical authority based on wealth or other forms of power.
  4. A moral hierarchy of who is "deserving," defined by success.
  5. And the highest principle is the primacy of this moral system itself, which goes beyond Wall Street and the economy to other arenas: family life, social life, religion, foreign policy, and especially government. Conservative "democracy" is seen as a system of governance and elections that fits this model.

Though OWS concerns go well beyond financial issues, your target is right: the application of these principles in Wall Street is central, since that is where the money comes from for elections, for media, and for right-wing policy-making institutions of all sorts on all issues.

The alternative view of democracy is progressive:

  1. Democracy starts with citizens caring about one another and acting responsibly on that sense of care, taking responsibility both for oneself and for one's family, community, country, people in general, and the planet.
  2. The role of government is to protect and empower all citizens equally via The Public: public infrastructure, laws and enforcement, health, education, scientific research, protection, public lands, transportation, resources, art and culture, trade policies, safety nets, and on and on. Nobody makes it one their own.
  3. If you got wealthy, you depended on The Public, and you have a responsibility to contribute significantly to The Public so that others can benefit in the future.
  4. Moreover, the wealthy depend on those who work, and who deserve a fair return for their contribution to our national life.
  5. Corporations exist to make life better for most people. Their reason for existing is as public as it is private."

Apply these two moral frames to the Harper Conservatives, and then to the Liberal Party and the NDP, and you will understand why there is so much conflict over values, policies, laws, behaviour, and attitudes.

Sixty percent of Canadians went to the polls in recent elections to reject the Conservative moral framing, and to vote for candidates from other parties that reflect the progressive moral frame.

The reason why Harper is our prime minister despite this, is because those who support the progressive moral frame have not yet figured out how to work together to replace the conservative moral frame with a progressive one in Ottawa.
However, there is hope: the Cullen Plan has legs, in my view, and gives hope for a progressive moral frame replacing the conservative on come 2015.

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