George Lakoff, author of the New York Times Bestseller Don’t Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, and the new The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain, participated in Firedoglake’s Book Salon interview on Sunday.
From the article:
For years it’s been said that we live in a “sound-bite” society. The ever-shrinking attention span of Americans – and the cost of time in the media – means we must say what we have to say in a few seconds. That’s the conventional wisdom.
But Lakoff’s discussion of the structure of frames and simple and complex narratives may revise this conventional thinking. We need to get the words right, but we need to tell our stories as well. The 6-second sound bite is embedded in and carried along by cultural narratives that extend far beyond the brief sound bite.
Conservatives tarred up the word “liberal” by telling stories about how liberals wanted to take money from those who earned it and give it to those who refused to work. That’s a story. Embedded in such a story, “liberal” became stigmatized.
This gets to one of Lakoff’s most important points in the The Political Mind Western liberal political science and practice is still holding tight to the Enlightenment view of human rationality and reason that was new in the age of America’s founding. It’s not new anymore. It’s not correct, either. Humans are not universal reasoning machines who will always reach the right, true and just decision if given the unvarnished facts. Instead, we’re emotional creatures of habits and desires who don’t always know what’s really in our interests. There’s nothing the matter with Kansas that’s not the matter with all of us. We’re human, that’s all.
But while conservatives have been busy telling emotional stories that hook our imaginations, progressives (especially those more conservative progressives whom Lakoff labels “neo-liberals”) give us lists of facts and statistics, assuming we’ll reason from these facts to the right conclusions.
Not only is this not effective, it prevents full and honest expression of the values behind progressive policy goals. We don’t talk of empathy or with empathy, we talk about unemployment statistics. We don’t talk about social responsibility, we talk about insurance company actuarial tables. And we don’t change many minds or hearts.
And that’s what Lakoff wants to help us do.