There Will Be A Test

Have I told you how important I think George Lakoff’s work is? There is a longer summary (than the one I posted below) in this article, Framing the Dems. Here is an excerpt:

. . . there are distinct conservative and progressive worldviews. The two groups simply see the world in different ways. As a cognitive scientist, I’ve found in my research that these political worldviews can be understood as opposing models of an ideal family — a strict father family and a nurturant parent family. These family models come with moral systems, which in turn provide the deep framing of all political issues.

The Strict Father Family

In this view, the world is a dangerous and difficult place, there is tangible evil in the world and children have to be made good. To stand up to evil, one must be morally strong — disciplined.

The father’s job is to protect and support the family. His moral duty is to teach his children right from wrong. Physical discipline in childhood will develop the internal discipline adults need to be moral people and to succeed. The child’s duty is to obey. Punishment is required to balance the moral books. If you do wrong, there must be a consequence.

The strict father, as moral authority, is responsible for controlling the women of the family, especially in matters of sexuality and reproduction.

Children are to become self-reliant through discipline and the pursuit of self-interest. Pursuit of self-interest is moral: If everybody pursues his own self-interest, the self-interest of all will be maximized.

Without competition, people would not have to develop discipline and so would not become moral beings. Worldly success is an indicator of sufficient moral strength; lack of success suggests lack of sufficient discipline. Those who are not successful should not be coddled; they should be forced to acquire self-discipline.

When this view is translated into politics, the government becomes the strict father whose job for the country is to support (maximize overall wealth) and protect (maximize military and political strength). The citizens are children of two kinds: the mature, disciplined, self-reliant ones who should not be meddled with and the whining, undisciplined, dependent ones who should never be coddled.

This means (among other things) favoring those who control corporate wealth and power (those seen as the best people) over those who are victims (those seen as morally weak). It means removing government regulations, which get in the way of those who are disciplined. Nature is seen as a resource to be exploited. One-way communication translates into government secrecy. The highest moral value is to preserve and extend the domain of strict morality itself, which translates into bringing the values of strict father morality into every aspect of life, both public and private, domestic and foreign.

America is seen as more moral than other nations and hence more deserving of power; it has earned the right to be hegemonic and must never yield its sovereignty, or its overwhelming military and economic power. The role of government, then, is to protect the country and its interests, to promote maximally unimpeded economic activity, and maintain order and discipline.

From this perspective, conservative policies cohere and make sense as instances of strict father morality. Social programs give people things they haven’t earned, promoting dependency and lack of discipline, and are therefore immoral. The good people — those who have become self-reliant through discipline and pursuit of self-interest — deserve their wealth as a reward. Rewarding people who are doing the right thing is moral. Taxing them is punishment, an affliction, and is therefore immoral. Girls who get pregnant through illicit sex must face the consequences of their actions and bear the child. They become responsible for the child, and social programs for pre- and postnatal care just make them dependent. Guns are how the strict father protects his family from the dangers in the world. Environmental regulations get in the way of the good people, the disciplined ones pursuing their own self-interest. Nature, being lower on the moral hierarchy, is there to serve man as a resource. The Endangered Species Act gets in the way of people fulfilling their interests and is therefore immoral; people making money are more important than owls surviving as a species. And just as a strict father would never give up his authority, so a strong moral nation such as the United States should never give up its sovereignty to lesser authorities. It’s a neatly tied-up package.

Conservative think tanks have done their job, working out such details and articulating them effectively. Many liberals are still largely unaware of their own moral system. Yet progressives have one.

The Nurturant Parent Family

It is assumed that the world should be a nurturant place. The job of parents is to nurture their children and raise their children to be nurturers. To be a nurturer you have to be empathetic and responsible (for yourself and others). Empathy and responsibility have many implications: Responsibility implies protection, competence, education, hard work and social connectedness; empathy requires freedom, fairness and honesty, two-way communication, a fulfilled life (unhappy, unfulfilled people are less likely to want others to be happy) and restitution rather than retribution to balance the moral books. Social responsibility requires cooperation and community building over competition. In the place of specific strict rules, there is a general “ethics of care” that says, “Help, don’t harm.” To be of good character is to be empathetic and responsible, in all of the above ways. Empathy and responsibility are the central values, implying other values: freedom, protection, fairness, cooperation, open communication, competence, happiness, mutual respect and restitution as opposed to retribution.

In this view, the job of government is to care for, serve and protect the population (especially those who are helpless), to guarantee democracy (the equal sharing of political power), to promote the well-being of all and to ensure fairness for all. The economy should be a means to these moral ends. There should be openness in government. Nature is seen as a source of nurture to be respected and preserved. Empathy and responsibility are to be promoted in every area of life, public and private. Art and education are parts of self-fulfillment and therefore moral necessities.

If you take anything from reading Seeing the Forest, take this. I think Lakoff’s work is one key to starting to change what has been going on. We must find ways to reinforce the “nurturant parent family perspective” in the general public, and to diminish the public’s acceptance of the “strick father” metaphor. (Why do you think Clear Channel pushes Dr. Laura 3 hours a day on the radio?)

The nurturant parent family is a healthier family than the strict father family. And it is obvious that a nurturant parent country is healthier AND SAFER FOR THE PLANET than the far-right’s strict father parent model for the country.

Please read the rest of the article where he lays out ideas for promoting progressive values. This is so important!

Activation of the progressive model among swing voters is done through language — by using a consistent, conventional language of progressive values. Democrats have been subject to a major fallacy: Voters are lined up left to right according to their views on issues, the thinking goes, and Democrats can get more voters by moving to the right. But the Republicans have not been getting more voters by moving to the left. What they do is stick to their strict ideology and activate their model among swing voters who have both models. They do this by being clear and issuing consistent messages framed in terms of conservative values. The moral is this: Voters are not on a left-to-right line; there is no middle.

Here is a cognitive scientist’s advice to progressive Democrats: Articulate your ideals, frame what you believe effectively, say what you believe and say it well, strongly and with moral fervor.

There WILL be a test later. Post in the comments what his last line from the article is.