One of the great pleasures of the age of instant and ubiquitous access to information is being able to re-connect with thinkers you once read but have lost touch with. Instead of remaining that-person-who-wrote-that-book-you-liked it’s possible to continue the connection with their thinking in effortless ways. And even they don’t have a blog or a twitter account you can be sure someone is out there keeping the work alive. Of course, it should not be surprising that s/he didn’t stop work when you put that one book back on the shelf decades ago and moved on. But it’s always good to re-discover past connections.
And so it is with George Lakoff.
George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By was published in 1980 and it quickly became a must-read for those interested in language, philosophy and culture.
The now-classic Metaphors We Live By changed our understanding of metaphor and its role in language and the mind. Metaphor, the authors explain, is a fundamental mechanism of mind, one that allows us to use what we know about our physical and social experience to provide understanding of countless other subjects. Because such metaphors structure our most basic understandings of our experience, they are “metaphors we live by”—metaphors that can shape our perceptions and actions without our ever noticing them.
It led to some very productive discussion about the metaphors of education. Is learning, for example, something to be delivered? Like a package or a pizza? Is the teacher a captain of the ship? Conductor of the orchestra? Shepherd of the flock? A prison guard or a gardener? The metaphors we use reveal and shape our pedagogy.
George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu). And he’s written way more than one important and influential book.
His blog and his twitter feed are full of all kinds of useful suggestions and thinking. For example look at this analysis of what Trump is up to with his Tweets. They strike us as perhaps unhinged rants but analyzed this way it’s possible to understand their purpose and their impact on his intended audience. Possible too to grasp that what seems unhinged to the majority is actually an effective weapon of communication. (I use weapon not tool because the effect is a kind of intellectual violence and “weaponized” is of course one of the words of the 2016 election season. See John Kelly’s article Everything is Weaponized Now)
I don’t follow Trump’s tweets – don’t want to give him the number boost, a small personal protest. But they are unavoidable anyway. Next time you are exposed to one try putting it through this frame. I find it helpful.
After yesterday’s egregious Trumpian attacks on the press, tributes to the hundreds of journalists killed in the line of duty popped up everywhere. Social media took up the defensive hashtag #NotTheEnemy.
Lakoff advised a different framing and the alternative #ProtectTheTruth.
He pointed out that “I’m not a crook” did not serve Richard Nixon well and someone else revived the classic LBJ anecdote about barnyard animals. It was in one of his early campaigns and
The race was close and Johnson was getting worried. Finally he told his campaign manager to start a massive rumor campaign about his opponent’s life-long habit of enjoying carnal knowledge of his own barnyard sows.
“Christ, we can’t get a way calling him a pig-fucker,” the campaign manager protested. “Nobody’s going to believe a thing like that.”
“I know,” Johnson replied. “But let’s make the sonofabitch deny it.” Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear & Loathing: On The Campaign Trail ’72
Word choice and framing make all the difference. It’s important to resist Trump and Trumpism at every opportunity but it has an extra edge when those resisting call themselves the Majority. That’s a constant reminder that Clinton won the popular vote bigly and that a mere 23% of the electorate actually voted for Trump. It’s also a good push back on that ridiculous claim that “Bernie would have won.”
And remember: When Republicans say they want to get rid of “regulations” they actually mean removing public safety”protections”. They repeal public protections to deregulate corporations. We are going to see a lot of this de-regulation in the coming months so reframe it at every opportunity.
The truth about the Affordable Care Act – the #ACA – is that is works. When the Republicans talk about fixing or repealing and repairing they actually mean dismantling and destroying. We need to talk about building on the success of the #ACA and telling the stories of the difference it has made and what the Republican “fixes’ actually mean in people’s lives. For the information you need on this read the Position Paper on the #ACA from Hudson Valley Strong.
Here then from George Lakoff are his:
- To understand the basic issues, read “A Minority President: Why the Polls Failed and What the Majority Can Do”.
- Know the difference between framing and propaganda: Frames are mental structures used in thought; every thought uses frames. Every word in every language is defined relative to a mental structure — a frame. Frames, in themselves, are unavoidable and neutral. Honest framing is the use of frames you believe and that are used to express truths. Propaganda expresses lies that propagandists know are lies for the sake of political or social advantage.
- Hold Republicans accountable. Trump is dominating the media, partly to establish his authority, but mainly to divert attention and provide cover to Republican leaders. Keep focused on Republican actions. Minimize publicizing Trump — his image, his name, his tweets.
- Focus attention on substance, not sideshows. Trump’s attacks on freedom, democracy, and the innocent matter more than his tweets. Positively and strongly reframe his pre-emptive framing (see tweet diagram).
- Focus on democracy and freedom. In a government by, for, and of the people, there is, or should be, no distinction between the public and the government. The consequences are:Empathy: government should care about, and for, the public;Transparency: government should inform the public truthfully;Freedom and Opportunity: the private depends on public resources, both for private enterprise and private life. For example, if you’re not educated, you’re not free. If you have no health care, you’re not free. If you’re impoverished, you lack opportunity. Republicans are destroying all of these by: Removing “regulations,” which are public protections;Imposing gag rules and budget cuts on government agencies removes transparency; Privatizing education, protection, communication, infrastructure, nature; etc. are attacks on freedom).
- Be careful not to spread fake news. Check it out, on the “big four” non-partisan political fact-checkers—Politifact, Factcheck.org, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, and Snopes.com. Subscribe to real news!
- Understand the brain’s politics: All ideas are physical, embodied in neural circuitry. The more the circuitry is activated, the stronger the circuitry gets and the more deeply the ideas are held. Worldviews are complex neural circuits fixed in the brain. People can only understand what fits the neural circuitry in their brains. Real facts can be filtered out by worldviews. “Alternative facts” are lies — falsehoods that follow from ideologies that are fixed, that define one’s identity and so are taken as ‘higher truths.”
- Remember: We’re the POWERFUL American Majority. No more helpless/hopeless talk. Anger, fear and cynicism benefit Trump’s GOP. Remember: Don’t think of an elephant! Don’t use Republican language, or repeat their positions, even to negate them. Frame using ideas you believe and real facts that are contextualized and morally framed. Avoid isolated facts and numbers. The best resistance is positive persistence.
- Be positive: frame all issues from a progressive moral viewpoint. Take the viewpoint of the public good, not corporate profiteering. Take the viewpoint of the impoverished and weak, not the rich and powerful. Take the viewpoint of preservation, not the destruction of nature.
- Join the Citizens’ Communication Network: until it is officially functioning, you can unofficially join by following me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/George-Lakoff-Official-165643503477608/) and Twitter (@GeorgeLakoff) for regular thoughts and updates.