Friday, April 15, 2005

George Lakoff at the Dallas Democratic Forum

For me, the highlight of this meeting was hearing Lakoff say that they are starting a companion organization to the Rockridge Institute, called Rockridge Action. This will supply activists with training and materials. They're going to write a book which they'll give away free on the web, chapter by chapter. I heard him say this and I was completely thrilled. THAT is what we've been needing. The new institute and the book will start to come online this summer. I practically jumped out of my chair when I heard this, because as much as I agree with the ideas in "Don't Think of an Elephant," as we have found in the "Elephant" book club, there is most definitely a gap between reading and understanding the ideas, and putting them into practice.

Full report follows.

To begin at the beginning. For folks who don't know who George Lakoff is, he's a cognitive linguist and the author of the book "Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate," and the founder of the progressive think tank the Rockridge Institute. And if you haven't read his book yet, you should!

The Dallas Democratic Forum brought him to town for a luncheon, and there were about 300 people there. Lakoff began by asking how many people read the book. About three quarters of the room raised their hand.

Then, he noted that conservatives have not won by accident but have, over the last 30 years, built a chain of think tanks to build their message and a delivery system to get it to the public. They figured out what unites conservatives, filled in the conceptual gaps in their message, and got it out there.

Rockridge will be filling in OUR conceptual gaps and putting out a free, chapter by chapter guide this summer.

Outside of what Rockridge is doing, though, we need to build a delivery system to get our message out through the media. Norquist and his Wednesday morning meetings are key to the way they have won. They hammer out their differences and get on message for the week. They have booking agents working around the clock to get their folks on TV. We need a similar delivery system to get our message out, outside the party, using booking agents and the same kind of professional pressure to get local leaders on TV with the message.

We also need to work on the family and childrearing. When people were polled, "Do you think the father should be master of the household?" In 1992 42% answered this question yes, in 2000 52% answered yes. Dobson's doing his job, and someone on the liberal side needs to get out there and work on building a childrearing institute to counter him.

With regards to religion, there are actually more progressive Christians than conservative Christians, but they aren't in touch with their own theology. This is around the whole punitive God vs. a compassionate God. Conservative theology is based around punishment, whereas progressive theology is based around grace, which is metaphorical nurturing. It's a different view of God, and it's out there implicitly, but it needs to be made clear.

On May 9th Rockridge will hold a national online convention around faith.

What's been going on since the election? Well, with regards to Social Security, the conservative side has given us a set of arguments without facts. They use a set of fundamental frames that are used to not just argue about SS but to argue about everything. "Government is the problem; it gets in the way." And, "Everybody can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and the common good is just the sum of the individual good." Others: "We need a common sense approach." This means "no experts." And, "We need a balanced approach." This means relying on a cost benefit analysis by conservatives.

We, the liberals, have big gaps between our values and policy. We have problems articulating what our moral views. They come out of a nuturant family life. Parents raise their children to be nurturers of others. You need to have 1. empathy and 2. responsibility, and this comes in two parts: being responsible for yourself, so you can take care of others. Liberal policies flow from here. Protection: environmental protection, safety. Fairness: equal opportunity. Freedom: prosperity.

Also, we live in communities – we don't live alone. We have to say what kind of community we want. Do we want a top-down strict father community, or an equitable, nurturant parent community?

We have to know our values, celebrate our values, and articulate them over and over again. We are the true inheritors of the American tradition – we have the true American values, not them.

What are the gaps in liberal thinking? They're all one big gap. It's about the common good, and why it is necessary, if you're going to be free, to take care of the common good. Taxation, for example, helps build the internet, highways, the NIH which helps with drug research, and so on. What the government is about is the Common Wealth for the Common Good. Nobody really does it alone. You can't start a business or invest or do anything in this country without taxpayer's money. It's all about the importance of the common good for our individual good.

Other examples: the parks, the rivers, the ocean, the air, the broadcast airwaves. All of these are our community property and we need to take care of them, and everyone should be able to contribute to the common good and take the benefits.

Work is similar. Work is not just what you do to make a living. It contributes to society. You help your employer make a profit; you help the stockholders; and it contributes to society. If you look at the bottom quarter of workers, the folks who wash the dishes and pick the vegetables and take care of the kids and clean buildings, these people are in a cheap labor trap. Our economy is set up to make labor cheaper and cheaper. And we need people to do those jobs cheaply. These are all important jobs and they contribute to our lives. We owe them for doing that job.

The earned income tax credit is an example of this, but it needs to be expanded. And we need to realize that this is not a handout, it really is earned. They do work that is necessary in our society. Now, there's a myth that anyone can get themselves up out of this class, pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Some people do. But most people cannot. This is really a myth. And it's not a nice idea – it makes us uncomfortable. But it's true. And if everyone in the cheap labor trap got out, nobody would be left to do those jobs.

With regards to business, we need to be the party of ethical business. We also need to point out what the civil justice system does. The civil justice system is the protection against big corporations. The prosecutors and the police are the personal protection lawyers in the civil justice system. This system pays for itself by the judgements that are won against the corporations. The civil justice system is the equivalent of the criminal justice system for corporations. Tort reform is an attempt to destroy this system and it will prevent us as individuals from protecting ourselves and others.

None of this stuff is being said, and we need to say it, and keep saying it, because it's the truth.

With regards to values. Clinton did a very clever thing – he took conservative language and stole it; he twisted their language to mean something different. The conservatives are stealing our values. Compassion, life, freedom, fairness, and opportunity are our values, and we need to take them back.

With regards to the Schivo case. How many of you ever saw a neuroscientist on TV? Nobody. There might have been one on sometime. If she had no cerebral cortex – she couldn't have seen, heard, controlled her movements, or think. No memory, no dreaming, no thought processes at all. Some of that stuff she did was reflexes, but it's not recognition and it's not seeing. That didn't get put out on TV – it wasn't out there. Because we didn't have somebody working 24/7 to get neuroscientists on TV.

Don't kid yourself about the Schiavo case. They lost in some aspects, but they came out of that whole thing painting themselves as the party of life, and us as the party of death, callousness, activist judges. We have to deal with that.

The Democratic party is the party of life. Life after birth and before death. We have the worst infant mortality rate in the western world. More babies die here from lack of prenatal care, postnatal care, because conservatives are against dealing with these things and they're killing babies. Mothers have mercury and other poisons in their breast milk. Why? Because conservatives don't care about this, and they kill babies. We are the party of life, because we want to do something about all of these things. Supporting science is part of being part of the party of life.

We need to be saying all of these things. Out loud, and repeatedly.

Nobody wants unwanted pregnancies. When they occur, someone has to deal with that. When that happens, we don't want people interfering with that in the way the government interfered with the Schiavo case. We learned that the American public does not want the government interfering with these private personal decisions, and we have to take advantage of this and say it, now.

A reporter from the LA Times asked Lakoff if the President had stepped off the end of the pier with regards to Social Security. Yes and no. Why are they going after Social Security? For the same reason they went after ANWAR. Why are they going after ANWAR? It's not for practical reasons –there's not enough oil up there to do any good. Even the oil companies didn't want to bother with it. But the conservatives have been after it for 25 years. Because of the strategy. If they can drill in the most pristine place in the world they can drill in other places. Same thing with Social Security. They are attacking our strongest and best social program. In that way they can go after all other social programs.

With Social Security they screwed up. Their genius is in evoking the strict father model in people who have both. Where they mess up is when they try to change who people really are. Hardworking Americans are not speculators. They don't want to have check the stock market and check their portfolio. They're not very good at it, and they don't want to learn that skill. They don't want to be a different type of person.

Questions and Answers:
What should we do about the so-called "Justice Sunday?"

We need to be not just reacting to their events, but we should concentrate on our OWN events, and we should call it "Social Justice Sunday." Because progressive Christianity is alive and well in this country, and we need to organize it and put on our events, regularly. We have to show there are spiritual progressives in ALL religious.

Will Air America be part of the progressive future?

AA has good and bad properties. One of the problems is that it's taking the Rush Limbaugh style and is using their discourse format. But we need to come up with our own discourse format which fits in with our mindset – more cooperative, etc. They don't get this yet.

Have you told that to Al Franken?

"You don't tell anything to Al Franken," said Lakoff. (This got a big laugh.)

What do we do about the appearance that Democrats are wussy little peaceniks?

Being a progressive requires a lot of strength, which includes security. We need to approach total security. How does this relate to the rest of our lives? We need the right kind of military security. Right now Bush is weak in the military and he's weak on terrorism. We went into Iraq and declared victory, but it's just created more terrorism. He's made us less safe.

Anyway .... I can't find the place where I wrote down the rest of the Q&A. So I'll update more later.

2 Comments:

Blogger Erik Mann said...

I was searching for blogs that had Dallas, TX in them and came across yours. I live in Dallas and have a self defense school. I like the posts on your blog, so I've bookmarked it to stop back by periodically. Take care.

11:33 AM  
Blogger marry said...

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