Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
Here is George Lakoff's free e-book Thinking Points. It is an invaluable guide in learning what each of us need to combat the regressive conservative backslide we're seeing in the US and enact a progressive polity. You'll learn why the conservatives have been successful, what they do well, and how to beat them at their own game. You'll also see how progressives unconsciously buy into their frame and lose the battle before it's even begun. I cannot recommend this book more highly in giving one the tools to make real change not only in one's own view but in motivating others toward voting in their own best interests as well as the best interests of our society.
Here is an excerpt:
TWELVE TRAPS TO AVOID
1. The Issue Trap. We hear it said all the time: Progressives won’t unite behind any set of ideas. We all have different ideas and care about different issues. The truth is that progressives do agree at the level of values and that there is a real basis for progressive unity. Progressive values cut across issues. So do principles and forms of argument. Conservatives argue conservatism, no matter what the issue. Progressives should argue progressivism. We need to get out of issue silos that isolate arguments and keep us from the values and principles that define an overall progressive vision.
2. The Poll Trap. Many progressives slavishly follow polls. The job of leaders is to lead, not follow. Besides, contrary to popular belief, polls in themselves do not present accurate empirical evidence. Polls are only as accurate as the framing of their questions, which is often inadequate. Real leaders don’t use polls to find out what positions to take; they lead people to new positions.
3. The Laundry List Trap. Progressives tend to believe that people vote on the basis of lists of programs and policies. In fact, people vote based on values, connection, authenticity, trust, and identity.
4. The Rationalism Trap. There is a commonplace—and false—theory that reason is completely conscious, literal (applies directly to the objective world), logical, universal, and unemotional. Cognitive science has shown that every one of these assumptions is false. These assumptions lead progressives into other traps: assuming that hard facts will persuade voters, that voters are “rational” and vote in their self-interest and on the issues, and that negating a frame is an effective way to argue against it.
5. The No-Framing-Necessary Trap. Progressives often argue that “truth doesn’t need to be framed” and that the “facts speak for themselves.” People use frames—deep-seated mental structures about how the world works—to understand facts. Frames are in our brains and define our common sense. It is impossible to think or communicate without activating frames, and so which frame is activated is of crucial importance. Truths need to be framed appropriately to be seen as truths. Facts need a context.
6. The Policies-Are-Values Trap. Progressives regularly mistake policies with values, which are ethical ideas like empathy, responsibility, fairness, freedom, justice, and so on. Policies are not themselves values, though they are, or should be, based on values. Thus, Social Security and universal health insurance are not values; they are policies meant to reflect and codify the values of human dignity, the common good, fairness, and equality.
7. The Centrist Trap. There is a common belief that there is an ideological “center”—a large group of voters either with a consistent ideology of their own or lined up left to right on the issues or forming a “mainstream,” all with the same positions on issues. In fact, the so-called center is actually made up of biconceptuals, people who are conservative in some aspects of life and progressive in others. Voters who self-identify as “conservative” often have significant progressive values in important areas of life. We should address these “partial progressive” biconceptuals through their progressive identities, which are often systematic and extensive.
A common mistaken ideology has convinced many progressives that they must “move to the right” to get more votes. In reality, this is counterproductive. By moving to the right, progressives actually help activate the right’s values and give up on their own. In the process, they also alienate their base.
8. The “Misunderestimating” Trap. Too many progressives think that people who vote conservative are just stupid, especially those who vote against their economic self-interest. Progressives believe that we only have to tell them the real economic facts, and they will change the way they vote. The reality is that those who vote conservative have their reasons, and we had better understand them. Conservative populism is cultural—not economic—in nature. Conservative populists see themselves as oppressed by elitist liberals who look down their noses at them, when they are just ordinary, moral, right-thinking folks. They see liberals as trying to impose an immoral “political correctness” on them, and they are angry about it.
Progressives also paint conservative leaders as incompetent and not very smart, based on a misunderstanding of the conservative agenda. This results from looking at conservative goals through progressive values. Looking at conservative goals through conservative values yields insight and shows just how effective conservatives really are.
9. The Reactive Trap. For the most part, we have been letting conservatives frame the debate. Conservatives are taking the initiative on policy making and getting their ideas out to the public. When progressives react, we echo the conservative frames and values, so our message is not heard or, even worse, reinforces their ideas. Progressives need a collection of proactive policies and communication techniques to get our own values out on our own terms. “War rooms” and “truth squads” must change frames, not reinforce conservative frames. But even then, they are not nearly enough. Progressive leaders, outside of any party, must come together in an ongoing, long-term, organized national campaign that honestly conveys progressive values to
the public—day after day, week after week, year after year, no matter what the specific issues of the day are.
10. The Spin Trap. Some progressives believe that winning elections or getting public support is a matter of clever spin and catchy slogans—what we call “surface framing.” Surface framing is meaningless without deep framing—our deepest moral convictions and political principles. Framing, used honestly at both the deep and surface levels, is needed to make the truth visible and our values clear.
Spin, on the other hand, is the dishonest use of surface linguistic frames to hide the truth. And progressive values and principles—the deep frames—must be in place before slogans can have an effect; slogans alone accomplish nothing. Conservative slogans work because they have been communicating their deep frames for decades.
11. The Policyspeak Trap. Progressives consistently use legislative jargon and bureaucratic solutions, like “Medicare prescription drug benefits,” to speak to the public about their positions. Instead, progressives should speak in terms of the common concerns of voters—for instance, how a policy will let you send your daughter to college, or how it will let you launch your own business.
12. The Blame Game Trap. It is convenient to blame our problems on the media and on conservative lies. Yes, conservative leaders have regularly lied and used Orwellian language to distort the truth, and yes, the media have been lax, repeating the conservatives’ frames. But we have little control over that. We can control only how we communicate. Simply correcting a lie with the truth is not enough. We must reframe from our moral perspective so that the truth can be understood. This reframing is needed to get our deep frames into public discourse. If enough people around the country honestly, effectively, and regularly express a progressive vision, the media will be much more likely to adopt our frames.
Reminiscent of Klein's "disaster capitalism," Lakoff on p. 26 notes:
"One thing we know about how brains change is that they can change more radically under conditions of trauma than under ordinary conditions. The questions are: What will the direction of the change be? How will the trauma or other disaster be framed? And who will get to frame it?"
The most recent example is the so-called budget crisis in all levels of government. So the conservatives framed it as being caused by working people's greed instead of accurately calling it earned and negotiated benefits, all of which was subterfuge from looking at the real causes, conservative financial policy via deregulation and criminal speculation. Lakoff criticizes liberals for not taking the bull by the horns in times of crisis by articulating that kind of frame, by remaining silent hoping the conservatives would crash and burn on their own due the obvious "facts." But they then got to control the frame of working man greed and a pitiful few liberals put the blame where it really belonged. Fortunately one positive example was Michael Moore's speech in Wisconsin. "America is not broke!" Fortunately he was doing his homework and paying attention.
David Coates says we need to “reframe the deficit debate” in yesterday’s Huff Post. A few excerpts (but read the entire excellent article):
"There are at least three things missing from the dominant discourse, three bodies of material that progressives need continually to bring back into the public conversation about deficit reduction. We need continually to reassert (a) that 'we' are not broke; (b) that cutting programs would not be the best way to reduce the deficit, even if we were broke; and (c) that the dominant issue in American life - as distinct from in American politics - is not the scale of public borrowing. America has many bigger problems than its supposedly dangerous deficit, problems that premature deficit reduction will likely make even worse.
Deficit reduction, Republican-style, is not sound economics. It is class warfare wrapped up in the language of accountancy. What is being cut are services vital to the well-being of the American middle class and to the American poor. What is being protected is the private income of the corporate rich.
Instead of temporizing with Republicans who are determined to cut public services regardless of the appalling social consequences, the Obama Administration should, as a matter of high priority, mount a clear and sustained challenge to the whole logic underlying the Republican position. Instead of accommodation, the Administration should try principled rejection…. He should defend public sector workers against the nonsense that it is their largesse - rather than that of corporate America - that is bringing public spending to the point of collapse."
Lakoff notes in the Huff Post that since Obama's SOTU address earlier this year his new frame is "competitiveness." This is O's attempt to split those bi-conceptual business conservatives from the more hard-line cultural conservatives. It might work but I wonder if he'll further alienate his base with this frame. In L's book the idea is to use rhetoric that remains true to your core principles and your base and that also wins some of the bi-conceptuals, and competitiveness leaves out quite a bit from that core. L says:
"He failed to say that Social Security has a two-and-a-half trillion dollar surplus and that it is earned, not given away. What is called a 'cut' would actually be theft from those who have paid into it over a lifetime. He needs to go on the offensive on Social Security, not be defensive. The same on Medicare. He failed to mention that it works and has the lowest operating cost of any form of health care by far. He failed to say that pensions are delayed earned payments for work already done, and that the conservative move to allow states and cities to declare bankruptcy is really a move to eliminate pensions for public employees and eliminate as much of public service as possible. He failed to say that 'privatization' doesn't eliminate government, but institutes government by corporation for corporate profit not the benefit for citizens. He failed to say that we should have gratitude for immigrants -- with or without papers, educated or not -- who work hard at low pay to make possible the lifestyles of the middle and upper classes. He failed to defend the right to unionize as the foundation of fair working relationships."
L thinks the above missing elements could fit a competitiveness frame and it was a missed opportunity. I wonder if that is so, that the very idea of competitiveness supports the above issues, at least on its own. I wonder if what is needed is more empathic, social frames like in the above quoted paragraph. I suppose we might say all those things make us more competitive because we are a happier, more equitable people as a whole, but that comes primarily from our cooperation that checks and balances just our competitiveness. I wonder if once again the big O is accepting their (aka the wealthy few) frame to our (aka rest of us) detriment. And that maybe even the L is falling a bit for it?
See for example Rabbi Michael Lerner's critique in Tikkun. An excerpt:
"For two years, Tikkun critiqued President Obama for not putting forward a consistent narrative or worldview. As of Obama’s State of the Union address, our view has changed decisively — inconsistency is no longer the problem; he has made himself clear. But the worldview he has adopted is unequivocally the one that Republicans have championed for the past eighty years: economic nationalism backed by a competitive ethos domestically and a strong military internationally. Obama’s message is the opposite of the message that we urged him to adopt about seeking to build 'The Caring Society' by caring for each other and caring for the earth."
Lerner also quoted this response from "Historians against the war":
"Mr. Obama declared that 'America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream,' but his focus on competitiveness means embracing corporate rather than democratic values and reflects Mr. Obama’s recent appointments of business executives and business-oriented advisors to crucial advisory and policy formation positions within his administration. The push for competitiveness is an attempt to reassert what historian William Appleman Williams called 'open door imperialism,' the export of goods and investment of capital abroad with concern only for profits, disregarding the human consequences and paving the way for military intervention when needed to achieve political stability or cooperation. What we need if we are to advance as a nation is a spirit of cooperation at home and abroad. We need to organize our educational system not around competition but around personal rights, ensuring, as John Kennedy explained in his address to the country on civil rights, that all children have the right 'to be educated to the limit' of their talents. We need to organize our society around meeting the basic needs of all and cooperating with one another rather than merely asserting everyone should have the chance to try to grab the brass ring. We need to create a world economy based on equality and friendship among peoples, not a competitive race to the top which often forces people from poorer nations and working people in richer nations to the bottom. Symptomatic of the mistaken idea that the competitive market solves all problems is the adoption of NAFTA and other so-called free trade pacts. Although several Latin American states have successfully rejected the International Monetary Fund model of austerity and privatization and put resources toward expanding social benefits and infrastructure development, NAFTA has increased profits for U.S. agricultural firms, flooded Mexico with corn and meat subsidized by U.S. taxpayers, and undermined Mexico’s rural economy. Workers in neither country have benefited and large numbers of Mexicans have been forced to leave the land, work in American-owned border town factories as cheap labor under the most deplorable working and living conditions, or to seek employment in our country."
Lerner goes further than criticism though and takes to heart the likes of Lakoff's reframing of values and principles. He says:
"The most important contribution progressives could make at this time to American political life is to introduce and popularize a new vision of what America could be, as well as present examples of specific programs that manifest this vision at work.... What is needed is a whole new way of speaking...what we now call the spiritual progressive vision.... This new way of speaking would involve talking about a New Bottom Line of commitment to love, kindness, generosity, caring for everyone on the planet, compassion, forgiveness, ethical and ecological sensitivity, and celebration, awe, and wonder at the grandeur of the universe.
"We support...ending the war in Afghanistan, creating a new New Deal to end poverty and economic suffering in the United States, imposing a carbon tax to lower atmospheric carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million, passing Medicare for All, defunding the military, and jailing those who ordered or facilitated torture."
See his recent article here. He lays out the typical Democrat political strategy and why it doesn't work. Why they keep using this playbook when it always fails is insane. What he suggests is exactly what Obama did in his reelection campaign. From the article:
"Such strategies miss the opportunity to present an overriding moral stand that fits the individual issues, while saying clearly what ideals Democrats stand for as Democrats. There happens to be such an overriding ideal that most Democrats authentically believe in. [...] Progressive and conservatives have very different understandings of democracy. For progressives empathy is at the center of the very idea of democracy. Democracy is a governing system in which citizens care about their fellow citizens and work through their government to provide public resources for all. In short, in a democracy, the private depends on the public. Elisabeth Warren says it out loud. [Which is why she must be the next President!]
"If you have a business it depends on public resources: roads, bridges, the Interstate highway system, sewers, a water supply, airports and air traffic control, the Federal Reserve, a patent office, public education for your employees, public health, the electric grid, the satellite communication system, the internet, and all the government research behind computer science. You can’t run a business without these. Private enterprise depends on the public.
"The same is true of individuals, who depend on public resources like clean air, clean water, enough food, safe food and products, public safety, access to education and health care, housing, employment — as well as those roads, bridges, sewers, satellite communication, electric grid, and so on. And most important — voting in free elections, choosing the government to provide those resources. Private life depends on the public. What public resources provide is freedom. Most progressive issues are freedom issues."
The recent election, despite the historical normalcy of two-term president's facing oppositional legislatures in their final two years, should remind us how important it is to shift the thinking of progressive politics (both politicians and casual or activist political conversations across the world) in the direction of non-naive messaging and functional attitudes relative to the mass spirit of people. Lakoff's 12 points should be read weekly!
Again I do not think Elizabeth Warren has a chance but she is certain most understanding than most of them and ought to be prominently supported and encouraged. Therefore: Warren 2016!
Lakoff's Don't Think Like an Elephant.
Lakoff & Wehling, The Little Blue Book, attached in epub format. Epub can be downloaded for free.