Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant

George Lakoff's book Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate might have a second subtitle: 'Why Progressives in America Suck and How They Might Win'. Sometimes the best way to show how much you care about something is through careful criticism, which is where we find Lakoff in relation to the progressive movement. What I appreciate most about his effort is that he takes conservatives seriously and attempts to recognize not only what conservatives have done so well but where the progressives have failed miserably; namely, in the articulation of its values and unification around common principles. Lakoff certainly believes that progressive principles are vastly superior to conservative principles, the problem is that they aren't articulated and so fail to be understood. That is the failure of the progressive movement—its inability to think in terms of values.

For conservatives, Lakoff shows that these values revolve around what he has termed a 'strict father morality' in which we imagine the nation as a family with the government as the strict father who rewards good, self-interested behavior with financial success and bad behavior with economic ostricism, amongst other consequences. Progressives might borrow the 'nation as family' metaphor but focus instead upon values that come from a different family model; the 'nurturant parent' model. Here, the standard for government is its ability to nurture its citizens and allow them to thrive. Lakoff provides a clear articulation of the values and principles stemming from this nuturing family model.

Where I might have cast liberals as largely a bunch of reactive political nay-sayers, Lakoff shows his commitment to progressive values by recognizing the need for a positive assertion of values. Thats novel enough, it seems, but what might be lauded about Lakoff's effort is how well he is able to do it, with an eye toward strategy and a recognition of our tendency to think in metaphor.

I think Lakoff's book is a wonderful and easy read that should be more influential on progressive thought, especially moving into future elections. The success of the democrats might just depend upon it. Either way, I'd recommend this book not only for those interested in politics in the US, but those who might typically avoid the political realm because of its polarizing tendencies. Without denegrating into being just a political funny man, Lakoff is a breath of fresh air who should be taken seriously and read widely in the US political circuit, even if he won't make you laugh.


At 9:55 PM, Blogger Let said...

I've added the book to my wish list. Thanks.

I concur with your thoughts on why the left has failed miserably. Listening to Alito get grilled today (if you want to call it that) reminded me of what is wrong with the left and the progressive movement in general. So many missed opportunities to make a difference, so many opportunities they have chosen to cruise.

Speaking of which, I was driving as I listened and just when Kennedy started hammering Spector on the Princeton committee issue, I crossed the county and lost the signal. Will have to catch it on CSPAN. But I wonder if the book you are recommending covers the impotence many dems must feel at being leaderless. Like parentless children left to fend for themselves.

Anyway, thanks for the suggestion.

At 1:06 AM, Blogger Syd Dangerous said...

nice summary matt. i'm not at all interested in the book and i still read your entire post. that's something special.


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