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July 10, 2012

Zombie Reviews/Rebuts George Lakoff's "Little Blue Blook"

Really great article you shouldn't miss, even if you're looking at that lame headline I just wrote thinking "Huh?"

George Lakoff is a tip-top thought leader among progressives. His new book -- titled as a tip of the hat to Chairman Mao's Little Red Book -- contains further elaborations and prescriptions. Corrected: I incorrectly stated he wrote What's the Matter With Kansas?, too, a similarly smug read on politics. But in fact that was a completely different asshole, name of Thomas Frank.

It would be unfair to say George Lakoff is a one-trick pony; he has, fully, three tricks. Though these tricks are interrelated, so maybe it is just one trick.

When you hear progressives bleating that it's not their policies or policy outcomes that lose voters, but only their messaging, that's them echoing George Lakoff. All he's about is "messaging" and "narrative frames." Now it's true that he didn't invent that whine, but, being some kind of cognitive scientist, he's added a great deal of faux-scientific authority to it. He's made it proper and scientifically respectable to lose and lose and lose and just keep saying "our messaging failed us."

I'm going to quote Zombie extensively (and Zombie and PJM: I'm only doing this to sell this whole article to my readers!) The whole thing is worth a read (maybe bookmark it for later), but here's something fun:

According to [Lakoff's] analysis, conservatives are conservatives because their minds and morals have been twisted by cruel parenting, and they seek to reconstruct this pathological family unit on a grand society-wide scale; whereas progressives naturally were raised by wonderful, caring co-parents to become wonderful, caring adults who seek to replicate this loving family environment for all mankind...

And yet his new Little Blue Book is supposed to be an instruction manual on how to convert wavering conservatives and undecideds to the liberal worldview — even though insults and mockery are an integral component of that worldview. To summarize Lakoff’s presentation in one sentence, he essentially says, “Hey, you ignorant yet diabolical rubes, shut the hell up and submit to an incessant barrage of our vacuous euphemistic leftist slogans, because you’re too stupid and evil for an honest debate.”

The eternally vexatious problem which drives Lakoff to distraction and which inspired him to write (along with one of his researchers) The Little Blue Book is that despite their psychological pathologies and awful moral structure, conservatives somehow still manage to occasionally win elections. Lakoff has come to the conclusion that this is due not to the superiority of conservative philosophy, but to superiority in conservative messaging.

I’ve designed a little chart to clearly illustrate what I call Lakoff’s Paradox: Why is it that conservatives still manage to sometimes win public opinion and elections despite being so vastly inferior? Behold:

One more interesting point: You know how liberals and conservatives often talk right past each other, speaking in completely different words and ideas and thus not addressing each other's central points? Lakoff recommends that. He actually recommends not addressing conservatives' key points at all, and specifically forbids progressives from even mentioning them.

His idea is that progressives can just fill the air with their own words and "narrative frames" and thus crowd out conservatives' (stupid conservatives actually repeat their rivals' words and frames, in order to argue against them!) and he also suggests that this tactic will suggest that conservatives' arguments are beneath the dignity of civil debate. Which will, in theory, persuade independents, by a stealth process: Progressives utilizing the Lakoff Method won't actually convince such people on an intellectual level (as he specifically forbids intellectual engagement), but they will get the subliminal message that there is simply nothing in the conservative argument to be intellectually engaged at all.

As Zombie notes, this makes no sense. It's my own heuristic, for example, that when I don't know much about an issue, and am just trying to find my bearings in a political dispute I know nothing about, I'll listen to two Talking Heads arguing with each other on TV. And, in this Collecting Very Basic Information Mode, I assume that if one of the Talking Heads refuses to address the point made by the other, and changes the topic, then that point has been conceded as largely correct.

My reasoning is extraordinarily simple: If you had a good response, you would have offered that good response. If you instead flee and change the topic, you don't have a good response, but do not have the intellectual honesty to admit "that's a fair point," and are trying to sound like you're responding when in fact you're not responding at all.

I believe I share this heuristic with 98% of the non-drooling population of the planet.

Now, as I become more aware of a subject, I'll wind up discovering better defenses than that first Change-the-Subject Talking Head offered. And yet my position will have been substantially shaped by his inability to offer a good defense. And, of course, most of the persuadable, non-rigorous voters will never see anything except, at most, a single Talking Head debate on the subject.

And yet Lakoff -- Thought Leader for the Bien Pensant Left -- advises just this strategy of childishly changing the topic. Well, he says change the "narrative frame" by refusing to even note any points made in a conservatives' "narrative frame;" in practical effect, this means changing the topic. If the discussion is about abortion, and a conservative doubts whether it's a moral right to end another human life, he advises ignoring that point and discussing the "narrative frame" of "choice."

The Little Blue Book is being marketed as an “Indispensable Handbook for Democrats” to help them communicate their values more clearly. But I think that the marketing is itself a ploy. The Little Blue Book was not written to help liberals communicate; instead, it was designed as a feel-good mantra, a comforting rectangular teddy bear reassuring the left-wing audience that they are good people. The book’s real underlying message is this: We liberals are morally superior to our nasty and small-minded opponents; if everyone could just see what was in our hearts, we’d be more popular than those mean old conservatives.

That is the conceptual frame Lakoff embeds in The Little Blue Book: We’re better than you. Progressives can position it carefully on their coffee tables and feel righteous.

I really don't get this strategy at all. It seems totally jackass to me. He seems to be confusing what's actually useful (honestly debating an opponent) with what feels good (attempting some kind of stealth "shaming" and intellectual ostracism by running a cheap eigth-grade-alpha-girl game in which he never acknowledges his opponent's words or thoughts at all).

But, then, I was raised in a demented Strict Daddy family structure so I crave Authority Figures to Instruct me as to what's right and wrong.

Great article, and a good insight into the minds of the left.

Self-Hypnosis? A commenter going by "... is what JQ Public is thinking" notes:

One of the commenters over there had an interesting take. He thinks Lakoff - 'the thinker' - has a purpose beyond what seems to be a fairly stupid surface strategy. While the method might not convert non-believers, it makes the believers they DO HAVE absolutely bullet-proof from facts or reason. They are literally taught not to think - aka, 'indoctrination' in the darkest sense of that word. Such people can be made to do anything.

Ah, so it's not a hypnosis technique taught to readers, but a hypnosis technique directed at readers. If they themselves learn to "think" by never thinking, they can at least never be persuaded themselves.

Probably not his intention, but almost certainly his actual accomplishment.

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posted by Ace at 02:36 PM

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