, , , , , , , , , , , ,

LUMPENPROLETARIATGONZO:  We, listeners of free speech radio stations have heard many consciousness-raising and mind-blowing ideas, thinkers, and theorists. [*]  But, perhaps, one of the most mind-blowing thinkers/theorists we’ve heard is Dr. George Lakoff, a Professor of Linguistics and Cognitive Science at the University of California-Berkeley, because he has opened our eyes to a deeper understanding of profound cognitive differences between the neural circuitry of people on the right versus the left of the political spectrum.  It’s no wonder that people on the right talk past people on the left, and vice versa.  We use different conceptual frames in our thinking, depending upon the diverse internal political narratives, which we hold.  We walk around with a certain view of the world, which largely depends on our political upbringing, as it were.  Knowing the particular types of conceptual frames, which are unique to political thinking on the right versus the left can go a long way to building working class understanding and consciousness.

As a progressive (to be extremely reductive), I always thought that making one’s point from a radical perspective, in a logical way, was sufficient to persuade people with differing perspectives or ideas, or to get people to move from a right-wing to a left-wing perspective.  But no matter how logical the argument one presents, we observe that many people, especially people far to the right, are perpetually dismissive or unresponsive to any arguments from the left.  Eventually, one realises that, at least at an interpersonal level, one needs to mind one’s tone and manners (or etiquette), if one wants to communicate effectively with someone from an opposing political camp.  But, even then, persuasion is elusive.

Yet, the working classes (including Republicans and Democrats) have far more in common than differences of social-political identity.  We all want to take care of our families and our communities.  Understanding our neural circuitry, how our minds are wired to think, as liberals or conservatives or left-wingers or right-wingers, helps us avoid being mired with concerns of secondary order, such as identity politics, which distract us from concerns of primary order, such as the real material interests of the working classes.  Too often, concerns of secondary order keep us divided as an American people, keep us voting against our material interests, and keep us supporting political parties, such as the Democratic and Republican parties, which do not represent our diverse working class interests.

Thankfully, UC Berkeley Professor of Linguistics and Cognitive Science, Dr. George Lakoff provides us with much deeper insights into the human political brain through his development of cognitive linguistics.  Equipped with the tools of linguistics and neural circuitry, we stand to understand one another much better, despite our political differences, which can blur our common human interests.  Understanding the political mind, from a cognitive linguistics perspective, helps us understand our own political minds and assumptions and motivations.  And this helps us find common ground by better understanding our differences, making it that much easier to avoid discord by agreeing to disagree, as needed.  Dr. Lakoff is the author of Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think.  He delivered this lecture before The Ruth Group on the 21st of January, 2004.  Listen (and/or download) here. [1]



LIVING ROOM—[19 FEB 2004]  [Bensky’s theme piano music]

KRIS WELCH:  “Good afternoon.  Welcome to Living Room.  I’m your host Kris Welch.

“With Republicans controlling the [U.S.] Senate, the [U.S.] House, and the White House, and enjoying a large margin of victory, right here, in California [with our governor] Arnold Schwarzenegger, it’s clear that the Democratic Party is in crisis. [2]  Well, we’ve got somebody, who thinks he knows why and how to turn it around.  UC Berkeley Professor of Linguistics and Cognitive Science, George Lakoff.  And we’ll be right back with him, and his comments, right after [the KPFA] News Headlines with Max Pringle[piano theme music]  (c. 0:42)

[KPFA News Headlines (read by Max Pringle) omitted by scribe (can be found here).]  (c. 5:49)

KRIS WELCH: “And welcome back to Living Room.  I’m Kris Welch.

“Progressives are firmly on the defensive in the United States of America.  Uh.  Why Schwarzenegger won the recall.  Why the Democrats just don’t get it.  Why conservatives continue to define the issues.  All of these questions have answers in our programme on Living Room, today, from UC Berkeley Linguistic and Cognitive Science Professor George Lakoff.  He’s also co-founder of the Rockridge Institute, one of the very few progressive think tanks in existence in the United States.  And wait’l you hear what he has to say.  It’ll give you, uh, hope and, also, a lot of insight.

Professor Lakoff spoke earlier this—about a month and a half ago, I think—in Berkeley.  I’ll get you the exact date for you.  Oh, it was January the 21st.  Um, and, uh, here in Berkeley.  And we were lucky to have it taped.  Jane Heaven was there.  And we’re delighted to bring it to you.  This is his address before The Ruth Group.  And we’ll tell you more about The Ruth Group as well.  Meanwhile, here is UC Berkeley Professor of Linguistics and Cognitive Science George Lakoff.”  (c. 7:19)

[The Living Room broadcast cuts, here, to audio of Dr. George Lakoff’s lecture.]

DR. GEORGE LAKOFF[audience applause]  “Uh, thank you, Ruth.  Um, the last time I talked to the Ruth Group it was about a fifth this size.  This is extraordinary.  I am so proud of you—[chuckles]—and of all of you for coming out tonight.  I wanna thank you for being here.  It’s extraordinary.  And the last time I talked to The Ruth Group, the Rockridge Institute was just getting started.  We now exist.  [chuckles]  We have our first two Ph.D. linguist hires, some other staff.  We have an actual small office.  We don’t, you know, yet have real staff.  But we’re getting there.  And it’s remarkable how much can be done in a small amount of time.

“Um, [sighs/exhales] Ruth mentioned being on call.  I got a call from NPR today, this afternoon.  They said:  Oh, you’ll never guess who suggested we call you.  She said:  Karl Rove.”

AUDIENCE[gasps, laughter, and sounds of surprise]

DR. GEORGE LAKOFF:  “And I felt sort of like a large drip of slime had descended on me.  [audience laughter]  I’m not sure if I have showered it all off yet.  So, I guess that’s a measure of some kind of, quote-unquote success.  I—but look.  Let’s, let’s start with content.  I wanna get into it right away.  (c. 8:58)

When you negate a frame, you evoke the frame.

“Um, the—when I teach the study of framing over at Berkeley, uh, in Cognitive Science 101, the first thing I do is I give my students an exercise.  And the exercise is:  Don’t think of an elephant, whatever you do.  Do not think of an elephant.  Okay?  I’ve never found a student, who was able to do this.  Maybe someone here can—but, you know, impossible—right?—because every word, like elephant, evokes a frame, which is—it could be an image; it’s knowledge, etcetera.  And it’s defined, relative to that frame.

When you negate a frame, you evoke the frame.  Right?  What does that tell you about arguing against the other side? [3]  Don’t use their language.  Their language picks out a frame.  Let me give you an example.  On the day, that Bush came into the White House, you got the words tax relief coming out of the White House.  And you heard it last night on the State of the Union [2004] Address at least a couple of times.  (c. 10:09)

“Think of the framing for relief.  For relief, there must be an affliction, an afflicted party.  A reliever, who removes the affliction is, therefore, a hero.  And, if someone tries to stop them, they’re a villain because they’re keeping this, you know, relief from happening.

“You add tax to tax relief, you get taxation as an affliction—and that the guy, who takes it away, is a hero; and anybody who’s against it is a bad guy.  Right?

“Well, this starts coming out of the White House.  And it goes into press releases, going to every radio station, every TV station, every newspaper.  And, soon, The New York Times is using [the right-wing language of] tax relief.  And it’s, not only, on Fox; it’s on CNN; it’s on NBC.  It’s on every station because it’s the president’s tax relief plan.

“And, soon, Democrats are using tax relief.  Right?  It’s remarkable.

Framing is about getting language that fits.  It’s not just language.  It fits certain ideas.  And the language carries those ideas.  It evokes the ideas.

“I was asked by the Democratic senators to come to their caucus, just before they, you know—the tax plan was to come up.  They had their version of the tax plan; and it was their version of tax relief.  And I just—you know.  You have to explain to them that you do not do this.  You know?  They [i.e., conservative leaders] have set this up in such a way that, in certain cases, they’ve chosen the words, that draw you in, to draw you into their worldview, to fit it together.  (c. 11:38)

So, that’s what framing is about.  Framing is about getting language that fits.  It’s not just language.  It fits certain ideas.  And the language carries those ideas.  It evokes the ideas.

“Last night, in the State of the Union Address, you heard a remarkable thing for the State of the Union Address.  In there, there was an incredible metaphor.

We don’t need a permission slip—

“Remember that one?

to defend America.

“Right?  What is going on with the permission slip?  We’ll come back to that in a little while because it takes a little while, because if it’s not—we could’ve said, just: ask permission.  But a permission slip is different.  Right?  So, think about when you last needed a permission slip and what that was about.  Okay?

“Now, um, the way that I got into studying this was as follows.  I asked myself a question.  The question occurred during, uh, when I was looking at the Contract with America back in 1994.  And the question was this:

What do the conservatives’ stand on issues have to do with each other?

“That is:

What does your position on abortion have to do with your position on taxation?  What does that have to do with your position on the environment?  Or foreign policy?  How do these positions fit together?  What makes sense of them?

“I couldn’t figure it out for them.  I said: These are strange people.  Then I said:  Well, I have exactly the opposite positions on every issue.  And I couldn’t figure it out for me.  That was extremely embarrassing for somebody who does cognitive science and linguistics. [chuckles]

“But, eventually, the answer came.  And it came from a very unexpected place.  It came from the study of family values.  I asked myself:

Why were conservatives talking so much about family values, in particular the ones they had?  What was this about?  Why would they, in a presidential campaign, congressional campaigns, etc., constantly talk about family values?

“And it occurred to me that—one of my students had written a paper some years back, that showed that—we all have a metaphorical understanding of the nation as a family.  We have Founding Fathers, Daughters of the American Revolution.  We send our sons to war.  And it’s a natural thing because we usually understand large social groups, like nations, in terms of small ones, like families or communities and so on.  (c. 14:27)

“So, the question is:

If there are two different understandings of the nation, do they come from two different understandings of family?

“And, so, I worked backwards.  I took the various positions on the conservative and progressive side.  And I said:  Let’s put them through the metaphor in the opposite direction and see what comes out.  And out popped two models of the family: a strict father family and a nurturant parent family.  And you know which is which.

“Now, uh, when I first did this—and I’ll tell you about the details in a minute—I, um, gave a talk at a linguistics convention on this.  I was asked to be a main speaker.  And I came; I gave a keynote address.  And I decided I would talk about this part of what I was doing.  And in the audience were two members of the Christian Coalition, who are linguists and good friends of mine, excellent linguists, very, very good people, and very nice people, people I’ve liked a lot.  And they took me aside at the party afterward.  They said:

Well, this model of the family, this strict father thing. It’s close. You don’t have it quite right. A little—you know. We’ll fill you in on the details. But, you know, you should’ve referred to Dobson.

“I said:  Who?

“He said:  James Dobson.

“I said:  Who?

“He said:  You’re kidding? He’s on 3,000 radio stations.

“And I said:  Well, I guess I—you know.  He’s not on NPR, uh KPFA. [audience laughter]  I haven’t heard of him.

“He said:  Well, you know, you live in Berkeley.

“You know?  But:  Where would I—does he write stuff?

“He said:  Oh, yeah. He’s sold millions of books. His classic is Dare to Discipline.

“I said:  Gee, I didn’t see it in Cody’s [Books][audience laughter]

“So, he said: No, it would never be there.  But you’d find it in your local Christian bookstore.

“So, I said:  Look, I live in Berkeley.

“And he said:  Even in Berkeley [audience laughter] there’s a local Christian bookstore.  Just walk a block past Cody’s and you’ll see the Jews for Jesus bookstore.

“So, I put on my trench coat, my dark glasses [audience laughter], brought along a plain brown bag [audience laughter], honestly, walked down there.  And there was a shelf full of Dobson books and the New Dare to Discipline as well as lots of other things.

“And, there, it’s all laid out.  You have Dobson, [who] not only has a $200 million-dollar-a-year operation, but he has his own zip code, so many people are writing for his books and pamphlets and so on.  Right?  That is:  They are teaching people how to use the strict father model.  So, let’s see.  What is the strict father model?  (c. 17:37)

“It goes like this.  You assume that the world is a difficult and dangerous place, that there’s evil out there in the world and that there’s competition. [4]  There always will be competition.  And there always will be winners and losers.  And, in addition, kids are born bad.  They wanna just do their own emotional things, get what they want.  And they have to be made good.  There’s a right and a wrong.  And what you need is a strict father, who can support the family in the difficult world, protect the family in the dangerous world, and teach his kids right from wrong because he’s a moral authority and knows right from wrong.  And there’s only one way to do that.  And that is punishment—painful punishment.  Right?  You gotta hit ’em for a while.

“Now, Dobson it turns out is very good on this subject compared to other folks in this thing.  He says there’s no reason to hit a child below the age of 18 months.  [audience surprise, laughter]  Right?

“Now, the rationale behind this is quite interesting because it’s been thought through.  By physical discipline, when kids do something wrong, they’re gonna learn not to do it.  And they’re gonna get internal discipline.  So, the do things, that are right and not things, that are wrong.

“Now, this is the basis of morality, that without such punishment the world will go to hell.  You know?  There will be no morality.  But, not only that, it’s also the basis of functioning in a difficult world because if you have someone, who is disciplined enough to do what’s right and not what’s wrong, that discipline can turn to becoming self-reliant.  That is, if you’re disciplined and you pursue your self-interest in this land of opportunity, you can become self-reliant.  (c. 19:34)

“Now, Dobson is very clear about the connection between this and certain views of capitalism.  If you look at, uh, exactly the analysis of what is meant by the morality of self-interest there, it’s a [distorted] version of Adam Smith‘s view of capitalism.  Adam Smith [allegedly] said:

If everybody pursues their own profit, then the profit of all will be maximised by the invisible hand, that is, by nature, just naturally.

Go about. Pursue your own profit. And that’s good. You’re helping everybody.

“Now, the version of this is a general metaphor that wellbeing is wealth.  For example, if I do you a favour, you say: I owe you one. I’m in your debt.  Right?  Doing something good for someone is, metaphorically, like giving them money.  You owe them something.  And you say: How can I ever repay you?  So, there’s a version of this, that says: If everyone pursues their own self-interest than by the invisible hand, by nature, the self-interest of all will be maximised.  That is:  It’s moral to pursue your self-interest.  And there’s a name for people, who don’t do it.  The name is do-gooder.

“A do-gooder is somebody, who is trying to help someone other than himself and is getting in the way of people, who are pursuing their own self-interest and screwing up the system.  You guys know any of these do-gooders?”  (c. 21:13)


DR. GEORGE LAKOFF:  “I mean I occasionally meet them.  Now, what’s important about this is that this is part of a family model.  The idea is to raise a kid to be self-reliant, pursuing his self-interest in this way.  And it’s a definition of what it means to become a good person.  A ‘good‘ person, a ‘moral‘ person, is someone, who is disciplined enough to do what’s right, learn what’s right, not do what’s wrong, to pursue their self-interest and become self-reliant, so that, morality and prosperity come together. [5]  And the good child grows up to be like dad.  And the bad child is the one, that doesn’t learn the discipline, doesn’t function morally, doesn’t do what’s right, and, therefore, isn’t disciplined enough to become prosperous.  Right?  They can’t take care of themselves.  They become dependent.

“So, what happens, from this point of view, is that it’s immoral to give people things they haven’t earned because, then, they’ll become dependent.  Right?  (c. 22:28)

“Think about what this says about social programmes in politics.  It says:  Social programmes are immoral for this reason. Promoting social programmes is immoral.  And what does this say about budgets? [6]  Well, if you’ve got a whole lot of progresssives in Congress, who think that there should be social programmes, how do you stop these immoral people?  It’s quite simple.

“What you have to do is reward the good people with a tax cut.  And make it big enough, so there’s not enough money left for the social programmes.  Right?  The deficit is moral and good. [6]

“Now, this is quite remarkable that this happens.  But it is seen, not as a bad thing, but as a good thing.  And, in the State of the Union last night, the president said they’re going to—they think that they can cut the deficit in half by cutting out ‘wasteful spending‘.  Now, are conservatives against all government [spending]?  No.  They’re not against the army.  They’re not against the military.  They’re not against homeland defense.  They’re not against the current justice department, etcetera.  There’s lots of parts of government they like very much.  They’re not against subsidies for industry, government subsidies.  That’s great. No problem there.  They’re against nurturance—care.  They’re against social programmes, that take care of people.  That’s what’s wrong.  That’s what they’re trying to eliminate on moral grounds.  (c. 24:18)

“That’s why it’s not just a bunch of crazies and nuts and mean and greedy people there.  What’s even scarier is they believe it.  They believe it’s moral.  And they have supporters around the country.  People who have strict father morality are gonna believe that this is the right way to govern.

“Now, think for a minute what this says about foreign policy.  Suppose you’re a moral authority.  Now, as a moral authority, how do you deal with your children?  Do you ask them what they should do, or what you should do?  No, you don’t.  You know?  The father says.  The child does.  No back talk.  Right?  Communication is one way [i.e., unidirectional or unilateral], just like in the White House.  That is, you don’t ask about these things.  You tell them.  If you’re a moral authority, you know what’s right.  You have the power.  You use it, as you should.

“You map this on to foreign policy; and it says:

You can’t give up sovereignty. The U.S., being the moral authority, being the best country in the world, which knows about democracy, which knows about everything, that’s good, which knows about prosperity and how to do it has the authority. They shouldn’t be asking anybody else.

“Right?  Now, this comes together with a set of metaphors, that have run foreign policy for a long time.  There’s a common metaphor, that you learn when you go and sit in on classes of international relations in graduate school.  It’s called the rational actor metaphor. [7]  It’s the basis of most international relations theory. [8]  And it assumes that every nation is a person.  So, you have rogue states.  You have friendly nations and so on.  And, um, there’s a national interest.  What does it mean to act in your self-interest?  Well, it’s good for you to be healthy and strong.  So, it’s good for a nation to be strong—that is, militarily strong—and healthy—that is, economically healthy.  (c. 26:50)

“So, what the national interest is, when you hear people talk about the national interest, it means how to be militarily strong and economically healthy.  That is, to have a large GNP, to have not necessarily the individuals in the country all be healthy, but the companies should be and the country as a whole should have a lot of money.  Okay?  That’s the idea.

“Now, the question is how do you maximize your self-interest.  That’s what foreign policy is.  It’s maximizing self-interest.  The rational actor says every actor, every person who’s rational—it’s irrational to act against your self-interest, so it’s rational to maximise it.

“And, in the metaphor for international relations, there’s another metaphor, which says you not only have friendly nations and rogue states and enemy nations and so on, you also have adult nations and child nations.  Now, the child nations are called developing nations or underdeveloped states.  Right?  Those are the backward ones.  They’re underdeveloped.  They’re the retards(c. 28:01)

“And what do you do, if you’re a strict father?  You tell the children how to develop—you know?—what rules they should follow; and you punish them when they do wrong, which is through the IMF policies.  Now, um, when you think about this, who’s in the U.N.?  Well, most of the U.N. is underdeveloped countries—the children.  Right?

“Now, let’s go back.  Should the United States have consulted the U.N. and gotten its permission to invade Iraq?  You don’t ask for a permission slip.  You’re back in high school or grammar school, where you need a slip to go to the bathroom. [chuckles]  Right?  You don’t ask for a permission slip—you know—if you’re the teacher, if you’re the principal, if you’re the person in power, the moral authority.  The other guys should ask you for permission. You don’t ask them for permission.  That’s what the permission slip [terminology, which Bush used in the State of the Union address] was about.

“And every conservative in the audience got it.  They got it right away.  Now, it’s powerful what they did was—notice—evoke the adult-child metaphor for other nations.  And they said: We’re the adult.  You know?  They used the strict father metaphor there.  And it was just understood.  It doesn’t have to be explained.  It’s just evoked.  Right?  This is what’s done regularly on the other side [i.e., on the conservative side of the political spectrum].  (c. 29:39)

“Now, let me talk a bit about how, uh, progressives understand their morality and what their moral system is.  It, too, comes out of a family model—what I call a nurturant family.  And it goes like this:  In the nurturing family, both parents are equally responsible.  And the assumption is children are born good and have to be made better.  And the world can be made a better place.  And your job is to work on it, like you guys coming here, tonight.  And the, um, further assumption is it’s your job as a parent to nurture your children.  And to raise them to be nurturers of others.  That’s your job.  What does nurturance mean?  It means two things: empathy and responsibility.

“If you have a child, you have to know what every cry means.  You have to know when they’re hungry, when they need their diaper changed, when they’re having nightmares, you know, etcetera.  And you have a responsibility.  You have to take care of this child.  And you can’t take care of someone else, if you’re not taking care of yourself.  So, you have to take care of yourself enough to be able to take care of this child.  And it’s not easy.  Anyone who’s ever taken care of a child knows that this is hard.  You gotta be strong.  You gotta work hard at it.  You gotta be very confident at it.  You gotta know things.

“In addition to that, from empathy and responsibility, all sorts of other values immediately follow.  So, let’s think about it.  If you empathise with your child, you want your child to be fulfilled in life, to be a happy person.  And, if you’re an unhappy, unfulfilled person yourself, you’re not gonna want other people to be happier than you are.  [sparse audience laughter]  The Dalai Lama teaches us that.  Therefore, it is your moral responsibility to be a happy fulfilled person—your moral responsibility as well, and to teach your child to be a happy, fulfilled person and to want others to be happy and fulfilled.  Okay?  That’s part of what nurturant family life is about.  (c. 32:02)

“Secondly, you have to protect your child.  And that’s serious.  And this comes into politics in many ways.  What do you protect your child from?  Well, you know, crime and drugs.  And, also, you have environmental protection, worker protection, consumer protection.  You know; you protect your child from cars without seat belts, from smoking, from poisonous additives in food, whatever.  And these are the things, that progressives want the government to protect their citizens from—okay?—as well as terrorist attacks, which liberals haven’t been that good on, in protection.  It’s part of the moral system.  But it hasn’t been worked out enough.  And that gives—9/11, progressives didn’t have a whole lot to say.  Right?  And that was sad ‘cos you do have to think about these things.  It’s protection.  It’s important.  It’s part of our system.  (c. 33:07)

“Then, there are other values, that come out.  If you want your child to be fulfilled in life, the child has to be free enough in life to do that.  So, freedom is a value.

“Now, you don’t have very much freedom, if there’s no opportunity—or prosperity.  So, opportunity and prosperity become values.  If you really care about your child, you’ll want your child to be treated fairly by you and by others.  So, fairness becomes a value.

“If you are connecting with your child, and you empathise with that child, you have to have communication.  What kind of communication?  Open, two-way communication, honest communicationthat becomes a value.

“[If] you take the connection between parent and child, it requires trust and cooperationThey are values.  You know you live in a community.  And that community will affect how your child grows up, so that community-building and working in the community become values.

“These are the progressive values.  You all have them.  You know you have.  You recognise them.  You can see it.  I mean look around the room.  You know?  These are not like—nobody’s saying:  What?!  [chuckles]

“Every progressive political programme is based on one or more of these values.  That’s what it means to be a progressive.

“Now, there are lots of types of progressives.  One of the things we did was look at the types.  And, as a cognitive scientist, I didn’t look at it like a sociologist would or a political scientist would.  If I were a sociologist, I would’ve come up probably with several hundred progressive types.  [audience laughter]  There are lots.  But, from the point of view of a cognitive scientist, who looks at modes of thought, there are five.

“And they are, one: socioeconomic progressives, those who think that everything is a matter of money and class, and that all solutions are ultimately a matter of social class solutions.  Okay?  Type one.  (c. 35:36)

“Two: identity politics progressives—those, that say: It’s time for our oppressed group to get its share now (whatever the oppressed group is).

“Three: the greens, who think in terms of sustainability of the Earth, the sacredness of the Earth, the protection of native peoples.

“Four: civil liberties progressives: you know, you wanna maintain your freedoms against threats to freedom, like you join the ACLU, you think about all those things, that you need to do to preserve liberty and freedom.

“Five: the anti-authoritarians, those people, who say: There’s all sorts of illegitimate forms of authority out there. We’ve gotta fight ’em, now, whether it’s the big corporations or whoever it is.

“Now, you’re all right.  Every one of these is an instance of nurturant parent morality, of nurturant morality.  They’re special cases.  The problem with it is that many of the people, who have one of these modes of thought, don’t recognise that it’s a special case of something more general and don’t see the unity in all the types of progressives. [9]  They often think that this is the only way to be a true progressive.  And that’s sad.  That’s what keeps people from coming together.  And we gotta get over it.  And the other side [i.e., the conservative side] did.  (c. 37:09)

“Back in the ’50s, conservatives used to just hate each other.  Right?  The financial conservatives hated the social conservatives.  The libertarians didn’t get along with the social conservatives or the religious conservatives.  There was lots and lots of mutual hatred.  And a group of conservative leaders around Bill Buckley and others got together and started asking what conservatives have in common and whether they could agree to disagree to promote, you know, some general conservative cause.  They started magazines, think tanks.  And, 40 to 50 years later, they won.  They figured it out.  And it took billions of dollars in those think tanks.

“The first thing they did—the first victory—was getting Barry Goldwater nominated in ’64.  He lost.  When he lost, they went back to the drawing board.  And they put more money into think tanks.

Dr. Lewis Franklin Powell Jr. (1907–1998)

“During the Vietnam War, they noticed that most of the bright, young people in the country were not becoming conservatives.  Conservative was a dirty word.  And, so, in 1970, Lewis Powell—before he became a Supreme Court Justice appointed by Nixon, at the time he was the Chief Counsel to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—wrote a memo, the Powell Memo, which you can get online. [10]  And it’s a very interesting document.  What it said was:

We have to keep our best and brightest people from becoming anti-business. What we need to do is set up institutes within the universities and outside the universities. We have to do research. We have to write books. We have to endow professorships to teach these people the right way.

“And, then, they did it.” (c. 39:16)

[For the remainder of the hour, Living Room host Kris Welch cut in to the audio of Dr. George Lakoff’s lecture to appeal for listener support for free speech radio.  Dr. Lakoff’s lecture, of which an excerpt was broadcast here, may be found through the Pacifica Radio Archives, as the lecture in its entirety was offered as a thank-you gift for donating to KPFA/Pacifica Radio.]

[snip]  (c. 59:59)

Learn more at LIVING ROOM.


[*]  I have been listening to free speech radio since I was a wee lad in sixth or seventh grade.  Definitely, by eighth grade, free speech radio’s La Onda Bajita (a Friday night lowrider show featuring Chicano culture and oldies) was my favourite radio show.  Over the years, public affairs/news & information broadcasting has become, for me, as important as (if not more so than) the (entertaining, but less informative) cultural programming.

[1]  Terrestrial radio transmission, 94.1 FM (KPFA, Berkeley, CA) with online simulcast and digital archiving:  Living Room, this one-hour broadcast hosted by Kris Welch, Thursday, 19 FEB 2004, 12:00 PDT.

[2]  Kris Welch contextualised Republican control of the U.S. Congress and the White House as indication “that the Democratic Party is in crisis”.  Of course, all too often Democrats in Congress and the White House acquiesce with Republican Party policies.  It’s important to keep in mind that both the Democratic and Republican parties are funded by the same corporate interests and, consequently, perpetuate generally the same pro-capitalist, pro-corporate, anti-working class, anti-environment policies.

So, when the pendulum of power swings in favour of Republican control, it’s more accurate to see the Democratic Party as fulfilling its role as a false opposition party, or a false people’s party.  We do observe historical trends in the USA of a swing between the dominant, corporate, political parties.  After eight years of Clinton’s Democratic Presidency, the national reaction is toward the Republican Party.  Two terms of a Republican administration will likely lead to a Democratic administration.  And the pendulum will continue to swing back and forth between two political parties, which collude to keep out alternative political parties, which might stand to truly represent working people.

[3]  Dr. George Lakoff, here, reminds us of the futility of arguing against an opposing viewpoint, in terms of accomplishing persuasion as an objective.  This concept was previously emphasised by Dale Carnegie in one of the more famous and enduring self-help books, which has become a classic among professional sales people, for whom communication and persuasion is a central concern.  Dale Carnegie’s book is called How To Win Friends and Influence People (1936).  Essentially, in terms of interpersonal communication, Carnegie argues that when one seeks to influence or gain the favor of another, one must orientate one’s mental focus upon the interests of that person, whom we seek to befriend and influence.  In other words, gain the friendship, then influence the new friend.  This can usually be done by making oneself as useful and agreeable as possible towards breaking down barriers of resistance.

Dale Carnegie believed that when one argues against an opposing viewpoint, one will likely trigger a defensive mechanism, which can further entrench a division.  This is similar to Dr. George Lakoff’s reminder of the futility of arguing against an opposing viewpoint because to negate a frame is to evoke that frame.  This further entrenches the opposed positions.  But Dr. Lakoff’s argument is different in certain respects, to which we shall return.  Nevertheless, Dr. Lakoff’s and Dale Carnegie’s arguments about the futility or ineffectiveness of arguing against an opposing side is also similar to Dr. Marshall Rosenberg’s lectures about nonviolent communication and avoiding the common habit of frequently responding with an analysis rather than just listening.  Of course, there is a time for debate and oppositional contests, but in terms of strengthening interpersonal or business relations, Dale Carnegie’s, and Dr. Rosenberg’s, and Dr. Lakoff’s recommendations help immensely.

Dale Carnegie’s book, How To Win, is interesting reading, which offers useful insights, even if it’s not an academic or scholarly text.  The book doesn’t bother to include a single citation.  We don’t doubt his sources or ruling class connections.  But the book would be that much more effective had it cited its sources.  (Of course, Veblen famously lauded such writing, which eschews citations and quotations.)  Nevertheless, Dale Carnegie seemed to intuit back in the early 20th century what Dr. Lakoff is confirming in the early 21st century in a more rigorous manner with his contributions to cognitive linguistics.  Of course, Dale Carnegie was only trying to help business people be more agreeable for business purposes.  Dale Carnegie was merely trying to help and preserve capitalist interests.  Dr. Lakoff, on the other hand, is geared more toward helping human beings understand their own political minds better for civic purposes.  Words and phrases evoke a conceptual frame, which is often bound up with one’s social (or socioeconomic) identity, as for example liberal or conservative, which can prevent otherwise persuasive and logical arguments from being accepted by an individual with an opposing social identity.  The same set of information can evoke two different conceptual frames in two people with different social identities.  So, Dr. Lakoff is not merely suggesting to avoid “arguing against the other side”, but to be careful when doing so.  If one must argue against the other side, it is imperative that one not use the language, catchphrases, buzzwords, or terminology of one’s opponent.  To do so would be to evoke, and therefore strengthen, their conceptual frames, which are oftentimes bound up with their social identities, such as conservative or liberal.

[4]  In the strict father model, one of the central underlying assumptions is that the world is a fundamentally hostile environment, a Hobbesian nightmare.  This is a key lesson in the history of economic theory (aka history of economic thought).  In neoclassical economic theory, unlike heterodox economic theory, the underlying assumption of human nature is one of overarching self-interest.  Neoclassical economics offers an impossibly caricatured and one-dimensional view of humanity.  This assumption serves, whether mendaciously or otherwise, to rationalise and justify laissez faire capitalism, or free market fundamentalism, which holds that since all human economic actors (or agents) are rational and act based upon their own self-interest, allowing the economy to operate with as little government intervention as possible will lead to the greatest good for all, as if guided by an invisible hand.

This view of capitalism is based on a distortion of Dr. Adam Smith’s famous Wealth of Nations, in which his notion of the invisible hand of the market has been purported to be capable of guiding the economy towards the best outcome for all.  In truth, when one actually reads Wealth of Nations, one finds that Dr. Adam Smith never posited that argument.  Indeed, Smith uses the term invisible hand exactly twice in the massive tome.  Moreover, Smith’s earlier work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, establishes the importance of morality and what Smith calls “fellow-feeling”.  And, importantly, Smith emphasised the importance of government intervention in economic activity to prevent the worst ills of capitalism, such as monopoly, price-gouging and consumer abuse, labour abuses, and education/development deprivations.

[5]  Dr. Lakoff described how morality in the strict father figure model of the family, which is held predominantly by people on the right, is bound up with an identity, which internalises a rigid form of discipline.  And, of course, for many on the right, the source of authority for moral values come from the church.  Notably, here, Dr. Lakoff is describing how members of the Christian Coalition view the strict family model and questions of morality.  In this view, material wealth is said to flow from moral virtue and that poverty flows from moral turpitude.  Here we see the co-optation of selected Christian values in the service of corporate and financial capitalism.

Similarly, in his recent book, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, Dr. Kevin M. Kruse describes how capitalist elites, reeling from New Deal wealth redistribution policies, worked to co-opt religious language and conceptual frames in order to reinforce capitalist modes of production.

[6]  Conservatives as well as liberals misunderstand how our modern monetary system works.  And they often think about it as if we’re still operating under the gold standard, which was ended back in 1971.  Consequently, people think of modern money as a finite thing, rather than as the unit of measure, which it is.  An understanding of modern money theory (MMT) sheds some light on various questions of economics, such as federal budgets and deficits.  For example, see Dr. Stephanie Kelton (University of Missouri-Kansas City):

“The ‘Angry Birds’ Approach to Deficits in the Modern Economy” presented by then-Chair of the Economics Department at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Dr. Stephanie Kelton at the Student Union Theatre (UMKC) on November 19, 2014.

[7]  The rational actor metaphor, of which Dr. George Lakoff refers, is also known as the rational actor model:

The rational actor model is based on rational choice theory.  This model adopts the state as the primary unit of analysis, and inter-state relations (or international relations) as the context for analysis.  The state is seen as a monolithic unitary actor, capable of making rational decisions based on preference ranking and value maximization.

The rational actor model is a subset of foreign policy analysis, or international relations, based on rational choice theory.  This is an extension of the underlying assumptions promulgated through neoclassical economic theories, which take an essentially static view of the human individual as homo economicus, the rational profit-maximiser, who constantly engages in cost-benefit analyses in daily life.  Of course, this is an unrealistic view of humanity, which contrasts with the more realistic underlying assumptions considered in heterodox economic theories.  The neoclassical view ignores human psychological diversity and complexity as well as socioeconomic and political obstacles to rational decision-making.  Also omitted are acts of altruism and volunteerism.  Heterodox economic theories present various critiques of this neoclassical model of individual human behaviour.  For example, economist Professor Satya Gabriel has offered the following critique:

Neoclassical economic theory is grounded in a particular conception of human psychology, agency or decision-making.  It is assumed that all human beings make economic decisions so as to maximize pleasure or utility.  Some heterodox theories reject this basic assumption of neoclassical theory, arguing for alternative understandings of how economic decisions are made and/or how human psychology works.  It is possible to accept the notion that humans are pleasure seeking machines, yet reject the idea that economic decisions are governed by such pleasure seeking.  Human beings may, for example, be unable to make choices consistent with pleasure maximization due to social constraints and/or coercion.  Humans may also be unable to correctly assess the choice points that are most likely to lead to maximum pleasure, even if they are unconstrained (except in budgetary terms) in making such choices.  And it is also possible that the notion of pleasure seeking is itself a meaningless assumption because it is either impossible to test or too general to refute.  Economic theories that reject the basic assumption of economic decisions as the outcome of pleasure maximization are heterodox.

[8]  Conventional international relations theory, like most economics curricula, is taught in the Western world from a neoclassical perspective.  And it takes the neoclassical precept of comparative advantage as its driving logic.  According to the comparative advantage model, economic agents have a comparative advantage over others in producing a particular good if they can produce that good at a lower relative opportunity cost or autarky price, i.e. at a lower relative marginal cost prior to trade.  Theoretically, each nation will increase its overall consumption by exporting the good for which it has a comparative advantage while importing the other good, provided that there exist differences in labor productivity between both countries.

Unfortunately, the comparative advantage model, much like the rational actor model in international relations, doesn’t take into account the exploitation of labour, downward pressure on wages, and arrested economic development in nations, which do not have advanced manufacturing and technological capacities.  Notably, nations without advanced technological production must often rely predominantly on the export of raw materials, production inputs, and resources, which put them at a trade disadvantage relative to other nations, which can export finished goods with higher price tags.  This problem of uneven economic development, or productive and technological capacity, between nations is one of the criticisms of comparative advantage; it is a root cause, for example, of the Latin American debt crisis.

[9]  Dr. George Lakoff raised the point about identity politics, or single-issue protest activist groups, being a special case of a more general nurturant morality model.  The inability of each identity grouping to see the underlying commonality to all such single-issue groups leads to the atomisation and weakening of broader social justice cohesion.  In this way, liberals, progressives, and left-wing radicals are divided and disempowered.

Notably, this failure of analysis regarding a special case of a model versus a more general case is reminiscent of the ongoing debate within the discipline of economics between neoclassical and heterodox economic theories.  Neoclassical economic theories have argued for a wrongheaded pursuit of free market ideologies through the perpetuation of notions of economic equilibrium.  Neoclassical economic theories posit a state whereby economic forces, such as supply and demand, are balanced and in the absence of external influences the (equilibrium) values of economic variables will not change.  For example, in the standard textbook model of perfect competition, equilibrium occurs at the point at which quantity demanded and quantity supplied are equal.  The objective of the neoclassical economic argument for laissez faire capitalism is to allow capital, to allow capitalists, to operate without any inhibitions or limitations on their profit motive, be they labour protections, consumer protections, or environmental protections.  This has been pursued through the discredited economic equilibrium model.  Heterodox economists, particularly John Maynard Keynes, pointed out that the neoclassical economic equilibrium model was merely a special case of a more general model in his famous and influential book, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936).  Chapter 1: The General Theory (only half a page long) consists simply of the following radical claim:

I have called this book the General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, placing the emphasis on the prefix general. The object of such a title is to contrast the character of my arguments and conclusions with those of the classical theory of the subject, upon which I was brought up and which dominates the economic thought, both practical and theoretical, of the governing and academic classes of this generation, as it has for a hundred years past. I shall argue that the postulates of the classical theory are applicable to a special case only and not to the general case, the situation which it assumes being a limiting point of the possible positions of equilibrium. Moreover, the characteristics of the special case assumed by the classical theory happen not to be those of the economic society in which we actually live, with the result that its teaching is misleading and disastrous if we attempt to apply it to the facts of experience. (p. 3)

Yet, the problem of misperceiving special cases of social phenomena as though they were general cases leads to incomplete solutions to problems within the social sciences, such as within political economy and political science.  This is as true for economic decision-making as it is for political decision-making and civic engagement orientated towards social justice principles.

[10]  Dr. George Lakoff cited the infamous Lewis Powell memo, which is a key flashpoint in the turning point at which liberal policies dating back to government responses to the Great Depression were rolled back toward regressive, conservative policies.  After the Great Depression, Keynesian economic policies and liberal political policies prevailed.  But ruling class elites, as Dr. Lakoff has noted, went back to the drawing board, investing millions and billions into think tanks to manufacture consent.

An excellent documentary, which contextualises the Lewis Powell memo is Heist: Who Stole the American Dream? (2011) directed by free speech radio KPFA community member Donald Goldmacher and co-director Frances Causey.

Heist: Who Stole the American Dream?Thom Hartmann (2011) directed by Donald Goldmacher and Frances Causey, narrated by


[10 MAR 2017]

[Last modified at 22:50 PST on 20 MAR 2017]