Wednesday, January 23, 2008

George Orwell is still alive, but has changed his last name to Lakoff

One of the problems with Libertarians is that, frankly, the theoretical and strategic writing of self-styled Progressives is so difficult to read that we don't do much of it.

This is something we have to get over, especially as the Progressives seemed to be in full swing of pulling off the same trick that Ronald Reagan did for conservatives in the 1980s: reframing the public political discourse in their favor.

Reagan, followed by talk radio, actually managed to make the term "liberal" one that even politicians who were avowedly liberal needed to avoid if they wanted to get elected or re-elected. Liberal as a "brand" still has not been successfully rehabilitated.

On the other hand, Dubya--with a lot of help from his neo-con friends and his opponents--has managed to self-destruct the brand value of "Conservatism" that Reagan created, so much so that today Rush Limbaugh announced, "I can see possibly not supporting the Republican nominee this election, and I never thought that I would say that in my life," because, “You don’t have a genuine down-the-list conservative” among the GOP candidates.

What Rush doesn't get is that the Conservative brand has been badly enough damaged to make candidates like McCain, Romney, Huckabee, and Giuliani run away from it. They all want to invoke Reagan as a great popular president, but none of them will stand out front and acknowledge his label or his ideology. That's part of the reason that Ron Paul is doing so well for an otherwise marginal candidate: he has the option of using his Libertarian brand, which--if not widely known--doesn't have the strikes against it that Conservatism now does.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Liberals have reinvented themselves as Progressives, both nationally and here in Delaware.

As Conservatives remember William F. Buckley and a few other intellectuals from the late 1950s and early 1960s who helped define the brand that launched with Barry Goldwater and triumphed with Reagan, if the Democrats win the presidency and strengthen their hold on both houses of Congress, they should thank George Lakoff.

[And they have, by the way. Just examining the endorsements on the back of his two latest books we get Tom Daschle, Robert Reich, Howard Dean, Ariana Huffington, and John Podesta all saying warm and fuzzy things. Reich says--with great accuracy--that "in the battle of ideas, George Lakoff is one of the progressive movement's five-star generals."]

Lakoff is Professor of Linguistics and Cognitive Science at UC-Berkeley, and Director of the "Progressive" think-tank Rockbridge Institute. He has written voluminously on the idea of reclaiming public discourse from Conservatives (and Libertarians--he hates the free market), with works that include Don't Think of an Elephant, Whose Freedom, and Thinking Points--Communicating Our American Values and Vision. These books have in common that people who already considered themselves Liberals or Progressives love them; people who are Conservatives and Libertarians want to throw up when they read them; and most people in between (including other cognitive scientists like Steven Pinker) find the science shallow, the author self-aggrandizing, and the repetition boring. As one Liberal(!) reviewer said of Whose Freedom:

In the end, Whose Freedom? is an intensely dissatisfying book. Most of the text attempts an encyclopedic catalog of liberal and conservative versions of "freedom," but the catalog isn't exhaustive enough to be useful, and instead comes off as merely exhausting. Lakoff's attempts to connect his catalog to cognitive science are both woefully incomplete and tragically overreaching. In the end, although Lakoff shares some of my political philosophy, I wouldn't touch his science with a ten-foot pole.

No matter: what Lakoff apparently does not have in terms of intellectual scientific rigor going for him, he does have in terms of understanding how political discourse works, and how to employ blatantly Orwellian re-definitions of both terms and history to serve his political ends.

It goes way beyond the scope of the possible in a single post to give you a complete unveiling of the IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH, neo-Freudian (except in this case it was your father's fault) NewSpeak Lakoff coaches Democrats to employ, but I want to give you some of the flavor of his work.

Basically, according to Lakoff, the Progressive idea of Freedom is the traditional American way, based on the "nurturant family model" of thinking that builds empathy, the ability to understand systemic causation, and a commitment to building a just and fair society. Everyone from George Washington forward who did anything positive in American history did so because he or she was really a Progressive.

Individualism, self-reliance, and free markets are a myth perpetuated by Conservatives whose thinking is based on the "strict father model" of thinking that leaves them callous to anybody else, unable to comprehend anything but direct causation, and committed to building a society in which a few privileged people enjoy disproportionate wealth that they got by screwing everybody else to keep them poor. This was actually the ideology that preceded the Constitution.

In the middle are not Moderates but (I couldn't make this up) "bi-conceptuals," who operate from the Progressive nurturant empathetic model in some areas of their lives, but fall back on the Conservative strict father callous model in other areas.

It is not possible to distort Lakoff's message through hyperbole, because that is his stock in trade.

OK, let's just try three examples from Whose Freedom (which is really the one you should read; it pretty much covers his intellectual and propaganda waterfront).

Case one: Lakoff's mythological American history (p. 88)

For me, the proudest moments in American history have been our gains in freedom. It began with America's independence from the rule of King George III and the establishment of a democracy--beautiful, but with imperfections. We gained freedom from external authoritarian rule, but there was still freedom to be gained at home. [emphasis added]


1) Lakoff apparently stopped reading about the American Revolution in the sixth grade, because he seems to lack any appreciation for (a) Parliament's role in actually running the British Empire; or (b) the fact that tens of thousands of Americans actually fought for the British because they conceived of themselves as Englishmen first and foremost; it was a civil war.

2) Lakoff doesn't appear to understand the difference between a democracy and a republic.

3) To claim that we fought against the abstract principle of "external authoritarian rule" would have come as a surprise to the people like, say, Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, or Thomas Jefferson who had this corny idea that we were fighting "No taxation without representation." But, you see, it would not fit into Lakoff's "framing" of history to note that the American Revolution was in fact, functionally, a gigantic tax revolt against paying for government infrastructure that played itself out again and again throughout our history (don't you wonder what he would make of the Whiskey Rebellion?).

What Lakoff is interested in constructing here--and in other places--is what real historians call a "useable past"--a mythical past cherry-picked from the available evidence to support a present-day ideology. Give Lakoff American history and his love for "systemic causation" goes right out the damn window. Lakoff uses history not to explain or explore the past, but to justify his present-day agenda. (Which is not to say that Conservatives don't do the same thing.)

Case Two: Lakoff as oppressive champion

Throughout the book, Lakoff purports to champion the 45 million people caught in the "cheap labor trap," who deserve to be taken care of, because it is they who actually do all the work that builds the prosperity for the other seventy-five percent of the population. And to tell them that they can ever escape their plight--as Conservatives or Libertarians do--by personal responsibility or bootstrapping is just plain untrue (and probably evil as well) (p. 157):

As I have pointed out, forty-five million people cannot, all at once, pull themselves up by their bootstraps and become successful entrepreneurs or get better jobs. Those jobs are not there; the capital for starting that many businesses is not there. And anyway, who would do the necessary jobs that those forty-five million are performing now at low wages--picking fruit and vegetables, working in slaughterhouses, flipping burgers, waiting on tables, cleaning houses, caring for kids, doing day labor, cleaning buildings, pulling up weeds, washing cars--in short, doing the hundreds of jobs that pay very little but are absolutely necessary to our current lifestyles? A quarter of our working population is not even mentioned in the economic liberty myth. They hold up the lifestyles of the top three-quarters of our population, but they are caught in the cheap labor trap. [emphasis added]

Do I really need to parse this for you?

1) If the jobs are not there, then what the Progressives want to do is keep all those people in menial positions, just treat them a little better....

2) As evidenced by the fact that Lakoff sees our society as totally dependent on keeping one-quarter of our workers doing shit jobs or the economy will collapse. They can't get out--in fact Lakoff can't allow them out, so he will propose drugging them with government programs (the new Marxism's opiate for the masses now that religion is out of fashion) and keeping them right where they are. He'd just add health care and dignity to flipping burgers and washing cars.

3) And if Lakoff is right? Does he seriously believe he will get far being honest enough to tell the 75% of us he sees as parasites (note that this would include the middle class, given his statistics) that what he wants them to vote for is a massive transfer of their own wealth (but not opportunity) to the poor.

Case Three: most wealth is bad, but that of lawyers is good, very good

In most cases, Lakoff will repeatedly slip in the idea that that those with wealth (even middle class wealth) are parasites who want to use the "common wealth" without paying for it, and that there should not be "extremes" of wealth (or, apparently, concentrations of capital outside the government) in a just society. Too much wealth is not a good thing--except for trial lawyers. (p. 166)

When corporations harm members of the public, the civil justice system takes over where the criminal justice system leaves off. The civil justice system is best understood as a metaphorical version of the criminal justice system. In the civil justice system, the criminals are corporations, the victims are plaintiffs, the trial is a lawsuit, and there are a judge and a jury and a defense attorney. The biggest difference is that the roles of police, detectives, and prosecutors are all performed by trial lawyers, and the funding for the detective work and the prosecution all comes from attorney's fees.

First thought: did John Edwards write this?

Second thought: wow, Lakoff actually expresses a pseudo-Libertarian argument, since the attorneys he has performing the work of detectives, police, and prosecutors are all private attorneys working for a profit. You mean to tell me that the privatized civil justice system is a good idea? More to the point, Lakoff has apparently never heard of the concept that medical malpractice lawsuits are making it impossible for doctors to practice in some areas, and are among the largest expenses that all health care providers share. (In a single-payer system where costs are capped, would Lakoff give doctors sovereign immunity from malpractice suits?)

While CEOs are castigated for salaries that today amount to an average of $15.1 million/year, Lakoff is apparently OK with $30,000/hour attorney billing rates and the estimated $30 Billion cut that a small handful of law firms took out of the various tobacco settlements.

Apparently trial lawyer wealth is good wealth.

I am not doing Lakoff justice here. He has developed a comprehensive, Orwellian program not only to redefine the meaning of freedom, but to claim that his Progressive vision was the original American tradition (when in fact the Progressive vision, as Lakoff understands it, did not even emerge until the very late 19th Century), and then to place hideously simplistic straw-man arguments in the mouths of his opponents.

Lakoff's work is best understood as political propaganda rather than cognitive science or political science; he ignores or distorts all data that does not fit his paradigm, and pursues (even half-way admitting this when he notes that if you get the conceptual frames right, then the facts themselves don't matter) a "big lie" philosophy that would make Adolf Hitler proud and probably inspire George Orwell to write 1985 because Winston Smith didn't take it on the chin hard enough in the first book.

But Lakoff is dead right on one point. If Progressives succeed in re-defining all the terms and re-writing history into their own form of self-serving ideological myth, they will take over political discourse in this country, probably for a very long time.

And they seem to be doing it.

That's why, as much as I hate to send him the royalties, you need to go out and buy George Lakoff's books and read them.

We have spent too much time over the past 16 years in two different presidential administrations having the truth re-defined and debased by the Clintons and the Bushes to allow such a "Progressive" agenda to derail America at the very time we need to be able to deal in facts and data to meet the very real challenges of the 21st Century.


Brian Shields said...

Hmm, it seems that the Progressive movement isn't aimed to progress anyone's lives except their own.

It sounds as though their aim is to keep the working class where they are, with throbbing feet and broken backs, and let Robin Hood government provide for them. All the while painting a picture in their heads that minimum wage earning is as far as they can go, and their party is doing the best they can to help them move up in society.

Some American Dream they have there.

Brian Shields said...

Oh, and 90% of those jobs mentioned in the passage that was quoted, are mostly done with immigrant labor.

Anonymous said...

I would suggest anyone who doesn't want to donate to their cause, to take a look a the Rockbridge Institute website (linked above.)

There's plenty of free stuff on there which describes exactly what they are doing.