The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Lakoff: A Seminar In Hooey?

Posted on | September 11, 2011 | 30 Comments

by Smitty

Dear George Lakoff,

I used to think that Lefties held beliefs. Now I’m not so sure. Can you ground this argument about intimidation and framing in real history, starting with the Founders?

Reading your PuffHo post, it sounds as though you may be the heir to Chomsky. You’re making weighty-sounding pronouncements, which arrive like a flatbed load of lumber for the audience to assemble into who knows what. What are your first principles? What do you hold absolutely true? If you are one of those no-truth intellectual invertebrates, then how do you argue against anything, conservative or otherwise?

Wishing you made more clear sense,


The mechanism of intimidation is framing, not just the use of words or slogans, but rather the changing of what voters take as right as a matter of principle. Framing is much more than mere language or messaging. A frame is a conceptual structure used to think with. Frames come in hierarchies. At the top of the hierarchies are moral frames. All politics is moral. Politicians support policies because they are right, not wrong. The problem is that there is more than one conception of what is moral. Moreover, voters tend to vote their morality, since it is what defines their identity. Poor conservatives vote against their material interests, but for their moral identity.

All language activates frames in the brain. Conservative language activates conservative frames, which activate conservative moral worldviews in the brains of those who hear the language. The more those frames are activated, the stronger the conservative moral views get in people’s brains.

When Democrats are intimidated into using conservative language, they help conservatives, even if they are arguing against them. Here’s why. The main voters you want to affect are the bi-conceptuals, those who are conservative on some issues and progressive on others; that is, those who have both conservative and progressive moral worldviews, but on different issues. They are sometimes misnamed as “the center,” “independents,” or “moderates.” But they do not have any single overriding worldview. Instead they have two. Given the way brains work, the activation of one worldview will inhibit the other worldview. The more one is activated, the stronger it gets and the weaker the opposite one gets. The worldview that is most activated by the public discourse they hear will most likely govern how they will vote. What activates one worldview versus another? Framing. Conservative language activates conservative frames, which activate conservative worldviews. If Democrats use conservative language, even to argue against it, they are just helping conservatives.

To a large extent, Democrats don’t understand this. They think that language is neutral and that reason works by logic. If you just tell people the facts and reason logically, everyone should be convinced. But they aren’t, because language works by framing and by brain mechanisms. Framing is just the normal way people think and talk. Conservatives tend to understand this. They avoid using liberal language. They frame issues very carefully to fit their goals. Democrats need to do the same — avoid using conservative frames and instead frame the issues with their own values.

Maybe somebody else can RTWT and tell me if there was a point other than whining about having lost the tempo in the public discourse.


30 Responses to “Lakoff: A Seminar In Hooey?”

  1. Anonymous
    September 11th, 2011 @ 11:07 pm

    Two things, first a warning, if you practice promiscuous bi-conceptuality you wind up with a rash they can’t treat.

    Second, as usual, he is accusing us of what the left does all the time, stacking the language and the context so it is impossible to even make certain arguments.

    He just took the long way round.

  2. Anonymous
    September 11th, 2011 @ 11:17 pm

    Another holier-than-thou liberal, alluding to Chomsky like scripture and making no sense.  But then, Chomsky made no sense, either.

  3. Anonymous
    September 11th, 2011 @ 11:55 pm

    He does have a core belief. It is that Joe Conservative is too stupid to vote for his or her best interests but, that it’s the fault of other liberals not his. Because he was framed.

  4. Rose
    September 12th, 2011 @ 12:10 am

    OH, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! Lakoff! Crying poor? The man who is ALL about coaching the left in their deception and manipulation. He is their GURU, for crying out loud.

    The difference between Lakoff, and Luntz is very simple: Lakoff uses words (framing) to piss on your leg and tell you it’s raining – tell you taxes, higher taxes, are GOOD for you, they’re an i-n-v-e-s-t-m-e-n-t, don’t you see?  And you need to go to confession for your sins if you disagree. Luntz, on the other hand, uses words to help you assert what you already know to be true.

    Lakoff is evil and sick. And THIS is beyond the pale. He has no morals, but he will try to wrap himself in morality, even as he helps the left to lie and lie and twist and spin.

  5. Chuck Coffer
    September 12th, 2011 @ 12:17 am

    Leftists have one single belief. They despise traditional virtue in all it’s forms. They are the scum of this earth. They do and say horrible, sub-human things, because horrible and sub-human things are what horrible sub-humans say and do.

     Beavers build dams, leftists hate virtue.

  6. NeoSexist
    September 12th, 2011 @ 12:39 am

    I think I may be bi-conceptual-curious. Of course, I cant be sure because that article was a load of Krugman.

  7. NeoSexist
    September 12th, 2011 @ 12:58 am

    Having now read the whole thing, I think I see his point: Conservatives manipulate the naive and weak-minded which is a shame because they are a natural Democrat constituency. And they are evil.

    Also, he gives up the ghost in his opening statement when he shares that both he and his wife shared the same initial reaction to 9/11. Namely, that Darth Cheney would become all-powerful because America would be scared of terrorist bogeymen.

    He feared Dick Cheney.

    Also when Dems read his books they win. When they don’t they lose.

    This guys a keeper.

  8. AnonymousDrivel
    September 12th, 2011 @ 1:03 am

    Lakoff: “They think that language is neutral and that reason works by logic. If
    you just tell people the facts and reason logically, everyone should be

    Right, right. That’s why they distill taxes as “revenues”, stimulus as “job creation,” war as “kinetic military action,” and war on terror as “overseas contingency operation.” So much neutral, honest, factual logic wrapped as treatise in a mere, transparent word/phrase.

  9. David R. Graham
    September 12th, 2011 @ 1:10 am

    Mix, with superficial grasp, Maslow and Bateson (Gregory, not Mary Catherine) and  one has something like this guy’s thesis.  He’s talking about stochastic structure.  Not well, but passionately.  Trying to channel Bateson’s work with schizophrenics and systems theory and Maslow’s assists for  Madison Ave.  Reminds me of the guy Medved had on last week who said jobs were obsolete, etc. etc., just give everyone a guaranteed income, technology permits that, yoo hoo:  warmed-over Theobald, and again, not well, but passionately.  Lakoff is an outlier.  And leftists/National Socialists aren’t interested in debate or logic.

  10. Tennwriter
    September 12th, 2011 @ 1:13 am

    You know, I was going to say something, but everyone else beat me to the quip.  Well done, y’all.

  11. Anonymous
    September 12th, 2011 @ 1:33 am

    This whole Lakoff thing is “What’s The Matter With Kansas?” rewritten – note the “Poor conservatives vote against their material interests, but for their
    moral identity.” line.

    It’s a twisted logic self-justification as to why they can’t win even when they literally own the means of information. If that’s true – and it’s not – then it sucks to be them if they can’t suppress, spin, or otherwise twist the facts to get everyone to agree to their “truth”.

  12. Ira
    September 12th, 2011 @ 2:04 am

    AnonymousDrivel beat me to the punch:  “They think that language is neutral and that reason works by logic. If you just tell people the facts and reason logically, everyone should be convinced.”
    Which is why the Dems ran the “Republicans want to push Grandma off the cliff” ad.
    You owe me ten minutes of my dwindling life for trying to make sense of this guy’s dirvel.

  13. Lakoff: An Idiot’s Treatise On Moral Language « That Mr. G Guy's Blog
    September 11th, 2011 @ 10:19 pm

    […] Lakoff: A Seminar In Hooey?. […]

  14. Anonymous
    September 12th, 2011 @ 2:30 am

    Well actually it just plain sucks to be them almost as much as to know them.

  15. Anonymous
    September 12th, 2011 @ 3:41 am

    Not entirely off topic Maureen Dowd writes
    “The reawakened Republicans are no longer the loyal opposition. They’re revolutionary Bolsheviks who want to eat Obama alive.”
    “……. lets the nihilist Republicans go unchallenged in their crazy claims to be saving the country they’re hurting,…..”

    How long before one hears Republicans are Bolsheviks on MSNBC?

  16. Chuck Coffer
    September 12th, 2011 @ 4:41 am

    Nihilism, to automatons like Dowd, means not worshiping government. If you worship government, you’re optimistic. If you don’t, you’re a paleolithic nihilist.

  17. Adjoran
    September 12th, 2011 @ 4:57 am

    Chomsky wannabe is the kindest description of Lakoff.  But I at least give Chomsky’s linguistics credit: he was attempting to learn or discern truth, and to enable language and thereby everyone to improve their tools.  Not that his ideology didn’t intrude, but that wasn’t his intent.

    Lakoff is just attempting to codify the leftist mythology that “their truth” is in fact absolute.  It completes the process necessary for leftist totalitarianism to overcome democratic republics:  first the eternal truths, the basic assumptions of our society and even our civilization are attacked, only at once as being exclusive, not allowing possible other narratives.

    Once the chink in the armor is created, the multitude of other narratives explode forth, and their next step is arguing that each is by its very existence necessarily equally valid as the ancient premises they seek to supplant.  Thus is confidence in those principles, under development as long as Western Civilization itself has existed, undermined, and their authority overturned.

    Having dethroned the wisdom of millennia of experience and philosophy, the final thrust is declaring that the left’s chosen new set of facts and principles are infallible, and not only is there no need for further discussion and debate, any such talk is deleterious to humanity, and must be banned.

  18. Anonymous
    September 12th, 2011 @ 5:15 am

    Lakoff clearly has no idea what conservatives are actually like, or he wouldn’t keep trying to serve up his cowshit as chocolate cake.

  19. Anonymous
    September 12th, 2011 @ 5:16 am

    I used to be disgusted by Maureen Dowd, but now I can’t even be bothered to make the effort to be amused.

  20. Anonymous
    September 12th, 2011 @ 5:31 am

    It would appear that her disillusionment zero has mellowed somewhat. Mark my words about the Nihilistic Revolutionary Bolshevik Republicans meme.

  21. elaine
    September 12th, 2011 @ 6:00 am

    I predict you’ll be hearing that meme tomorrow on MSNBC.  Several times…

    What kills me is that the progressive’s policies don’t work.  What’s gone down in the past three years should have proven that to them.  But they cannot admit their policies have always failed and will always fail because it assaults their idea of who they are and how smart they are.

    So it’s the Tea Party and conservatives who are the bolsheviks, tearing down America.  Because, clearly, it can’t be Obama and the progressives.

    How often have the dems changed terms to make them seem less scary or objectionable?  Now they aren’t the federal government, they’re our federal “family.”

    The trouble for the dems is that too many of us have cottoned onto their game.  We get exactly what they’re doing when they call it “kinetic military action” instead of “war.”  We get what they’re doing when they change it from federal spending to “investment.”

    The trouble for them is we’re not nearly as dumb as they’ve convinced themselves we are.  And if we’re not as stupid as they believed, we’re not nearly as easily controlled and led as they’d hoped.

    Their fate is sealed… but they can’t admit it.

    One last: he’s wrong about the bi-conceptual people.  They aren’t confused and they aren’t living with one foot in conservatism and one foot in progressivism.  Those are libertarians.  It’s not inconsistent to be fiscally conservative and socially liberal.  Which is part of why the left now has no idea how to appeal to everyone in the middle…  If they can’t fearmonger people to scare them into supporting dems and they can’t use the language to carefully craft their positions, what do they have left?  “Shut up,” he said, that’s what.

    We’re already seeing the argument being made by lefties that some ideas are too dangerous to be broadcast to the masses.  Conservative views shouldn’t be aired.

    We’ll be seeing more demands for censorship — though they’ll never call it that — because the left’s ideas cannot stand careful examination from informed citizens.  THAT’S why their party will lose even bigger in ’12 than they did in ’10.

  22. elaine
    September 12th, 2011 @ 6:08 am

    We’ve already seen the dems pronounce the “time for debate is over.”  It’s over as far as climate change is concerned.  It was over during the healthcare debate.  It was over during the debt ceiling.  Ad nauseum.

    They’re really good at declaring the time for debate is over when nothing’s been debated.  After all, their ideas cannot withstand careful scrutiny.  So instead of debating, they mischaracterize the ideas of the opposition and then wage war with the strawmen they’ve created.

    Again, we’ve figured out the ploy.  And THAT’S the real problem for the dems.  While they controlled the mainstream media and all outlets of information, they could convince us of anything.  But with the internet they don’t control all information.  And it’s proving to be quite a problem for them.

    Dividing and conquering is so hard when you’ve got the internet bringing us together…

  23. Anonymous
    September 12th, 2011 @ 6:34 am

    There is a center of sorts. There are polls that they’ve so desperately grasped that indicate that there are people who are so desperate for action they’ll view any action no matter how fruitless as positive. Then there are also, the perennial compromisers means a functioning government types, some of them just don’t recognize how bad everything the left wants to do is. Others just don’t want to have to pick a side and believe both sides have merit so splitting the difference is good enough. To pick a side means that one must skip dancing with the stars and pay attention to current events, they resent having to make that “sacrifice”.

  24. Matt Lewis
    September 12th, 2011 @ 10:27 am

    The big problem with progressivism is that their policies aren’t all obviously failures from the get go.

    Witness Romney v Perry, with respect to Social Security.  It’s true that many people have benefited from receiving checks from the government.  By the time it’s obvious that it’s going to crash and burn, the populace is already addicted, and it’s like a huge display of courage and controversy just to admit we have a problem.

    Progressives:  crack dealers of politics.

  25. Bob Belvedere
    September 12th, 2011 @ 12:17 pm

    The dirty conservative screws!

  26. Bob Belvedere
    September 12th, 2011 @ 12:26 pm

    As Richard stated above this is another case of a Leftist ‘accusing us of what the left does all the time’.

    Obama and his minions are very much acting like the Bolshes of legend and they certainly meet the definition of Nihilist.

    I agree that they will start using these terms against us, so I guess I’d better drag out my copy of Richard Pipes’s The Russian Revolution and be ready to respond.

  27. Bob Belvedere
    September 12th, 2011 @ 12:28 pm

    A brilliant explanation of the Leftist process, Adj.

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  29. Dodd
    September 12th, 2011 @ 5:54 pm

    Maybe somebody
    else can RTWT and tell me if there was a point other than whining about
    having lost the tempo in the public discourse.

    There most certainly is. It’s an attempt to say that there’s something wrong with people’s brains that explains why liberalism doesn’t conform to reason and logic.

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