Episode 62: George Lakoff – The Evolutionary Challenge of the 21st Century for the Political Mind
In this episode of our Engaged Elder series, I dialogue with George Lakoff, distinguished professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California, and known to many as the author of the previous New York Times best-sellers ‘Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think’, and ‘Don’t Think of an Elephant’, and now his latest and very timely book ‘The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 21st Century American Politics with an 18th Century Brain’.
The matters George and I dialogue about have universal implications to any country and political system, even though we are here focused on examples from the upcoming “tipping (or toppling) point” 2008 election in the United States. You will find it interesting no matter which country you live in because the archetypal structure of the human brain, as we know, is something we share across the globe and that really is the point of these programs.
We are all called to go beyond the initial adolescent “breaking away” from the oppressive rule of Mother Church and Father Sovereign in the 18th Century European Enlightenment through the celebration of “Reason”, using the printing press and widespread “democratized” dissemination of knowledge as a path to empowering the “middle class” and “the people”, to a more subtle leap of consciousness in the 21st Century. In our present latter stage adolescent polarization – stuck in rationalized secular and religious “identity” ideologies and estranged from our early heritage of empathy, with our over-emphasis on expressing self through exclusivism and dominance rather than cooperation and co-creative collaboration – we need to move into a nurturing, mature politics based on self-confident, not self-assertive, transpartisan dialogue.
After you listen to this Dialogue, I invite you to both explore and make possible further interesting material on Living Dialogues by taking less than 5 minutes to click on and fill out the Listener Survey.
“I’m George Lakoff, and I’m here on Living Dialogues, having a great talk. The talk we’ve been having is exactly the kind of dialogue that we need in this country.” – George Lakoff
“Duncan Campbell, I heard about your podcast a few months ago, and have been deeply listening to all the dialogues with your fantastic friends/guests. Your words, ideas, and wisdom are truly inspirational. You have evoked a new appetite for knowledge in me that I hope to share with a starving younger generation. Thank you for doing what you do, and creating a unique space, void of boundaries and classification. A breath of fresh air! Much love and respect.” – Amit Kapadiya
In furtherance of creating and maintaining the planetary dialogues now required in the 21st century, I will be featuring a special series of dialogues on this site with myself and other elders in the next few weeks during and after the 2008 Olympics hosted by China and the U.S. election season. These dialogues will address various specific political aspects of our planetary crisis, with its dangers and opportunities for a visionary and evolutionary shift. (We remember that the Chinese character for “crisis” is often described as meaning both “danger” when visioned from a fear perspective, and “opportunity” when visioned from a wisdom perspective.)
In my preceding dialogues I have talked in various ways about the need to generate dialogues across generational, ethnic, gender, and national boundaries -- building bridges of understanding and wisdom in the cooperative spirit and reaching out required by our 21st century realities, and the essential roles that we all are called to play in our evolution for it to take place..
This is the time for renewed dialogue, for visionary and inspiring discourse producing practical and innovative solutions together, to engage our own elder wisdom and youthful inspiration, and in so doing to experience and exemplify that “Dialogue is the Language of Evolutionary Transformation”.
And that is what we all do, in our mutual roles as host, deep listeners, and guests, when we gather together here from all parts of the globe in Living Dialogues.
Other programs you will find of immediate interest on these themes are the Dialogues Programs 35-36 with Paul Hawken regarding the emergence of collaborative citizen movements worldwide, Program 37 with sociologist Paul Ray on the creation of a new wisdom culture and political paradigm, Program 58 with Ted Sorensen, counselor to John F. Kennedy, Program 59 with Robert Thurman on the Dalai Lama and China, and Program 61 with David Boren on the need for new energy and transpartisanship. Also of directly related interest in terms of the founding and traditions of the U.S. during its tipping point 2008 election season, with its implications for global shifts, are my dialogues with historian Joseph Ellis, honored as “the Founders’ historian” by The New York Review of Books (see Programs 38 and 39).
SUBSCRIBE HERE FOR FREE TO LIVING DIALOGUES AND IN THE COMING WEEKS HEAR DUNCAN CAMPELL’S DIALOGUES WITH OTHER GROUND-BREAKING TRANSFORMATIONAL THINKERS LISTED ON THE WEBSITE WWW.LIVINGDIALOGUES.COM. TO LISTEN TO PREVIOUS RELATED DIALOGUES ON THIS SITE, SCROLL DOWN ON THE LIVING DIALOGUES SHOW PAGE HERE -- OR CLICK ON THE NAME OF A GUEST ON THE LIST AT THE RIGHT -- TO HEAR DUNCAN’S DIALOGUES WITH DR. ANDREW WEIL, BRIAN WEISS, COLEMAN BARKS, RUPERT SHELDRAKE, LARRY DOSSEY, JUDY COLLINS, MARIANNE WILLIAMSON, MATTHEW FOX, JOSEPH CHILTON PEARCE, DEEPAK CHOPRA, BYRON KATIE AND STEPHEN MITCHELL, CAROLINE MYSS, GANGAJI, VINE DELORIA, JR., MICHAEL DOWD (THE UNIVERSE STORY OF THOMAS BERRY AND BRIAN SWIMME), STEVE MCINTOSH, FRANCES MOORE LAPPE, STANISLAV GROF, RICHARD TARNAS, MARC BEKOFF AND JANE GOODALL, RICHARD MOSS, PAUL HAWKEN, PAUL RAY, JOSEPH ELLIS, DUANE ELGIN, LYNNE MCTAGGART, ECKHART TOLLE, MICHAEL MEADE, ANGELES ARRIEN, SOBONFU SOME. TED SORENSEN, ROBERT THURMAN, DAVID MARANISS, DAVID BOREN, AND OTHER EVOLUTIONARY THINKERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD.
The best way to reach me is through my website: www.livingdialogues.com. Many thanks again for your attentive deep listening in helping co-create this program.
All the best, Duncan.
P.S. As a way of further acknowledging and appreciating your part in these dialogues, and since I cannot personally answer all of them, I have begun to publish from time to time in these pages some of the numerous (unsolicited) appreciations received from you.
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George Lakoff: I’m George Lakoff, I’m the author of ‘The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 21 Century Politics With An 18th Century Brain’, and I’m here on Living Dialogues, I’m having a great talk.
The talk we’ve been having is exactly the kind of dialogue that we need in this country.
Duncan Campbell: Welcome to Living Dialogues, I am your host Duncan Campbell, and with me for this particular dialogue, I’m truly delighted to have as my guest George Lakoff. Known to many of you for his influential prior books, ‘Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think’, and the New York Times best seller, ‘Don’t Think of an Elephant’.
And now his new book entitled, ‘The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 21 Century American Politics With An 18th Century Brain’. George Lakoff is Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, and Senior Fellow at the Rockridge Institute, in addition to books on Cognitive Science, linguistics, philosophy, mathematics and poeitics.
So George you’re a real renaissance man and it’s a real pleasure having you here in the studio and talking about your latest contribution, ‘The Political Mind: Why We Can’t Understand 21 Century American Politics With An 18th Century Brain’, in which you brilliantly bring together, all of your own academic, we might say and career specialties with a much larger frame, it’s relevant to ordinary citizens and also of people of great sophistication.
On the back of the book George Sorrows has said, “I learned a lot from Lakoff, you will too”. Paul Hawken, who has been on this program, says of your book, “This is a pocket manifesto for those still wonder how a small group of rich, powerful [xx] tied together the shoelaces of the progressive movement, read it once and know why we are loosing. Read it twice and why we can restore sanity to the world”.
So George, with that background, let’s jump right in an unexpected way, which you haven’t prepared before, I’d like you, just on the spot to think back just right now, to maybe an incident in your childhood, that somehow as you look back was a [xx] of your career.
George Lakoff: Well, of course it's a pleasure to be here Duncan, thank you so much. It wasn’t just one incident, I had a very interesting childhood. My childhood was interrupted in midstream, when I was about seven; my father had a series of heart attacks.
I wasn’t able to work anymore and I can tell you that fact too, that was interesting, but we started a rooming house from my grandmother. My mother had worked in a factory for 25 years in the age of 12; she never got to high school neither did my father.
The rooming house was near to Navy Base in Bayonne, New Jersey and that was a great experience, because we got sailors and also people working on the ESSO oil Tanks from all over the country, coming to the rooming house.
My mother, when anybody was hungry, would feed them, that wasn’t part of the rent. People would come in and watch ‘I Love Lucy’ and all the TV and I got to know people from everywhere. And a lot of them were conservatives, and perfectly wonderful people.
I had no problem, I disagree with their politics, and my father had me reading politics from the time I was about ten, but I made them disagree with their politics, but we got along famously. They were helpful, they were sweet good people.
What I learnt from that was that the divisions in this country, were not about, like many liberals had thought, that conservatives were just mean or greedy or stupid or so on, but no, that these were people who saw themselves as highly moral and were in many ways.
So that was a major thing for me to know, growing up, and was all through my childhood, from the time I was 7 till I went away to college.
Duncan Campbell: I think that’s extremely interesting to get that biographical background, because we can see that you yourself, as you write about the political and the psychic unconsciousness landscape are coming from a point of view that embodies the very values that you talk about.
We might summarize them as you do, by saying that, if we look at the values, the moral values that inform our personal lives and our political lives, that when we go back to the founding fathers in America, we see that the founding documents, the very structure of our government our political and economic institutions, where highly informed by the 18th century enlightenment, but by a deep sense of empathy.
That if we look at the brain, we find that there are aspects of the brain that are, you might say any neuro language, ‘Trigerry Neural Responses’ and binding with certain issues, either on the basis of empathy or the kind of authoritarianism, which is the very thing that the United States was rebelling against with King George III.
The monarchial structure of the sense of obedience and discipline getting coherence and safety by being dependant and disempowered on royalty in a faraway government and something arose in the American consciousness that was the first of its kind.
Literally on the plaintiff, at this scale which said that, “we can actually come together as we the people on the basis of empathy and caring for each other and creating a kind of equality of opportunity, kind of responsibility for our environment and a way to govern ourselves with a higher reason. Not just the sense of being obedient to authority”.
We’ll be self empowered and our crowning documents, after much debate, start with the words, “We the People”, we are not seeking a divine source of authority or divinely sanctioned secular authority, as had been the case with the divine right of kings, in Europe, who would be sanctioned by the Church.
And so we have this Church stating kind of collusion for many centuries to a lot of the disadvantage of ordinary people. And all of that was turned in a new and revolutionary direction, by the American Revolution.
So you’re now saying that, those values have gone into decline, in the last several decades in the American political landscape. There’s a way that we can recapture, the spirit and the substance of our founding fathers and for the real core vitality of our institutions.
By understanding that there are new enlightenments can take place right now, that we know more about the brain, we know more about how we react through unconscious patterns, and if we bring those unconscious patterns to consciousness, as you do so brilliantly, in your book, this provides a new form of liberation.
In the 18th century the enlightenment was to expose the limitations and superstitions of religious authority aligned with royalty. Today we need to illuminate the superstitions aligned with certain kinds of framings that have dominated our public discourse for the last three or four decades.
Now so with that introduction, let’s just dive right in.
For full transcript, please contact Duncan Campbell