Episode 63: George Lakoff – Part 2: The Evolutionary Challenge of the 21st Century for the Political Mind
In Part 2 of our dialogue, George and I recap how our political choices are influenced by the imprint of our early socialization in our families of origin, and the subsequent acculturation we receive in our education (or lack of it) and in our communities. As George describes it, our early neurological imprints from our family lead us to think of political parties as a “family” (an idea often reaffirmed by the language of politicians themselves). The Republican Party in the U.S. he sees as associated with the “strict father” parent and the Democratic Party associated with the “nurturing parents” archetype (belittled and caricatured by the Republicans, abetted by a compliant and somewhat cowed media, as the “Mommy” or “nanny” party, falsely represented as supposedly taxing the “hard-working” middle class and doling out monies and welfare to the undeserving poor.)
Because of these neurological imprints – manipulated by negative and misleading ads, including outright deliberate deception – many voters do not vote their economic interests based on “the issues” (as one would expect from a Maslow hierarchy of external needs psychological model, based on “kitchen table” issues of food, shelter, and jobs). Instead, many voters are emotionally triggered and duped by fabricated wedge distractions into voting based on fear, anxiety, and compliance with authority – often against their own interests and that of their children and grandchildren – in order to reaffirm their ”identity” within a group.
The final section is devoted to the dominant “narratives” that are at play between Obama and McCain, what they represent in the collective American psyche, and how they relate to the evolutionary challenge and initiation beyond adolescent group mind we are all confronted with. Will this election be a Tipping Point and a leap forward, or a Toppling Point in a great fall backward.
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“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).
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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.
Welcome to part two of Duncan Campbell’s ongoing dialogue with George Lakoff, author most recently of "The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st Century American Politics with an 18th Century Brain." In part one, heard last week here on "Living Dialogues" George talked about the way in which the latest neurological research illuminates how there are certain frames or value systems which we hold dear with our psyche and literally with the neurons of our brains that are often unconscious. And it ultimately, unbenounced to us, determines such things as our voting choices in the political arena. We concluded the first dialogue with George's exposition on how the two political parties in the United States, the Democratic party and the Republican party, are often unconsciously viewed by voters as a family system. And depending on how they grew up and what kind of parents they had and what kind of education system they were exposed to, they can either see a political party such as the Republicans as a strict father family, or the Democrats as a nurturing parent family. Either one has very different implications for political behavior. And this explains while people often vote apparently against their own economic interest. In the old enlightenment of the 18th century, it was thought that ordinary people could be liberated from the superstitions propagated by the church and secular authority in alliance together by presenting the facts, by presenting information, by presenting knowledge and that people would make up their mind on a strictly logical basis in their own self interest. And again and again we see in our political system, as illustrated by the book by Thomas Frank, "What's the Matter with Kansas?" That voters will often vote against their own economic interest as expressed in the Maslow hierarchy of needs. First you think about shelter, food, your economic survival. Instead of that they’ll vote on the basis of an unspoken and often unconscious identity that relates directly to the family system in which they grew up or which they project onto either one of the political parties. That’s where we left off last time. This time, we’re going to apply all those concepts to the primaries that took place between Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton and the view historically that developed with Ronald Reagan who understood that people do not vote according to issues but they vote according to their primary identity. And the implications of all these insights for the current election season and what could be a very historical and tipping point election. Which narratives will prevail in 2008?
George Lakoff: I’m George Lakoff. I’m the author of “The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 21st Century Politics with an 18th Century Brain” and I’m here on Living Dialogues and 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’m 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 21st Century Politics with an 18th Century Brain.” George Lakoff is richer and wrote a 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 poetics. So George, you’re a real renaissance man and it’s a real pleasure to have you here in the studio and talking about your latest contribution, “The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 21st Century Politics with an 18th Century Brain” in which you brilliantly bring together all of your own academics we might say and career specialties with a much larger frame it’s relevant to ordinary citizens and also people of great sophistication. On the back of the book, George Sorrels has said, “I learned a lot from Lakoff, you will too.” Paul Hawkin, who’s been on this program, says of your book, “This is a pocket manifesto for those who still wonder how a small group of rich, powerful oligarchs tied together the shoe laces of the progressive movement. Read it once and know why we are losing. Read it twice and why we can restore sanity to the world.” So George, with that background, let’s talk about how in your prior book you talked about how one of the great metaphors that influences our brains and our cognitive consciousness is the metaphor of the government as a family. And how we can relate that to family values that there are certain, what some people call memes or value structures that are at work in our consciousness in an unconscious way that can be exploited for a short range private advantage and not for the common good. So, perhaps we should, in a sense, summarize that at this point as we continue our dialogue.
George Lakoff: Our first experience with governance is in our family. And so we recognize family members and we also experience being governed. And that over and over is rised to a metaphor that a governing institution is a family. And they could be a religion, where you have a holy father, or it could be a nation where George Washington is the father of our country, as any seven year old knows and doesn’t confuse him with “daddy.” And this happens around the world wherever you have people that is things like “Mother India,” “Mother Russia,” “The Fatherland.” Now, that’s important because in this country, we have two very different understandings of what families are. Strict father families and nurturing parent families. And the SFF has a motive thought and a morality that goes with it. It says that you have a mother and a father. The father is head of the family, he’s there to protect the family, mommy can’t do it, to support the family, mommy can’t do it, and kids are born bad. They just want to do what they want and they don’t know right from wrong, the good strict father knows right from wrong, and it’s his job to punish the child when they do wrong, so that the punishment will be painful enough so the child will do right and not wrong and therefore develop discipline. Discipline to be moral and with that discipline they can go out into the market and become prosperous. So if someone is not disciplined, is not going to be prosperous. And so if you see someone who is not prosperous, it means they are not disciplined. If they’re not disciplined, they can’t be moral. And if they’re not moral, they deserve their poverty. It’s a motor thought which you have in conservatism and one where the strict father is the decider. It’s the strict father who makes the decisions and runs the show and others are there to follow and obey. This is what conservative reasoning is about and it applies not just to government but to religion, there’s a conservative fundamentalist view of god as a kind of strict father. It applies to the market itself when you say, “Let the market decide.” The market is going to reward disciplined people and punish undisciplined people. So what you have is that view applied to government in all levels. And similarly, you have a progressive view based on a NPF where empathy is central and not just feeling empathy but acting on it. Being responsible, being strong, being resolute, having good judgment. That is what is required for a true nurturer. And what you do in such a family is you raise your children to be nurturers of others, to empathize, to be responsible for yourself, to be responsible for others. It is the opposite of indulgence. And what that means is a parent is there for the protection of a child and the empowerment of the child. That’s what government is about in progressive thought. It says you start with people caring about each other. The government is the instrument of that. How does it work? The government protects and empowers. It’s not just military and police protection; it is environmental protection, worker protection, consumer protection, safety nets, health care. And empowerment is not just roads and communication systems, it’s educational systems, it’s the banking system, the energy system. It’s the stock market, the SEC upholds it. It’s the court system for contracts. You can’t make a dime in this country without the protection and empowerment by the government. And what taxes are, are what you pay to live in America instead of in a third world country. Instead of a country where you don’t have a stock market or a banking system. As Warren Buffet said, “If I were dropped in Bangladesh thirty years ago, I’d still be impoverished.” Because they didn’t have a stock market or a banking system.
Duncan Campbell: And so I think that very well begins to line out the differences on how the parties are perceived in our public discourse. That they have been successfully framed, we might say, by the dominant neo-conservative movement of the last period of time. In a way that shows the Democratic Party, shall we say, as weak and ineffectual. They call it the mommy party or the nanny party. So their diminishing and demeaning and minimizing the roll of empathy and vision, the role that government should actually protect people. Not only militarily but also from the depredations of privateering, unscrupulous people on wall street, unscrupulous corporations that would take advantage of them, the Enron’s that actually, on that movie on Enron that had employees making cynical jokes to each other on cell phones about these granny’s they were taking advantage of and driving their energy rates up and making fun of them for being victimized by these policies and so on. This kind of really severe under pinning or shadow within that kind of posturing of being the strict father and so on. And what we could do here in addition to this Enron example, of how they are not in fact fulfilling the role of government to protect people at all levels from unfair exploitation by people who have greater wealth and power but to direct the nation’s energy for the benefit of all they nonetheless demean this as the nanny state or the mommy state or tax and spend liberals who just give handouts to people that are irresponsible and don’t work. We’ve got Hilary Clinton talking about the white working class as if the African Americans are not working class or working people. Really insidious kinds of framings that take place for personal exploitation and advancement of political and business careers. And so, one of the set of conundrums that we can now look at that exemplifies what we’re talking about in terms of the old enlightenment and the new enlightenment. The old enlightenment in your view as you put it, basically was so intent on protecting people from the exploitation by the church and corrupt monarchies that they were trying to break the hold of superstition that held the public enthrall by introducing logic, reason, facts, there was the encyclopedic movement that came about if we could get knowledge into the hands of the public, this would be liberating. And along with that was the assumption that if people knew the facts and had the knowledge, they would make rational, reasonable decisions in their own interest. And yet, in our modern times, we have a book by Thomas Frank illustrating that that does not always happen where his book entitled, “What’s the Matter with Kansas.” Why is it that somebody in Kansas in the Midwest would be snookered by Carl Roves issue of gay marriage legalized in Massachusetts? Now here’s a person who is very unlikely to even meet very many gay people and certainly is not going to meet any gay people getting married in Kansas, where it’s not legal, and this is happening 2000 miles away and yet instead of making his choice according to the Maslow hierarchy of needs in terms of his own economic security. He votes against his own economic security, and that of his children and grandchildren, by voting for George Bush and tax breaks for the wealthy because Carl Rowe has had Bush play the card of gay marriage in a state 2000 miles away. It seems to be a complete conundrum. And yet, you explain it very contumely.
For full transcript, please contact Duncan Campbell