I’m not sure the polemicists over at Policy Watch would grasp the intricacies of Pinker’s and Lakoff’s competing cognitive theories of mind and language, but Steven Pinker – one of the brightest bulbs burning today – has sliced up Lakoff a few times – like here.
In this curious essay, Rob Schofield tries to distill some of Lakoff’s psycho-political metaphor-speak for the laity. An example:
If there was any core message that emerged from Lakoff’s presentations it might be this: “It’s time for progressives to get back to basics.” While it remains important for progressive advocates to continue to work in each of their many specialized fields and sub-fields and to remain actively and pragmatically engaged in direct lobbying and electoral politics, it’s also critical for progressives to do a much better job of shaping the overall debate.
If I didn’t think there was more to this, I’d ask Schofield if he’s planning on asking for a refund from Lakoff. "Framing the debate" is not some grand progressive vision dreamt up by a (once) brilliant cognitive psychologist, it is what political types have been doing since time immemorial. Only progressives do it with less truth and less principle.
Anyhoo, I’m happy Rob and the gang got to have their little powwow with Lakoff — to come up with new ways to dupe voters into rehashed socialism using goofy metaphors. My personal favorite is higher taxes being "membership fees", which is as heavy on mendacity as it is light on trope. But Steven Pinker said it best:
One can just imagine the howls of ridicule if a politician took Lakoff’s Orwellian advice and renamed "taxes" as "membership fees." (Indeed, Orwell himself singled out revenue enhancement as an egregious euphemism for a tax increase in his famous 1949 essay "Politics and the English Language.") … To take the most obvious example, taxes and membership fees are not two ways of framing the same thing: if you choose not to pay a membership fee, the organization will cease to provide you with its services, but if you choose not to pay taxes, men with guns will put you in jail.
Remember, for all of their metaphors about the left being more nurturing, it all comes down to the fact that government fetishism means if you don’t comply, men in guns will put you in jail. Period. Facts trump framing, eventually.