George Lakoff, Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at U.C. Berkeley — and highly regarded Democratic tactician — has just released his playbook for the 2012 election. Titled The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic, it purports to be the ultimate insiders’ guide to liberal messaging and left-wing ideology.
He spells this out explicitly on page 17 of The Little Blue Book; in this passage, Lakoff explains to us the difference between progressive families and conservative families — and this difference is crucial to contemporary politics, because our moral values as adults are a direct result of how we were raised:
According to this analysis, conservatives are conservatives because their minds and morals have been twisted by cruel parenting, and they seek to reconstruct this pathological family unit on a grand society-wide scale; whereas progressives naturally were raised by wonderful, caring co-parents to become wonderful, caring adults who seek to replicate this loving family environment for all mankind.
Lakoff is also the reason why liberals and conservatives never seem to be able to communicate with each other. This frustrating problem is no accident, nor a natural result of differing ideologies simply not seeing eye to eye. Rather, it’s a conscious behavior explicitly recommended by Lakoff over the years, and one which he hammers home repeatedly in The Little Blue Book. Page 43 contains the book’s core message:
“Never use your opponent’s language….Never repeat ideas that you don’t believe in, even if you are arguing against them.”
And many politicians, pundits and talking heads have taken Lakoff’s recommendation to heart. This is why conservatives and liberals can’t seem to have the simplest conversation: liberals intentionally refuse to address or even acknowledge what conservatives say. Since (as Lakoff notes) conservatives invariably frame their own statements within their own conservative “moral frames,” every time a conservative speaks, his liberal opponent will seemingly ignore what was said and instead come back with a reply literally out of left field.
Thus, he is the progenitor of and primary advocate for the main reason why liberalism fails to win the public debate: Because it never directly confronts, disproves or negates conservative notions — it simply ignores them.
And this is Lakoff’s fundamental flaw, which unfortunately exactly coincides with his fundamental thesis (in other words, his thesis doesn’t have an error — it is an error). By intentionally refusing to challenge, disprove, understand or even acknowledge the existence of the other side’s argument, you allow that argument to grow in strength and win converts.
This would not be true if the other side’s argument were inherently weak or fallacious, which I assume is at the root of Lakoff’s blunder; he must assume that conservatives don’t have valid arguments or positions, but rather nothing more than sneakily effective ways of misrepresenting erroneous or ridiculous beliefs. In Lakoff’s universe, you can extinguish such beliefs by ignoring them completely, thus depriving them of oxygen.
This strategy of Lakoff would work if two things were true: First, that the conservative position really and truly did not have a valid point behind it; and second, that the conservative position did not have enough of a platform to reach the general public. In order to prop up his thesis, Lakoff must pretend (and insist that all his readers also pretend) that the conservative position is beneath contempt, even beneath ridicule. That solves the first potential problem. But the second one is vexatious to the liberal; Lakoff and his ilk simply cannot stand the very fact that conservative ideas are even allowed to be enunciated in public. Giving conservatives a soapbox is dangerous, even if (as Lakoff presumes) conservative arguments are nothing but a pack of lies and psychological disorders; if lies and lunacies are repeated often enough and cleverly enough, then they can successfully win the hearts and minds of the general public.
The article is quite a bit longer and I don’t agree with everything in it, but I want to thank Zombie for addressing one of my pet peeves. Too many liberals are obsessed about the messaging and ignore the message. Between that and the “Shut-up is why” school of debate it is annoying to watch them blow opportunity after opportunity.
Lakoff’s theory has a lot to do with the failure of OWS – it was all messaging, no message. It was a protest without a defined purpose run by rebels without a clue.