The brains of the progressive renaissance, literally.
About 10 months ago I came across a book that seemed interesting enough to buy, The Political Mind, by George Lakoff. In fact, I bought it, took it to South Carolina and everything…but only read about 4 pages. There’s a review on the cover that has always bugged me and every time I picked it up, I saw the quote and put it down, “…filled with fascinating scientific research, is apt to find a receptive audience among citizens who hunger for a new progressive renaissance.” The funny thing is, THAT quote is the reason I bought the book. Something based on science is being touted as a tool for the “progressive renaissance.” Intriguing.
I’m about 80 pages into the 270 page book. After the first chapter I decided that it’s best to start taking notes since it is apparently the cognitive progressive play book. (That’s my assumption thus far, as far as I know.) Now I feel like I’m reading a textbook. I spent a few hours yesterday in the lay-z-boy, with my notebook, book, some snacks and I dug in. This is what I’ve found so far….
According to Lakoff, our political views are shaped by our frames and narratives of our own life. The first chapter is titled “Anna Nicole on the brain”. He basically goes into detail about narratives and how they shape our opinion of our friends, politicians, celebrities and every thing that moves. There’s always some “story model” that our minds unconsciously attribute to people. For instance, Anna Nicole, you can see her as the “gold-digger”, some see her as “the victim”, while others see her in the “rags-to-riches” narrative. All perfectly logical and it actually makes sense. If you can get past the “Candidate Obama…blah blah blah” drivel.
From there he goes on to explain our “Political Unconscious”. In this chapter he proceeds to explain how Progressives, Neoliberals and Conservatives really think. It’s almost laughable if it wasn’t so damn scary. The section, “Progressive Thought and the Politics of Empathy” (yes, that’s really the subtitle) starts off with this little gem:
Behind every progressive policy lies a single moral value: empathy, together with the responsibility and strength to act on that empathy. Never forget “responsibility and strength,” because there is no true empathy without them.
(All emphasis is mine.) Quite definitive wouldn’t you say? But he goes on to bash the Bush administration and says Barack Obama was correct in saying that during “the conservative reign” we’ve seen an empathy deficit. Which apparently is a failure to care. He says, “Caring is not just feeling empathy; it is taking responsibility, acting powerfully and courageously. You have to be strong to care and to act on the care with success.” Lakoff goes on to suggest that the role of government from the Progressive’s mind in based in this theory of caring, and that caring requires the government to have two main roles, protection and empowerment. Protection includes our defense, social security, disease control, health care, disaster relief, safe food, consumer and worker protection, and environmental protection. Yes…really. It’s on page 47 if you wanna check.
The empowerment portion of the government covers things such as roads and bridges…because they provide the means to travel where you want, when you want, the Internet and satellite communications, public education, the banking system, SEC, the court system, etc… He says, “Nobody makes a dime in this country without being empowered by the government. There are no self-made men or women. It’s a myth!” (Pg 48, in case you’re fact checking.)
The role of progressive government is to maximize our freedom–and protection and empowerment do just that. Protection is there to guarantee freedom from harm, from want, and from fear. Empowerment is there to maximize freedom to achieve your goals.
Progressive government is, or should rightly be through protection and empowerment, the guarantor of liberty. This is what life-affirming government is about.
He then proceeds to explain how taxes are “part of the genius of America”. And since corporations use more “government empowerment” they should rightly pay much more than the average citizen. Lakoff says the moral mission of the government is empowerment and protection and that’s why budgets are moral documents. And since the government isn’t in there to make money, like evil business are, they have no moral responsibility to make a profit. It’s because of empathy that the government should not make a profit. Once the government starts making a profit that’s when the government becomes immoral. It’s only because of empathy that the government is “fair and responsible”.
It should be clear that empathy and responsibility are at the heart of progressive thought. But things are not so simple, not all progressives are the same.
That last sentence made me laugh. But fact of the matter is, Lakoff used up a lot of page space explaining how good progressives are. He then explains the “Neoliberal mode of thought”. According to him, the neoliberal thought is based on the “Old Enlightenment view of reason: it is conscious, logical, literal, universal, unemotional, disembodied, with the function of serving interests, one’s own or those of others.” He says that because of this the neoliberal tries to take logic and statistics into account when coming up with new entitlements. If there’s a disadvantaged demographic “African Americans in the inner city, college students needing loans, children of lower-income families, middle-class workers, and so on” and the market has failed to provide to meet their need, government should step in and either “restructure the market by law or provide funding directly through subsidies.”
The neoliberal mode of thought further assumes that lacks demonstrate needs. Accordingly, there is a focus on objective evidence for the needs of these programs via statistics showing lacks: things that can be objectively measure, facts and figures…
He basically goes on to say that because neoliberals are too stuck in their own “Old Enlightenment reasoning” they are stuck in the middle ground between progressives and conservatives. They can’t be progressives because they don’t believe in emotion, and they can’t be conservative because they’re not smart enough. (pg 53 if you don’t believe me) The neoliberals approach to politics is basically to lobby the material interests of members of demographic groups.
The argument is: It is in our political interests to help others achieve their material interests. If we do that, they’ll vote for us.
He says that the neoliberal is an elitist who:
cannot make sense of the reality that people can simultaneously have two inconsistent worldviews and use them in different areas of life without even noticing. Universal reason says there is only one rational mode of thought. Anyone who argues against you must either be mistaken (in need of facts), irrational (needing to have their reason corrected), or downright immoral.
Lakoff basically categorizes the neoliberal as an easy pushover because the conservative and progressive have emotion on their side. Emotion wins over reason.
The part of the chapter that made me laugh the most is “Conservative Thought and the Politics of Authority”. Lakoff classifies conservative thought as:
It begins with the notion that morality is obedience to an authority–assumed to be legitimate authority who is inherently good, knows right from wrong, functions to protect us from the evil in the world and has both the right and duty to use force to command obedience and fight evil. Obedience to legitimate authority requires both personal responsibility and discipline, which are prime conservative virtues. Obedience is enforced through punishment.
Well hell, if that doesn’t sound all kinds of 1984…no wonder the progressive and the neoliberal hate the conservative. He goes on to reinforce this line of thinking by basically saying, so you don’t believe me? Well…”A sign on a military base in the American South in 2007 read, “Obedience Is Freedom!” He then spends another six pages bashing conservatives in the typical way, they’re pro business, even to the point of promoting lying and cheating. Their vision of the “free market” is dangerous to everyone but businesses controlling the market. He even says conservative logic says:
If you’re not prosperous, you are not disciplines and therefore cannot be moral, and so deserve your poverty. It follows that if people are given things they have not earned, they become dependent and lose their discipline and with it their capacity to obey moral laws and legitimate authority.
Let’s translate: if you’re poor, you’re undisciplined and therefore you’re gonna break laws. But if only you’d spread the wealth to those poor people they would have to break laws and be immoral. Conservatives make people break laws. It’s been a while since I’ve taken a class in logic, someone check that for me. Thanks.
Lakoff says conservatives think people are born bad and greedy but through proper discipline they can maximize their self-interest to seek wealth rationally. The market rewards those who acquire discipline and punishes those who do not. He claims that even if we deregulate the market and remove more of the government from interfering with business, it doesn’t mean we are any more free since corporations govern our lives more than the government. And since his premise is that government is moral and business is not (remember, because government doesn’t make a profit, therefore it is moral.), it is better to give control to the more moral body.
I’ve basically given you the meat and potatoes of the book so far. It’s scary to think that this is taken as fact. The progressive mindset is indeed one of the last frontiers of the world, well…that and the ocean floor. You can’t possibly look at it from a logical perspective because it just doesn’t work since it’s based in empathy and emotion and logic are incompatible. And you can’t argue with them from an emotional foundation because you will always lose since emotions are subjective. I’ll be sure to let you guys know how the rest of the book pans out, the next chapter is titled “The brains role in family values”. That should be interesting. Maybe.