August 11, 2008


Who Framed George Lakoff?: A noted linguist reflects on his tumultuous foray into politics (EVAN R. GOLDSTEIN, 8/15/08, The Chronicle Review)

In his new book, [George] Lakoff takes aim at "Enlightenment reason," the belief that reason is conscious, logical, and unemotional. Harnessing together work from several fields, particularly psychology, neuroscience, and linguistics, he mounts a polemical assault on the notion that people think rationally — which, he argues, is fundamentally at odds with how the brain actually functions.

Approximately 2 percent of the millions of pieces of information the brain absorbs every minute are processed consciously. The remaining 98 percent are handled by the unconscious brain. The mind, in other words, is like a tiny island of conscious reasoning afloat in a vast sea of automatic processes. In that sea, which Lakoff calls "the cognitive unconscious," most people's ideas about morality and politics are formed. We are all, in many respects, strangers to ourselves. Lakoff's book grandly describes what he believes are the revolutionary implications of his findings: "a new understanding of what it means to be a human being; of what morality is and where it comes from; of economics, religion, politics, and nature itself; and even of what science, philosophy, and mathematics really are." (He singles Chomsky out as "the ultimate figure of the Old Enlightenment.")

It is the political ramifications of Lakoff's theory that preoccupy him these days. An unabashed liberal (he insists on the label "progressive"), he says that Republicans have been quick to realize that the way people think calls for placing emotional and moral appeals at the center of campaign strategy. (He suspects that they gleaned their knowledge from marketing, where some of the most innovative work on the science of persuasion is taking place.) Democrats, Lakoff bemoans, have persisted in an old-fashioned assumption that facts, figures, and detailed policy prescriptions win elections. Small wonder that in recent years the cognitive linguist has emerged as one of the most prominent figures demanding that Democrats take heed of the cognitive sciences and abandon their faith in voters' capacity to reason.

The Brights sit around flogging their Enlightenment and wonder why Americans loathe them. But no matter who's trying to explain it to them they're going to cling to Reason and oppose the Stupid morality of their countrymen.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 11, 2008 10:19 AM

Democrats, Lakoff bemoans, have persisted in an old-fashioned assumption that facts, figures, and detailed policy prescriptions win elections.

Yeah, that explains why Democrats were infatuated with Obama: facts (and they are?), figures (a slim atheletic young man vs a dumpy middle aged woman?), and detailed policy prescriptions (Where is the beef?)

The problem is when voters pay attention to facts, figures, and detailed policy prescriptions, they get scared stiff. Republican politicians' problem is: they believe the progressives' drivels and are not principled enough to counter them with facts, figures, and detailed policy descriptions.

Posted by: ic at August 11, 2008 1:19 PM
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