Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Towards a better frame

Digby makes an interesting comment in the context of talking about the efficacy of negative campaigning:

And, nobody recognized that negative, ugly, hateful campaigning was what worked. It seems that we all feel that if we had just reached out and touched people we could have made a difference. We don't "connect," which may be true, but let's face facts --- Bush doesn't "connect" with people's better natures, he "connects" directly to their id. And, I'm afraid that the id trumps finer feelings in many, many people. Yet a large number of these suggestions have to do with sincere appeals to try harder to empathise and relate to those who didn't vote for us. Hey, maybe it'll work. We are the "nurturant parent," after all.

Digby's comment is, of course, a reference to the whole Lakoff framing discussion. Regular readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of Lakoff's work. I think he has done a marvelous job of identifying the importance of frames in political discussions and of identifying the frame that is behind the modern conservative movement (the "Strict Father"). Digby's sarcasm is directed towards Lakoff's "frame" for progressivism: the "Nurturant Parent".

Sadly, I must agree with that sarcasm. The "Nurturant Parent" label evokes the image of wimpy, hands-off, do-as-thou-wilt, let-bygones-be-bygones liberalism. The very wishy-washy image that we need to overcome if we are to be taken seriously on issues of national defense.

But I am reminded of a button I saw this past weekend:

Sarcasm: yeah, that'll work!

Sarcasm is an inadequate response to the weak frame of the "Nurturant Parent". We need to develop a better frame to replace it. I have a suggestion. It involves bringing back the "L" word into progressive politics.


The frame is the "Loving Parent". It contrasts with the "Strict Father" in many ways.

The "Strict Father" frame is based on the idea that Man is bad and that it is only through the imposition of strict discipline that he can suppress those tendencies enough to do what is right.

The "Loving Parent" frame is based on the idea that Man is capable of doing the right thing and that Love is the best way to encourage it.

The "Strict Father" presumes that we are children who cannot be trusted and must be watched at all times to prevent us from falling back into our wicked ways.

The "Loving Parent" presumes that we are adults and potential adults who can be trusted to ultimately do what is right if given the chance to do so.

The "Strict Father" starts from the position that we are evil until we prove that we are good. It presumes that we can never truly be good without intervention, so we will always be evil unless we surrender our will to the "Strict Father".

The "Loving Parent" starts from the position that we are good but can be turned to evil. It presumes that it is through encouragement combined with discipline that the latter can be avoided and the better angels of our nature will shine forth.

The "Strict Father" is based on a model of God whose creation defied him and who must then punish that creation until it surrenders its will to God. This is a model that presumes that God unintentionally created something imperfect. It is necessarily demeaning to the idea of God.

The "Loving Parent" is based on a model of God whose creation was given, from the beginning, the choice between good and evil, is trusted to do the right thing in the end. Otherwise, why even bother creating us this way in the first place? Would God deliberately create us in a way that we are guaranteed to fuck up? What kind of malign thug would do such a thing?

God is Love.

God is Trust.

God is not simply a bully who can't keep his children in line.

God is a parent who loves his children enough to let them make their own mistakes while having faith that those children will eventually do what is right.

The God of the "Loving Parent" believes in us and believes enough in his own competence to know that his creation will come back to him.

The God of the "Strict Father" believes only in himself, yet does not trust his own creation to do what he wants it to do.

The "Strict Father" does not consult with his children about how they should be raised. Does God consult with his creation on how the world should be run? But this equates the "Strict Father" with God. This is blasphemous.

The "Loving Parent" understands that only God is perfect. The "Loving Parent" can never presume that they have all the answers and that they don't, occasionally, need to talk with their children about what is the best way to raise them. This is humility.

The "Strict Father" is all about discipline. You defy the "Strict Father" at the risk of serious punishment. Obedience is the number one priority.

The "Loving Parent" tempers discipline with Love. They don't just punish, they also try to understand how the situation got bad enough that it required punishment. They care about their charges enough to listen to their concerns.

I could go on forever.

The "Loving Parent" is a better frame because there is nothing wimpy about Love.


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