Monday, December 27, 2004

Framing != Lying

Chris Nolan responds to some of the responses he has gotten to his criticism of Lakoff (not mine in particular):

Well, my problem with Lakoff is a little different. I think the Lefty fascination with his emphasis on how things are said belies a condescension that persists among a lot of "progressives," a word Lakoff favors instead of "liberal." The idea, as far as I can make it out, is that since the Republicans lie but disguise their lies as pablum, then Democrats must do something similar to capture votes from folks who aren't sophisticated (that's elitist code, by they way, for "stupid) to understand the smoke and mirror show that's so misled them and caused George Bush to be elected president. Lakoff's take on "framing" and other sorts of talking tricks is, for many, the best way to do remedy this state of affairs.

This is ridculous. It's a thesis that rests squarely on the cynical premise that politics is made up of folks who are totally insincere and that winning is all that matters. Since no one needs to be sincere or truthful to win elections, it doesn't matter what you say, what matters is how you say it. That, my friends, isn't a slippery slope, it's an abyss.

Chris once again betrays his failure to read what Lakoff has said. Lakoff has gone out of his ways on multiple occasions to say that framing is not the same as lying (or spin or disguise or whatever). He makes the point that the most effective frames are those that are truthful even if they only present one side of an argument. The point of good framing is not to sugar coat your ideas but to present your ideas in a way that doesn't immediately cause them to be rejected for unrelated reasons.

The best salesman will tell you that a good salesman doesn't need to lie in order to sell their product. They just have to understand how their product fills a need in the buyer and get the buyer to understand the same thing. 

Yes, there is always the temptation to twist, spin, distort and outright lie. But Lakoff also makes the point that when you resort to these tactics it is a clue to others that your position is a weak one. He uses the example of the "Clear Skies initiative" as an Orwellian term that shouldn't upset us. It should instead alert us to the fact that the Bush administration knows that the policy is anti-environmental. They only have to couch it in such terms in order to get it past people's bullshit detectors.

I think I understand where Chris' distaste comes from. I have always hated sales. For years it has always seemed to me to be nothing more than a legitimized confidence game. So anything that smells of anything but the most honest and forthright pitch immediately turns me off.

But, George Lakoff's message is that marketing of ideas, the framing of ideas in order to advance them, is not simply a necessary evil. It is, in fact, the way of all human communication. We use framing all the time whether we realize it or not. Rather than rail against it we need to learn to embrace it and make it work for us.


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