Friday, April 01, 2005

Framing is for idiots, Part 3

Ezra Klein demonstrates that it is possible to criticize Lakoff in a specific fashion and not come off sounding contemptuous of the entire concept of framing.

Geroge Lakoff -- I'm sorry to say -- is absolutely horrible at framing things. No, I mean it, the guy is atrociously fucking bad at it. He's a perfectly good guru because he understands what framing is and why it's important and I'm glad that Democrats are realizing we need to put some thought into our language, but Jesus Christ, has anybody actually read his book? He's the worst goddamn framer I've ever read. Democrats should be the nurturing parent? Are you kidding me?

It's a harsh assessment, but it is one that I am also coming to believe. Lakoff is good at reading the X-Rays, but damn if I would go to him to get a prescription for my headaches. He might recommend aromatherapy.

I was fortunate to have a brief conversation with a colleague of Lakoff's just last weekend and she brought up many of the same criticisms of Lakoff that Ezra details. She said that Lakoff set out with the best of intentions, to find a metaphorical model of equal value to progressives as the Strict Father model is to conservatives. But his Nuturant Parent model violates all of the cardinal rules that Lakoff himself lays out. First of all, it appears to be nothing more than a counter-model to the conservative model rather than a self-sufficient model in its own right. But even worse, the Nurturant Parent model actually validates one of the core conceits of the conservative model by being just another variation of the "Nations Is Family" metaphor.

I'm tired of political models that treat citizens like children.

Rather, I think the progressive vision is more akin to the "It Takes a Village" model. The well-being of The Village depends on the well-being of The Individuals that comprise it, thus it is rational for The Village to nurture The Individual so that The Individual can better contribute to the well being of The Village. This is in contrast to the conservative model that says that The Individual is responsible for their own well-being and that The Village will benefit only when The Superior Individuals assume control of The Village. The Lesser Individuals in The Village, in this model, are impediments to the overall security of The Village because they impede the ability of The Superior Individuals to protect The Village against The Savages In The Woods (how, precisely, is usually left to the imagination). The progressive vision, on the other hand, says that all Individuals can contribute to the protection of The Village, but they can't do so so long as Predatory Individuals (who disguise themselves as Superior Individuals) prey on their weaknesses.

For example, the Pentagon has fired Arabic interpreters because they just happened to be gay. The conservative vision says that the presences of these Lesser Individuals brought down the overall security of The Village (I guess their gayness somehow leeches the strength from The Superior Individuals around them). The progressive vision says that the security of The Village has been weakened because the skills of these Individuals is no longer available to The Village. Thus the issue of homosexual rights can be re-framed as an issue of national security.

The "Nation as Village" model fulfills many of the same purposes as Lakoff's "Nurturant Parent" model, yet it does not undermine itself by validating the conservative "Strict Father" model.

Hmmm. Maybe it's time I actually read Hillary's book? :-)

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