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« Different strokes para gentes diferentes | Main | What George Lakoff knows about the mind »

September 30, 2004



Interestingly, I almost bought "Moral Politics" last night when I was roaming Borders (I have a secondary interest in both cognitive sciences and in politics, so it seemed to fix). If it is bad practive then, I think I won't get it then...

Semantic Compositions

In fairness to Prof. Lakoff, you may well read what I have to say and decide that I'm actually full of it. Some of my criticisms will involve things that Lakoff would vehemently deny could be done differently. Others will be a lot harder to answer.

I do think that anyone interested in cognitive science ought to read "Women, Fire and Dangerous Things", which makes the case for the mental organization presumed in "Moral Politics" quite well. When he sticks to things where his knowledge and curiosity are equal to his passion, Lakoff is an entertaining polemicist and terrific expository writer. My argument about "Moral Politics" is essentially that it's all passion, and that there are some things he's not willing to do the hard work to find out about.


I enjoy Lakoff. I also read this review. I have to say that I found "SC"s criticisms come down to three arguments:

(1) Lakoff is not perfect
(2) Lakoff is angry
(3) Lakoff is wrong and both conservatives and liberals are fact-based and not swung by emotions

Here is are my responses
(1)Yes! He is not perfect. Sometimes he makes some mistakes and is not completely consistent. Some of his frames can use more work. But at the end of the day SC did not articulate a better path (or any path) than the one Lakoff set forward for liberals. After this last election Lakofff's suggestion for liberals to talk about morals sounds like a good one!

(2) I did not get that impression. In fact one of Lakoff's rules for liberals when talking to conservatives (in Don't think of an elephant) is to not get angry. To stay calm and reasonable. But hey what do I know!! I am not someone with a blog like "SC".

(3) I am sorry SC to have to let you know that yes both conservatives and liberals are driven by emotions to a large extent. Why else would Lakoff be so "angry" if he wasn't driven by emotions? Seriously, as a former hard-right conservative myself and now a moderate liberal, I can vouch for emotional transformation that it took for me to get over my racism, xenophobia, fear of other, etc before I started to look at facts better. While I'm at it, I see a lot of liberals driven by an emotional anti-authority set of feelings that also could their judgement.

Anyway, I recomend Lakoff's writings. I enjoyed reading a criticism of Lakoff. I just wish SC could propose a better way for liberals to win the values games besides to ignore Lakoff. That strategy hasn't worked so far for liberals.

Semantic Compositions

To respond to Paul's points:

1) I didn't say that he has to be perfect. I did say that he has to do better than fantasizing about Klansmen's mental states when trying to describe conservatives. If you feel that's a fair mode of analysis, I suspect that much like Pauline Kael, you don't know how Bush could've won, because you don't know anyone who voted for him. There are far too many basic errors of fact in Lakoff's work to just dismiss them with "hey, he's only human". Lakoff's description of liberalism is not better -- he's as hung-up about flower children as Klansmen, and that's no more reflective of contemporary liberalism.

As for Lakoff's suggestion to talk about morals being a good one, allow me to suggest that the actual talk along those lines coming out of Lakoff's fans -- the Koses of the world -- is not the right way to go about it. The talk can't be contemptuous, as Lakoff is when he says that now that he understands conservatism, he finds its morals scarier than ever. And it can't be bigoted, like smarmy comments about "Jesusland" (such tolerance of Christianity!).

2) Just because Lakoff says "don't get angry" doesn't mean he follows his own advice. I stand by the evidence I already presented in that regard, none of which you even attempted to refute. As for your comment about me having a blog, and putting "SC" in scare quotes, I hope you didn't get here from Michael Erard's article, where my name is right there in print. I also hope that you apply similar a priori skepticism about blogs to those who happen to agree with you.

3) I am sorry Paul to have to let you know that you don't get to have it both ways. You don't get to beat me with the stick marked "Lakoff isn't angry", and then turn around and beat me with the one marked "Well, of course, Lakoff is angry". Seriously, I don't understand how you can say that you had to get over your emotions, which you claim made you a conservative, to "look at facts better", which you claim made you a liberal. So you were "driven by emotions to a large extent" one way, but not the other?

As for the point that I'm not offering a better program than Lakoff, I have gotten this several times and always from people who cannot resist taking personal cheap shots at the fact that I am a blogger. Although these appear to be superficially unrelated complaints, their net effect is to serve as ideological graffiti, both warning people not to take what's here seriously because of the source. The former complaint is exactly analogous to damning National Review for not being a better journal of liberal ideas, or The New Republic for not publishing talking points that they believe will enable liberalism to be vanquished once and for all. The latter ought to be irrelevant to judging the quality of my ideas. I didn't set out to fix liberalism or conservatism, I set out to critique a theory of political speech, and the fact that you seem to agree a better program is now in order tells me that I did my job.

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Excellent point of view. You stated it perfectly right.

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