George Lakoff is still going
I hadn't heard of him since I last debunked him some years back but he is still at the same old stall selling the same old secondhand ideas. He has issued a book called "The Little Blue Book: Quotations from Chairman Lakoff"
Lakoff's central "insight" is that you must use distorted Leftist language to have any hope of promoting Leftist ideas. But telling that to people who already call racism "affirmative action" and abortion "choice" must be one of the most unoriginal ideas ever proposed. George Orwell beat him to that idea by half a century.
I suppose that telling people that what they have always done is right might be encouraging to some but that is about all you can say for it. A few excerpts from a critical review of the book:
George Lakoff, Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at U.C. Berkeley — and highly regarded Democratic tactician — has just released his playbook for the 2012 election. Titled The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic, it purports to be the ultimate insiders’ guide to liberal messaging and left-wing ideology.
But Lakoff is not just any intellectual celebrity: he is deemed one of the most important contemporary philosophers of progressive thought. You know how whenever Democrats lose an election, they invariably blame their “poor messaging” and never ever the content of their policies? Lakoff came up with that. Liberals find it very reassuring: We don’t need to rethink our ideas — we just need to express ourselves more clearly.
As a linguist, Lakoff focuses on the notions of “cognitive frames” and “conceptual metaphors,” which refer to the overarching filters through which each person perceives the world. This academic field in and of itself is politically neutral. But on the other hand, Lakoff is also a hardcore leftist, so he decided long ago to overtly combine his academic interest with his personal politics, to use the study of cognitive frames to promote leftist ideology. This is what makes him such a hero to liberals. The Little Blue Book is Lakoff’s attempt to transform his high-minded theories into nuts-and-bolts instructions for how all Democrats — from the White House to the drum circle and everything in between — should speak to conservatives, undecideds and the media....
And yet his new Little Blue Book is supposed to be an instruction manual on how to convert wavering conservatives and undecideds to the liberal worldview — even though insults and mockery are an integral component of that worldview. To summarize Lakoff’s presentation in one sentence, he essentially says, “Hey, you ignorant yet diabolical rubes, shut the hell up and submit to an incessant barrage of our vacuous euphemistic leftist slogans, because you’re too stupid and evil for an honest debate.”
The eternally vexatious problem which drives Lakoff to distraction and which inspired him to write (along with one of his researchers) The Little Blue Book is that despite their psychological pathologies and awful moral structure, conservatives somehow still manage to occasionally win elections. Lakoff has come to the conclusion that this is due not to the superiority of conservative philosophy, but to superiority in conservative messaging.
I’ve designed a little chart to clearly illustrate what I call Lakoff’s Paradox: Why is it that conservatives still manage to sometimes win public opinion and elections despite being so vastly inferior? Behold:
Everything is going liberals’ way until that last step, where they fumble the ball at the goal line: messaging. Conservatives on the other hand are a miserable lot, but somehow manage to uncork a convincing moral frame to hide their distasteful politics. The Little Blue Book really would have benefitted from having such an illustration; but better late than never.
For example, right in the introduction he puts on his scientist hat and gives us a neutral and dispassionate summary of the liberal and conservative political visions, which he will refer back to repeatedly throughout the book. But the language he chooses to use reveals all: the definition of liberalism contains words like “caring,” “decent,” “moral” and “fair,” while the definition of conservatism contains phrases like “self-interest,” “no commitment,” “corporate interests,” and “sink or swim.”
Every page, every paragraph, every sentence in the entire book could be unpacked in a similar way, an unending pastiche of partisan linguistic bias masquerading as scientific or impartial verities.
Lakoff is also the reason why liberals and conservatives never seem to be able to communicate with each other. This frustrating problem is no accident, nor a natural result of differing ideologies simply not seeing eye to eye. Rather, it’s a conscious behavior explicitly recommended by Lakoff over the years, and one which he hammers home repeatedly in The Little Blue Book. Page 43 contains the book’s core message:
“Never use your opponent’s language….Never repeat ideas that you don’t believe in, even if you are arguing against them.”
So central is this notion to Lakoff’s thesis that his publicist sent out a list of “The 10 Most Important Things Democrats Should Know” with each review copy, and guess what comes in at #1:
“Don’t repeat conservative language or ideas, even when arguing against them.”
And many politicians, pundits and talking heads have taken Lakoff’s recommendation to heart. This is why conservatives and liberals can’t seem to have the simplest conversation: liberals intentionally refuse to address or even acknowledge what conservatives say. Since (as Lakoff notes) conservatives invariably frame their own statements within their own conservative “moral frames,” every time a conservative speaks, his liberal opponent will seemingly ignore what was said and instead come back with a reply literally out of left field.
Thus, he is the progenitor of and primary advocate for the main reason why liberalism fails to win the public debate: Because it never directly confronts, disproves or negates conservative notions — it simply ignores them.
A prime example of Lakoff’s ruinous recommendations can be seen in the debate over abortion, which never seems to get resolved despite a trillion words being expended on it every day. The “conservative frame,” to use Lakoff’s language, is that a fetus is a human being who has not yet been born; thus to “abort” the fetus is to kill it, which means a human being has been killed, which is tantamount to murder. In response to this frame, Lakoff recommends — a recommendation that liberals dutifully follow — that those on the left completely ignore the conservative argument, and instead “reframe” the issue with metaphors like “freedom of choice” and “women’s independence” and “reproductive rights.” All those positive words — “freedom,” “independence,” “rights” — recast the entire debate in a different light, allowing liberals to “win” the debate by not acknowledging that the opposing side has even made a statement.
And this is Lakoff’s fundamental flaw, which unfortunately exactly coincides with his fundamental thesis (in other words, his thesis doesn’t have an error — it is an error). By intentionally refusing to challenge, disprove, understand or even acknowledge the existence of the other side’s argument, you allow that argument to grow in strength and win converts.
This would not be true if the other side’s argument were inherently weak or fallacious, which I assume is at the root of Lakoff’s blunder; he must assume that conservatives don’t have valid arguments or positions, but rather nothing more than sneakily effective ways of misrepresenting erroneous or ridiculous beliefs. In Lakoff’s universe, you can extinguish such beliefs by ignoring them completely, thus depriving them of oxygen.
While Lakoff’s foolish insistence that liberals never repeat conservative frames means that conservative notions never get directly rebutted, this insistence backfires in other ways as well. Why? Because conservatives take the diametrically opposite strategy: They seize on every utterance that liberals make, and repeat their “frames” as loudly as possible to demonstrate how deceptive they are. So while liberals studiously avoid analyzing anything conservatives say, conservatives meanwhile are avidly dissecting every single thing liberals say. The end result is that conservatives, to their own satisfaction as least, successfully challenge and de-fang every liberal notion; but liberals never challenge or de-fang conservative notions, instead seeking to snuff them out with a lethal dose of Silent Treatment.
But it gets worse, because it is the very euphemisms and other ludicrous “conceptual metaphors” recommended by Lakoff which give conservatives so much grist for their mill. Every time a liberal talking head gets up and uncorks another howler in the Lakoff style, conservative fiskers and deconstructionists latch on and tear it to pieces, trumpeting it as further evidence of liberals’ cluelessness or mendacity. So not only does Lakoff recommend holding fire against conservative frames, the ammunition he saves only ends up being used against the liberals themselves.
And this man is considered their master strategist?
Lakoff's book does have some vague claims to academic respectability so my dissection of his ideas does include a presentation of the academic evidence relevant to his theories