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Sunday, May 20, 2007


SusanG has this diary at Daily Kos concerning George Lakoff's latest book, "Whose Freedom?"
The definitional confusion—capitalized on by the right wing through repetition—begins with trying to give meaning to secondary characteristics of freedom. All of the crucial parts of simple freedom are left unspecified," Lakoff points out, and then asks, "What is to count as free will, ability, and interference?" It is largely on the battleground of free will that what he calls "contested" freedom begins. If I’m denied access to a quality education through an accident of birth, am I really able to exercise "free will?" If not only desirable connections, but information itself is unavailable, how "free" am I to take action on my own behalf and exercise my rights?

At this point, one runs up, of course, against the legendary "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" school of thinking, which has increasingly insisted that Americans who can’t make it in this grand land have only themselves to blame (a perception that would be alien and surprising to the Greatest Generation, which came home from World War II and made use of the GI Bill to go to college, buy homes and use VA medical facilities to solidify the middle class). The recent conservative redefinition of freedom (often code-worded as "liberty") has succeeded in shifting the debate from public obligation to ensuring access in a competitive system, to private selection of who precisely is captured in notion of the "worthy poor" – who should shoulder the responsibility for failure in a "free" society. Lakoff points out that the nature of competition itself requires a large class of "losers" (the uninsured, the unemployed) to define the winners against.
As our executive director, Andrew Villeneuve has discovered, perhaps to his chagrin or even irritation, I'm among the Lakoff-impaired amongst progressive bloggers. It's not that I don't welcome Lakoff's observations, or even at times find some of his points interesting, I just don't find Lakoff's work to be as important as some do.

Probably I'm just dense, or maybe I recoil at his tendency to point out the obvious truth that facts alone are not enough, or maybe he repeats the same thing so many times that I fall asleep before I can finish a chapter. Yes, language matters, and the concept of "framing" is important, but I guess I'm just not going to be one of the people who builds those long term frames. I'm too much of a former campaign hack, probably better at minor tactics than grand strategy.

To be clear, just because I don't truly understand Lakoff doesn't mean you can't, and to the extent I can take one of his ideas and use it I'm fine with it, but I'll probably keep making the "error" of leaning towards rational explanations for things. Some of us are getting too set in our ways; it happens with kids and mortgages and such. If someone can explain this stuff to me better, I'm all ears. Maybe I just don't understand what we are to do on a daily basis with information about neural pathways.

But I will have some coffee and start in on "Thinking Points" again, maybe something will click this time.

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