by — Nathan @ 3:29 pm 1/9/2005
Frances Moore Lappe has a very insightful article up on Guerrilla News Network: "Beyond Lakoff’s strict father vs. nurturant parent, a strong community manifesto"...
George Lakoff’s new best-seller Don’t Think of an Elephant has been heralded as the “bible” for battered progressives searching for direction in the post-election doldrums. Lakoff himself has become the Left’s answer to Frank Luntz, the focus-group genius behind the branding of Bush’s “death tax,” “Clear Skies” and “Healthy Forests” initiatives.
“Frames,” according to Lakoff, are the key to understanding how political ideas are received. Human beings don’t absorb information as raw material; we sift input through frames of meaning carried in the language we use.
Lakoff’s central idea is that conservatives see the world through a “strict father” frame emphasizing discipline, self-reliance, forceful defense, while progressives see the world through a “nurturant parent” frame - supportive, nourishing, emphasizing mutual responsibility. Lakoff claims that thirty-five to 40 percent of Americans fall into each camp, although most are some sort of mix.
The Right, Lakoff points out, is extremely good at selling their policies in clear, easy to understand “strict father” frames. Progressives, on the other hand, too often seem to offer laundry lists of issues lacking any overarching moral framework.
So, it’s easy to see why progressives are rallying around Lakoff’s call to arms. Since polls show majorities actually agree with the progressive agenda on many key issues, including corporate power, the environment and abortion, focusing on “framing” issues in ways that Americans can understand them seems like the answer they’ve been praying for. Certainly, much of Lakoff’s advice about communicating progressive ideas is powerfully insightful and right on target.
But….the frame Lakoff identifies with progressives - “nurturant parent” - itself needs critical thought.
Nurturant parent - what could be worse for progressives?
They’re already stereotyped as coddlers of the lazy poor; dubbed “bleeding hearts” who refuse to require people to take responsibility for themselves. A nurturant parent framing may confirm the caricature. Lakoff is careful to distinguish his parent model from “mother,” but I fear it is too easily received as a soft mother alternative to strict father.
The question few seem to be asking is: Are “strict father” (Right) versus “nurturant parent” (Left) our only choices, or can we move beyond the nuclear family metaphors?
If the Left is indeed stuck with nuclear-family metaphors, they’re seriously out of luck; in scary times like these “strong father” will win out over what is seen as “soft mother” every time. Thankfully, the narrow, Western psychoanalytic, nuclear-family frame itself is becoming dated.
So here’s what she proposes in place of Lakoff’s “Nurturing Parent” frame:
progressives can show that the more engaged and just a community, the stronger and safer we all are. The more we know that we can count on our neighbors, our schools, our health care providers - because we know them and because they are adequately funded- the safer we feel. Immediately after 9/11, a public health expert pointed out an obvious link between fairness and community safety. With over 40 million people lacking health insurance, if there were an act of biological warfare against us, an infectious agent could spread swiftly, he pointed out. For how could it be contained if millions of uninsured delayed seeking medical attention? Obviously a case in which unfairness - the fact that so many can’t afford insurance - threatens everyone’s safety.
A “strong communities” frame might require progressives to stop, for example, talking about the “environment,” which non-progressives can hear as a “soft” distraction in war time, and frame ecological challenges as threats “to safe air and water and food.” We might stop talking about poverty, and alleviating it, which evokes images of do-gooders, and talk about “fair-chance communities.” Stop talking about reforming criminal justice and talk about results-based crime prevention.
Lappe's article is at: http://www.guerrillanews.com/articles/article.php?id=1010 follows: