Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Framing, the Silver Rule, and Political Taste

There's a good discussion of Lakoff's theory of framing at "Mixing Memory" (hat-tip to Majikthise).

What I wonder is why Lakoff always focuses on taxation. There's an equally good set of frames in the case of welfare -- e.g., the fact that we talk about 'health care' rather than 'emergency medical subsidies' or, for that matter, about 'welfare' rather than about 'poor law' and 'the dole', and about 'welfare recipients' rather than 'charity cases'. Since Lakoff is a la mode for liberals these days, perhaps they would do well to keep in mind that conservatives can turn the matter around just as easily as liberals can. If people really want to make political discourse a war for names, it's a game that can be played by anyone. My own view is that this is all playing with fire -- and you know what you risk when you play with fire.

This is part of what I think might be a serious flaw in our political reasoning, namely, a failure to think long-term. One sees this in critiques of conservative critiques of judicial activism that make the false assumption that judicial activism is an inherently liberal phenomenon, i.e., that there will never be a time when conservatives are using the courts for their side in the way they claim liberals are using the courts now. There's definitely something to critique in those conservative critiques (for one thing, they also make the false assumption); but if you're a liberal, it might be a good idea to frame your critique so it doesn't come back to bite you hard you know where. Similar things can be said about conservative critiques themselves. People just don't think beyond the immediate context. It's not like it's difficult, though. It's simple reciprocity: if you're a conservative criticizing liberals, think how you would respond if you were put in a situation similar to that of the liberals; if you're a liberal criticizing conservatives, think how you would respond if you were put in a situation similar to that of the conservatives. And yes, you can be put in a situation similar to that of your opponents; if you don't realize that, start paying attention to how topsy-turvy politics has been lately. The Silver Rule ("do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you") will save you from making many stupid or dangerous moves; it is the heart of good political taste, in the sense in which I use the term (see elsewhere on this weblog -- you can do so by typing "political taste", with quotation marks, into the search engine on the Blogger bar).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please understand that this weblog runs on a third-party comment system, not on Blogger's comment system. If you have come by way of a mobile device and can see this message, you may have landed on the Blogger comment page, or the third party commenting system has not yet completely loaded; your comments will only be shown on this page and not on the page most people will see, and it is much more likely that your comment will be missed.