A few months ago, we talked about the importance of how political ideas are "framed" when we talk about them. In his book, Don't Think of an Elephant!, George Lakoff, a cognitive scientist and political thinker at UC Berkeley, says this about "frames":
Frames are mental structures that shape the way we see the world. As a result, they shape the goals we see, the plans we make, the way we act, and what counts as a good or bad outcome of our actions. In politics our frames shape our social policies and the institutions we form to carry out policies. To change our frames is to change all of this. Reframing is social change.But reframing is not easy. As an illustration, Virginia Ted (who repeats himself) provided a quote from Will Storr's book, The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science:
By the time you have reached adulthood, your brain has decided how the world works—how a table looks and feels, how liquids and authority figures behave, how scary rats are. It has made countless billions of little insights and decisions. It has made its mind up. From then on, its treatment of any new information that runs counter to those views can sometimes be brutal. Your brain is surprisingly reluctant to change its mind. Rather than going through the difficulties involved in rearranging itself to reflect the truth, it often prefers to fool you. So it distorts. It forgets. It projects. It lies.All of which is true. But it is also true that the brain can change its mind. As evidence of this I offer the history of attitudes about homosexuality and same-sex marriage. I could dig up the statistics about it, but I'm sure there's no need. We all know there's been a massive change in the last three decades. Straight people thought they knew what homosexuals were. When millions of gay men and lesbians showed incredible courage and "outed" themselves, there was new information. "So-and-so says he is gay. I have always held so-and-so in great esteem, and still do. My understanding of what it means to be gay is now different." In Lakoff's terms, I have reframed my understanding of homosexuality. And "reframing is social change."
Politically, you can try to change people's frames, but you often don't have to. You just need to choose the right language, so that what you are describing fits their frame. Lakoff gives this example:
Think of the framing for relief. For there to be relief, there must be an affliction, an afflicted party, and a reliever who removes the affliction and is therefore a hero. And if people try to stop the hero, those people are villains for trying to prevent relief.
When the word tax is added to relief, the result is a metaphor: Taxation is an affliction. And the person who takes it away is a hero, and anyone who tries to stop him is a bad guy. This is a frame. ...The language that evokes the frame comes out of the White House, and it goes into press releases, goes to every radio station, every TV station, every newspaper. And soon the New York Times is using tax relief. And it is not only on Fox; it is on CNN, it is on NBC, it is on every station because it is "the president's tax-relief plan." And soon Democrats are using tax relief – and shooting themselves in the foot.
It is remarkable. We have seen Democrats adopting the conservative view of taxation as an affliction when they have offered "tax relief for the middle class."
They were accepting the conservative frame. The conservatives had set a trap: The words draw you into their worldview.And they've done it again and again. The "inheritance tax", which most people didn't think about, became "death tax"; a tax on death is ridiculous, so the inheritance tax now becomes ridiculous. Counseling for people facing the end of their life became "death panels." And so on.
This all came to mind this morning while reading Gail Collins' column in the NY Times about the big role gun control issues are playing in the Missouri Senatorial campaign. It seemed like the words used in the debate had been chosen by the NRA:
How does entering a grade school with a loaded gun tucked in your pants become "concealed carry"?
How does walking around in the local hardware store brandishing a loaded automatic rifle become "open carry"?
|Bevis and friend at Home Depot|
Should we allow the debate to be framed like this?