George Lakoff Sells His Old Snake Oil in a New Bottle


George Lakoff, a linguist with a history of giving the Democrats dubious advice on how to sell their policies, has written a new book with Elisabeth Wehling. Chris Bray says it's terrible:

The year they hired David Horowitz to play Santa.

Lakoff has been down precisely this very road before: progressives are animated by a "nurturant" morality, a family model in which parents are equal and the family cooperates (but parents, who serve in this metaphorical model as government officials, "have the last word because they are ultimately responsible"). Conservatives, on the other hand, organize their relationship with the world around the metaphor of the "strict father." They don't nurture or discuss; they dictate and punish, and twirl their waxed mustachios beneath the canopy of their silken top-hats….

Lakoff, as always, never comes close to understanding his own ideas, and I think I'm being merciful here by leaving Wehling out of it. Since conservatives are guided by the strict father model, for example, Lakoff is sure they have "a view of the market as decider with no external authority over it." So the embodied "market" of this book is a decider, a unitary authority, a single force that thinks and imposes, a uniform thing that rules from above. It has nothing to do with any actual "market" that any non-Berkeley professor on earth perceives to be the market, a sphere of human activity defined, especially outside the boundaries of regulatory capture and crony capitalism, by unrelenting diffusion: many competitors, new technologies, new entrants, shifting consumer interests and loyalties. In Lakoffworld, everyone cracks open an RC Cola while they gather around the family Philco to listen to the Fleischmann's Yeast Hour. The conservative point about market actors is that if you don't hitch them to state power, they are scattered and ephemeral, and cannot form lasting forms of domination. See the strict father model at work, there?

Lakoff somehow does, and it's just one of an endless series of suggestions that he doesn't notice how his political targets actually think. In the pages of Lakoff's books, conservatives occupy a single category of identity, gathered around the "strict father" like cavemen around a fire. Meanwhile, outside those pages, Rick Santorum's lip curls as he describes Ron Paul as "disgusting," and Paul endlessly returns the favor, and Newt Gingrich stays in a hopeless campaign because he feels compelled to destroy Mitt Romney, and Jon Huntsman dismisses Michele Bachmann as a slightly batty novelty act. In Lakoffworld, Lew Rockwell and William Kristol share a moral framework: they are both figures of the political right, and no further analysis is needed.

There's more! Read the whole article here.

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  1. Not many people know this but George Lakoff actually ate Saul Alinski in order to fully absorb his wisdom.

    1. The indigestion would have done him in.

      “But monsieur, it’s just a waffer-thin mint”

      “Fuck off, couldn’t eat another bite”

      1. He just had some bitters or other digestive.

  2. My argument is that it’s not going to convince people to support progressives as much as to prevent progressives from being convinced that they are wrong.

    It’s the intellectual equivalent of the Berlin Wall.

  3. twirl their waxed mustachios beneath the canopy of their silken top-hats

    Needs more monocle.

  4. A terribly cunning linguist, Lakoff is not.

    1. Au contraire, judging by the photo I’m sure he’s a whiz at eating anything

  5. The worst leftists at selling their ideas are the ones who are lazy at understanding their ideological adversaries. Then again, I can’t think of an example of a leftist who demostrated an understanding of the free market concept. Or, for that matter, the basic human nature that drives the market.

    1. The one’s I’ve ran into who claim they understand it and have seen many arguments for it based on their blessed utilitarianism, still “think” it’s wrong because they FEEEEEEEEEELLLLLLLLLL it’s wrong. A feeling isn’t an argument, you lazy fucks.

    2. If the quote is accurate, Lakoff doesn’t understand liberal ideology either. And his idea of liberal ideology isn’t much different from the “stern father” mentality either.

    3. I would venture to say Lakoff’s understanding of both his opponents’ viewpoint and the market are pretty poor. His thinking honestly seems to be, “Conservatives like authority, conservatives like the market, therefore the market is authority.”

      Then again he wouldn’t be the first leftist to think that the market was somehow authoritarian. I’ve run into too many leftists who make an argument of the form, “I have to buy stuff to live, and corporations can set prices however they want, therefore they’re coercing me, so the ‘free market’ is not free, Q.E.D.”

      1. Tony has made that exact argument ad infinitum.

  6. Try this for the difference between normal people and lefty progs.

    Normal people: More for me!

    Lefty progs: More for me, but not for thee.

    1. For leftys, it’s more like: More for he (with tribute to me), but not for thee.

  7. the embodied “market” of this book is a decider, a unitary authority, a single force that thinks and imposes, a uniform thing that rules from above.

    The market is teh DEBBIL!

    1. I’m noticing that leftists tend to be more likely to anthropomorphize systems than others.

      Think for example of “Society”, “Government”, “The Market”, “Business”, “Wall Street”, etc.

      They use these terms as if each of them was a monolithic entity, with it’s own unified goals. They also like to describe individuals as cells in the body of “society” with “government” being the brain.

      But “Government” is nothing like a brain. It hasn’t got the neural connectivity of a sea-sponge, much less a human being. “Government” is a few hundred people speaking to eachother, in words, through the impossibly slow medium of sound waves. It is not some sort of emergent life form.

      I think if you live in this universe where you are accustomed to thinking of all collective entities as if they were higher forms of life, it’s hard to put yourself in the brain of a libertarian, which see them all as disparate collections of competing interests.

      Worst part, of course, is that they tend to idealize these collective entities. They aren’t just higher forms of life, they are deities.

      That’s why they think we somehow “worship” the market. They can’t conceptualize looking at the market as a natural outgrowth of INDIVIDUAL liberty, they have to see it as a collective entity, independent of the indivuals in society.

      1. Conservatives can be guilty of this, too. I had this conversation with my conservative father. He frequently put political beliefs in the form of, “I think we should do X.” When I told him that I would almost never say that “we” should do anything, he looked at me like I’d grown another head.

  8. Jesse

    You missed the most offensive part

    The most gobsmacking idea Lakoff promotes is precisely the one that the liberal establishment has identified as his most persuasive rhetorical maneuver. Because conservatives believe in “individual, not social, responsibility,” he argues, they reject the importance of public involvement. Instead, they insist upon an atomized moral world in which humans gather in a dismal private cold around such individualistic clusters as one’s “family, closest friends, or church, synagogue, or temple.” Conservatives reject the place of the Public?Lakoff capitalizes the term?and its implication of mutuality and common caretaking. The Public is one thing, found it one place: it is the state, and shared humanity is triggered only by state power. Watch closely, because this paragraph from Lakoff and Wehling will be very familiar:

    “No one makes it on his or her own without the Public. No one who is wealthy has built her own roads and schools, educated his own knowledgeable employees, done her own basic research, is fully protected by his own army and police, or maintained her own food supply.”

    Lakoff is a genuinely scary and sick person.

    1. Spend 50 years in the Berkeley echo chamber and there’s no end to the pink elephants you can see dancing on the walls. It’s like King Nebuchadnezzar coming back to the palace from his years in the wilderness.

      1. He wants to replace all forms of social interaction with the State and make all life revolve around the state. He is a no shit 1984 totalitarian.

        1. More like a Brave New World totalitarian and he is (in his own deranged mind) an Alpha-Plus, worthy of being one of the ten world controllers.

    2. Which is absurd for other reasons. The “market” he rails against absolutely requires the cooperation of the public.

      Not to mention that churches are pretty much public institutions. Or at least that’s my understanding of them.

      In the leftist mind, cooperation and community are equal to, and ONLY equal to, government.

    3. “No one who is wealthy has built her own roads and schools, educated his own knowledgeable employees, done her own basic research, is fully protected by his own army and police, or maintained her own food supply.”

      But of course, since wealthy people pay all the taxes, they paid for all of those things that all the parasites use for free. Then they’re told they don’t pay enough.

  9. So part of what he is saying is, if I care more about my friends, family, and immediate community (or church), I’m a bad person, because I should be putting the ephemeral “state”, first?

    1. Shorter Lakoff:

      Everything for the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.

  10. It has nothing to do with any actual “market” that any non-Berkeley professor on earth perceives to be the market

    I know this is not an original observation, but the market is a far more participatory, value-producing, and beneficial ‘democracy’ than anything the public sphere has provided.

    I suspect that goes a long way as to explaining why statists despise it so much.

    1. Totalitarians like Lakoff love uniformity, stability, predictability and equality. The market is the exact opposite of those four things.

      1. The market is the exact opposite of those four things.

        I disagree. Save for uniformity (which is subject to definition), those actually are features of a mostly free, unfettered market. Lakoff’s objection to it, I strongly suspect, stems from the inability of his idealized central planners to control its outcomes.

        1. Not in the long term. Markets are anything but stable. The market is constantly in a process of creative destruction. And if the market was predictable, no one would ever get rich since no one would ever have any advantage by being in front of the market. And the market is never equal in its results. Some win and some lose. It is one big unpredictable constantly changing system. And central planners hate that.

      2. Not quite right. They like things they can control.

        If you’re trying to “make the world a better place”, you have to be able to control it. But the market arises from uncontrollable personal interactions.

        It’s like trying to control the weather. You have to control every butterfly flapping its wings in China to do it. But if you could actually do that, you’de probably destroy life on earth.

  11. Statists despise any sort of distributed problem solving. There can be only one proper solution; one (round) hole into which all pegs, of any and every shape, must be pounded.

    1. Everything comes back to pegs and holes with you guys.

      1. Every problem I come up against, I try to see whether it can be solved by putting something in a hole.

      2. In related unrelated anecdotes, never accidentally say “I can’t fit my square peg into her round hole” regarding parallel work during a team meeting. Only despair can result.

    2. Yep. There are two solutions to every problem-their way and the wrong way.

  12. I thought this part was the best:
    Just like that, your whole moral frame is neurologically shifted. It’s science, you see. And you can perfect your scientific thinking with practice, eradicating your old moral framework through “a lot of repetition.” The key is that good cadre work together to clean their minds and their language. “Practice creating cascades linking values to policies,” Lakoff and Wehling advise. “Do this out loud with your friends and colleagues.” Imagine the discipline it took them to omit the protocols for purification by self-criticism.

    It’s such a hilarious description of the kinds of shit progressives really do. They really are constantly on guard against the intrusion of “incorrect” ideas.

  13. “Lakoff somehow does, and it’s just one of an endless series of suggestions that he doesn’t notice how his political targets actually think.”

    Why does everybody credit these people with ignorance. They’re not ignorant, they know exactly what they’re doing. This is all a directed and controlled propaganda campaign in it’s entirety.

    1. Exactly. We’re looking into the Ministry of Truth–in the Newspeak department.

  14. Can we call him George Lafoff?

  15. I liked this post here

    This comment summed up the parent thing nicely:
    ” Government is an institution formed by adults, to serve adults. Lakoff “frames” the argument with a false choice: Mommy or Daddy. The government isn’t a parent, and accepting it either as mother or as father put citizens in the role of a child to be cared for.”

  16. argumento ad hominem:

    this disgustingly fat pervert deserves no attention whatsoever

    but really, seriously, this is where ad hominem is warranted: this disgustingly fat pervert deserves no attention whatsoever

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