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.

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