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The political mind : a cognitive scientist's guide to your brain and its… (edition 2009)

by George Lakoff

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Member:jxn
Title:The political mind : a cognitive scientist's guide to your brain and its politics ; [with a new preface]
Authors:George Lakoff
Info:New York, NY [u.a.] Penguin Books 2009
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The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain by George Lakoff

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Showing 5 of 5
This is a pretty good read with some pretty good cognitive science research. It was nothing ground-breaking but the information was good. As someone who is a progressive, it's a bit sad to not really see it applied, 4 years after the book comes out. ( )
  g33kgrrl | Jun 30, 2013 |
I was drawn to this book mostly because I knew of the author’s reputation as a cognitive scientist and as someone who was known for spelling out how cognitive science overlaps with, and largely explains, many of the phenomena that we recognize as falling along the left-right spectrum of political ideologies. And Lakoff certainly does offer some insights into how thinking occurs, and what in particular is unique about the way we think about political issues.

Lakoff’s main idea, which should be apparent to anyone who watches endless hours of cable hours in rapture as I do, is that whoever controls the narrative frames of a debate controls the issue itself, and therefore always wins. How is this the case? Lakoff says that our view of rationality is largely, and erroneously, informed by the Enlightenment, which assumed it was conscious, universal, disembodied, logical, unemotional, value-neutral, interest-based, and literal. He shows several reasons why almost none of these are actually true. For example, we make decisions, to help others perhaps, that don’t actually maximize our own self-interest, and that are tied up with value and emotional content.

He claims that Democrats - very often with a grating, whiny tone - remain stuck in this view of rationality. Because of this, they are still in the habit of trying to lasso the facts, build charts and models, and explain why Republicans are simply wrong on many of the issues. Lakoff claims that this just isn’t enough. Evidence, reason, facts, and figures won’t win debates, he claims. But Republicans have learned how human reason really works – that it is in fact couched in tropes, metaphors, emotional phrases and associations – and they use them to their advantage in shaping political issues and talking points. Republicans just couch the issue in the terms that will helps them (their “narrative frames”), and then repeat that frame over and over again until it sticks in the minds of the public. Once stuck, it’s difficult, but not impossible, to dislodge. But doing so would just be a matter of finding the right frame that speaks to your political basis, and saying it repeatedly.

For example, conservatives have controlled the ideological frame regarding the “war on terror” for the last decade, and therefore they control many of the issues that we associate with “homeland security” (another phrase unused unquestioningly, according to Lakoff, that plays into Republican and neoconservative hands). Instead of accepting the frames of questions like “Do you think we should continue to fight the war on terror, or pull out?” or “Should middle class tax cuts be extended, or should they get a tax hike?” the issues need to be reformulated to emphasis what Lakoff thinks are the values of liberals and progressives: fairness, equality, and government accountability. In other words, re-frame the issues in such a way that benefits your own positions. And then repeat that framing. Over and over and over and over again – because, according to him, that’s the only way you’re going to win the debate.

There are a lot of problems with this book, though. With an objective-sounding title like “The Political Mind: A Cognitive Scientist’s Guide to Your Brain and Its Politics,” I didn’t really want any of Lakoff’s partisan comments. I knew before opening the book that he’s a committed liberal (many of my own sympathies, too, are very much left of center), but he spends too much time demonizing one political perspective, glorifying another, and too little time providing details and supporting evidence for the claims that he’s making. I feel that this saps the book of almost all of its credibility. In order to have a book be a powerful explanatory tool, instead of a passing as a fat pamphlet for the Obama campaign, it should stick to the facts of the matter accompanied, perhaps, with some reasonable inductions, predictions, and details of methodological practice. Calling President Bush a “traitor” (which he actually does) accomplishes nothing. Furthermore, it made me realize more and more as I read it that this book is simply an example of what he was talking about: a successful example of framing issues in an advantageous way. Of course, he would be the last person to actually bring that to the reader’s attention.

I think the book may have suffered from being written for too popular an audience, too. It seems that the political potshots were filler for an audience who was more eager to see their opponent trashed than to actually read something about how cognitive science can help us better understand how we think metaphorically about political issues. I came really close to giving this two stars, which I almost never do, but thought there were a couple of insights that salvaged it from being a total loss, so I opted for three stars instead. For someone interested in this topic, I suggest looking elsewhere. ( )
3 vote kant1066 | Aug 9, 2012 |
An interesting essay, surrounded by 200 pages of fluff to make a book. Read it fast, or save some time and read Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision for different, better, fluff. ( )
  steve.clason | Nov 21, 2009 |
An unabashedly liberal book, written to liberals on how to make liberalism more politically effective. Even so, if you can get past that (and it’s ultimately fatalistic worldview) and focus on the cognitive science Lakoff writes about, it's fascinating and very helpful in teaching how God made our minds. The neurological insight definitely provides a scientific case for better empathy, which would equip evangelists to help convert people’s political, religious, or economic ideologies. ( )
  ebnelson | Jul 31, 2009 |
Disappointing. The Greening of America meets The Language Instinct and the offspring is ugly. ( )
  BraveKelso | Mar 10, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0670019275, Hardcover)

In What's the Matter with Kansas? Thomas Frank pointed out that a great number of Americans actually vote against their own interests. In The Political Mind, George Lakoff explains why.As it turns out, human beings are not the rational creatures we've so long imagined ourselves to be. Ideas, morals, and values do not exist somewhere outside the body, ready to be examined and put to use. Instead, they exist quite literally inside the brain-and they take physical shape there. For example, we form particular kinds of narratives in our minds just like we form specific muscle memories such as typing or dancing, and then we fit new information into those narratives. Getting that information out of one narrative type and into another-or building a whole new narrative altogether-can be as hard as learning to play the banjo. Changing your mind isn't like changing your body-it's the same thing.But as long as progressive politicians and activists persist in believing that people use an objective system of reasoning to decide on their politics, the Democrats will continue to lose elections. They must wrest control of the terms of the debate from their opponents rather than accepting their frame and trying to argue within it.This passionate, erudite, and groundbreaking book will appeal to readers of Steven Pinker and Thomas Frank. It is a fascinating read for anyone interested in how the mind works, how society works, and how they work together.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:36 -0400)

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In What's the Matter with Kansas?, Thomas Frank pointed out that a great number of Americans actually vote against their own interests. In The Political Mind, George Lakoff explains why.

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