George Lakoff on Indivisible
How to frame arguments and #Resist.
Sunday morning at 9:30am, 600 attendees filled the auditorium of Elmhurst Community Prep for the Empty Chair Town Hall + Activism Fair. Organized by Indivisible East Bay, the town hall accomplished its goal of shining a spotlight on Sen. Feinstein’s absence. In a speech at the event, George Lakoff outlined his analysis of the Indivisible movement and some pointers on how we can be more effective. If you don’t want to watch the full video, I’ve summarized what I believe to be the most useful bits of the talk.
“Indivisible was actually described many years ago — it’s called the First Amendment. Print it out. Carry it with you.”
Lakoff, a professor of Cognitive Science at UC Berkeley, opened by asking what we thought of first when Nixon said, “I am not a crook.” This is the same phenomenon described in his book, Don’t Think of an Elephant. Today, he argues that journalists should use tag #ProtectTheTruth rather than #NotTheEnemy.
He went on to explain how Trump is a master of framing—that’s how he won the election. Trump said that he will remove 75% of regulations, but what this actually means is “I am removing 75% of your protections.” Regulations exist to protect people from corporations. Most American citizens have nothing to cheer about, yet they voted for him anyway.
How to frame arguments
- Start with the facts
- Briefly acknowledge lies
- Finish with the facts
The Indivisible movement’s goal is to “replicate the Tea Party’s success in getting Congress to listen to a small, vocal, dedicated group of constituents”. Lakoff highlighted the fact that The Leadership Institute trained 160,000 people to go sell and market the Tea Party. Since we don’t have that, each individual supporting Indivisible should pay close attention to how they frame arguments.
Nation as Family
What is the difference between Trump supporters and the resistance? Lakoff uses a metaphor for the nation as a family. These unconscious ideologies shape the values that each person sees as self-evident. This metaphor is present in stories of the Founding Fathers, the reasons we send our children to war, and the reasons why we don’t want missiles in our backyards.
Strict Parent Model
Children must learn right from wrong, good from bad, and how to be strong. In this family, one parent (the father in most cases) is the moral authority, who not only protects the family, but teaches moral views. This parent knows what is best for their children, and adherence to the rules is necessary for personal development. In this view, those who do not succeed lack discipline and strength. The goal of this parent is to raise tough, self-reliant, and disciplined children.
Nurturing Parent Model
Parents and children should have an open dialogue based on empathy and trust. The underlying belief is that the ideal society is one in which people care for and support one another. It’s cooperation rather than competition. The goal of this parent is to raise children who are happy and self-fulfilled.
These two abstract familial models make sense on a base level, but I’d like to add that individuals can exemplify ideals from both mental models. Each person cares about their children and wants them to succeed — and we should all do more to remember that the people who we disagree with are still people.
Victor R., from Colombia, asked Lakoff to explain the Founding Fathers metaphor, since he said it meant nothing to him. Lakoff responded by saying that there has not been research in Colombia to support the distinction between strict/nurturing family models. During this question, I began to wonder why we idealize the Founding Fathers at all. Even the phrase holds undercurrents of a strict father model. (And I see this idolatry in the startup world with founders as well.) And Victor is right, it doesn’t seem natural.
This myth is something uniquely American — it’s our country’s origin story. The Founding Fathers wrote America’s mission statement and cultural values. And I find it strange that this is something we are only taught as children. We grew up in primary school reciting the Pledge of Allegiance every day, chanting in unison, “One nation, under god, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Most companies have a way of onboarding new hires as adults, so why can’t we?
Justice for All
Indivisible is a non-partisan movement. This is a group of people from all political backgrounds who feel that something is not quite right with the current administration. This is a group of people who feel like they can do more to help others. This is a group that believes in liberty and justice for all.
In these times, I have heard so many complaints about the “other side”, whether that’s democrats vs. republicans or conservative vs. progressive—and I’m tired of it. I am so glad that Lakoff highlighted this when he shared some stories about people doing good deeds in regions which are pro-Trump. We can’t forget that, and we can’t let our friends forget that. We must rise above bipartisan squabbles. He closed by suggesting this tool for understanding anyone who you’re having trouble agreeing with. Ask, “What have you done for other people that you’re most proud of?”