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by Christopher Chantrill
January 24, 2004 at 7:00 pm
LIBERALS ARENT too happy about President Bushs State
of the Union speech last week, and you cant blame them. In his review of the war on terror, the president seemed to
reprise the old battery commercials of TV tough guy Robert Conrad: I dare
you. Liberals would rather not
be reminded of the risks of taking on the president over the war on terror.
But liberal cognitive science professor George Lakoff analyzes
the presidents speech using a couple of the metaphors he and Mark Johnson
developed in their excellent Philosophy in the Flesh.
The presidents tone, wrote Lakoff, uses the strict-father metaphor that sees the world as a dangerous and difficult place. Progressives, of course, conduct politics using a nurturant-parent metaphor, where parents with equal responsibility nurture their children and raise them to be the nurturers of others. Even when the president was using nurturant-parent language it was to lure the American people down a slippery slope on Social Security and Medicare reform drawing more and more people out [of the programs]foreverand the system collapses. In Bushs reforms, the ultimate goal of the proposal is not in the proposal itself. The ultimate goal is to eliminate the funding of social programs.
In their book, Lakoff and Johnson brilliantly propose that all our knowledge and understanding about the world issues from our sensorimotor existence as living beings that move forwards through life with eyes in the front of our head. All our knowledge, they propose, is built up in metaphor from that basic sensorimotor experience. We say things like: I cant wait till we get to Christmas, as though life were a journey. Or we say: Time just flew by while we were on vacation, as though time were a river that flowed past us. Along the way, they deliver a sharp blow in the solar plexus to Noam Chomsky, criticizing his linguistics as a Cartesian system that separates mind and body instead of combining them, as they do, in a sensorimotor theory of embodied mind.
Let us stipulate that conservatism is indeed a strict-father political orientation. But President Bush ran as a compassionate conservative, which showed that he wanted the American people to think of him, as least in part, as a nurturant parent. Lakoff may think that Bushs compassionate programs are stalking horses for the real strict-father programs lurking in the bushes, but to Bushs conservative base, the No Child Left Behind Act is the real thing, and so is his handout of prescription drugs to the nations elderly and his proposal to forgive all the illegal immigrants and give them legal status in a policy that probably amounts to amnesty in everything but name. The nurturant-parent side of George W. Bush is making his conservative base crazy.
Maybe Lakoff needs a theory better than his binary system, a theory that can really do justice to the nuance and complexity of a governing philosophy that seeks to combine both strict-father and nurturant-parent metaphors.
There is a modern metaphor that understands the Bush philosophy, but it issues from the bloodline of Kant-Schopenhauer-Freud-Wittgenstein rather than the stable of Hegel-Marx-Nietzsche-Heidegger preferred by progressives like Lakoff. As developed by American psychologist Clare Graves and his students Don Beck and Christopher Cowan, it uses the metaphor of an eight-turn spiral to differentiate human consciousness into a theory that transcends and includes the sensorimotor-based theory of embodied reason developed by cognitive scientists like Lakoff. You can get a flavor of their Spiral Dynamics here.
A spiral dynamicist would analyze the presidents speech last week something like this. At the tribal purple level, the president spoke like the leader of the American tribe, invoking the sense of belonging that most of us, excepting of course the Angry Left, feel as patriotic Americans. At the impulsive red level, he flexed the muscles of American power: the terrorists... declared war on the United Statesand war is what they got. At the purposeful blue level, he spoke of a God whose purposes are just and true. At the creative orange level, he spoke of the courage and daring of a free people. At the communitarian green level, he spoke of the respect for differences of faith and race.
Of course, a Clare/Beck analysis of the presidents SOTU is pretty crude. But it is a lot less crude than a binary model that veers suspiciously close to Orwells four legs good, two legs bad, particularly when you note that Lakoffs nurturant parent is conveniently de-sexed for the comfort, presumably, of his lefty readers. Isnt the proper term nurturing mother?
Buy his Road to the Middle Class.
[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.
[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050
Civil Societya complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churchesbuilds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust
[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists, she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican
[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State
These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self
Families helped each other putting up homes and barns. Together, they built churches, schools, and common civic buildings. They collaborated to build roads and bridges. They took pride in being free persons, independent, and self-reliant; but the texture of their lives was cooperative and fraternal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism
For [the left] there is only the state and the individual, nothing in between. No family to rely on, no friend to depend on, no community to call on. No neighbourhood to grow in, no faith to share in, no charities to work in. No-one but the Minister, nowhere but Whitehall, no such thing as society - just them, and their laws, and their rules, and their arrogance.
David Cameron, Conference Speech 2008
As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable...
[1.] protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death; [2.] recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family... [3.] the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.
Pope Benedict XVI, Speech to European Peoples Party, 2006
No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you should never trust experts. If you believe doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe. They all require their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of insipid common sense.
Lord Salisbury, Letter to Lord Lytton
What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph
In England there were always two sharply opposed middle classes, the academic middle class and the commercial middle class. In the nineteenth century, the academic middle class won the battle for power and status... Then came the triumph of Margaret Thatcher... The academics lost their power and prestige and... have been gloomy ever since.
Freeman Dyson, The Scientist as Rebel