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The Left Returns to Sacrifice The First Lady Is Our Queen

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A Liberal View of The SOTU

by Christopher Chantrill
January 24, 2004 at 7:00 pm


LIBERALS AREN’T too happy about President Bush’s State of the Union speech last week, and you can’t 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 president’s speech using a couple of the metaphors he and Mark Johnson developed in their excellent Philosophy in the Flesh. 

The president’s 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]—forever—and the system collapses.”  In Bush’s 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 can’t 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 Bush’s compassionate programs are stalking horses for the real “strict-father” programs lurking in the bushes, but to Bush’s conservative base, the No Child Left Behind Act is the real thing, and so is his handout of prescription drugs to the nation’s 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 president’s 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 States—and 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 president’s SOTU is pretty crude.  But it is a lot less crude than a binary model that veers suspiciously close to Orwell’s “four legs good, two legs bad,” particularly when you note that Lakoff’s “nurturant parent” is conveniently de-sexed for the comfort, presumably, of his lefty readers.  Isn’t the proper term “nurturing mother?”

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

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Responsible Self

[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.

Taking Responsibility

[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 Society

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Liberal Coercion

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Pope Benedict XVI, Speech to European Peoples Party, 2006

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presented by Christopher Chantrill

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