Our Political Discussion is Neither about Reasoning nor about Thinking

George Lakoff does a wonderful job of characterizing what is going on, and I think he is right in his claim that the Republican/Conservative community does a much better job than the Democratic/Liberal/Progressive community. But the question for me is how to escape this box. Nowhere is there an opportunity for thinking here, much less thinking together.

As I think about it, I realize that the central missing ingredient is listening. Not the kind of listening that tape recorders do (recording words and sounds). Not the kind of listening that characterizes arguments (what my wife Shirah calls “reloading”.) Listening as the bio-historical-linguistic phenomenon in which we human beings, aware of our shared concern for building a future in which we take care of the things that matter to us, listen to the concerns and background of the others in our conversations seeking opportunities for creating new bridges to a successful shared future.

What do you think?

George Lakoff: Disaster Messaging.

2 thoughts on “Our Political Discussion is Neither about Reasoning nor about Thinking

  1. Amiel Handelsman


    You’ve raised an important point. Where is the space for genuine listening? My thoughts:

    * Lakoff’s basic take is that by repeating conservative frames, progressives actually shoot themselves in the foot, yet are blind that they are doing this. There is tremendous evidence for this–we see it every day on every issue.

    * Lakoff’s solution isn’t to listen differently but to speak differently. It’s the equivalent of responding to a punch with a punch. What would it be like to do an Aikido move, like blend and then take down the conservative frame? I’m reminded of someone in the New Republic (I think) who said that an appropriate response to Republican scare tactics (e.g. about health care reform) is to, and I paraphrase, say, “Ahhh, so you’re predicting disaster. You think the world will fall apart in six months. Let’s check back in together in six months and see how things turn out and whether your prediction was accurate.” Instead, most Democrats simply asserted that things would be better. Obama joke after the legislation passed that the world hadn’t fallen apart, but this was immediately after and different from a “let’s watch this together and see what happens” approach. What if the White House kept a countdown to Armegeddon clock? Might that not discourage the Repubs from using such scare tactics in the future?

    * What’s an appropriate response to people acting like thugs and bullies–linguistically but often physically, as in the storming of the Florida election office in 2000? What’s an appropriate mood? Resignation and resentment don’t go very far and are indeed the very moods the Repubs want to evoke.

    * What’s an appropriate response to someone who continually accuses you of the very misdeeds they are committing (stealing elections, appeasing terrorists, increasing the deficit, planting ideological stooges into the mainstream media, and so on)? Hmmm…very interesting situation we are in.

    * Isn’t it curious how so many Republicans who stepped out of the limelight in moments of shame (Tom DeLay, New Gingrich, the whole crew involved in Iran-Contra like John Pointdexter and Elliot Abrams) re-emerge with a seemingly clean bill of political health, whereas most shamed Democrats leave for good? What conversation can we have about this?

    To close, Chauncey, have you read either of Rick Perlstein’s books, particularly Nixonland? I recommend them highly as examples of a progressive who has truly listened to the conservative movement and told its story, plus the books read like compelling novels, not the histories they are.

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