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Neuro-Liberalism

Written By: - Date published: 12:43 pm, June 24th, 2008 - 16 comments
Categories: books - Tags:

George Lakoff has a new book out.

You might remember him from such books as “Moral Politics” and “Don’t Think of an Elephant”.

These books largely dealt with what he termed “reframing” of political metaphors – using belief structures to which voters already subscribe as supports for arguments for progressive policies.

The NYT reviews his latest work, “The Political Mind”, here.

Lakoff blames ‘neoliberals’ and their ‘Old Enlightenment’ mentality for the Democratic Party’s weakness. They think they can win elections by citing facts and offering programs that serve voters’ interests. When they lose, they conclude that they need to move farther to the right, where the voters are.

This is all wrong, Lakoff explains. Neuroscience shows that pure facts are a myth and that self-interest is a conservative idea. In a ‘New Enlightenment,’ progressives will exploit these discoveries. They’ll present frames instead of raw facts. They’ll train the public to think less about self-interest and more about serving others. It’s not the platform that needs to be changed. It’s the voters.

16 comments on “Neuro-Liberalism”

  1. Joker 1

    Brain washing the electorate. Nice work!

  2. rave 2

    Self-interest as it exists today is not just an idea. It is an idea that represents the ‘spirit of capitalism’ i.e. profit-seeking. Lakoff is not suggesting we give up on self-interest, he is for a kinder caring capitalism.
    But the fact on the ground for the vast majority is that capitalism does not have these characteristics. Their self-interest pushes them towards collectivism which we could call the ‘spirit of socialism’.

  3. roger nome 3

    You can see a lecture of his at the following URL

    http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=moral+politics&sitesearch=#

  4. rogernome:

    Thanks for the video! This guy has well and truly nailed it!

  5. MacDoctor 5

    self-interest is a conservative idea
    This is a statement completely breath-taking in its arrogance. The idea that only conservatives are self-interested is not simply laughable, but utterly contrary to the facts.

  6. r0b 6

    The idea that only conservatives are self-interested is not simply laughable, but utterly contrary to the facts.

    Surely everyone is self-interested at some level. But only the right-wing have raised at to the level of a defining “philosophy” and (in many cases) a personal crusade.

  7. Utterly contrary to the facts.

    I doubt you even have access to the facts.

  8. MacDoctor 8

    r0b:

    In what way is wanting to help people to be productive and raise their standard of living a selfish philosophy?

    O Illuminated one…

    SIGH.
    May I suggest this book? It is reviewed here
    Arthur C. Brooks Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism

  9. r0b 9

    In what way is wanting to help people to be productive and raise their standard of living a selfish philosophy?

    Nothing wrong with that of course, and motherhood ‘n apple pie are just peachy keen too. It’s all about the methods used to get from here to there of course. So, methods time, how is the right wing going to help we plebs to be productive and raise our standard of living?

    May I suggest this book?

    Sure. Interest me enough and I might even read it.

    Let’s start with compassionate conservatism. I had to look it up:
    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=compassionate+conservative
    Hmmmmmm!

    Nah, just teasing. I’ve heard of the theory. It’s a beautiful theory. But I am a bear of very little brain, and I deal best with specifics. So I was wondering if you could tell me where the principles of compassionate conservatism have been put into practice. What are the best three examples, current or historical, of a compassionate conservative government at work? Bush claims to be a compassionate conservative, so is America an example? If not, why not?

  10. MacDoctor 10

    r0b:
    Love the link -> only slightly anti-bush, no? 🙂

    I think my original remark was that all people tend to act out of self-interest, especially groups of people. Therefore I don’t know of ANY compassionate governments, conservative or socialist.

    Like all of us, Mr. Bush has compassionate moments (he has done more for africa than any president before him). And this is the point – it is up to individuals to have compassion on our fellow men. If we rely on government to do this, we lose out on a sense of the value of giving of our time and money, reinforcing our natural tendency to self-interest.

  11. Jeremy Eade 11

    “And this is the point – it is up to individuals to have compassion on our fellow men.’

    ?

    But the reality of national politics means most far reaching compassionate programmes are best conducted through a transparent, accountable ,democratic representative body or are you making case for a return to a system of individual unaccountable charity?

    Surely if history has taught us anything it’s not to consolidate power in unaccountable hands. Why are you so challenged by accountability?

  12. r0b 12

    MacDoctor: Love the link -> only slightly anti-bush, no?

    Fair and balanced I would have said, just like Fox news!

    I think my original remark was that all people tend to act out of self-interest, especially groups of people.

    OK your claim specifically is that — groups of people behave more self interestedly than individuals — that’s a nice specific claim, we can work with that.

    Therefore I don’t know of ANY compassionate governments, conservative or socialist. … And this is the point – it is up to individuals to have compassion on our fellow men.

    Consistent with your claim, good. Now if we can brutally summarise this position, then you’re advocating small government and leaving the care of those in need to the actions of compassionate individuals. Is that about it?

    This position has been called by its detractors “Tory charity”. I put it to you that it has never worked, and never will work. If you disagree, please name me a society (current or historical) where the benevolent actions of individuals take care of those in need. I don’t think you will find any (whereas there are many examples of wealthy aristocrats ignoring the poorhouse). In short, a society predicated on individual benevolence is a myth, just like compassionate conservatism. It doesn’t work.

    Now, getting back to your claim in the abstract — groups of people behave more self-interestedly than individuals — I don’t think it really makes much sense. “Self-interest” can be defined in so many ways, and how does one compare the goals of an individual with the goals of a group? But let’s assume for the sake of argument that the claim is true.

    It follows that if a society (group of people) is acting in its self-interest, then all members of that society should benefit. All we need to do is see “the needy” not as something separate from society, but as an integral part. Then society organises itself to take care of everyone. This view underlies the philosophy of communism (a philosophical ideal that is as impossible to realise as compassionate conservatism) and in more practical terms it underlies socialist type / left wing governments in general. These societies certainly do exist in the real world, and they take much better care of all their citizens than any society based on the charity of individuals.

    To sum up, your claim — groups of people behave more self-interestedly than individuals — does not lead to the conclusion that charity should be left to individuals (never works), it leads to the conclusion that everyone should be seen as part of the group that we call society.

  13. MacDoctor 13

    r0b: does not lead to the conclusion that charity should be left to individuals

    I agree, but that is not what I am trying to say. I am saying that governments act out of self-interest and therefore cannot be trusted to provide care for the vulnerable, be it a socialist or a conservative government. At best, we can expect a blunt, non-specific kind of charity on the level that a farmer gives to his sheep – makes sure they are warm and well-fed – but only because he wants their wool and meat.

    The more a government provides this cold charity, the less likely it is that individuals will give of their time and money, in the mistaken belief that “the government is doing it”. We then lose immediate concern for the vulnerable of society and maintain only a vague idea that “the government must do more”. The danger here is , of course, that there is always a limit to the actions of any government.

    The size of the social net, therefore, tends to be inversely proportional to the extent of an individual’s concern for people. To come back to the original post, this is why conservatives tend to be more generous with their time and money. Lakoff believes that conservatives act out of self interest. I think that this is a very superficial way of looking at things. Good conservative philosophy should balance the need for a social safety net against the need for individual members of society to be involved with others. Nobody (except the odd wacko) argues against the need for a society to have a safety net for the vulnerable, but it is people who are compassionate and caring, not governments.

  14. r0b 14

    r0b: does not lead to the conclusion that charity should be left to individuals
    MacDoctor: I agree

    OK good start.

    I am saying that governments act out of self-interest and therefore cannot be trusted to provide care for the vulnerable

    You are still creating a false dichotomy between the government and (vulnerable) people. I fear that we’re going round in circles here, but once again, if the vulnerable are part of the government then they will be taken care of when the government acts out of self-interest. Government of the people for the people.

    Another way of putting this, who do you think “The government” is? It’s just people. I’m a member of the Labour Party, in some tiny way I am part of “the government”. Anyone can be. The more the people participate, the more we have government of the people for the people.

    So let me slightly expand on my conclusion from above. Everyone should be seen as part of the group that we call society, and as many as possible should participate in that exercise that we call government. To me left wing governments fall much much closer to this ideal than do right wing governments (and consequently they take much better care of their citizens).

    this is why conservatives tend to be more generous with their time and money.

    Interesting claim. Could you link to some evidence there? As far as I am aware, proportional to income the poor are much more generous givers to charity.

  15. MacDoctor 15

    r0b: I fear that we’re going round in circles here

    Yes, we are certainly wearing in a nice deep rut…:-)

    You are still creating a false dichotomy between the government and (vulnerable) people.

    That’s because governments are separate from the people. Yes, democracy means we can all participate to a certain extent in government, but beyond the check of a three year voting cycle, governments are more or less autonomous. An excellent example of this would be the repeal of section 29 against the wishes of 80% of the population. In fact, the very phrase “the government should do something about it” is an indication the people perceive the government as an independent entity.

    Some autonomy is, of course, desirable. It enables government to make the harder calls that cause initial discomfort. This is the reason why binding referenda are a dubious tool of government.

    We appear to have strayed a long way from the original post.

    Lakoff accuses conservatives of being self-interested as if conservatives have a monopoly on self-interest. I think that is rubbish. It seems to me that he confuses the short-term social payoff of a socialist government as evidence of its more compassionate nature while completely ignoring the long term social benefits of a smaller conservative government with a more robust economy.

    BTW the book I mentioned earlier has the data on conservative giving. You could try reading this excellent article on compassionate conservatives (a self-conscious phrase that I don’t particularly like).

  16. r0b 16

    That’s because governments are separate from the people. Yes, democracy means we can all participate to a certain extent in government, but beyond the check of a three year voting cycle, governments are more or less autonomous.

    I disagree, especially in this age of MMP. Consider also that governments are no more autonomous than we the people let them be – the more who get involved the better. But I suspect that we just have to agree to differ.

    An excellent example of this would be the repeal of section 29 against the wishes of 80% of the population.

    What’s your source for that 80% figure? Please don’t tell me it’s an online poll.

    We appear to have strayed a long way from the original post.

    Aye!

    Lakoff accuses conservatives of being self-interested as if conservatives have a monopoly on self-interest. I think that is rubbish. It seems to me that he confuses the short-term social payoff of a socialist government as evidence of its more compassionate nature while completely ignoring the long term social benefits of a smaller conservative government with a more robust economy.

    And once again, though we can all point to real examples of benefits from socialist type governments, you have not been able to supply me with even one example of a society were tory charity is effective. So you have now rephrased your ideal as “the long term social benefits of a smaller conservative government with a more robust economy” – fine, got any actual examples of those?

    BTW the book I mentioned earlier has the data on conservative giving.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2001/dec/21/voluntarysector.fundraising

    The poor are more generous than the rich when it comes to giving to good causes, according to research which challenges the “Robin Hood” myth of charity as an agent of redistribution.

    A study published today finds that the least well-off give a higher proportion of their income to charity than the wealthy, no matter what their age, class or beliefs.

    Note also from the same article:

    The report … also argues that charities are not necessarily the engines of redistribution from rich to poor that they are widely believed to be.

    Many charities – such as those supporting education or the arts – do not help the most needy, the study says. It accuses the charitable sector of giving a “misleading” impression of alleviating poverty in order to secure tax breaks and voluntary support.

    This once again reinforces the message that taking care of those most in need is the job of governments, not charity.

    You could try reading this excellent article on compassionate conservatives (a self-conscious phrase that I don’t particularly like).

    Sorry, it’s not excellent, it’s waffle. It describes some kind of ideal (Bush acts out of love – hah!), but the ideal doesn’t exist. I’m interested in what actually works thanks.

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