by Gary Berg-Cross
My past blogs have included references to George Lakoff’s idea on Frames - cognitive-metaphorical structures (such as geospatial words) routinely used to organize thought and interpret the world. So we conceptualize well-being as wealth, both of which plug into pre-existing notions that trigger emotional responses. It is easy then to see wealthy people as good, healthy folks.
I've also blogged on the Occupy movement and Oct2011. In a recent Truthout Op-Ed Lakoff provided advice (by request) on how the protester movement occupying Zuccotti Park near Wall Street can avoid being framed by others with differing political interests. Lakoff believes that framing is epistemic – it influences the methods we use to understand the world and our concept of truth. In combination with language it central to making clear says what the character of something like a movement is. A proper frame may help solve that criticism that others don't know what the movement’s ideas and objectives are. But to do this effectively we need some principles by which a movement can properly frame itself. I found that some of these principles suggestive of ways that Secular Humanists might employ frames (We are all Citizens of the World or We are part of nature) to help with a wider understanding of our values. Perhaps that will be a topic for another time.
In advice to OWS Lakoff first notes that in charting political & financial action frames often evoke competing moral systems. In short, a movement that seeks some political and financial system influence needs to understand politics as part of a moral dimension that is framed in its language. Political figures, as well as movements and their spokes people, tend to make policy statements/recommendations with implied or explicit claims about what is the right thing to do. Appeals to the benefits of Capitalist System or a Democratic System claim to do more good than harm and are thus moral statements. You can see this in the OWS movement's statements with an implied sense of the common good. The lead one is "Democracy Should Be About the 99 Percent". Others are aimed at progressive causes such as the idea that strong Wages & Unions Make a Strong America and related grievances - middle-class wages have not gone up significantly in 30 years and there is conservative/corporate pressure to lower them. In criticizing the top 1% an implied claim is that they are just in it for themselves and can get away with unfair gains it since they have power.
Implied in such things are values and principles fit the common sense claim that “Some moral principles or other lie behind every political policy agenda.” We might ask broadly what are they for the OWS folks and what are they for their “opponents” (just as we might for Secular Humanists and our opponents).
Broadly Lakoff sees “Two Competing Moral Framing Systems” each with political slants and differing idea of democracy. The bulk of American conservatives have a particular moral system that you see in the actions and mentality of Wall Street. Lakoff’s list of these includes:
1. The primacy of self-interest 0 yes they are in it for themselves but this is seen as moral
a. Of course financial folks want big bonuses – well all do.'
2. There is Individual responsibility, but not broad social responsibility outside the core group. It’s OK if I can game the system to advantage
3. Hierarchical authority based on wealth or other forms of power.
a. A moral hierarchy of who is "deserving," defined by success within the system.
b. We in Wall Street are on top. You are just jealous.
And the highest principle is the
Rigid primacy of this particular moral/truth system itself, which goes beyond Wall Street and the economy to other arenas: family life, social life, religion, foreign policy and especially government.
Derived from these we have the idea of Conservative governance in their version "democracy" - a system of governance and elections that fits this model. Strong leaders who see decisions and moral judgement in system of black and white, devalue compromise which is seen as surrender etc.
The alternative view of democracy has a progressive with more of a social frame:
1. Democracy starts with citizens caring about one another and acting responsibly on that sense of care, taking responsibility both for oneself and for one's family, community, country, people in general and the planet.
2. The role of government is to protect and
empower all citizens equally via The Public: public infrastructure, laws and enforcement, health, education, scientific research, protection, public lands, transportation, resources, art and culture, trade policies, safety nets, and on and on.
3. Nobody makes it one their own.
a. As Elizabeth Warren said, if you got wealthy, you depended on The Public and you have a responsibility to contribute significantly to The Public so that others can benefit in the future.
b. Moreover, the wealthy depend on those who work and who deserve a fair return for their contribution to our national life. We’re in this together
4. Corporations exist to make life better for most people.
a. Their reason for existing is as public as it is private.
OK so we have 2 frame systems. What should the Occupy movement do? Lakoff suggests that OWS should take an approach to policy that follows from its own moral focus. Thus OWS should frame the following types of messages:
1. We Love America. We're Here to Fix It
That is OWS is a patriotic movement, based on a deep and abiding love of the Public, that is the country. This combats the idea that patriotism that just about the self-interests of individuals. There is a level of the Public Good.
“Do Americans care about other citizens, or mainly just about themselves? That's what love of America is about. I, therefore, think it is important to be positive, to be clear about loving America, seeing it in need of fixing and not just being willing to fix it, but being willing to take to the streets to fix it. A populist movement starts with the people seeing that they are all in the same boat and being ready to come together to fix the leaks.”
Publicize the Public
Get the word about The Public out. Democracy being about the 99 Percent is in this frame.
“nobody makes it purely on their own without The Public, that is, without public infrastructure, the justice system, health, education, scientific research, protections of all sorts, public lands, transportation, resources, art and culture, trade policies, safety nets ... That is a truth to be told day after day. It is an idea that must take hold in public discourse. It must go beyond what I and others have written about it and beyond what Elizabeth Warren has said in her famous video. The Public is not opposed to The Private. The Public is what makes The Private possible. And it is what makes freedom possible. Wall Street exists only through public support. It has a moral obligation to direct itself to public needs.
There is also a more practical political message to formulate based on the recent Tea Party experience. They:
“solidified the power of the conservative worldview via elections. OWS will have no long-term effect unless it, too, brings its moral focus to the 2012 elections. Insist on supporting candidates that have your overall moral views, no matter what the local issues are.”
The message is that money directs our politics and that is not for the common good. In a democracy, that must end to move towards the common good. A long tern solution is that we need publicly supported elections.
Proper framing will help us get there.