Table of Contents
|Introduction : in the name of freedom||3|
|1||Freedom is freedom is freedom||21|
|2||Why freedom is visceral||28|
|3||The logic of simple freedom||39|
|4||The nation-as-family metaphor||65|
|5||Progressive freedom : the basics||73|
|6||Conservative freedom : the basics||95|
|7||Causation and freedom||111|
|8||Personal freedom and populism||133|
|10||Religion and freedom||170|
|11||Foreign policy and freedom||202|
|13||Taking back freedom||243|
Reading Group GuideAdvance Praise
“George Lakoff's new book is as enjoyable to read as it is important to understand. It comes at a critical time for our country. Because freedom has always been a progressive concept, it is time for progressives to reclaim the word and its meaning in today's context. Mr. Lakoff shows us how.” —former Senator Tom Daschle
“In the battle of ideas, George Lakoff is one of the progressive movement’s five-star generals. Here he shows what we must do to take back precious ground lost to the right—the concept of ‘freedom,’ on which America’s very foundation is built. Read this and arm yourself.” —Robert B. Reich, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and former U.S. Secretary of Labor
"George Lakoff has made pathbreaking contributions to cognitive science. In Whose Freedom? he uses several of his discoveries and much wisdom to produce a systematic analysis of contemporary society and political thinking. The result is illuminating."—Antonio Damasio, author of Descartes’ Error, The Feeling of What Happens, and Look-ing for Spinoza
About This Guide
The questions and discussion topics that follow are designed to enhance your reading of George Lakoff’s Whose Freedom? We hope they will enrich your experience as you explore Lakoff’s provocative exposé of the rhetoric that empowers America’s conservatives.
Hailed by Howard Dean as “one of the most influential political thinkers of the progressive movement,” George Lakoff is a revered adviser within the Democratic Party, a bestselling author, and a renowned scholar in the field of cognitive linguistics. Whose Freedom? combines all three perspectives for an engaging, authoritative, passionately argued survey of America’s war over the word “freedom.”
Since 9/11, the Bush administration has relentlessly invoked the word “freedom,” using it to justify everything from preemptive strikes on Iraq to the privatization of Social Security. Yet many Democrats see President Bush’s use of the word as meaningless and opportunistic—and ultimately leading to the curtailment of the very freedoms he claims to support. Whose Freedom? reveals the ways in which language and repetition in the media have been used to enact a devastating, calculated redefinition of freedom. Surveying a broad swath of the American political and cultural landscape—including religion, the economy, foreign policy, and science—Lakoff explains the mechanisms that have been used by the right to hijack our most cherished political idea. In the high-stakes duel over the beliefs most central to American life, Whose Freedom? offers a rousing strategy to restore the traditional American idea of freedom, while strengthening the very foundation of our democracy.
Questions for Discussion
1. How did you define freedom before reading Whose Freedom? Did you consider your definition to be progressive? Were you surprised to discover that the progressive definition is also the more traditional one, as George Lakoff maintains in the book’s opening pages?
2. What “frames” or cultural influences have shaped your political opinions throughout your life? In an enlightened society marked by considerable scientific discovery, why do frames still trump facts in shaping opinions?
3. In what way can the contested nature of language be an advantage for progressives?
4. Using Chapter 2 as a reference point, identify the folk theories that prevail in your community. Which folk theories have been the most difficult for you to reject?
5. Applying the author’s logic of simple freedom, which cornerstones of freedom seem to be most in jeopardy today? How would you counter an argument that said equality and fairness are not inextricably linked to the definition of freedom?
6. Which aspects of freedom are currently not being contested in America?
7. Lakoff argues that the nation is understood metaphorically as a family, and that there are two very different models of parenting that reflect two opposing worldviews. Which model shapes your political views? Why has the authoritarian, paternalistic strict father model been allowed to flourish in so many cultures throughout history?
8. Which of the subgroups described in Chapters 5 and 6 (socioeconomic progressives, identity-politics progressives, environmental progressives, civil liberties progressives, spiritual progressives, antiauthoritarian progressives, idealists, pragmatists, militants, financial conservatives, libertarians, social conservatives, fundamentalists, and neoconservatives) do you predict will prevail in future American political structures?
9. In Chapter 7, “Causation and Freedom,” Lakoff begins with the observation that “the progressives argue on the basis of systemic causation (within a social, ecological, or economic system) and the conservatives argue on the basis of direct causation (by a single individual).” He goes on to explain the ways in which our understanding of causation can have profound effects on public policy. In what way does it empower us to be aware of the two models of causation?
10. How should “free” be defined in the notion of free markets? Do free markets undermine democratic freedom? Were the premises of the economic liberty myth, outlined in Chapter 9, readily believed by the American public?
11. In your opinion, is it right that American corporations in many ways act like governments, as discussed in Chapter 9? Should corporations be entitled to the same freedoms and liberties as an individual citizen?
12. How has religious rhetoric shaped American perceptions of freedom in recent years? How does the rhetoric of progressive Christianity differ from that of fundamentalist Christianity? What would the American political landscape look like without the influence of religion?
13. Based on what you read in Chapter 11, what seems to be the ultimate goal of George W. Bush’s foreign policy? How did framing help him persuade Congress (and a substantial number of voters) to back many of these policies? Who has been liberated by his initiatives? Have Bush’s policies been effective at spreading freedom abroad? What kind of freedom?
14. What fallacies can you identify in the radical conservative definition of freedom and liberty? To whom are those arguments appealing? How are these groups able to downplay FDR’s goals of freedom from want and fear?
15. What would it take to enact the calls to action that form the closing paragraphs of Chapter 11?
16. How was 9/11 framed in terms of freedom? What were the consequences, in domestic and foreign policy, of this framing?
17. Is it possible to create a truly inclusive freedom—one in which the answer to “Whose freedom?” is “Everyone’s”?
18. What does the author’s closing anecdote (regarding the use of MRIs in examining partisan thinking) say about the future of political rhetoric? Where does the greatest hope for reframing freedom lie? In the media? Universities? Popular culture?
What We’ve Lost: How the Bush Administration Has Curtailed Our Freedoms, Mortgaged Our Economy, Ravaged Our Environment, and Damaged Our Standing in the World,by Graydon Carter; What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, by Thomas Frank; Going Nucular: Language, Politics, and Culture in Confrontational Times, by Geoffrey Nunberg; Running on Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do about It, by Peter G. Peterson; American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century, by Kevin Phillips
About the Author
George Lakoff is Richard and Rhoda Goldman Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, and a founding senior fellow of the Rockridge Institute, a center for research devoted to promoting progressive ideas. He is the author of the influential books Don’t Think of an Elephant! and Moral Politics, as well as seminal books on linguistics, including Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things and Metaphors We Live By (with Mark Johnson). He lives in Berkeley, California.
Read an Excerpt
WHOSE FREEDOM? THE BATTLE OVER AMERICA'S MOST IMPORTANT IDEA
By GEORGE LAKOFF
FARRAR, STRAUS AND GIROUX Copyright © 2006 George Lakoff
All right reserved. ISBN: 0-374-15828-2
Introduction IN THE NAME OF FREEDOM
Ideas matter. Perhaps no idea has mattered more in American history than the idea of freedom.
The central thesis of this book is simple. There are two very different views of freedom in America today, arising from two very different moral and political worldviews dividing the country.
The traditional idea of freedom is progressive. One can see traditional values most clearly in the direction of change that has been demanded and applauded over two centuries. America has been a nation of activists, consistently expanding its most treasured freedoms:
The expansion of citizen participation and voting rights from white male property owners to non-property owners, to former slaves, to women, to those excluded by prejudice, to younger voters
The expansion of opportunity, good jobs, better working conditions, and benefits to more and more Americans, from men to women, from white to nonwhite, from native born to foreign born, from English speaking to non-English speaking
The expansion of worker rights-freedom from inhumane working conditions-through unionization: from slave labor to the eight-hour day, the five-day week, worker compensation, sickleave, overtime pay, paid vacations, pregnancy leave, and so on
The expansion of public education from grade school to high school to college to postgraduate education
The expansion of knowledge through science from isolated figures like Benjamin Franklin to scientific institutions in the great universities and governmental institutions like the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health
The expansion of public health and life expectancy
The expansion of consumer protection through more effective government regulation of immoral or irresponsible corporations and class action suits within the civil justice system
The expansion of diverse media and free speech from small newspapers to the vast media/Internet possibilities of today
The expansion of access to capital from wealthy land-holders and bankers to all the ways ordinary people-more and more of them-can borrow money today
The expansion, throughout the world, of freedom from colonial rule-for the most part with the backing of American foreign policy
These are among the progressive trends in American history. Progress has not always been linear, and the stages have been far from perfect, but the trends have been there-until recently. The rise of radical conservatism in America threatens to stop and reverse these and other progressive trends together with the progressive ideal of freedom that has propelled them all.
Indeed, the reversal has proceeded at a rapid pace. Voting rights are being threatened, good-paying jobs eliminated or exported, benefits cut or eliminated. Public education is being gutted and science is under attack. The media is being consolidated, corporate regulations eliminated, the civil justice system threatened, public health programs cut. Unions are being destroyed and benefits taken away. There are new bankruptcy laws limiting access to capital for ordinary people. And we are seeing the promotion of a new form of free-market colonialism in the guise of free-trade agreements and globalization, and even the use of military force to support these policies.
But for radical conservatives, these developments are not movements away from freedom but toward their version of freedom. Where most Americans in the last century have seen an expansion of freedoms, these conservatives see curtailments of what they consider "freedom." What makes them "conservatives" is not that they want to conserve the achievements of those who fought to deepen American democracy. It's the reverse: They want to go back to before these progressive freedoms were established. What they want to conserve is, in most cases, the situation prior to the expansion of traditional American ideas of freedom: before the great expansion of voting rights, before unions and worker protections and pensions, before civil rights legislation, before public health and environmental protections, before Social Security and Medicare, before scientific discoveries contradicted fundamentalist religious dogma. That is why they harp so much on narrow so-called originalist readings of the Constitution-on its letter, not its spirit-on "activist judges" rather than an inherently activist population.
We will be asking three questions:
How are radical conservatives achieving their reversal of freedom?
Why do they want to reverse traditional freedoms?
What do they mean by "freedom"?
Freedom defines what America is-and it is now up for grabs. The radical right is in the process of redefining the very idea. To lose freedom is a terrible thing; to lose the idea of freedom is even worse.
The constant repetition of the words "liberty" and "freedom" by the right-wing message machine is one of the mechanisms of the idea theft in progress. When the words are used by the right, their meaning shifts-gradually, almost imperceptibly, but it shifts.
The speeches at the 2004 Republican National Convention constantly invoked the words "freedom," "free," and "liberty." George W. Bush, in his second inaugural address, used these words forty-nine times in a twenty-minute speech-every forty-third word. And if you take into account the opposites-"tyranny," "dictatorship," "slavery," and so on-as well as associated words like "democracy," the proportion rises higher. From freedom fries to the Freedom Film Festival, the right wing is claiming the words "liberty" and "freedom" as their brand: Jerry Falwell's National Liberty Journal, Liberty University, Liberty Counsel, Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, and the list goes on.
To many progressives, the right's use of "freedom" is pure hypocrisy, and George W. Bush is the leading hypocrite. How, liberals ask, can Bush mean anything at all by "freedom" when he imprisons hundreds of people in Guantánamo indefinitely with no due process in the name of freedom; when he sanctions torture in the name of freedom; when he starts a preemptive war on false premises and retroactively claims it is being waged in the name of freedom; when he causes the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians in the name of freedom; when he supports oppressive regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan, while claiming to promote freedom in the Islamic world; when he sanctions the disenfranchisement of African-American voters in Florida and Ohio in the name of freedom; when he orders spying on American citizens in America without a warrant in the name of freedom; when, in the name of freedom, he seeks to prevent women from making their own medical decisions, to stop loving couples who want to marry, to stop families from being able to remove life supports when their loved ones are all but technically dead.
How can Bush mean anything by "freedom" when he works against Franklin Delano Roosevelt's four freedoms: freedom of speech and religion and freedom from want and fear? His policies work against freedom from want by pushing more Americans into poverty, by denying even a minuscule increase in the minimum wage, by seeking to end Social Security. By promoting a siege mentality-announcing orange alerts and talking relentlessly about "terror"-he creates and maintains a sense of fear, virtually a permanent state of emergency, rather then offering freedom from fear. The U.S.A. Patriot Act, passed at the height of this fear, provides new police powers to the government, abridging personal freedoms. He works against freedom of speech by encouraging media consolidation, by spying on telephone calls, by having the IRS threaten the tax status of groups that speak out against him, by requiring all attendees at his public speeches to sign oaths of loyalty to him, and by classifying more government documents than any other recent administration. He works against freedom of the press by secretly paying journalists to promote his policies and by denying access to reporters who criticize his policies. And he works against freedom of religion by seeking to impose school prayer upon those who don't want to pray, by allowing federal funds to be used to promote one religion (Christianity), by tacit support of bringing a religious idea-"intelligent design"-into the classroom, and by pushing faith-based governmental programs of all kinds, programs that put taxpayer money and social control into the hands of churches approved by his administration. How, progressives ask, can he possibly mean what he says when he claims that such actions promote "freedom"? The conclusion of many progressives is that the use of the word in the face of these policies tends to make the word meaningless.
Yes, Bush's acts do contradict the progressive idea of freedom-my idea of freedom. But progressives are engaging in fantasy when they assume that their idea of freedom is the only possible one and thereby deny that the radical right has any idea at all of freedom. This form of denial results in the view that Bush is saying nothing when he speaks of "freedom," that he is just degrading the language, that he is no more than a cynical and opportunistic propagandist who doesn't mean what he says.
In thinking this way, progressives are blinding themselves to the real and constant progress by the radical right toward cultural and political domination. It is tempting to dismiss Bush and members of the radical right as liars and hypocrites-but this is too easy. It is much scarier to think of Bush and others on the right as meaning what they say-as having a concept of "freedom" so alien to progressives that many progressives cannot even understand it, much less defend against it. Even more troubling is that the right's gradual takeover of the idea of freedom is going by unnoticed by a great many people.
Most Americans believe that "freedom" has only one meaning. It serves the purposes of the right when the public believes that conservatives and progressives are using the same idea, disagreeing only over which side is its more vigorous champion. It serves the purposes of the right to say that there is no theft, not even a challenge, going on. The longer the attempted theft remains invisible, the better its chance of succeeding.
Even Democrats with impeccable liberal credentials are helping the radical right by engaging in denial. I was a guest on an NPR program just after Bush's second inaugural, discussing the remarkable repetition of the word "freedom" in the speech. The guest who followed me was the brilliant and articulate Elaine Kamarck, an important figure in the Clinton administration, now at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. She denied that there was, or could be, more than one meaning of freedom. "Freedom is freedom is freedom," she declared with utter assurance, echoing Gertrude Stein's "A rose is a rose is a rose." The right-wing talk-show host Rush Limbaugh soon echoed Kamarck: There's one idea of freedom and only one. If Bush-Limbaugh freedom is the only idea of freedom in America, then the radical right has won.
But they have not won, not yet!
If they had won, if freedom had been redefined throughout America in their terms, if our freedom were gone and theirs were in its place, then there would be no need for them to repeat the word over and over and over. The point of repetition is to change not just people's minds but also their very brains. If they had succeeded in getting their view of freedom into the brains of all, or even most, Americans, then they could simply take freedom as they define it for granted.
THE MIND AND FREEDOM
I will be approaching the idea of freedom from the perspective of cognitive science-the interdisciplinary study of mind.
There are many excellent books on freedom written from various intellectual perspectives: intellectual history, political science, public policy, sociology, law, philosophy. The history of attempts to understand the idea of freedom has a great deal to teach us, and I am deeply grateful for the important scholarship in these areas. Nonetheless, these studies have limitations. Freedom and other political ideas are products of the human mind. They are inescapably the results of human mental processes. Cognitive science and cognitive linguistics, as these fields have developed in the past three decades, have given us a new and deeper understanding of mental processes and the ideas they generate, including political ideas.
Cognitive science has produced a number of dramatic and important results-results that bear centrally on contemporary politics, though in a way that is not immediately obvious.
We think with our brains.
The concepts we think with are physically instantiated in the synapses and neural circuitry of our brains. Thought is physical. And neural circuits, once established, do not change quickly or easily.
Repetition of language has the power to change brains.
When a word or phrase is repeated over and over for a long period of time, the neural circuits that compute its meaning are activated repeatedly in the brain. As the neurons in those circuits fire, the synapses connecting the neurons in the circuits get stronger and the circuits may eventually become permanent, which happens when you learn the meaning of any word in your fixed vocabulary. Learning a word physically changes your brain, and the meaning of that word becomes physically instantiated in your brain.
For example, the word "freedom," if repeatedly associated with radical conservative themes, may be learned not with its traditional progressive meaning, but with a radical conservative meaning. "Freedom" is being redefined brain by brain.
Most thought is unconscious.
Because thought occurs at the neural level, most of our thinking is not available to conscious introspection. Thus, you may not know your own reasoning processes. For example, you may not be aware of the moral or political principles that lie behind the political conclusions that you reach quickly and automatically.
All thought uses conceptual frames.
"Frames" are mental structures of limited scope, with a systematic internal organization. For example, our simple frame for "war" includes semantic roles: the countries at war, their leaders, their armies, with soldiers and commanders, weapons, attacks, and battlefields. The frame includes specific knowledge: In the United States, the president is the commander in chief and has war powers; war's purpose is to protect the country; the war is over and won when the other army surrenders. All words are defined with respect to frames.
Thus, declaring a "war on terror" against an elusive and amorphous enemy gave President Bush special war powers that could be extended and used indefinitely, even against American citizens. The Iraq War framed Iraq as a threat to our nation, making anyone against the war a traitor; when the United States marched into Baghdad, the war frame said the war was over-"Mission Accomplished."
Frames have boundaries.
Iraqi soldiers, tanks, and planes, and Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein, were inside the war frame, since they fit the semantic roles of the frame. Outside the war frame were ordinary Iraqis-killed and maimed by the tens of thousands-the resentment in Iraqi families caused by those deaths and maimings, the damage to the Iraqi infrastructure, the Iraqi jobs lost because of that damage, the resistance to the American occupation, Iraqi culture and religion, the "insurgents," the ancient artifacts in the Iraqi museums, the relatives of American soldiers, American social programs cut, the mounting American deficit, the attitudes toward Americans around the world. When you think within a frame, you tend to ignore what is outside the frame.
Language can be used to reframe a situation.
The Bush administration first framed the Iraq War as "regime change," as though the country would remain intact except for who ran the government. Saddam Hussein would "fall"-symbolized by his statue falling, an image played over and over on American TV-and a new democratic government would immediately replace the old tyranny. As the insurgency began to emerge, it became clear that the old frame was inoperative, and a reframing took place: Iraq became "the main front in the war on terror."
Excerpted from WHOSE FREEDOM? by GEORGE LAKOFF Copyright © 2006 by George Lakoff. Excerpted by permission.
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