Book review: Don't think of an elephant!

George Lakoff: Don’t think of an elephant!

A frightening and fascinating deconstruction of right-wing strategies and tactics in American politics, covering the last two presidential elections, Schwartzenegger’s election in California, 9/11, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I knew the situation was grim, but not this grim.

Apparently, the right wing has systematically funded research into use of language, such as “tax relief”, which frames taxes as being an affliction, the public as an afflicted party, the person who relieves people of the affliction as a hero, and anyone trying to prevent him as a villain. And the mere act of using their language (e.g. saying you are against tax relief) reinforces that belief system, and thus helps their case.

But it doesn’t stop there. Tax cuts are a strategic, because with a single stroke you have removed funding from almost any potential government spending, be it on social security, environmental protection, or schools.

Anyone who has shared the frustration and indignation of seeing Bush get re-elected with a 3.5 million majority of the popular vote, despite his miserable record in Iraq and the rest of the world, and despite his refusal to respond to the facts in the campaign, will find here some consolation and a way out of the misery. We can change the discourse, and here are the basic tools that we need to understand.

There’s still a lot of details that need to be worked out, what with some 30 years of catching up to be done, but the book outlines the path to take. “Are you for or against gay marriage?” “I am for equality, period. I don’t think the state should tell people who they can or can’t marry.”

Also, thanks to Lakoff for his excellent writing, and for keeping the book short, at around 100 pages. Steven Johnson could learn from this.


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