The Political Mind : Why You Can't Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain
In What's the Matter with Kansas?, Thomas Frank pointed out that a great number of Americans actually vote against their own interests. In The Political Mind, George Lakoff explains why.
As it turns out, human beings are not the rational creatures we've so long imagined ourselves to be. Ideas, morals, and values do not exist somewhere outside the body, ready to be examined and put to use. Instead, they exist quite literally inside the brain--and they take physical shape there. For example, we form particular kinds of narratives in our minds just like we form specific muscle memories such as typing or dancing, and then we fit new information into those narratives. Getting that information out of one narrative type and into another--or building a whole new narrative altogether--can be as hard as learning to play the banjo. Changing your mind isn't like changing your body--it's the same thing.
But as long as progressive politicians and activists persist in believing that people use an objective system of reasoning to decide on their politics, the Democrats will continue to lose elections. They must wrest control of the terms of the debate from their opponents rather than accepting their frame and trying to argue within it.
This passionate, erudite, and groundbreaking book will appeal to readers of Steven Pinker and Thomas Frank. It is a fascinating read for anyone interested in how the mind works, how society works, and how they work together.
Lakoff (Don't Think of an Elephant) harnesses cognitive science to rally progressive politicians and voters by positing that conservatives have framed the debate on vital issues more effectively than liberals. According to his research, conservatives comprehend that most brain functioning is grounded not in logical reasoning but in emotionalism--as a result, huge portions of the citizenry accept the Republican framing of the war in Iraq and supporting the troops rather than liberal appeals and phrasing of the occupation in Iraq and squandering tax money. George W. Bush won the presidency by concocting a redemption narrative, persuading tens of millions of voters that his past moral and business shortcomings should be viewed as a prelude to pulling himself up, rather than as disqualifying behavior. While sections of the book employ technical scientific terminology, the author masterfully makes his research comprehensible to nonspecialists. His conclusion--that if citizens and policy-makers better understand brain functioning, hope exists to ameliorate global warming and other societal disasters in the making--will be of vital importance and interest to all readers. (June)
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May 28, 2008
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