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Notes on framing  
Posted by Brian D on February 21 2008, 09:45 » Uploaded 21/02/08 09:50  

George Lakoff points out that the differences between "conservative" and "liberal" positions on various issues have less to do with "disagreements of fact and logic" than with opposing "metaphorical" conceptions of morality.

Take two examples: student grants & corporate welfare.

1. Conservative view of student grants:

They're "immoral" because:
• They encourage dependence on the government, and so are against the morality of self-reliance & self-discipline.
• They're not available to everyone, so they introduce competitive unfairness, an interference with the "free market", and hence with the fair pursuit of self-interest (part of the morality of reward and punishment).
• Since they're paid for by tax, they take money from someone who has earned it, and give it to someone who hasn't (against the morality of rewarding self-reliant, self-disciplined people).

2. Conservative view of corporate welfare:

Not (immediately) seen as immoral because:
• Those receiving it are pre-conceptualised as self-reliant, self-disciplined in the entrenched iconography of the heroic, hard-working, successful "wealth creator". In the moral accounting metaphor of conservatives, they are deserving.
• The comparison between corporate welfare and social welfare thus doesn't work on conservatives (at least not without decades of reframing), because the heroes and demons in the conservative worldview are based on "deep" cultural metaphors reflecting the primary morality of self-discipline and self-reliance.

(The "liberal" view, in contrast, holds things like "empathy" and "nurturance" as primary, in moral terms, with self-discipline and self-reliance as secondary in moral importance.)

Naturally, when you split people into two groups, you are making generalisations. But where people continue with such dichotomies (right v left, liberal v conservative, corporate v non-corporate, power v public), why not be informed about the validity (eg in scientific terms) of the basis for the dichotomy?

Moral metaphors and moral framing, and the way they underlie political worldviews in general, are subject to scientific investigation. But essences of good and evil, aren't. We don't have virtue-o-meters.

COMMENTS Post comment


Comment 01 – pulse February 21 2008, 12:01

Corporate welfare is an interesting one because it turns upside-down the rightwing notion about welfare and dependency. I remember talking to someone with rightwing views about corporate welfare - she said I was a hypocrite for supporting individual welfare but opposing corporate welfare, and that my argument was based on hatred of rich corporations and nothing to do with rational consistency. She was also sincere and intelligent. She wouldn't, however, accept my distinction between a safety net for individuals and giving tax breaks to rich corporations. For her, the concept was "something for nothing", and if you supported it on one level you shouldn't oppose it on others.

Here's a review of Lakoff's book, Moral Politics (from Amazon):

I now understand exactly why it is pointless (as a liberal) to argue with conservatives about issues such as the deficit or corporate welfare, or about what I perceive as other inconsistencies within their own beliefs. Lakoff argues quite convincingly that our political views (liberal and conservative) are based not on some objective evaluation of the opposing sides of various issues, but on deeply internalized feelings about the rightness of one's "worldview." Once I understood his argument, a great many things started to make sense to me that had never made sense before. I was never comfortable with characterizing all conservatives as "stupid" or "selfish," but now I understand why, while they are not necessarily stupid or selfish, I can never, ever agree with them![...]

Comment 02 – Mark Warner February 21 2008, 14:34

Here's where the US and UK differ, although the UK looks to be heading more and more for the US position. The debate in the US (to the extent there is any) is over student loans. The idea of straight grants (which you don't have to pay back) now sounds like something out of a socialist utopia, a fantasy world that could never exist. And yet it did exist, and nobody thought there was anything immoral about it at the time. RIP Labour.



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