The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st Century American Politics with an 18th Century Brain

The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st Century American Politics with an 18th Century Brain

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by George Lakoff
     
 

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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

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

If you have ever wondered why American politics don't make sense, you should read this book, in which cognitive science and linguistics professor George Lakoff issues a wake-up call to voters and opinion makers who still think that human beings are rational. That 18th-century notion, he claims, exposes us to the machinations of those who know that the key to persuasion is framing the narrative, not nailing down the facts. In The Political Mind, he draws on dozens of examples and alternate arguments to explain how the discussion can be best changed at an elemental level. A passionate, engaging follow-up to his Don't Think of an Elephant!
Publishers Weekly

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)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

New York Times best-selling author Lakoff (Moral Politics) here cogently argues that the success of conservatives' impassioned worldviews implies that the electorate selects political platforms and representation based on emotion rather than reason. Thus, he concludes, Democrats would be most effective if they refused to accept the Republican construct of the world and instead reframed the issues to reflect their own views. Actor/narrator Kent Cassella (Even Buffett Isn't Perfect) gives an appropriately somber reading of this scholarly material, which is ideal for academic libraries. [Audio clip available through www.tantor.com.-Ed.]
—Deb West

Kirkus Reviews
Of neural modeling, X-schemas, neurotransmitters and Dubya-signposts on the culture war whose "main battlefield is the brain."Reality, Stephen Colbert famously remarked, has a liberal bias. Yet liberal think-tanker Lakoff (Cognitive Science and Linguistics/Univ. of California, Berkeley; Whose Freedom?: The Battle Over America's Most Important Idea, 2006, etc.) sets out to prove that we are a great deal less rational than we believe ourselves to be. Sure, reality has a liberal bias, and "American values are fundamentally progressive," but the radical right has been winning that culture war at least in part because its tacticians have had a better grasp of our reptilian, fear-driven, emotional inner demons and played to them. "Cut and run," the author notes by way of example. "Can you not think cowardice?" Borrowing a page from the late sociologist Erving Goffman, Lakoff examines a series of "framing issues," the ways in which stories are told and political objectives laid out such that the outcome cannot help but favor the framer. Consider Iraq, for instance: All it would take would be for a skillful narrator to rejigger the frame, and suddenly our occupying army has need to stay for decades, the measure of victory being the guarantee of the safe flow of oil to America. "If the country broke up into three distinct states or autonomous governments," Lakoff adds, "that too might be ‘victory' as long as oil profits were guaranteed and Americans in the oil industry protected." The frame is everything: By one frame Anna Nicole Smith is a gold-digger, by another a rags-to-riches success story; by one frame George Bush is a white-knuckle alcoholic, by another a redeemed sinner. The task forprogressives, Lakoff asserts, is to start framing the stories better, outside of the narrative confines of the "Old Enlightenment," lest the right continue its work of dismantling democracy without the left making a peep. The task is also to find an identity-as, Lakoff notes, Barry Goldwater so successfully did as a "biconceptual" conservative-and live up to it. Smart and provocative-essential reading for political activists and policy wonks of any stripe.
From the Publisher
"Kent Cassella gives an appropriately somber reading of this scholarly material." —Library Journal Audio Review

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780670019274
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/29/2008
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
9.18(w) x 6.26(h) x 1.04(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Kent Cassella gives an appropriately somber reading of this scholarly material." —-Library Journal Audio Review

Meet the Author

Kent Cassella is an actor who divides his time between Vermont and New York. Television and film credits include all of the Law and Order franchise shows, FX's Rescue Me, Showtime's Brotherhood, and the Ben Affleck film The Town.

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