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George Lakoff: The Political Mind

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Lakoff, George. The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain (New York: Viking, 2008)

Almost as a supplement to Drew Westen's The Political Brain, linguist George Lakoff's The Political Mind observes that:

...most of us have inherited a theory of mind dating back at least to the Enlightenment, namely, that reason is conscious, literal, logical, unemotional, disembodied, universal, and functions to serve our interests. This theory of human reason has been shown to be false in every particular, but it persists. (p. 3)

As a corrective, Lakoff proposes "a new, updated Enlightenment [...] ...a deep rationality that can take account of, and advantage of, a mind that is largely unconscious, embodied, emotional, empathetic, metaphorical, and only partly universal." (p. 13)

Lakoff often restates his earlier work, but there are still many intriguing observations in The Political Mind. Here is one such application to our current political situation:

The myth is that the deregulation or privatization of a moral mission of government eliminates government. But it doesn't. Large corporations also govern our lives--often making life-and-death decisions that affect us. Government isn't eliminated. It is just shifted from the public sector, where there is an ethic of protection and public accountability, to the private sector, where there is an ethic of profit and no public accountability. The principle here is the "conservation of government." Deregulation and privatization do not eliminate government; they only make it unaccountable and take away its moral mission.

But conservatives cannot admit this, because it would fly in the face of the idea of "free enterprise." The "free market" doesn't free us from government; it just gives us unaccountable government without a moral mission. (p. 63)

That is as strong a statement as I've seen about the upcoming election's importance. A more thoughtful electorate will benefit us all.

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