Facilitate the power of love - confront the love of power

Thu, 02 Dec 2004

Metaphor power

As I completed a previous day's blog entry, God Invades White House (a title that, having now finished reading Esther Kaplan's book With God On Their Side seems to me very apposite) I  was left with a sense that those of us who might wear a 'liberal', 'nurturant', 'progressive' label, whether we chose it or not, have a special difficulty in contradicting or interrupting the very cohesive 'big ideas' of conservative politics. A special difficulty due in part to our preference for plurality, diversity and above all reflexivity.

I ended:

'...I am left with a troubling outcome to this line of inquiry.

Because they are often structured round a few unifying, faith-based Big Ideas—
patriarchy, or male dominance—christian conservative groups seem more able than liberals to agree on campaign strategies that favour a narrow range of issues with which large populations can identify. Media coverage that repeats such notions ad infinitum through interviews, photo-opportunities and commercials, amounts to trance induction, and such spellbinding promises of 'security' in the face of the inflated threats of a 'war on terror', can come to dominate political discourse, as they did in the 2004 Presidential election.

If, by contrast, you favor a paradigm of human relations that values diversity, plurality, nurturance, equality and empathy, these generate multiple messages, multiple meanings, multiple aims, that can seem incoherent en masse (though not necessarily locally). Politically this seems to me very problematic. How do liberal ideas hold their place in the world without compromising their diversity?

So a key ongoing element of this inquiry into domination is how to resolve this dilemma. How can we  create institutions, descriptions, naming, metaphors, and symbols, that hold true to notions of plurality, authenticity, nurturance, empathy, caring and love? So that they hold their value in contests where a handful of big ideas shaped by covert notions of absolute truth are used to sustain and regenerate control and dominance.'

Part of an answer emerged as I got this item ready for posting, when I discovered George Lakoff's book(let) Don't Think of an Elephant, written for liberal activists in the US to use in the 2004 Presidential election. Lakoff recycles his notions about 'Strict Father' politics and 'Nurturant Parent' politics detailed in his previous longer book Moral Politics—coming up with recommendations about strategies for promoting 'liberal', 'progressive', 'nurturant' political notions. It's short, cheap, direct and to the point, and worth every penny.

If you want a taste of what George Lakoff has to say in Don't Think of an Elephant , here are links to the online originals of several of the chapters.

A Man of His Words
George Lakoff talks about how transforming the language of politics can help win the good fight.
The Progressive Morality
If progressives communicate their values clearly, most people will recognize them as their own, and more deeply American than those currently put forth by conservatives.
What's in a Word
The gay marriage issue is not just about same-sex couples. It is about which values will dominate in our society.
Metaphors of terror
Reflections on 9/11
Metaphor and war Again
As in his father's Iraq war, President Bush has floated two powerful storylines to effectively, and dangerously, frame America as both victim and hero.
Betrayal of Trust
Whether or not the Bush administration lied is the wrong question to ask. The real issue is betrayal of trust.

Other relevant articles by George Lakoff.
The Power of Images 
September 11 2001
Metaphor and War:
The Metaphor System Used to Justify War in the Gulf

I'll come back to all this. I include it in Satygraha because, much as some of us would prefer it, it is not enough to devise ingenious  alternatives that contradict the top down givens of naturalized domination, we have to be equally ingenious in finding ways of bringing these institutions and propositions to the attention of the rest of the world.

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