Frames

George Lakoff. Don't Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate. White River Junction: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2004.

Note: The following are notes from the above book. I found the book seminal, eye-opening, life-changing. I recommend that you buy and read the entire book. Only by reading the entire book will you get the whole picture. The following quotes, I hope, will whet your appetite. --Colby Glass


"... set the terms of the debate" (ix).

"By defining tax cuts as tax relief, the right also defined those who were against tax cuts as essentially bad people" (ix).

"...when you control the language, you control the message, and the corporate media does the rest... we have to be cognizant about how we communicate, the words we choose, and the framing we evoke, at all times" (xii).

"...terms like tax relief, partial birth abortion, and death tax got invented by the right to invoke frames and dominate debates. Even our allies were using language invented by the conservatives, shooting themselves in the foot every time...

"...attacking our opponents' frame [using their terminology] reinforces their message... Our job is to frame our own values, vision, and mission, and avoid attacking theirs, because if we do, it only keeps their ideas in the forefront" (xiii)...

"Frames are mental structures that shape the way we see the world. [They are the pre-judgements or prejudices which accompany certain terminology.]... structures in our brains that we cannot conscioulsy access, but know by their consequences: the way we reason and what counts as common sense... When you hear a word, its frame (or collection of frames) is activated in your brain...

"At present, there is only one progressive think tank engaged in a major reframing enterprise: the Rockridge Institute (www.rockridgeinstitute.org)" (xv).

"...word[s are] defined relative to [their] frame. When we negate a frame, we evoke the frame... Richard Nixon found that out... He stood before the nation and said, "I am not a crook." And everybody thought about him as a crook...

[The moral is] "Do not use their language. Their language picks out a frame... [for instance] George W. Bush['s]... phrase tax relief...

"Think of the framing of relief. For there to be relief there must be an affliction, an afflicted party, and a reliever who removes the affliction and is therefore a hero. And if people try to stop the hero, those people are villains for trying to prevent relief" (3).

[An alternative, if you are opposed to Bush's plans, is to avoid using the phrase tax relief. Instead, use the phrases welfare for the rich or corporate welfare.]

[If you use their terminology] "The words draw you into their worldview.

"Framing is about getting language that fits your worldview... evokes those ideas" (4)...

An example is the neocons' use of the phrase "family values."

Does this mean that framing is manipulative, like spin and propaganda? "Framing is normal. Every sentence we say is framed in some way... When a conservative uses the "tax relief" frame... he or she really believes that taxation is an affliction. However, frames can also be used manipulatively. The use, for example, of "Clear Skies Act" to name an act that increases air pollution is a manipulative frame...

"Spin is the manipulative use of a frame...

"Propaganda... is an attempt to get the public to adopt a frame that is not true and is known not to be true" (100)...


Taxes

"Isn't tax relief the natural way to talk about taxes? I'm a progressive, but I have to admit, they do seem burdensome sometimes.

"Homework in school is burdensome too, but you have to do it if you're gong to learen anything. Exercise is burdensome, but you have to do it if you're going to be in good physical shape. Taxes are necessary if we are going to make wise investments in our national infrastructure that will pay off for all of us years and years in the future. That includes investments in things like education and health care for those who can't afford it. Education and health care are investments in people. They are wise investments because they give us an educated citizenry, an educated workforce, and a healthy and efficient workforce. Those are the practical reasons for taxes. Other reasons for taxes are public services--like police and fire, disaster relief, and so on.

"Those are the practical reasons for taxes, but there are moral reasons as well. Education and health are important factors in fulfillment in life, and this country is about fulfillment in life. There is a reason why the Declaration of Independence talks about the pursuit of happiness and links it to liberty. The reason is that they go together. Without liberty, there can be no fulfillment in life. Thus there are practical reasons why it makes sense to understand taxation as investment, and there are moral reasons to understand taxation as paying your dues in a country where you can pursue happiness because there is liberty and freedom" (108).

"[Radical right] tax cuts are not about tax cuts... They are about getting rid of all social programs and regulations of business. Vouchers and school testing are not ultimately about vouchers and school testing; they are about conservative control of the content of education...


FAMILY VALUES

"...two different models of the family: a strict father family and a nurturant parent family... [The neocons are referring to] James Dobson... [his book] Dare to Discipline... Dobson not only has a 100-to-200-million-dollar-a-year operation, but he also has his own ZIP code, so many people are writing to order his books...

"The strict father model begins with a set of assumptions:

"...there is evil in the world...

"There will always be winners and loser...

"There is an absolute right and an absolute wrong...

"Children are born bad... they have to be made good...

"What is required of the child is obedience, because the strict father is a moral authority who knows right from wrong... the only way to teach kids obedience... is through punishment... Without such punishment, the world will go to hell. There will be no morality...

"...if people are disciplined and pursue their self-interest... they will become prosperous and self-reliant. Thus, the strict father model links morality with prosperity...

"...pursuing your self-interest should enable you to prosper [Dobson's version of free market capitalism]...

"This is linked to a general metaphor that views well-being as wealth...

"A do-gooder is someone who is trying to help someone else rather than herself and is getting in the way of those who are pursuing their self-interest. Do-gooders screw up the system" (7-8).

"Consider what all this means for social programs. It is immoral to give people things they have not earned, because then they will not develop discipline and will become both dependent and immoral... Promoting social programs is immoral" (9)...

"...what this says about foreign policy... What the father says, the child does... you are the person in power, the moral authority. The others should be asking YOU for permission...

"The strict father worldview... the father is the head of the family. The nurturant parent world-view is gender neutral" (11).

"both parents are equally responsible for raising the children...

"The assumption is that children are born good and can be made better.

"The world can be made a better place, and our job is to work on that...

"...nurturance... means two things: empathy and responsibility...

"...other values immediately follow... you protect your child from... crime and drugs... smoking... poisonous additives in food... Protection is part of the progressive moral system...

"...and caring about others...

"...freedom is a [progressive] value...

"...opportunity and prosperity are progressive values...

"...fairness is a progressive value...

"... open, two-way communication...

"...community-building, service to the community, and cooperation in a community...

"...honesty...

"These are the nurturant values--and they are the progressive values" (13)...

"...a John Wayne movie or an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie [reflect the] strict father model... The Cosby Show [reflects] a nurturing parent model" (20).

"In the nurturant parent model, discipline arises not through painful physical punishment, but through the promotion of responsible behavior via empathetic connection, the example of responsible behavior set by the parents, the open discussion of what the parents expect (and why!), and, in the case of noncooperation, the removal of those priveleges that go with cooperation ("Time out!" and "You're grounded!"). A child raised through nurturance is a child who has achieved positive internal discipline without painful physical punishment. It is achieved through praise for cooperation, understanding the privileges that go with cooperation, clear guidelines, open discussion, and the example of parents who live by their nurturant values" (98).

This nurturant approach is also used in animal training. The new "clicker training" methods use positive reinforcement rather than punishment. The advantage is that a light goes on in the animals eyes and they start trying to help you train them because then they get rewards. The alternative is to use punishment. The result of punishment is that the animal is always afraid of you and has a slave mentality.

"..just about everybody in American culture has both [family] models, either actively or passively. For example, to understand a John Wayne movie, you must have a strict father model in your brain, at least passively. You may not live by the model, but you can use it to understand the strict father narratives that permeate our culture. Nurturant narratives permeate our culture as well.

"Second, many people use both models, but in different parts of their lives. For example, a female lawyer might be strict in the courtroom but nurturant at home.

"Third, you may have been brought up badly with one model, and may have rejected it. Many liberals had miserable strict father upbringings" (99)...

"Conservative Christianity... God is understood as punitive--that is, if you sin your are going to go to hell...

"Liberal Christianity is very, very different. Liberal Christianity sees God as essentially beneficent, as wanting to help people... you can't earn grace--you are given grace unconditionally by God" (102-103).


"...myths...end up hurting us badly...

MYTH #1: The truth will set us free. If we just tell people the facts... But we know from cognitive science that people do not think like that. People think in frames... If the facts do not fit a frame, the frame stays and the facts bounce off...

"Concepts are not things that can be changed just by someone telling us a fact... for us to make sense of them, they have to fit what is already in the synapses of the brain. Otherwise facts... are not heard, or they are not accepted as facts... Then we label the fact as irrational, crazy, or stupid...

Example: "Saying "the president lied when he started this war" puts the truth out there--but for many people it just bounces off. A huge number of people in the country still believe that Saddam Hussein was behind September 11. There are people who will believe this because it fits their understanding of the world. It fits their worldview... They believe this--in spite of the report by the 9/11 Commission. It is not that they are stupid. They have a frame and they only accept facts that fit that frame" (18)...

MYTH #2: "It is irrational to go against your self-interest... Modern economic theory and foreign policy are set up on the basis of that assumption...

"...cognitive scientists... have shown that people do not really think that way...

"People do not necessarily vote in their self-interest. They vote their identity. They vote their values. They vote for who they identify with" (19).

MYTH #3: "...political campaigns are marketing campaigns where the candidate is the product... This leads to the conclusion that polling should determine which issues a candidate should run on...

"It does not work... the Republicans... real practice, and the real reason for their success, is this: They say what they idealistically believe... they talk to their base using the frames of their base" (20)...

"Clinton figured out how to handle this problem. He stole the other side's language... He did what he wanted to do, only he took their language and used their words to describe it. It made them very mad. Very smart technique...

"[The Republicans] use Orwellian language precisely when they have to: when they are weak, when they cannot just come out and say what they mean. Imagine if they came out supporting a "Dirty Skies Bill" or a "Forest Destruction Bill" or a "Kill Public Education" bill. They would lose...

"Orwellian language points to weakness... it is a guide to where they are vulnerable. They do not use it everywhere. It is very important to notice this, and use their weakness to your advantage" (22)...

Example of "tax relief," a frame which implies that taxes are bad and that anyone who relieves us of them is good... "What is taxation? Taxation is what you pay to live in a civilized country--what you pay to have democracy and opportunity, and what you pay to use the infrastructure paid for by previous taxpayers: the highway system, the Internet, the entire scientific establishment, the medical establishment, the communications system, the airline system. All are paid for by taxpayers" (24)...

"Imagine this [information] running over and over [as an ad] for years. Eventually, the frame would be established: Taxes are wise investments in the future" (25)...

"[Liberals] need to talk about values... talk about every issue from the perspective of our values, not theirs...

"Progressives also have to look at the integration of issues. This is something that the right is very, very savvy about. They know about what I call strategic initiatives. A strategic initiative is a plan in which a change in one carefully chosen issue area has automatic effects over many, many, many other issue areas...

"For example... tort reform, which means putting limits on awards in lawsuits. Tort reform is a top priority for conservatives. Why do conservatives care so much about this? Well, as soon as you see the effects, you can see why they care. Because in one stroke you prohibit all of the potential lawsuits that will be the basis of future environmental legislation and regulation. That is, it is not just regulation of the chemical industry or the coal industry or the nuclear power industry or other things that are at stake. It is the regulation of everything. If parties who are harmed cannot sue immoral or negligent corporations or professionals for significat sums, the companies are free to harm the public in unlimited ways in the course of making money. And lawyers, who take risks and make significant investments in such cases, will no longer make enough money to support the risk. And corporation will be free to ignore the public good. That is what "tort reform" is about" (29-30).

"Tort reform is not about tort reform; it is about allowing corporations to act without restraints, and about taking funding away from the Democratic Party, since trail lawyers are a major source of Democratic funding" (109).

"... you need to reframe the larger issues at stake from your point of view... Take tort reform. Trial lawyers are really publbic protection attorneys, and tort law is law that allows for public protection--it's public protection law. When tort law tries to cap claims and settlements, its effect is to take claims out of the hands of juries... In open courts, where there are juries, the jury can decide whether a given claim is a matter of public protection. Large settlements often have to do with issues of public protection--that is, they go beyond the case at hand. And open courts are the last defense that the public has against unscrupulous or negligent corporations or professionals. When they talk about the lawsuits you don't just say, "No, no, the lawsuits weren't frivolous," you talk instead about public protection, about open courts, about the right to have juries decide, and about the last line of defense against unscrupulous or negligent corporations" (109).

"...slippery slope initiatives: Take the first step and you're on your way off the cliff... [For example] why an education bill about school testing? Once the testing frame applies not just to students but also to schools, then schools can, metaphorically, fail--and be punished for failing by having their allowance cut. Less funding in turn makes it harder for the schools to improve, which leads to a cycle of failure and ultimately elimination for many public schools. What replaces the public school system is a voucher system to support private schools. The wealthy would have good schools--paid for in part by what used to be tax payments for public schools. The poor would not have the money for good schools. We would wind up with a two-tier school system, a good one for the "deserving rich" and a bad one for the "undeserving poor."" (32)...

"Vouchers and school testing are not ultimately about vouchers and school testing; they are about conservative control of the content of education" (109).


Eleven Things Progressives Can Do

1. "Recognize what conservatives have done right... What they have done right is to successfully frame the issues from their perspective.

2. "Remember... if you keep their language and their framing and just argue against it, you lose because you are reinforcing their frame.

3. "Just speaking truth to power doesn't work. You need to frame the truths effectively from your perspective.

4. "...use the language of values...

5. "...understand where conservatives are coming from... Be able to explain why they believe what they believe. Try to predict what they will say.

6. "...think strategically, across issue areas. Think in terms of large moral goals, not in terms of program for their own sake...

7. "Form progressive slippery slope initiatives...

8. "...remember that voters vote their identity and their values...

9. "...unite! And cooperate!... start thinking and talking from shared progressive values...

10. "... be proactive... Practice reframing, every day, on every issue... Use YOUR frames, not their frames. Use them because they fit the values you believe in...

11. "Don't move to the right. Rightward movement hurts in two ways. It alienates the progressive base and it helps conservatives by activating their model in swing voters" (33-34).


"As far as elections are concerned, the most powerful forms of identification are with values and corresponding cultural stereotypes" (39)...

"...adopt[ing] some right-wing values [is] a self-defeating strategy. Conservatives have been winning elections without moving to the left [by using] a powerful cultural stereotype" (43)...

Some examples of changing frames. First see the family stereotypes above...

Progressive Values

"How do progressive values differ from traditional American values?

"Progressive values ARE traditional American values.

"We are proud of the victories for equality and against hierarchy: the emnancipation of the slaves, women's suffrage, the union movement, the integration of the armed forces, the civil rights movement, the woman's movement, the environmental movement, and the gay rights movement.

"We are proud of FDR's conception of government "for the people" and his rally for hope against fear.

"We are proud of the Marshall Plan, which helped to erase the notion of "enemies."

"We are proud of John Kennedy's call to public service, of Martin Luther King's insistence on nonviolence in the face of brutality, of Cesar Chavez's ability to bring pride and organization to the worst treated of workers.

"Progressive thought is as American as apple pie. Progressives want political equality, good public schools, healthy children, care for the aged, police protection, family farms, air you can breathe, water you can drink, fish in our streams, forests you can hike in, sognbirds and frogs, livable cities, ethical businesses, journalists who tell the truth, music and dance, poetry and art, and jobs that pay a living wage to everyone who works" (110).

Gay Marriage

"The radical right uses gay marriage... Gay for the right connotes a wild, deviant, sexually irresponsible lifestyle. That's why the right prefers gay marriage to same-sex marriage...

"Progressives need to reclaim the moral high ground... there is a simple response for someone who says, "I don't think gays should be able to marry. Do you?" The response is: "I believe in equal rights, period. I don't think the state should be in the business of telling people who they can or can't marry. Marriage is about love and commitment, and denying lovers the right to marry is a violation of human dignity"" (50)...

"It has long been right-wing strategy to repeat over and over phrases that evoke their frames and define issues their way. Such repetition makes their language normal, everyday language... everyday ways to think about issues" (50)...

September 11

"The initial framing [of the 9/11 event] was as a crime with victims, and perpetrators to be "brought to justice" and "punished." The crime frame entails law, courts, lawyers, trials, sentencing, appeals, and so on. It was hours before CRIME changed to WAR, with casualties, enemies, military action, war powers, and so on" (56)...

The criminal frame for what happened on 9/11 is the liberal or progressive frame. The war frame is the radical right's frame. Notice what each frame involves.

"Calling for war instead of mere justice has given the conservatives free rein" (67).

"Expect any serious opposition to Bush's policies to be called traitorous" (68).

Foreign Policy

"At a time when terrorist threats come from groups of INDIVIDUALS rather than states, when wars occur within nations, when "free markets" exist without freedom, when overpopulation threatens stability, when intolerant cultures limit freedom and promote violence, when transnational corporations act like oppressive governments, and when the oil economy threatens the planet's future, the central problems in today's world cannot be solved by state-level approaches.

"The state-level part of the answer is to recognize global interdependence and focus foreign policy on diplomacy, alliances, international institutions and strong defensive and peacekeeping forces, with war as a last resort.

"But what is needed even more is a new kind of moral foreign policy, one that realizes that America can only be a better America if the world is a better world. America must become a moral leader using fundamental human values: caring and responsibility carried out with strength to respond to the world's problems.

"IN a values-based foreign policy, issues that were not previously seen as part of foreign policy become central. Women's education is the best way to alleviate overpopulation and promote development. Renewable energy could make the world oil-independent. Food, water, health, ecology, and corporate reform are foreign policy issues, as are rights: rights of women, children, workers, prisoners, refugees, and political minorities" (63).

Elsewhere, he argues that radical terrorists come out of the hopeless conditions in which they live and well as the beliefs they are taught. If you change the condition of their lives, you make it hard to teach them radical ideas.

"One of the central metaphors in our foreign policy is that a nation is a person... "Saddam is a tyrant. He must be stopped." What the metaphor hides, of course, is that the three thousand bombs to be dropped in the first two days will not be dropped on that one person. They will kill many thousands of [innocent] people hidden by the metaphor, people that we are, according to the metaphor, NOT going to war against (69).


A Summary of Philosophies and Terminology

The author sums up the opposite philosophies by contrasting their terminology in the following way (94):
PROGRESSIVES CONSERVATIVES
Stronger America STrong Defense
Broad Prosperity Free Markets
Better Future Lower Taxes
Effective Government Smaller Government
Mutual Responsibility Family Values


Abortion

"Allowing women to decide for themselves on whther to end a pregnancy flies in the face of the whole idea of a strict father family model. In the strict father model, it is the father who decides whether his wife or daughter should have an abortion... If the father is to maintain control over his family, then the women in the family cannot freely control their own sexual behavior and their own ability to reproduce... Abortion is a stand-in for the larger issue: Is strict father morality going to rule America?" (104-105).


The Commons

"..."the commons"--that is, our common inheritance, like the atmosphere or the electromagnetic spectrum (bandwidths). These are the common inheritances of all humanity, and most people who discuss them in this way refer to them as "the commons." Yet the idea of a common inheritance and of using it for the public good is not yet part of the frame structure that most people use every day. For this reason you can't just make up a sound bite about the commons and have most people understand it and agree with it" (105).

How To Respond to Conservatives

"Every time someone started screaming about "gay marriage" I'd ask if they want the federal government to tell them who they could marry...

"I also asked for definitions. Every time someone would holler "dirty liberal," I'd request their definition of "liberal.""...

"Your job is to activate for politics the nurturant, progressive values already there (perhaps only passively) in your interlocutors...

"Avoid a shouting match. Remember that the radical right requires a culture war, and shouting is the discourse form of that culture war. Civil discourse is the discourse form of nurturant morality. You win a victory when the discourse turns civil. They win when they get you to shout...

Do not let anyone refer to Bush and his crowd as conservatives or neo-conservatives. They aren't. They are radicals, or the radical right.

"Distinguish bewteen ordinary conservatives and nasty ideologues. Most conservatives are personally nice people" (114)...

"...ask who they care about the most, what responsibilities they feel they have to those they care about, and how they carry out those responsibilities. This should activate their nurturant models... Example: Real family values mean that your parents, as they age, don't have to sell their home or mortgage their future to pay for health care or the medications they need...

"...don't just negate the other person's claims; reframe... You cannot win just by stating the true facts and showing that they contradict your opponents claims. Frames trump facts. His frames will stay and the facts will bounce off. Always reframe...

"Once your frame is accepted into the discourse, everything you say is just common sense. Why? Because that's what common sense is: reasoning within a common-place, accepted frame.

"Never answer a question framed from your opponent's point of view. Always reframe the question to fit your values and your frames...

"Tell a story. Find stories where your frame is built into the story. Build up a stock of effective stories...

"Always start with values, preferably values all American share like security, prosperity, opportunity, freedom, and so on. Pick the values most relevant to the frame you want to shift to. Try to win the argument at the values level. Pick a frame where your position exemplifies a value everyone holds--like fairness. Example: Suppose someone argues against a form of universal health care. If people don't have health care, he argues, it's their own fault. They're not working hard enough or not managing their money properly. We shouldn't have to pay for their lack of initiative or their financial mismanagement. Frame Shift: Most of the forty million people who can't afford health care work full-time at essential jobs that cannot pay enough to get them health care. Yet these working people support the lifestyles of the top three-quarters of our population. Some forty million people have to do those hard jobs--or you don't have your lifestyle. America promises a decent standard of living in return for hard work. These workers have earned their health care by doing essential jobs to suppor the economy. There is money in the economy to pay them. Tax credits are the easiest mechanism. Their health care would be covered by having the top 2 percent pay the same taxes they used to pay. It's only fair that the wealty pay for their own lifestyles, and that people who provide those lifestyles get paid fairly for it" (116-117).

www.rockridgeinstitute.org... "frame shifting. Example: A tax cut proponent says, We should get rid of taxes. People know how to spend their money better than the government. Reframe: The government has made very wise investments with taxpayer money. Our interstate highway system, for example. You couldn't build a highway with your tax refund. The government built them. Or the Internet, paid for by taxpayer investment. You could not make your own Internet. Most of our scientific advances have been made through funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health--great government investments of taxpayer money. No matter how wisely you spent your own money, you'd never get those scientific and medical breakthroughs. And how far would you get hiring your own army with your tax refund?" (117-118).

"Use wedge issues, cases where your opponent will violate some belief he holds no matter what he says. Example: Suppose he brings up abortion. Raise the issue of military rape treatment. Women soldiers who are raped (by our own soldiers, in Iraq, or on military bases) and who subsequently get pregnant presently cannot end their pregnancies in a military hospital, because abortions are not permitted there. A Military Rape Treatment Act would allow our raped women soldiers to be treated in military hospitals to end their rape-induced pregnancies. The wedge: If he agrees, he sanctions abortion, in government-supported facilities no less, where doctors would have to be trained and facilities provided for terminating pregnancies. If he disagrees, he dishonors our women soldiers who are putting their lives on the line for him. To the women it is like being raped twice--once by a criminal soldier and once by a self-righteous conservative" (118).

"An opponent may be disingenuous if his real goal isn't what he says his goal is. Politely point out the real goal, then refram. Example: Suppose he starts touting smaller government. Point out that conservatives don't really want smaller government. They don't want to eliminate the military, or the FBI, or the Treasury and Commerce Departments, or the nine-tenths of the courts that support corporate law. It is big government that they like. What they really want to do away with is social programs--programs that invest in people, to help people to help themselves. Such a position contradicts the values the country was founded on--the idea of a community where people pull together to help each other. From John Winthrop on, that is what our nation has stood for" (118).


Colby Glass, MLIS