George Lakoff explains that conservatives view freedom than progressives. We hear the word and we don’t realize to them it means something totally different. His book, Whose Freedom: The Battle over America’s Most Important Idea, explains to us the way conservative view freedom, how they are changing the way Americans view freedom, and what progressives can do to reclaim freedom.
According to Lakoff, the traditional American idea of freedom is the progressive view. It is a freedom that been consistently expanded by American activist and encompasses the following ten points. First, the expansion of citizen participation and voting rights from white male property owners to non-property owners, to former slaves, to women, to those excluded by prejudice, and to younger voters. Second, the expansion of opportunity, good jobs, better working conditions and benefits. Third, the expansion of workers rights through unionization. Fourth, the expansion of public education. Fifth, the expansion of knowledge through science. Sixth, The expansion of public health and life expectancy. Seventh, the expansion of consumer protection through more effective government regulation. Eighth, the expansion of media and free speech. Ninth, the expansion of access to capital. And tenth, the expansion of freedom throughout the world from colonial rule, with the backing of American foreign policy.
Lakoff states that, “The rise of radical conservatism in America threatened to stop and reverse these and other progressive trends together with the progressive ideal of freedom that has propelled them all…But for radical conservatives, these developments are not movements away from freedom but towards their version of freedom…What makes them ‘conservatives’ is not that they want to conserve the achievements of those who fought to deepen American democracy. It is the reverse: They want to go back to before these progressive freedoms were established.” Lackoff asserts that President Bush’s repeated use of the word freedom in connection with conservative principles in an attempt to not just change people’s minds but also their brains. Using cognitive science, he identifies fourteen points of consideration. First, we think with our brains. Thought is physical and once neural circuits are established they do not change quickly or easily. Second, repetition of language has the power to change brains. Lackoff offers this example, “The word ‘freedom’ if repeatedly associated with radical conservative themes, may be learned not with its traditional progressive meaning, but with a radical conservative meaning. ‘Freedom’ is being redefined brain by brain.” Third, most thought is unconscious. Fourth, all thought uses conceptual frames. Fifth, frames have boundaries. When you think within a frame, you tend to ignore what is outside the frame. With the Iraq war, Soldiers, tanks, and Saddam Hussein, were inside the frame, but Iraqi casualties, Iraqi infrastructure, Iraqi job loss, were outside the frame. Sixth, language can be used to reframe a situation. Seventh, Frames characterize ideas; they may be “deep” or “surface” frames. Lakoff defines deep and surface frames as, “Deep frames structure your moral system or your worldview. Surface frames have a much smaller scope. They are associated with particular words or phrases, and with modes of communication.” Eighth, deep frames are where the action is. They structure how you view the world. Ninth, most thought uses conceptual metaphors. Tenth, most thought does not follow the rules of logic. Lakoff states that, “Thinking in frames and metaphors is normal and gives rise to inferences that do not fit laws of logic as mathematical logicians have formulated them.” Eleventh, the frames and metaphors in our brain define common sense. Twelfth, frames trump facts. Lakoff states that, “for facts to make sense they must fit existing frames and metaphors in the brain.” Thirteenth, conservatives and progressives think with different frames and metaphors. Fourteenth, contested concepts have contested cores. With important ideas like freedom, there are values that usually contested and different people have different understandings of what they mean. Fifteenth, rational thought requires emotion.
Lakoff explains that understanding how thinking works is essential to understanding and protecting freedom. That, “deep frames and metaphors define the range in within which your ‘free will’ operates. You can’t will something that is outside your capacity to imagine. Free will can operate only on ideas in your brain; it cannot operate on ideas you do not have.” He persuasively presents the argument that, “The danger is not just a matter of words, a quibble over semantics. This is a war over an idea, if the idea of freedom changes radically, then freedom as known it is lost. The reason is that people act on their ideas. Ideas are not abstract things. They are components of action. The define ideas. They create the norm behavior. They characterize right and wrong, and accordingly change our understanding of the past and the present, our vision of the future, and even the laws of the land. Ownership of the word means ownership of the idea that goes with the word, and with it, domination of the culture defined by that idea.”
Lakoff defines freedom as being able to do what you want to do, being able to choose a goal, have access to that goal, and pursue that goal without anyone purposely preventing you. But freedom is also constrained by reason and good judgment. Being free does not make you free to interfere with the freedom of others. Harm, coercion, and limitations on property, interfere with freedom, but security guarantees a freedom will be preserved. Taking away a right is imposing on freedom; while, guaranteeing a right is guaranteeing a freedom. Human rights confer the freedom to do what is natural and normal for any human being. A free society requires that its citizens, as a matter of civic duty, be responsible for helping to guarantee the rights of others, as well as ones own rights. Justice provides a necessary deterrent that promotes freedom from harm, threat, and fear. Laws function in the service of freedom, attempting to guarantee that there will be no serious harm, no undue coercion, and no taking of—or restricted access to—property. A threat to order is a threat to freedom, however civil disobedience, which is limited and non-violent, conducted not to overthrow order and the rule of law, can serve to make things more just. Fairness and equality are essential for freedom, but what is fair and equal is often contested. Freedom “from” involves protection, but freedom “to” involves access, access to resources that allow one to achieve one’s goals. One way to achieve access is to lump together common wealth (taxes) to create a commonly available infrastructure.
Freedom, progressive style, is organized around the nurturant parent model that derives its values from empathy and responsibility. Both inside and outside the family, this results in security, both in the form of attachment and protection. Attachment in the family exhibits itself in the unquestioned caring of the parent and child. In politics it exhibits itself in the understanding that the nation cares about it citizens and the citizens care bout their nation. Protection in the family exhibits itself in the empathy and the protection parents show their children. In politics, it exhibits itself in the ways in which a nation protects it citizens, worker protection, consumer protection, environmental protection, disaster relief, police and military protection. Following from the nurturant parent model is the values of fairness, happiness, freedom and opportunity, general prosperity and community. These values illustrate themselves in the commonwealth principle where individual freedom is made possible by the infrastructure, the use of common wealth for the common good to achieve physical security, family security, and public health. The commonwealth principle is also implemented to allow for the freedom to travel and engage in business by using the common wealth to provide the following seven: first, transportation, highways, bridges, public transportation, the air force training airline pilots, and the Federal Aviation Administration. Second, communication, the development of the internet and satellite systems, the regulation of the airwaves by the federal Communication Commission. Third, public education and government loans for education. Fourth, government funding for research and development. Fifth, banking and finance, federal and state banking systems, the small business administration, Commerce Department, and the Federal Trade Commission. Sixth, courts, corporate law, contract disputes. And seventh, stock market regulation.
The commonwealth principle is fundamental to the founding of our country. In feudal and colonial times taxes were imposed by kings and nobles that took a share of what the common people earned to maintain their lifestyles and pay for armies. The benefits went to the kings and nobles and not to those who paid the taxes. The American colonist rebelled against this view of taxation and instead embraced the commonwealth principle. Under the commonwealth principle, citizens, who governed themselves, taxed themselves collectively and received the benefits, benefits coming from the pooling of resources that provided greater benefit than if each individual taxpayer had spent the money. Applying the fairness principle, they allocated a higher tax burden on the wealthy than the poor. But our country was also founded on E Pluribus Unum, the idea of a united America, which is made possible by both empathy and responsibility. Empathy results in the consideration principle, that everyone gains more freedom when everyone interferes the least with the freedom of others. And responsibility results in the responsibility-for-freedom principle, that everyone becomes most free when everyone acts positively to maximize the freedom of others. Lakoff identifies six kinds of progressives, first, socioeconomic progressives, for whom freedom is fundamentally social, political, and economic in character. Second, Identity-politics progressives, who are members or represent groups that are or have been economically or socially oppressed. Third, environmental progressives, who promote environmental freedom in connection with the natural world, freedom from environmental harm, and freedom from destructive imposition of industrialization. Fourth, civil liberties progressives, for them freedom is the basic freedoms of freedom, of speech, press, information, assembly, and religion. Fifth, spiritual; progressive, they embrace a nurturant morality that includes a commitment to the alleviation of suffering of oneself and others. And sixth, authoritarian progressives, who fight for freedom of illegitimate uses of power by government, corporations, religions, or individuals. These six types of progressives can express five different types of attitudes, idealist, pragmatist, real world pragmatists, political pragmatists and militants.
Freedom conservative style is organized around the strict father family model which translates into the following themes, first, the naturalness and primacy of the moral system itself. Second, the unchallengeable moral authority of the leader. Third, morality as obedience to moral authority. Fourth, the fight against evil. Fifth, behavior as naturally governed by rewards and punishments. Sixth, discipline as the basis of morality. Seventh, discipline as the basis of prosperity and power. Eighth, discipline as the basis for winning in competitive situations. Ninth, the free market as the mechanism for fair competition. Ten, the natural link between morality and wealth power. Eleven, the moral order—the hierarchy of authority and wealth is a moral hierarchy. Twelfth, freedom as the means for achieving one’s own moral authority. Thirteenth, freedom as a means to achieving wealth and power. In nurturant conservative communities, there is in-group nurturance and out-group strictness. The central theme of this community is, if you accept community values, develop the requisite discipline, and remain loyal to the group, you are the “worthy poor.” In these groups real compassion and charity is limited to the in-group. Lakoff identifies five kinds of conservatives. One, financial conservatives, for them freedom flows from the right to acquire, keep and use private property. Two, Libertarians, freedom means being free of government authority. They see free markets as defining freedom and prefer the privatization of most government functions. Three, social conservatives, see freedom as coming from being disciplined. They want the government to maintain the moral authority over the nation. Four, Fundamentalist, believe that religion is the path to freedom, and politics should be in service of that freedom. They view separation of church and state as support for secularism and an imposition against religious freedom. Five, neoconservatives, they believe in “free-market freedom,” the spreading of freedom throughout the world, which American corporations can enter and dominate. They believe once free markets dominate, then democratic institutions will follow, such as, free election so that business leaders can secure their rights and optimize their interests, checks and balances to limit the power of government to control their property and functioning of business, civil liberties to limit the power of government over the lives of those running the business, civilian control of the military to prevent coups, and a free press to allow business access to accurate information.
According to Lakoff, when it comes to forming arguments based on moral and political reasoning, progressives and conservatives argue on different basses. The progressives argue on the basis of systemic causation. Systemic causation is a casual relationship involving at least one complex system. Conservatives argue on the basis of direct causation. Direct causation is involves a direct actor who is responsible for an act. This affects the way conservatives and progressives view issues. Lakoff explores the differing views on such issues as populism, liberty, identity. He explores how this affects their positions on the economy. With conservatives believing that, it is possible to “pull oneself up by their bootstraps” and that the government giving assistance makes them dependent, undermining their discipline, which is necessary for them to be moral and prosperous in a free market. Lakofff take the argument apart showing the flaws in the myth and puts forth a progressive vision that states, commonwealth, government for our common good, was the founding basis of this country and it is why America has been a success, that people who work for a living ought to earn living, Lakoff explains how conservative and progressives form religious values. His explanation of foreign policy, and the role religion played in that goes a long way to explaining how we have ended up in the mess we are in, in Iraq. But most importantly Lakoff show us how to take back freedom, avoiding conservative frames, and restoring progressive, tradition freedom, back in the American mind.