Posts Tagged ‘Don’t Think of an Elephant’

The Final Post (for the time being)

December 11, 2018

In the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse.” The title of this series promises civil discourse. So here are the guidelines:

Show respect
Respond by reframing
Think and talk at the level of values
Say what you believe

These points are not just a matter of being civil and polite. Ignoring these points would also be nonproductive. When there is disagreement, nothing is to be gained by informing the other party that they are wrong. Rather, propose by reframing another point of view. If the other party is not willing, then just agree to disagree, perhaps to address the topic at another time. It is unlikely that the other party will change views immediately, but it may start them rethinking, perhaps at an unconscious level.

HM agrees with Lakoff that values are important, but at some point facts, data, or possible research should be discussed. Truly advanced democracies would give data and research primary importance. Moreover, a democracy can see what other democracies are doing to see what is working. A good example is medical care. The United States is the only advanced country that does not use the government to provide medical care to everyone. In addition to lower medical costs, all these countries have much better medical statistics and healthcare results than the United States. One would think that the United States would avail themselves of these results and use them to develop their own healthcare.

But the United States continues to ignore the obvious. This is reflected in surveys of country’s welfare. The United States rarely fares well in these surveys and some citizens delude themselves by thinking that they live in the best country in the world.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Would Adam Smith Be a Conservative Today?

December 10, 2018

This is the tenth post in the series Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse. Conservatives seem to regard Adam Smith as an excuse for not caring about their fellow humans. That invisible hand takes care of everything. By focusing exclusively on one’s own self interest, everything works out for the best.

Indeed Adam Smith’s capitalism was a gigantic advancement in thinking at that time and did increase the welfare of many. However, Adam Smith was a social philosopher preoccupied with the welfare of humanity. Although he is famed for his “Wealth of Nations,” Smith believed his book “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” to be the superior work. He continued making extensive revisions until his death.

There are many reasons to believe that were Adam Smith alive today he would be painfully aware of the problems of capitalism and would be proposing ideas to make corrections to benefit the public welfare. He would be interested in neuroscience to see what potential benefits it held for public welfare. And he might well have read Lakoff and be using frames in his arguments.

There is every reason that he would be a progressive developing and actively pursing progressive goals.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Piketty Insight on the Accelerating Wealth Gap

December 9, 2018

This is the ninth post in the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse, and the title of this post is the title of a chapter in Lakoff’s book. Lakoff notes that this insight of economist Thomas Piketty and his colleagues is an insight that has not yet become framed in public discourse. Here is Piketty’s basic insight. He studied the history, not just of income but of wealth. He observed that there are two fundamentally different kinds of wealth.

Productive wealth. This is the wealth generated by work, by producing and selling things or services, and the kind of wealth Adam Smith talked about. The prototypical case concerns individuals, for example a baker and a furniture maker. Each makes and sells things, and each needs and buys what the other sells. The baker’s income pays the furniture maker, and the furniture maker’s income pays the baker. Each works for himself, produces things, gets paid for it, and in a much oversimplified market, each produces wealth for himself and for the other. This is the kind of wealth, productive wealth, measured by the GDP. Piketty calls it “G.”

*Reinvestment wealth. This is wealth generated by receiving returns on investments and then reinvesting the returns over and over. This kind of wealth grows exponentially, like compound interest. The more you have, the more you invest, and the more you invest, the more you have. Piketty calls it “R.”

Piketty looks at the proportion of the kinds of wealth, that is, the ratio between R and G over a population. Then he asks, how does it change and why?

He studied tax records in many countries dating back to the eighteenth century. He discovered that up until 1913, most wealth was reinvestment wealth. Even during the period of the industrial revolution, which is usually thought of in terms of productive wealth, R was much greater than G, thus showing that the common wisdom is false. Even in capitalist democracies where individual liberty and the market were supposed to allow for productive wealth through work, it turns out that reinvestment wealth was overwhelming. France, a capitalist democracy concerned with egalite, in 1910, 70% of the wealth was reinvestment wealth, held by the very wealthy—not productive wealth distributed over most of the population.

Because of World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II, a significant portion of reinvestment wealth was destroyed. Productive wealth became greater, more G than R. Between 1913 and 1980, most of modern economic theory was developed, whether liberal or conservative. It was primarily based on GDP—on G, not R.

In 1980, during the Reagan era in America something changed. Reagan greatly cut taxes on the wealthy, started a major attack on unions and the wages of ordinary workers, cut regulations on business and so on. Margaret Thatcher did the same in England. These economic ideas spread. There was a historic shift around 1980. R became greater than G again. Reinvestment wealth took over the reins or modern economics. Being exponential, reinvestment wealth grew exponentially—like compound interest.

In 1976 in the United States the top 1% had 19.9% of the wealth. In 2010, the top % had 35.4% of the wealth, the top 5% had 63% of the wealth, and the top 20% had 88.9% of the wealth. That left 11.1% for the bottom 80%.

So why should this be a concern? As the share of the nation’s wealth going to the wealthy rises, the share going to everyone else falls. What else falls? The freedom that wealth can buy, the power that wealth can buy. Technically, we may still have one person, one vote (but given the menacing Electoral College, not for Presidential elections). But the effect of one person on elections has gone way down.

Piketty says that this trend is reversible, but it takes political change. But what is the likelihood for political change given the systemic effect of Piketty’s insight:

*Greater political leverage. Wealthy people and corporations have great lobbying power with public officials, and it is getting greater all the time.

*Greater control over public discourse. Wealthy people and corporations can control public discourse in many ways—by owning media outlets, sponsoring shows, massive advertising, and so on. This control works via the brain. Language and imagery that activate conservative frames will also activate conservative morality—strict father morality in general. As conservative morality gets stronger, progressive morality gets weaker in the brains of the public. This effects what people believe unconsciously as well as consciously, and therefore affects how people vote.

*Greater control over the rights of others. Through state control of legislatures, the wealthy can control the voting rights of poorer populations, and state control is cheaper than national control.

The Science Behind Empathy and Morality

December 8, 2018

This is the eighth post in the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse. Our mirror neuron systems operate in our brains and gives us the capacity to connect with others, to know and even feel what they feel, and to connect with the natural world. It provides the basis of our capacity for empathy.

Certain emotions correlate with certain actions in our own bodies—in facial muscles, in posture, and so forth. When we feel happy our facial muscles are prompted to produce a smile, as opposed to a frown or a baring of the teeth. We also know that the physical cues that broadcast emotion in others will usually trigger in an observer the same brain response that would accompany those physical cues of the same emotion in ourselves. This is why we can usually tell if someone else is happy or sad, or angry or bored—and why a smile is often unconsciously greeted with a smile or a yawn with a yawn.

There is also a brain overlap between imagining and doing. Many of the same neural regions are activated when we form mental images as when we actually see. The same holds true for whether we imagine moving or are actually moving. So we have the capacity to empathize not only with someone present, but also with someone we can imagine, remember, read about, dream about, and so on. Neuroscientists have also found that, when someone is in love and they see their loved one in pain, the pain center in their own brain is activated. So emotional pain is real.

There are some neural complications that affect how we ultimately respond to what we see, hear, and imagine. The regions of the prefrontal cortex are particularly active during the exercise of judgment. These regions contain neurons that are active when we are performing some particular action and less active when we see someone else performing the same action. It is conjectured that this give us the capacity to modulate our empathy—to lessen it or turn it off in certain cases. So the mirror neuron system connects us emotionally to others, but can in certain cases also distance us emotionally for others.

Lakoff writes, “The prefrontal cortex is active in another neural system, too—one that I’ll call the well-being/ill-being system. This is the system that releases certain hormones in your brain when you have experiences that make you feel good, and releases others when experiences make you feel bad. In essence, this system regulates where you have a sense of well-being or ill-being at any given time on the basis of your imagination of what will or won’t bring you well-being.”

Lakoff continues, “The well-being system and the empathy system can interact in different ways. Some people feel satisfaction both when they are personally satisfied and when those they empathize with feel a sense of well-being. Other people do not have the two systems connected in that way. (1) They may have the well-being system overriding the empathy system—with their interests overriding the cares and interests of others. Or (2) they can have a complex interaction in which they maintain their own well-being and balance it with contributing to the well-being of others. Or (3) they may be self-sacrificing, always placing the well-being of others ahead of their own well being. Or (4) they may be part of an in-group, and may place their well-being and that of in-group members first, without empathizing at all with out-group members. This can vary depending on what counts as a given person’s in-group. Since morality is about well-being, your own and that of others, these four alternatives define different moral attitudes.”

Systemic Causation

December 7, 2018

This is the seventh post in the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse. Lakoff writes “Studying cognitive linguistics has its uses. Every language in the world has in its grammar a way to express direct causation. No language in the world has in its grammar a way to express systemic causation.”

There is a structure to systemic causation—four possible elements that can exist alone or in combination. Driving a complex, systemic problem, there can be one, two, three, or all four of these elements in play. Here is how they might apply to global warming.

A network of direct causes. (1) Global warming heats the Pacific Ocean. That means that the water molecules in the ocean get more active, move with more energy, evaporate more, and move in the air with more energy. (2) Winds in the high atmosphere over the ocean blow from southwest to northeast, blowing the larger amount of high-energy moisture over the pole. (3) In winter, the moisture turns to snow and comes down over the East Coast as a huge blizzard. Thus, global warming can systemically cause major blizzards.

Feedback loops. (1) The arctic ice pack reflects light and heat. (2) As the earth’s atmosphere heats up, the arctic ice pack melts and gets smaller. (3) The smaller amount of arctic ice reflects less light and heat, and more heat stays in the atmosphere. (4) The atmosphere gets warmer. (5) The feedback loop: Even more ice melts, even less ice is reflected, even more heat stays, even more ice melts, and on and on.

Multiple causes. Because of the interaction between the polar vortex and the jet stream, parts of the vortex move south into central North America causing abnormal freezing temperatures as far south as Oklahoma and Georgia.

Probabilistic causation. Many weather phenomena are probabilistic. What is caused is a probability distribution. Although you can’t predict whether a flipped coin will come down heads or tails, you can predict that over the course of a large number of flips, almost exactly 50% will come down heads and another 50% tails.

Systemic causation is common. Smoking is a systemic cause of lung cancer. HIV is a systemic cause of AIDS. Working in coal mines is a systemic cause of black lung disease. Driving while drunk is a systemic cause of auto accidents. Sex without contraception is a systemic cause of unwanted pregnancies, which are a systemic cause of abortions.

Because it is less obvious than direct causation, systemic causation is more important to understand. A systemic cause may be one of a number of multiple causes. It may require special conditions. It may be indirect, working through a network of more direct causes. It may be probabilistic, occurring with a significantly high probability. It may require a feedback mechanism. In general, causation in ecosystems, biological systems, economic systems, and social systems tend not to be direct, but is no less causal. And because it is not direct causation, it requires all the greater attention if it is to be understood and its negative effects controlled. It also requires a name: systemic causation. And systemic causation can be developed to serve as a frame.

Consider how the scientists James Hansen, Makiko Sato, Reto Ruedy authors of “Perception of Climate Change” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences write, “…we can state, with a high degree of confidence, that extreme anomalies such as those in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 and Moscow in 2010 were a consequence of global warming because their likelihood in the absence warming was exceedingly small.”

Scientists have been trained to be guarded in their writing and to caveat any conclusions. You hear conservative politicians say they are not scientists but they do not believe in global warming because they have read studies on both sides. As has been explained in previous healthy memory blog posts, there is a highly paid industry of scientists and writers posing as scientists to make the arguments that industry wants to make. Politicians need to restrict their reading to the refereed scientific literature in reaching their conclusions. To avoid actually having to read the research, they can rely upon established reputable scientists in the field. For their part scientists should use the frame “systemic causation” and proceed from there.

Some Observations on the Two Models

December 5, 2018

This is the fifth post in the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse.”

Lakoff estimates that probably 35% to 40% of people have a strict father model governing their politics. And about 35% to 40% of people have a nurturant parent view governing their politics. Biconceptuals are people who are conservative on some issues and progressive on others.

Here HM disagrees with Lakoff on this breakdown. He thinks that perhaps a majority of people are biconceptuals. This provides for a somewhat more optimistic view.

Having read the Bible, he thinks that whereas the Old Testament corresponds more with the strict father model, the New Testament corresponds more with the nurturant parent view.

Lakoff writes nothing about gender differences. HM thinks that men tend to lean to the strict father model, and women tend to lean to the nurturant parent view. So individual families likely contain both views.

Lakoff never discusses age. But HM thinks that the strict father model is most heavily represented in aging males. HM predicts that over time the nurturant parent view will grow and eventually prevail. Of course, this assumes that the current president and Republican Party will not abandon democratic values and move into an authoritarian mode of governing.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Nurturant Parent Model

December 4, 2018

This is the fourth post in the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse.”

Lakoff begins, “Now let me talk a bit about how progressives understand their morality and what their moral system is. It too comes out of a family model, what I call the nurturant parent model. The strict father worldview is so named because according to its own beliefs, the father is head of the family. The nurturant parent model is gender neutral. 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. The parent’s job is to nurture their children and to raise their children to be nurturers of others.”

According to Lakoff nurturance means three things: empathy, responsibility for yourself and for others, and a commitment to do you best not just for yourself, but for your family, your community, your country, and the world. Lakoff continues, “If you have a child, you have to know what every cry means. You have to know when the child is hungry, when she needs a diaper change, and when she is having nightmares. And you have a responsibility—you have to take care of the child. Since you cannot take care of someone else if you are not taking care of yourself, you have to take care of yourself enough to be able to take of the child.”

If you empathize with your child, you want your child to be fulfilled in life, to be a happy person. And if you are unhappy, unfulfilled person yourself, you are not going to want other people to be happier than you are. The Dalai Lama teaches us that. Therefore it is our moral responsibility to be a happy, fulfilled person. This is our moral responsibility. Moreover, it is our moral responsibility to teach our children to be happy, fulfilled persons who want others to be happy and fulfilled. That is part of what nurturing family life is about. It is a common precondition for caring about others.

Lakoff lists some additional nurturant values.

*If you want your child to be fulfilled in life, the child has to be free enough to seek and possibly find fulfillment. Therefore freedom is a value.
*You do not have very much freedom if there is no opportunity or prosperity. Therefore opportunity and prosperity are progressive values.
*If you really care about your child, you want your child to be treated fairly by you and by others. Therefor fairness is a value.
*If you are connecting with your child and empathize with that child, you have to have open two-way communication. Honest, open communication. That becomes a value.
*You live in a community, and that community will affect how your child grows up. Therefore community-building, service to the community, and cooperation in a community become values.
*To have cooperation, you must have trust, and to have trust, you must have honesty and open two-way communication. Trust, honesty and open communication are fundamental progressive values—in a community as in a family.”

The Strict Father Model

December 3, 2018

This is the third post in the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse.”

Lakoff took the various positions on the conservative side and on the progressive side and came up with two different models of the family: a strict father family and a nurturant parent family. He presented his views at a linguistic convention. At the convention there were two members of the Christian Coalition who were linguists and good friends of his. He thought they were excellent linguists, but did not agree with their politics. They took Lakoff aside at a party afterward and said, “Well this strict father model of the family, it’s close, but not quire right. We’ll help you get the details .” They referred Lakoff to James Dobson and his book, regarded by many conservatives as a classic, “Dare to Discipline.” After reading this book he refined his model as follows:

“The strict father model begins with a set of assumptions: The world is a dangerous place, and it always will be, because there is evil out there in the world. The world is also difficult because it is competitive. There will always be winners and losers. There is an absolute right and an absolute wrong. Children are born bad, in the sense that they just want to do what feels good, not what is right. Therefore they have to be made good.

What is needed in this kind of a world is a strong, strict father who can

*protect the family in the dangerous world.
*support the family in the difficult world, and
*teach his children right from wrong. “

There is an emphasis on physical punishment. The rationale behind physical punishment is they learn not to do it again. That means that they will develop internal discipline to keep themselves from doing wrong, so that in the future they will be obedient and act morally. Without such punishment, the world will go to hell. There will be no morality.”

“Such internal discipline has a secondary effect. It is what is required for success in the difficult, competitive world. That is, if people are disciplined and pursue their self-interest in this land of opportunity, they will become prosperous and self-reliant. Thus, the strict father model links morality with prosperity. The same discipline you need to be moral is what allows you to prosper. The link is individual responsibility and the pursuit of self-interest. Given opportunity, individual responsibility and discipline, pursuing your self-interest should you enable you to prosper.”

“Dobson was very clear about the connection between the strict father worldview and free market capitalism. The link is the morality of self-interest, which is the conservative version of Adam Smith’s view of capitalism. Adam Smith said that if everyone pursues their own profit, then the profit of all will be maximized by the invisible hand—that is, by nature, just naturally. Go about pursuing your own profit, and you are helping everyone. This is linked to a general metaphor that views well-being as wealth.”

Different Ways of Framing

December 2, 2018

This is the second post in the series “Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse”

Here are two different ways of framing taxes:

tax relief. For there to be relief, there must be an afflicted party, and a reliever who removes the affliction and is therefore a hero. If anyone tries to stop the hero, those people are villains for trying to prevent relief.

Republicans are much better at framing than Democrats. Democrats responded by offering “tax relief for the middle class,” thus strengthening the Republican frame.

So how should the Democrats have responded? One way would be to frame taxation as an investment. Consider:
“Our parents invested in the future, ours as well as theirs, through taxes. They invested their tax money in the interstate highway system, the Internet, the scientific and medical establishments, our communications system, our airline system, the space program. They invested in the future and we are reaping the tax benefits, the benefits from the taxes they paid. Today we have assets—highways, schools and colleges, the Internet, airlines—that come from the wise investments they made.”


“Taxation is paying your dues, paying your membership fee in America. If you join a country club or community center, you pay fees. Why? You did not build the swimming pool. You have to maintain it. You did not build the basketball court. Someone has to clean it. You may not use the squash court, but you still have to pay your dues. Otherwise it won’t be maintained and will fall apart. People who avoid taxes, like corporations that move to Bermuda, are not paying their dues to their country. It is patriotic to be a taxpayer. It is traitorous to desert our country and not pay your dues.”

Lakoff writes, “Perhaps Bill Gates Sr. said it best. In arguing to keep the inheritance tax, he pointed out that he and Bill Jr. did not invent the Internet. They just used it—to make billions. There is no such thing as a self-made man. Every businessman has used the vast American infrastructure, which the taxpayers paid for, to make his money. He did not make his money alone. He used taxpayer infrastructure, He got rich on what other taxpayers had paid for: the banking system, the Federal Reserve, the Treasury and Commerce Departments, and the judicial system, where nine-tenths of cases involve corporate law. These taxpayer investments support companies and wealthy investors. There are no self-made men! The wealthy have gotten rich using what previous taxpayers have paid for. They owe the taxpayers of this country a great deal and should be paying it back.”

Another example is the abortion issue. Republicans framed it as “The Right to Life.”
Democrats framed it in terms of women’s rights, failing to consider that their response implied that they did not feel strongly about something as fundamental as the right to life.

The Democrats should have responded that they were “Pro Quality Life.’ This implies that the Republicans did not care about quality. Moreover, the “Pro Quality Life” term allows one to review all the adverse effects of unloved or unwanted children. This impacts not only the children but the costs to the medical and legal systems resulting from maladjusted children. Moreover, would a loving God favor bringing unloved children into the world?

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Linguistics and Cognitive Science in the Pursuit of Civil Discourse

December 1, 2018

In the arena of politics civil debates are becoming exceedingly rare if not extinct. The reason for this is if someone makes a political statement to which one disagrees, one responds as if attacked and launches an offensive. In Kahneman’s Two Process view of cognition, this is a System One process called intuition. It is largely an emotional response, void of deep thinking. Both parties continue in this System One mode with the only result being ill feeling.

George Lakoff has written two books addressing this problem: “Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate”, and “The All New Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate.” Lakoff was strongly influenced by the great linguist Charles J. Fillmore, the father of frame semantics.

Lakoff begins, “We think with our brains. We have no choice. It may seem that certain politicians think with other parts of their anatomy. But they too think with their brains.”

Why does this matter for politics? Because all thought is physical. Thought is carried out by neural circuits in the brain. We can only understand what our brains allow us to understand.

The deepest of those neural structures are relatively fixed. They don’t change readily or easily. And we are mostly unconscious of their activity and impact.

In fact, about 98% of what our brains are doing is below the level of consciousness. As a result, we many not know all, or even most, of what in our brains determines our deepest moral, social, and political beliefs. And yet we act on the basis of those largely unconscious beliefs.”

Frames are mental structures that shape the way we see the world. We can’t see or hear frames. They are part of our cognitive unconscious, structures in our brains that we cannot consciously access. What we call “common sense” is made up of unconsciousness, automatic, effortless inferences that follow from our unconscious frames.

All the words we have are defined relative to conceptual frames. Even when you negate a frame, you activate the frame. So if we’re told, “Don’t think of an elephant!,” we can’t avoid thinking of an elephant. Lakoff continues “Not only does negating a frame activate that frame, but the more it is activated, the stronger it gets. The moral for political discourse is clear: When you argue against someone on the other side using their language and their frames, you are activating their frames, strengthening their frames in those who hear us, and undermining our own views.”

Lakoff warns that reframing is not easy or simple. Frames are ideas, not slogans. Reframing is more a matter accessing what we and like-minded others already believe unconsciously, making it conscious and repeating it till it enters normal public discourse. It is an ongoing process. It requires repetition and focus and dedication. Reframing is about learning to express what we really believe in a way that will allow those who share our beliefs to understand what they most deeply believe and to act on those beliefs.

What HM has found most valuable is that framing is also about understanding those we disagree with most. Lakoff writes, “ Tens of millions of Americans vote conservative, For the most part they are not bad people or stupid people. They are people who understand the world differently and have a different view of what is right.”

For most readers, this is novel material that will take some time to digest. And it will take many posts to do justice to this topic. These posts will follow directly.