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April 08, 2005

More framing

Ezra argues that Americans will always prefer a strict father over a nurturant parent when it comes to foreign policy. I agree that people will prefer strong leaders, especially when they feel threatened. However, I think the label "nurturant parent" gives the misleading impression that progressive values aren't as tough as conservative values.

It's important to remember that "strict father" and "nurturant parent" are just names for clusters of metaphors. Everyone has internalized both. When we frame issues, we align our rhetoric to activate these preexisting sets of representations.

Maybe we should get rid of the parent labels altogether and concentrate on the substance of each set of metaphors. Instead of strict father and nurturant parent, call these to models Y and Z, respectively. Our rhetoric doesn't have to touch on the family or gender at all. We don't even have to evoke any stereotypically feminine virtues in our moral politics.

Y cluster: Hierarchy, coercion, conflict, conformity, intimidation, pride, fear, shame, punishment, retribution, retaliation, scarcity mentality, reaction, order, tradition, stasis.

Z cluster: Security, respect, trust, leadership, teamwork, fairness, opportunity, responsibility, equality, loyalty, abundance mentality, reciprocity, ingenuity, flexibility, progress, adventure, balance, growth.

The power of the Z cluster isn't restricted to sensitive New Age guys in blue states. For example, conservative Christians have an insatiable appetite for books on the leadership secrets of Jesus. These books portray Jesus as the embodiment of the Z-cluster--leader, teacher, healer, provider (loaves and fishes), and bare-fisted brawler (kicking the money lenders out of the temple). The fact that Inspiring Manager Jesus can coexist with Angry Gay-Hating Jesus suggests that the Z cluster retains some (latent) resonance even among Y cluster devotees.

I think Swopa is making a similar point when he suggests that we abandon the SF/NP nomenclature in favor of faithless dad/responsible dad.


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Majikthise wonders why we have to use parental analogies in political rhetoric, especially considering how misleading they are. Both the article and many of the comments are superb. [Read More]


Personally I like the psychological school Transactional analysis approach the best. If one follows an individual in a parental ego state it evokes the child ego (irresponsible) in the followers. This misses the point of being human and maturation to a fully responsible adult.

As to the Christian leadership site you chose it kind of ignores Mary, who by Lukes definition of a disciple is one. She also is the only one who stayed faithful to Christ through the passion. She is the one that Christ chose to herald his return after the ressurection. She is the one chosen to herald his return and calm the male disciples who are confused and disoriented... she became the apostle to the apostles. So perhaps the Christian leadership groups would do well to remember Christ sent "Big Mama" to straighten them out!

I think part of the problem is (if you accept this premise, which I do) that people unconsciously seek to replicate as adults the wonderful or shitty relationships they had with their parents as very young children. The key to this being "unconsciously" because consciously they may say all the right thing and want all the right things and even believe in their hearts that they are telling the truth. In your model, they may say they want Z, when they can't help but really want X. Although "want" is not the right word. They need x in order to work out the issues that are unresolved from decades before. They need to play out the old issues formed with the clinical ass (i.e. the ass who wronged them once upon a time) with this new current ass du jour.

I have to say, when I was first introduced to this bit of Freud, I thought it was a fun bit of theory that really was bullshit. But in the intervening decades, I have seen so many people, for example, choose spouses who they know will drink and beat them, or, say, vote for a candidate who all but advertizes himself as your description of candidate Y. Now I just think people's unconsciouses (maybe not a word) are very powerful. We seek out the dickhead we know. We are comfortable with the abuse. And we don't even have to "make him love us," because his love -- such as it is -- comes pre-packaged, if we sign the loyalty oath.

Of course, this reasoning applies equally well to cults.

And there's another bit of psychology I find myself thinking about when trying to figure out why people say they believe one thing and then vote in the other direction. It's the notion of "becoming the aggressor." One way to come to terms with being beaten, abused or tortured is to go out there and find someone to beat, abuse or torture.

I meant to sign Quisp (my real fake name) not Post2x (my fake fake name) above. Post2x being the supervillain responsible for all double-posts.

As I said elsewhere (here and here), I don't see the need (and think it counterproductive) to hitch "nurturant" to "parent." In my view, we are better off taking nuturant characteristics (and your cluster Z is a great list, althoough too abstract) and connect them to community, which is a better vehicle for interconnectedness than the "family."

Lindsay is focussing on the "nurturant" part but the "parent' part is coming long with it and creating the kinds of problems Ezra is concerned with. Why do we need the "family" model? Let htem have it.

Ah, framing again. Alright, let's start by never again saying that we are afraid of the rightwing. I am astonished that smart people (most recently Maureen Dowd) openly say the right scares them. I think rightwing fanatics look at each other when they hear that, high-five and say "Mission Accomplished."

IMHO our framing has to be about strength. If we go with the parents theme and they frame themselves as the Strict Father, we should frame ourselves as the Wise Father. If they want to frame us as the Nurturing (i.e. stay-at-home) Mother, we should frame ourselves as the Working Mother, with a job and responsiblities and a practical can-do Rosie the Riveter attitude.

Now how to move their frame from Strict Father to "Drunken Uncle Who Can't Be Trusted With the Car Keys" is our next challenge.

A minor detail is grating on me: When you talk about the Y cluster and the Z cluster, they look like mislabelings to me, because I'm getting crosstalk in my head from Douglas McGregor's Theory X and Theory Y of business management. McGregor's Theory X maps pretty well onto Lakoff's Strict Father and your Y cluster, while McGregor's Theory Y maps onto Lakoff's Nurturing Parent and your Z cluster. (The crosstalk gets worse when you fold in William Ouchi's "Theory Z" of Japanese management.)

Personally I think Lakoff's labeling of Strict Father and Nurturing Parent are unfortunate, as "parent" seems bloodless and indistinct when standing side by side with a "father", strict or otherwise. Another way to say the same thing might be to distinguish between "James Dobson" families and "Benjamin Spock" families.

I totally agree with the value clusters -- and that the ultimate goal would be to get voter to think in terms of being partners rather than children.

But we have to recognize where we're starting from, which is that the strict-father frame has been accepted by enough people to put Republicans in power in more places than I feel like counting. So the first step is to pry them loose from that frame (i.e., convey that "strong daddy" isn't really so strong) ... once that message has started to work, then we can take more steps toward weaning them off the parental model entirely.

To translate the whole thing into marketing jargon, I suppose the value clusters are brand attributes, while the strict or responsible/wise father, etc., is the brand personality.

I agree with ditching the paternalistic metaphors and focusing on substance, but it's still nice to have something to refer to the cluster of values by. Revere's suggestion of community is a good one; I also imagine it'd be possible to frame a cluster of appealing liberal values that focus on the individual. If we could find a framing with an anti-authoritarian bent, we might be able to win over some libertarians along the way....

Just a passing thought (straight out of the Dictionary) on how to contrast those Y-cluster persons and we Z-cluster folks.

Y cluster: Hierarchy, coercion, conflict, conformity, intimidation, pride, fear, shame, punishment, retribution, retaliation, scarcity mentality, reaction, order, tradition, stasis.

Z cluster: Security, respect, trust, leadership, teamwork, fairness, opportunity, responsibility, equality, loyalty, abundance mentality, reciprocity, ingenuity, flexibility, progress, adventure, balance, growth.

From: Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

[fascism - a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition]

[liberty - the quality or state of being free: a : the power to do as one pleases b : freedom from physical restraint c : freedom from arbitrary or despotic control d : the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges e : the power of choice]

I prefer to think of myself as a rebellious teen.

Does this make me a Green?

jexter at 18:

Father: Retired Army Colonel, businees consultant, Republican.

Me: budding hippy.

Lessons from Dad:

1. Judge people only by what they do, and what they've accomplished; not who they are;

2. Whatever you're doing, work your ass off; if you're not making a difference, do something else.

3. Your occupation should never be more important that who you are.

I miss him.

i like your dad. where did those republicans go?

Strict Father or Faithless Dad doesn't work. Strict can be a virtue. Faithless isn't a strong enough adjective - it's a trait you're missing instead of a trait you have. Dad is too informal. Abusive Father is more to the point. Abusive is a strong prejudicial adjective connected with the formal Father. Someone who deserves the greatest sanctions society can muster.

Abusive Father.

I am astonished that smart people (most recently Maureen Dowd) openly say the right scares them. I think rightwing fanatics look at each other when they hear that, high-five and say "Mission Accomplished."

It depends on what you mean by "fear".
If "fear" means "awareness of a real or impending danger" then it's very much our business to be afraid of the Right. One reason why the Right has wormed its way into this country's political mainstream over the past several decades has been the Left's lack of awareness of its virulent potential.
But if by "fear" you mean "panic" then of course that's a course we have to avoid. At all costs.

If you look at voting patterns in the USA, you'll find that communitarianism correlates very strongly with Republicanism. The rural areas, where everyone knows everyone and where the community is very tightly-knit, generally vote Republican. The urban areas, where you don't owe anyone anything and where you can't possible know everyone living within a hundred meters of you, vote Democratic. Unless I seriously misunderstand your goals, the purpose of framing is to conjure an image of liberalism that will resonate with people. In that case, appealing to common conservative notions such as community, patriotism, and rootedness is sawing off the branch you're sitting on.

Taking the Y- and Z-clusters as an example, the right can easily coopt the language of the Z-cluster and paint the left as having a Y-cluster mentality, which in some areas it already does. The religious right's rhetoric about science is that it is stifling, coercive, hierarchical, and close-minded. If you want to counter that then you can't possibly frame hierarchy as bad, at least not if you want to win elections.

Communitarianism correlates with Republicanism? That's a new one for me. Basis?

Look which areas vote Republican and which vote Democratic. The rural areas, the exurbs, the suburbs that haven't been completely urbanized - these vote Republican by large margins. In the large cities, where you can't have strong communities because within five hundred meters from you live ten thousand people, the Democrats win 60-40 at worst and 4-1 at best. Liberalism is the strongest in large cities with their lack of rootedness, an observation consistent with global voting trends.

If you want effective framing, you ought to make a sharp liberalism vs. conservatism distinction, rather than a distinction between heartless conservatism and compassionate conservatism. In this liberalism vs. conservatism scheme, conservatism offers roots, tradition, and a society where everyone knows his place. Liberalism supports mobility, so even when there are liberal hierarchies, they tend to be very fluid and give every rookie the ability to criticize the veterans.

You can make it the individual vs. the collective, which will resonate with libertarians and destroy conservative rhetoric about liberal collectivism. Thus, the corporation is simply another collective, a system that needs to be restrained because otherwise it will hurt individuals by polluting, underpaying, or overworking them. Further, like all other social systems, the market should be subordinate to the people's basic needs. Obviously, on social issues liberal positions follow naturally from this definition.

I had been thinking that the danger of framing "nurturant" as anything other than "parent" (e.g. community) is that it depends on a value that is not shared by those we wish to convince. In my experience with conservative rhetoric, the family unit is valued much more than the community. Home-as-castle and all that. Then Alon had to go and point out the very obvious voting pattern that appears to contradict this.

Perhaps the liberal urban mindset arises because, in order to live peacably among so many strangers, one develops empathy, even a sense of responsibility, for people one does not know and may never meet. The rural conservative already knows everybody who matters--any attempt to expand his sense of community to people he does not know will fall on deaf ears.

As for giving teeth (so to speak) to the nurturing parent, consider the lioness. Is there a way to frame liberal values that includes this metaphor?

Alon: This is argument is faulty in so many ways it is hard to know where to begin. But I'll try. First, there may be many (more obvious) reasons why people in conurbations vote Dem and others vote Repub. Why you pick "communitarianism" is not stated, nor do you have a definition or any measure of it. On the purely technical side, political scientists have know for a hundred years that trying to make a cross-level inference from "ecological data" (I.e., cross-tabulated data like communitarian (yes/no) and Dem (yes/no) where all you have are the marginal totals and not the joint probabilities within) is subject to severe bias from regional confounding and effect modification. That's even if you had a measure of "communitarian" which you don't.

Don't you think that other variables like income, occupation, race that differ from urban to non-urban are more likely explanatory variables than "communitarian"?

Perhaps the liberal urban mindset arises because, in order to live peacably among so many strangers, one develops empathy, even a sense of responsibility, for people one does not know and may never meet.

This is what I think happens, too. The liberal state is based on an abstract community, the nation, most of whose members you can never know personally. Cities are very conducive to this because urbanites are in the same boat with many strangers.

Don't you think that other variables like income, occupation, race that differ from urban to non-urban are more likely explanatory variables than "communitarian"?

No. Race is not a factor, because the observation that urbanites vote left-wing is global, and in particular applies to countries without racial minorities. The average income in cities is higher than in rural areas, so we'd expect cities to vote right-wing more than rural areas. In the 2000 election, for example, the Congressional district that included the Upper East and Upper West Sides of Manhattan voted solidly for Gore.

Occupation could be relevant, but only via education. Keeping the level education constant, urban occupations aren't any more conducive to voting left-wing, except in those cases in which they are unionized; however, union membership in the USA is too small for that to matter. Education is a possible factor, as it is well-known that highly educated people vote left-wing. However, this doesn't explain why a white high school dropout is likelier to vote Democratic if he lives in the Bronx than if he lives in Mobile, Alabama.

Incidentally, the suburbs vote more Democratic as they become more urbanized. Fairfield County, Connecticut is an example of that: this upper-middle-class, relatively white suburban county voted for Kerry in 2004 but for Bush in 1992. The Northeastern suburbs are aligning themselves with the Democrats despite their income and race. The best explanation for that is that as detached houses and open spaces give way to eight-story buildings and strip malls, the people have to adopt a more urban and less communitarian attitude: you can't know everyone around you, so you have to care about people you don't know; society is very fluid, so you can't trust tradition because in ten years it will disappear.

Anybody like to consider my terminological suggestion that we start refering to conservatives as tough lovers?

If we use nation=family, we have already lost.
Fortunately we can do better.

Political Parent Stereotypes:
strict\abusive\authoritarian Republican father;
loose\neglectful\permissive Democrat mother;
firm\attentive\authoritative\nurturant\responsible Independent parents.
Granted, we can all see a genuine improvement. Still, all of these have the same problem.

Reading the nation=family requires: government=parent and citizen=child. We should expect the government to keep secrets from us, control us, and take our responsibilities away from us. Worse, in this metaphor, we don't even have responsibilities or freedoms of our own. Ultimately, government=parent makes the government the source of information, control, freedom, responsibility, even good and evil.

We need to get past the family metaphor. I propose "world=game" and "nation=team". The members of a team choose to belong to it, accept responsibilities for each other, and are expected to at least behave as adults. As a team, we expect mutual support. At the same time, if the game plan doesn't work, we know that we need to change it, and possibly the leader as well.

Using nation=team has another advantage. It is viral, in the best sense. In practice, it overwhelms any competing metaphor by working better. We can explore the games to play, instead of what kind of family we are. Even the most angry and fearful politicians (think of some) balk at representing themselves as children. More, as a politician yourself, would you care to publicly represent your constituents as children? When actually using the metaphor, do you find "family" as fluid and useful as "team"?

TeamUSA. How can you get more patriotic than that?

Thank you, Janus. You describe exactly how a group works from an individualist perspective: everyone puts in something and expects a clear advantage to being on the team, and everyone starts out equal. That's very different from the kind of group where some idiot sergeant screams at you that you're a maggot all the time. The liberal nation as a team is a good frame, because Americans prefer egalitarian solidarity to hierarchy.

"Maybe we should get rid of the parent labels altogether..."

Well, yes. A long time ago, (on October 29, 2003) I called the nice mommy/stern daddy frame a really stupid idea. People thought I was being unfair to poor Lakoff. Frankly, I was trying to be diplomatic and kind.

Now, as to your clusters: "X cluster: Hierarchy, coercion, conflict, conformity, intimidation," and so on. Call this prison Prison Guard mentality.

"Z cluster: Security, respect, trust, leadership, teamwork, fairness, opportunity, responsibility, equality," and so on. Call these Americans.

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