6 May 2007, Comments Off on Don’t say “Assault Weapon”, say “Household Firearm”

Don’t say “Assault Weapon”, say “Household Firearm”

Author: Helen

I’ve just bought George Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant. Years late, as usual. I’m not far into it at the moment, but the book has had such a buzz on the internets, the central premise, that is, the idea of framing, is pretty well known.
Image from http://www.scribepub.com.au/Coming%20Soon/Elephant.html

The Australian edition is interesting, because it begins with an introduction by Julia Baird, relating the book to the Australian scene. I could certainly relate to this:

The Labor Party could heed this advice. It needs to engage more fiercely in the gladiatorial pit of ideas, instead of jogging around the mortgage belts choking on the dust of the Liberal candidates running miles ahead.
…Even allowing people who are strong on social values and cultural identity to be called elites (accepting labels similar to those used in America) is sloppy; the ‘cappuccino set’; ‘chardonnay socialists’; ‘chattering classes’; ‘latte drinkers’.
…It’s a language created by the right, and now frequently circulated by the left as they hasten to endear themselves to middle Australia by dissasociating themselves from the unfashionably socially concerned. [I would add “unfashionably environmentalist” to that, too.] They have lost both the moral and the material high ground…
…This is perhaps one of the most curious intellectual developments over the past two decades, as we have watched the left concede large areas of thought to the conservatives.”

I probably shouldn’t blog about a book I haven’t finished yet, but the idea of framing has really been sloshing around in my head due to the last few things I’ve posted on; the idea of emotion as instantly discreditable to any argument; the notion of the nuclear industry belonging to the people who make hard decisions, by which we mean they have more of the decision making mojo than their opponents, even though reducing energy use and starting up an industry of renewables might be an equally “hard decision”.
Just look at Michelle Grattan’s latest column in the AGE news today. Not only is the article called “Battle for the Battlers” (kudos for squeezing one of the Liberal party’s favourite framing words twice into a four-word title), it uses the word soft rather than swinging (which has rather louche, glamorous-sixties-with-martinis connotations) to describe vacillating voters who are a bit Green around the edges:

Labor needed to liberalise its uranium mining policy but the cost could be to send back home again some soft Green voters who had been considering Rudd.

“Soft”: It’s enough to send any self-respecting Geordie screaming into the arms of the most neoliberal, industry-friendly party he can find.

Back to the “emotion” thing. I think when Mike Rann sneeringly dismisses opponents of nuclear energy, he’s quite clear in his intention- he means unable to think clearly, and there’s a dogwhistle element of “girly, unable to appreciate weighty matters”, as well. In the recent debate between Sarkozy and Segolene Royal, Sarkozy tried to pin the emotional hysteric tag onto Royal – which she deflected quite expertly, as far as I can tell. En Garde, Ziggy!

But the conservatives, both on the Liberal and Labor side of politics, have been using emotion for all it’s worth. They’re just framing it very carefully, so that it looks as though they are simply the competent custodians of our safety and prosperity, and it’s the people they are manipulating who are doing the emoting. Some examples:

Tampa and detention centres: Frame: National security. The aliens and trrists are coming! Emotion: Fear.
Tasmania’s old growth forests: Frame: Standing up for the Workers. The greenies are going to put everyone out of work and ruin the economy! Emotion: Fear, anger.
The economy: Frame: The Liberal party is the only one which can manage the economy! Interest rates under Paul Keating oogabooga! Emotion: Fear, avarice.
Abortion: Frame: Murdering 100,000 babies a year, also, Girls gone Wild! Emotion: Fear, disgust.

I’m sure you can think of many more.

Post title from here.

Comments (0)

  • QuietStorm says:

    If this is an interesting subject to you, I’d strongly suggest you read Stephen Poole’s book unSpeak. He has a website here, but I think you’ll get much more out of the dead tree version.

    The book’s about how issues can be framed even by just choosing the right few words, and making sure that phrase becomes the standard currency of discussion in the debate. The fact that the US Supreme Court upheld a law named the Partial-Birth Abortion Act is a good (if chilling) example if this kind of rhetorical sleight of hand, wrapping an entire argument and smear into a carefully-selected phrase.

  • Alison says:

    This might be a bit off topic, but I wanted to send you this article:
    http://www.paulgraham.com/unions.html

    because I like to play with fire, and I think most debates have some worth.
    I should point out that I really like this author and he generally write excellent pieces, esp about education:
    http://www.paulgraham.com/hs.html

  • Andrew Boyd says:

    Quoting Lakoff is good. So few people do it. More should read Lakoff – more would think 🙂

    Thanks, Andrew

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