Friday, May 28, 2010

The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain

My review of "The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain" by George Laikoff:

Few people know enough about neuroscience to agree or disagree with Lakoff's description of its discoveries, but nearly everyone can use what this book teaches as a recipe for dealing with people who, to us, seem irrational in their political choices.

I think it is very likely that Lakoff has his science right, or at least right enough. Can anyone reasonably say that the centuries-old concepts of how mind and language work are not as obsolete as their contemporaries, the theories of phlogiston and of the Great Flood? Whether Lakoff's brain science is exactly right matters little; it is sufficient to give a scientific foundation to think more effectively about how people think. Science continually evolves, and for today it suffices to take today's preliminary results to develop a useful technology of persuasion; waiting for a perfect knowledge that may never come is a recipe for failure.

More important than the precise rightness of Lakoff's formulation is its utility. Who has not found it frustrating to lay out fact after fact, logical argument after logical argument, and still to lose in the matter of persuasion? How many times I have drawn the conclusion that the listener was insincere, deluded or stupid! And never have those conclusions been especially helpful; no-one has ever been persuaded by being called "Stupid!"

Lakoff's explanations are much more useful than simply blaming the listener. It is very likely that people who brush aside my logic are almost never being stupid; they simply have a very different frame of reference and way of thinking. And since all thinking is based in biology, there is a biological basis for that thinking.
(Lakoff's description of the biology is interesting for those who like that sort of thing, and can be skipped by those who don't.)

As Lakoff notes, whether "they" are being "rational" or not is completely irrelevant! They think the way they do, and I can't magically expect them to change by mere logical argument. I can fail to respect their frame of reference, their way of thinking, the way they are built; and with that choice, I will fail. And (going beyond Lakoff) may I add that I would deserve to fail, for being disrespectful.

Or ... I can accept our differences, and work with them, gradually changing the way they think over time.

There is no magic formula for persuading people to agree with me (...and it would be frightening if there were. Think about it!) But Lakoff's recipe for action offers hope: offer alternative frames, non-authoritarian ways of thinking about the problems that matter, thus gradually getting people used to non-authoritarian conduct.

We often do this without knowing it. It's the heart of every potluck supper, neighborhood watch or other volunteer community organizing event. Really, "all" Lakoff does is give us a metaphor for thinking about what works, so we can implement the methodology effectively. But since thinking is fundamentally the use of apt metaphors, perhaps that's all Lakoff needs to do.

Putting the metaphor to use is up to us.
Hear Lakoff speak on the subject!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Impromptu McCord: the Cat Who Walked In

Literally walking into our life, Impromptu McCord ("Imp") was looking around our backyard 2 weeks ago as we chatted with a couple of friends. Mother-in-Law called, and she came running, mioawing constantly. She ate a can of tuna almost as fast as I can type this.

No tag or collar; a trip to the vet confirmed she wasn't chipped; no signs up in the neighborhood or entry on the West Seattle Lost Pets so she's ours!

Or, technically, we're hers. If you have cats, you know how it is!

She's got her adult teeth but they aren't at all worn, so she's 6-to-8 months old. We assigned Halloween as her birthday and gave her the position of Chief Moral Officer and Bug Chaser.

So far it's working out well!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Lesa's Creative Writer Award: Fun for Me and For You

My bloggy friend Small Footprints, over at Reduce Footprints, recently won the Bald-Face Liar Creative Writer Blogger Award, the rules of which state she has to nominate others for the award and ... yessirreebob ... she nominated me. It's an honor! It's a game! You can play too!

The Game

Here are the rules:
  • Thank the person who gave this to you.
  • Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
  • Link to the person who nominated you.
  • Tell up to six outrageous lies about yourself, and at least one outrageous truth – or – switch it around and tell six outrageous truths and one outrageous lie.
  • Nominate seven “Creative Writers” who might have fun coming up with outrageous lies.
  • Post links to the seven blogs you nominate.
  • Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know you nominated them.

My Lies And/Or Truths

  1. I was trained in a martial arts program so strenuous that I ate up to 18,500 calories a day, yet due to exercise, I did not have an unhealthy weight gain
  2. I have taken classes from a sitting United States Supreme Court justice, a former Spetznatz officer, and a pederast
  3. My father never got permission to enter the United States legally (and, no, he was not born in a State or D.C.)
  4. One of my best jobs involved dolls, computers and stock price manipulation
  5. One of my worst jobs involved altering investment transactions in hexadecimal (... which was not the same as the previous job)
  6. In the seminary I learned more from Asimov than from the Bible because it was a lot more clearly written
  7. In the early 1980s, turned down a job offer from a company called "Microsoft" and in the early 2000s, I turned down an offer from a company called "google". (Given my track record, would you like to offer me a job? I promise to turn you down!)

The Nominations

Now to the nominations. There are so many people I'd like to stick with pass this award to. If I haven't nominated you, and you'd like to play along, please do. But, to fulfill my duties and get us started, I nominate - in alpha order - seven of the most creative writers or bloggers whose work I enjoy:

Good-luck, have fun and pass it on!