Archive for June, 2012
Putting Lakoff’s Work in a Larger Context
by: Mary L. Wentworth, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed
(Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: jakub_hla, pareeerica)In applying to political discourse the scientific discoveries of how concepts are embodied in our brains, George Lakoff and his associates have made an important contribution to how we liberals ought to be talking about issues.
What is missing, however, in this application of science to politics, is recognition that a powerful worldwide system known as patriarchy needs to be the context for these discussions. For example, in a recent Truthout article, “Obama, Tea Parties and the Battle for Our Brains,” Lakoff explains how liberals and conservatives differ in their views of the family.
Liberals, Lakoff pointed out, prefer the model of “a nurturant parent family” that is not only based on “empathy,” but also on “responsibility – for both oneself and others, and on excellence: doing as well as one can to make oneself better, and one’s family and community better. Parents are to practice these things and children are to learn them by example.” Clearly, these are families in which women, as the primary nurturers, have an important place.
“Conservatives,” wrote Lakoff, prefer “a strict father family” model. In this kind of family, “the world is seen as a dangerous place and the father functions as protector from ‘others’ and is the parent who teaches children absolute right from wrong by punishing them physically (painful spanking or worse) when they do wrong. The father is the ultimate authority; children are to obey, and immoral practices are seen as disgusting.”
Republicans claim that this model is based on “traditional family values.” Actually, they are patriarchal values rooted in the subjugation of women, for it is not just the children who must yield to the authority of the father, but the mother as well.
Patriarchy is a system with a long history, predating written records, but it remains a powerful contemporary force throughout the world.
Patriarchs instituted the practice of marriage many millennia ago in order to subordinate women whom they saw as a valuable commodity by giving every man the right by law to absolute dominion over a wife. In patriarchal marriages, the father is more than a mere “protector.” He is a property owner. And in many countries, a wife today has no more rights than a slave. Women and girls are sold into marriage or prostitution, traded for other goods, or simply given away. A wife is viewed as valuable property because along with the domestic services that she provides she is able to produce children, especially sons, and the progeny belong to the property owner.
This issue of ownership is at the root of the strong opposition on the part of conservatives to Roe vs. Wade. The idea that a woman would have control over her life to the extent that she could legally abort the “male-owned” fetus is anathema to the patriarchal system and to those who espouse “traditional family values.”
Conservatives seek to strengthen patriarchy here and abroad by not only denying women access to abortions, but also to contraceptive information and devices.
Conservatives mask their contempt for women under the term “pro-life.” Few seem to notice that they have painted themselves into a corner on this issue, because if they claim that abortion is tantamount to murder, then how can they logically allow abortions, as some want to do, in the case of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother?
Here, in the United States, thanks to two militant women’s movements over the last 150 years, progress has been achieved in removing many of the barriers to full personhood for women. But we are not out of the woods by a long shot. We women still have no equal rights under the US Constitution. Men in “nurturant parent families” can also be abusive and overbearing. And even here the violence – rapes, murders and domestic abuse – necessary to maintain the subservience of women goes on at a steady pace.
An issue Lakoff addresses in terms of framing is homosexuality. Liberals use “gays and lesbians,” which gets a more positive response in polls, while conservatives always use “homosexual” as in “homosexual marriage” or homosexuals in the military” etc. The question that needs to be asked, however, is why conservatives feel compelled to demonize homosexuals in the first place. The answer is that homosexual relationships undermine the patriarchal system that is structured on heterosexuality. Men are not involved in lesbian relationships, keeping the women in line. Two cohabiting men are seen as abdicating their responsibility to help control women. One might add that gay and lesbian relationships offer a more equal, and, therefore, a threatening model, to the patriarchal one.
Conservatives here have been tagged as working with their counterparts in Uganda to achieve legislation that would outlaw homosexuality and impose death sentences on those in violation of it.
The quid pro quo for lower-class men in exchange for their privileges vis á vis women is absolute loyalty to the ruling patriarchs. The loyalty chit is called in whenever patriarchs gear up to fight another one of their wars. The presence of women and homosexual males in the military erodes the ages-old patriarchal ideal of what it means to be “a real man.” Over the centuries, and the present one is no exception, men around the world have been willing to put their lives on the line to advance the interests of those at the top.
By substituting “patriarchal” for the phrase “conservative moral,” in Lakoff’s final sentence: “The highest value in the conservative moral system is the perpetuation and strengthening of the conservative moral system itself,” we would have a statement that gives us an appropriate context.
This work by Truthout is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.
Why are political debates so dull and boring? I had trouble staying awake at the most recent one with Jay Inslee and Rob Mckenna. Maybe I was over medicated! It may be that the exchanges are so brief that no one has the time to develop a good argument let alone a good story. Stories are what create drama and excitement and memorable confrontations. We are not talking about “gotcha” lines or phrases. We are talking about human beings who have authentic humanity and passion. Something has been lost when the facts and issues are boiled down to ninety seconds or even thirty seconds.
And what has happened to ability of the audience to participate in the moment? Are we to sit like bumps on a log as the “battle” goes on before us? Are we trying to drain all emotion out of a situation that has almost become clinical in an antiseptic atmosphere? Politics is tuning into bad theater! Read the rest of this entry
Energy and the Wealth of Nations
by Richard Vodra, JD, CFP
(Note: Commentaries do not necessarily represent the position of ASPO-USA. This commentary originally appeared as part of an Advisor Perspectives newsletter.) Read the rest here.
When our society relies on an understanding of economics that did not predict, prevent, or mitigate the current economic crisis, and that, more importantly, does not effectively address climate change or resource depletion, it is time for a new and different approach to understanding the economy. That premise is the foundation of Energy and the Wealth of Nations, an important book by ecologist Charles Hall and economist Kent Klitgaard, who together are pioneering the new discipline of biophysical economics.
Richard Vodra, J.D., CFP®, is the President of Worldview Two Planning of McLean, VA. He recently retired from a 27-year career as a personal financial planner. He is a member of the Board of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO-USA).
It’s Class War in Wisconsin, Yet Democrats Sing Kumbaya
By Gary Younge, Guardian UK
04 June 12
A vote to recall the state’s Republican governor has huge implications for US politics, but the liberals have missed their cue.
here is a degree of hyperbole one comes to expect from American activists around election time. Given the level of polarisation, this is hardly surprising. Every vote, you’re told, is about liberty, justice, the American dream, the constitution or the world one wants to leave your children or grandchildren. Then, often, half the eligible voters stay at home and, regardless of who wins, not an awful lot changes.
So when activists on both sides of the effort to recall Wisconsin’s governor insist “everything” is at stake, they should not be taken too literally. Nonetheless, this time they have a point.
The recall campaign was sparked last year when Republican governor Scott Walker pledged to remove collective bargaining rights from public sector unions and cut local government workers’ health benefits and pension entitlements, claiming this was necessary to balance the state’s budget. Walker, a Tea Party supporter, was elected in 2010 against Democrat Tom Barrett, with 52% of the vote. By February 2011, tens of thousands of protesters descended on the state capitol in Madison. In all 50 states, rallies were held to support Wisconsin unions. Before tents ever went up on Wall Street, this midwestern state was occupied. Unable to prevent passage of his anti-union bill and other measures, labour activists and progressives collected more than 900,000 signatures to recall him.
That makes Tuesday’s vote a rare chance for a clear referendum on who should pay for this economic crisis – those who created it or those who have suffered most because of it. So in a state with a larger population than Ireland’s and a GDP greater than Portugal’s, people here will vote on the causes and consequences of austerity.
Walker’s record speaks for itself. In his first year in office Wisconsin lost more jobs than any other state, and was one from last in private sector job growth. He has cut tax relief to low-income families and the state’s Medicaid program. He has introduced a voter ID bill that will limit minority and low-income electoral participation, reproductive rights legislation that has forced Planned Parenthood to suspend providing basic services to women and repealed the law that protects equal pay for women.
Meanwhile, according to the Wall Street Journal, union membership has slumped since he banned automatic deduction of union dues from salaries. The WSJ reported that membership of the state’s second largest public sector union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, fell by more than half in Walker’s first year while the American Federation of Teachers lost more than a third of its members.
Unemployment has fallen, although that is most likely because people have left the job market and, depending on your accountant, he has balanced the budget. He has cut property taxes for the first time in 12 years and given millions in tax breaks to corporations.
In short, he has hammered working people, undermined the capacity of those who represent them and marginalised many of those who might vote for their interests while effecting a massive redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich: a more balanced budget for a more unequal society.
The degree to which he is successful in this project has national implications and resonates with struggles that are taking place globally. Neither the unions nor the poor are responsible for this crisis but across the world they have been scapegoated for it.
In the US, unemployment has rarely been this bad for this long, wages have rarely been this stagnant and corporate profits, as a proportion of GDP, have never been this high. In that context the referendum raises the question: should the burden for the recession, precipitated by a banking crisis, fall on labour or capital?
Conservatives seem to understand this. In a large Tea Party rally of several thousand in Racine on Saturday, speakers railed against “union thugs” “union bullies” and “pinko commies”. Walker has been caught on video telling a donor, shortly before he announced the cuts, that he intended to use a strategy of “divide and conquer” to defeat the public sector unions by driving a wedge between them and private sector workers. They also see the broader implications in an election year where the economy will take centre stage. Political and financial support has flooded in from around the country. “We are going to chart the course for the rest of the country,” said the state’s lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, who is also being recalled.
The activists on the ground calling for Walker’s recall understand this also. Ask them what’s at stake and most will say women’s rights, union rights and voters’ rights. But the Democratic leadership, both locally and nationally, who have taken over the recall effort, clearly don’t. They have run a campaign calling for more consensual governance and less divisive rhetoric and accusing Walker of being corrupt. Bill Clinton, who came to town to stump for Barrett on Friday, called for “creative co-operation”, bringing unions and business around the table to discuss common interests. There are times that can work. But not when unions are not allowed through the door, let alone at the table.
Nationally, Democrats have kept their distance. Clinton is the only high-profile Democrat to lend his support to a campaign that is being outspent by more than seven to one. Little wonder that most polls show Walker with a small but persistent lead that only a huge Democratic turnout can override. Indeed it’s amazing his opponents are doing as well as they are.
So while conservatives are using Wisconsin as a laboratory to openly wage class war, the Democratic leadership keeps extending their hand and singing Kumbaya. The problem is not simply that Walker is divisive – though that is a problem – but that he’s on the wrong side of the divide. Calls for unity are meaningless without first spelling out on what basis people should unite and working out where the disunity came from in the first place.
“You get out of a ditch when people stand on each others’ shoulders and the person at the top starts pulling people out,” said Clinton. True. But the last people you’d rely on are those who dug the ditch and shoved you in – particularly when they’re still building and still shoving.