There’s a review of George Lakoff’s new book, The Political Mind, in today’s New York Times. You can read the review here. Some key excerpts:
Neuroscience shows that pure facts are a myth and that self-interest is a conservative idea. In a “New Enlightenment,” progressives will exploit these discoveries. They’ll present frames instead of raw facts. They’ll train the public to think less about self-interest and more about serving others. It’s not the platform that needs to be changed. It’s the voters.
I have to say, I’ve always thought there was a not-so-vague Orwellian quality to Lakoff’s work, and if that paragraph is at all faithful to this new book, then I now know that I was right. And besides, how the hell would neuroscience show that “pure facts are a myth.” And if it did, what would the status of neuroscience itself be?
The basis of Lakoff’s theory is simple: the mind is the brain. Any connection that forms between your thoughts also forms between your neurons. As you internalize a metaphor, a circuit in your brain “physically constitutes the metaphor.” This parallel development continues as mental complexity increases. “Narratives are brain structures,” he proposes.
I wish I had some idea, any idea, what the hell that means. I know for a fact (though not a pure fact, as those are apparently neurally impossible, whatever a “pure fact” might be) that this paragraph is an accurate description of Lakoff’s work, though, because he and others have been saying that conceptual metaphor theory is, now, the neural theory of metaphor, even though what that theory is exactly no one has said, and no peer reviewed research on the neural theory of metaphor exists as of yet. But hey, if you want to convince people of a theory that has no scientific basis, write a book for non-scientists. And if you’re really egotistical, write a book for non-scientists in which you tell them how they should act to win elections and change people’s opinion about the important issues of the day based on unproven (and in fact entirely speculative) science.
And if there are some CMT folks out there, yes, I know of Narayanan, which I believe Ray Gibbs calls an “existence proof” of the neural theory of metaphor, it’s neither an empirical test nor a peer-reviewed publication. I’m not even sure how it’s relevant to the neural theory of metaphor as a theory a.) of metaphor or b.) of neural organization. Perhaps you can explain it to me.
From this, Lakoff’s agenda follows. In place of neoliberalism, he offers neuroliberalism. Since voters’ opinions are neither logical nor self-made, they should be altered, not obeyed. Politicians should “not follow polls but use them to see how they can change public opinion to their moral worldview.” And since persuasion is mechanical, progressives should rely less on facts and more on images and drama, “casting progressives as heroes, and by implication, conservatives as villains.” The key is to “say things not once, but over and over. Brains change when ideas are repeatedly activated.”
I’ve defended Lakoff in the past, arguing that he’s not trying to manipulate people, but convince them, but again, if this is accurate, it sounds like I was wrong.
Anyway, should be a fun book, especially if it’s as nonsensical as the review. I’m going to see if I can get a copy tomorrow. Maybe we can all read it together.