Review of George Lakoff's "Whose Freedom?"

Over at The Quarterly Conversation, I've written a review of George Lakoff's book Whose Freedom?

In case my personal politics haven't come through in my CogDaily posts (and I do make an effort to assume a neutral perspective here), you'll get a good sense of my views in this review, where I point out that though Lakoff's invocation of cognitive science in support of his claims is problematic, Steven Pinker, Lakoff's most vocal critic, is guilty of similar overgeneralizations:

If Lakoff's cog sci-based explanation of how the Republicans spun their way into power is this unconvincing, then one can likewise doubt his claims about how to combat the conservative agenda. That said, Pinker's criticism of Lakoff isn't much better:

"But Lakoff's advice doesn't pass the giggle test. One can imagine the howls of ridicule if a politician took Lakoff's Orwellian advice to rebrand taxes as 'membership fees.' Surely no one has to hear the metaphor 'tax relief' to think of taxes as an affliction; that sentiment has been around as long as taxes have been around."

Perhaps I'm missing something, but I've been unable to find the passage Pinker refers to in Whose Freedom? (and an Amazon Search Inside backs me up). Lakoff does argue that Democrats shouldn't adopt Republican branding of the Bush tax cuts as "tax relief," but he doesn't suggest calling for "membership fees." And Lakoff is right about the inherent dishonesty in calling tax cuts that disproportionately impact the wealthiest Americans "tax relief" for all. If Pinker truly believes that rebranding unappealing political actions "doesn't pass the giggle test," then perhaps he should look up Bush's "Clear Skies" initiative, which removed pollution controls, or even the boondoggle that was once the "No Child Left Behind" act. If rebranding didn't work, politicians wouldn't use it, and even if Lakoff's (alleged) specific suggestion might not be optimal, there are plenty of other ways to characterize removing tax cuts that, as Lakoff advises, don't invoke the Republican theme of "tax relief." Two examples that presumably would pass Pinker's giggle-test: "fiscal responsibility" or "balancing the budget."

In other news:

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At last, someone demolishes the bad cognitive science and even worse political science being peddled by George Lakoff. If the Democrats really think that calling income taxes "community dues" or "membership fees" will help them retake the White House, then God help us all, because Rove is going to…
George Lakoff has published two new political books, Whose Freedom?: The Battle Over America's Most Important Idea, and Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision, as follow ups to his Moral Politics and Don't Think of an Elephant. I haven't read either of the new books (my New…
Update: OK, a pro is in the house. Chris of Mixing Memory starts: I don't really know where to start on this. Lakoff's reply is one of the most intellectually dishonest pieces of writing I've seen from a cognitive scientist, and if anyone other than Lakoff had written it, I'd probably just ignore…
I have a post on my other blog about why Lakoff matters. Here is the conclusion: In short, I think the problem with Lakoff's ideas are two fold: 1) the science is probably wrong, so it has little utilitarian value aside from enriching Lakoff 2) the false perception that the science is correct and…

George stopped being a scientist when he hopped on the political bandwagon. It's tempting because in politics you don't have to think so hard. The only kind of politics that makes sense is the a la carte kind. All pre-packaged ideologies are crap.